CBT: Thought Patterns That Affect Your Mood

While reading my Abnormal Psychology textbook over the summer, I tweeted the above as I came across a little something regarding the cognitive theories behind mood disorders. Specifically, what role cognitive distortions play in the development of mood disorders. In this discussion, I will not be focusing on mood disorders (or any mental disorders at all), but how these cognitive distortions can play into your everyday lives as well as to hopefully help you understand your own thoughts a little bit more.

First off, what are cognitive distortions?

The theory of cognitive distortions was originally proposed by Aaron Beck, and was popularized by David Burns. They are irrational, biased thoughts or beliefs that distort a person’s perception about themselves and/or the world around them, and typically reinforce negative thinking or emotions. In psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioural therapists (CBT) attempt to refute and reframe these negative thoughts and shift them into something more rational, balanced, and objective.


…thoughts are just that – thoughts. (Allan Lokos)

There are 10 common types of cognitive distortions (adapted from The Feeling Good Handbook, by D. D. Burns, 1999):

#1. All-or-nothing thinking
Black and white thinking, “either/or”; events and behaviour are a total success or failure; ignores shades of grey and middle ground

  • “If I’m not perfect, I have failed.”

#2. Overgeneralization
Finding negative patterns in one or more instances of an event or behaviour; single negative event as never-ending pattern of defeat; using words like always and never

  • “I”m always wrong.”

#3. Mental filter
Magnify and dwell on the negative events, not noticing the positive ones

  • Remembering all day that you tripped in the hallway

#4. Discounting the positive
Turning positives into negatives; rejecting positive experiences, thinking they “don’t count”

  • Thinking others are just being nice when they compliment you, not genuine

#5. Jumping to conclusions
Arriving at negative conclusions with no proof; “mind-reading” and “fortune-telling”

  • “He said ‘no’, therefore he doesn’t like me.”

#6. Magnification or minimization
Exaggerating difficulties or shortcomings, or playing down your strengths

  • “It’s horrible that I got a question wrong in class.”
  • “Helping my friends study is no big deal; anybody can do it.”

#7. Emotional reasoning
One’s negative emotions imply a truth about reality; reason from how you feel (“I feel it, therefore it must be true”)

  • “I can’t do my work now; I’m not in the mood.”

#8. “Should” statements
Imposing an unrealistic view of how people and the world should be

  • “I should be happy.”

#9. Labelling
Giving yourself a label based on events; identifying with shortcomings rather than describing error

  • “I’m stupid because I got that question wrong.”

#10. Personalization and blame
Holding yourself or others accountable for events not entirely under that person’s control; overlook ways your own attitudes and behaviour may have contributed to a problem

  • “I should have realized that my roommate might sleep in and not get the dishes done.”

Now that you are familiar with cognitive distortions, are you able to identify an event or situation when you were the prisoner of your own mind? Or better yet, maybe you can make sense of your intruding thoughts and feelings, as I did.

Once you recognize the presence of these thought gremlins, as I like to call them, do not feed them at all… not even before midnight (anybody get the reference?) – instead, lock them up and untwist your thinking. In other words, counter these thoughts through cognitive restructuring. Cognitive distortions can create unnecessary cases of and increase levels of stress and anxiety if not dealt with using effective coping strategies.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Changing Thinking Habits, coming soon!

Until then, remember:

It will pass.



GoodTherapy.org Staff (2015). 20 Cognitive Distortions and How They Affect Your Life. GoodTherapy.org. Retrieved on February 1, 2017, from http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/20-cognitive-distortions-and-how-they-affect-your-life-0407154

Grohol, J. (2016). 15 Common Cognitive Distortions. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 1, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/

Pratt, K. (2013). Psychology Tools: What are Cognitive Distortions? healthypsych. Retrieved on February 1, 2017, from https://healthypsych.com/psychology-tools-what-are-cognitive-distortions/

Click to access COGNITIVE_0.pdf