Your brain is a powerful machine that can convince you of pretty much anything, including things that aren’t true!

It can take a particularly rough morning and turn it into “I have the worst luck in the world!” or a slightly strange look from a stranger becomes “he /she doesn’t like me” or a myriad of other negative thoughts.

These types of thoughts are the result of cognitive distortions, and they can be awful for your mental health. They can reinforce negative emotions like anger and frustration, and perpetuate mental health issues such as anxiety and depression

Research suggests that cognitive distortions are a part of the brain’s survival mechanism and are useful in protecting us in dangerous short-term situations. However, in the long term, they wreak havoc on our mental health.

Interestingly, people who’ve been through severe traumatic events are more prone to cognitive distortions.

5 Common Cognitive Distortions That Can Steal Your Joy

Black-and-White Thinking

The official name for this distortion is polarized thinking. It refers to an inflexible type of thinking that sees things as either all good or all bad and makes people believe that they’re either perfect or a total failure.


This type of thinking exaggerates a situation by turning it into a generalized pattern that goes something like this, “I always make mistakes.”


Catastrophizing is common in people with anxiety and panic disorder. It involves expecting the worst-case scenario in any given situation and overreacting to the scenarios you’ve made up in your mind.


This is where you blame yourself for everything, even things that are clearly not your fault. You may also believe you’re being singled out or targeted when something bad happens to you, which makes anxiety and depression worse.

Ignoring the Positive

This distortion filters the positive and focuses on the negative. It causes you to focus on the one thing that went wrong instead of the many things that went well.

Jumping to Conclusions

People who think like this might see themselves as fortune-tellers or mind readers! They make predictions based on very little evidence and often believe they know what other people are thinking. Curiously, their predictions and readings seem to be mostly negative and rarely positive! Jumping to conclusions is distorted thinking.

How to Get Rid of Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the most effective way of dealing with these and other harmful thinking patterns. This type of therapy focuses on changing your thinking patterns today rather than exploring what happened in your past to shape your thinking patterns.

There are things you can do on your own to challenge your negative thinking patterns, too.

First, make a habit of separating what you do from who you are. Just because you make mistakes sometimes, doesn’t mean you’re not smart.

Second, make a habit of listing your options to keep yourself from making decisions based on little or no information. You can also use this technique to deal with overgeneralization and catastrophizing. Listing everything that went well vs. citing everything went wrong, shifts your focus back to reality, and helps you realize things aren’t so bad.

Understanding the different types of cognitive distortions makes it much easier to identify the root causes of your negative thoughts. Use your power to nip them in the bud so they stop stealing your joy!

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

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