Cognitive Distortions! What are they and do you have any?

I have recently been studying CBT which is short for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. CBT is used to treat Mental Health Conditions such as Anxiety and is proven to be as effective as Medication. Although I have been interested in CBT for a long time now I have never looked at Cognitive Distortions in depth until this year.

So what are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive Distortions are the mechanisms by which people with habitual negative thinking styles, depression and other Mental Health problems perpetuate their own problems. Most people will not even realise they are using these distortions! Even the most well-balanced individuals occasionally engage in these thinking styles from time to time.

I thought it would be useful to share some of the most common examples so that you can assess if you are unknowingly using any. I have added 5 that are quite common below;


  1. Always Being Right

Now I think we all know someone who uses this even if we don’t ourselves. People using this cognitive distortion believe that to make a mistake and admit you are wrong is to fail as a person. They must always be right! They will always try and convince others that their point of view is correct and will place being ‘right’ over being happy!

There are a few downfalls with this, not only will it damage your relationships with others, but it will also prevent you from learning and developing. If we always think we are right and know the answer we never open ourselves to new possibilities that enable us to learn and grow as a person.

  1. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This is the idea that if we make sacrifice’s now, we will be rewarded in the future. For example, that one colleague that arrives early and empties the dishwasher every morning. Hey, they even clean the kitchen after everyone has made a mess at lunch. They haven’t been asked to do it, they just assume they should and if they do, it will be beneficial because it will be noticed, and they will receive recognition or reward for this!

You might think it’s a good thing if that one person cleans up every day but it’s actually not with these beliefs attached, they may instead begin to feel wronged and bitter! My advice would be only do things because you want to do them (not for a reward). You will find more often than not the desired or expected reward/recognition never materialises and this can lead to upset and resentment.

  1. Fallacy of Fairness

This one really hit me when I read this as this is my biggest cognitive distortion and I hadn’t even realised it! I always believe everything in the world should be fair and everyone has the same agreement of what fair is! It seems very naïve now I write this but I was very stuck in this view and it has caused me a lot of upset over the years! If only I had known then, what I know now!

In reality, we all have different views on what is right and fair. It all depends on our upbringing, past experiences, personal beliefs and values.  Just because we feel something is unfair doesn’t mean that everyone else around us thinks this way too. We instead just need to focus on our values and what is right for us.

  1. Polarised Thinking

Also knows as ‘Black and White Thinking’ or ‘All or Nothing’ the inability to see the shades of grey in a situation. Someone engaged in polarised thinking will see things as one of two ways, good or bad. For example, they will see people as nasty or nice and will refuse to see them as a unique mix of personal qualities (i.e. a normal flawed human being).

It can be easy to demonise people based on one mistake or personality trait, but this only causes upset within ourselves. We should instead try to accept people as they are and choose to find the positives to focus on.

  1. Catastrophising

You may have experienced this in extreme situations. For example, when boarding a flight some people tend to think about the worst-case scenarios and focus on things that can go wrong! This leaves the person in a constant state of anticipation thinking disaster is about to strike!

It is more beneficial for us to focus on the positives rather than negatives. If disaster is going to happen, it will happen no matter how much we worry about it beforehand.


So what can you do if you do have any Cognitive Distortions?

Firstly, just being aware that these are quite common and affect more of us than we think can be a help in itself. It’s very easy to believe our thoughts to be reality all the time but by having the awareness that sometimes our minds can wander into negative territory can help us to gain more control over our thoughts and in-return feelings. We don’t have to believe everything we think.

Challenging Cognitive Distortions is often carried out with the help of a CBT Practitioner or therapist, however, we can try to help ourselves. The best way to tackle them is by questioning. Yes, questioning ourselves! Next time you become aware you are dealing with a cognitive distortion try to ask yourself these questions:

What kind of cognitive distortion are you using now?

Do you have any evidence to support this thought?

Do you have any evidence that goes against this thought?

What would you say to a friend in this situation?

Can you think of another way of looking at this situation?

Do you think this will matter in 6 months’ time?

If you could replace this thought with something more realistic what would it be?


Cognitive Distortions if left unchecked can go on to cause conflict in the workplace. If you would like to discuss this in more detail contact Optimal PBS at enquiries@optimal-hr.co.uk or call 01422 471271.

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