Styles of Distorted Thinking

Cognitive-behavioral therapy was developed around the assumption that what a person thinks has a major role to play in the origination and maintenance of many psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety. People will often tend to distort the meaning of events and situations in their lives and this often leads to problems with mood. This month’s newsletter will focus on ten main styles of distorted thinking.


Drawing conclusions without sufficient evidence, or when the evidence is actually contradictory (i.e., if it’s true in one case, it applies to any case which is even slightly similar). If something bad happens once you expect it to happen over and over again.


  1. Concluding that one will never succeed after failing on the first attempt.
  2. A Rejection on the dance floor means “nobody would ever want to dance with me.”
  3. If you got sick on a train once, you never take a train again.

Selective Abstraction

Attending to a detail while ignoring the total contest. The only events that matter are failures, deprivation, etc. You take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all of the positive aspects of the situation.


  1. Feeling rejected because a friend who was rushing to catch a bus did not stop to talk.
  2. “I could have enjoyed the picnic except the chicken was burnt.”


Always thinking of the worst. It’s most likely to happen to you. You expect disaster. “A small leak in the sailboat means it will sink.”


  1. We haven’t seen each other for two day and I think the relationship if falling apart.
  2. It’s terrible that I didn’t get an A.
  3. It’s awful that Allen doesn’t like me.

Polarized Thinking

Everything is one extreme or another (black or white; good or bad). Overlooking the middle ground (the ‘gray’ area).


  1. A single parent with three children was determined to be strong and in charge. The moment she felt tired or slightly anxious, she began thinking of herself as weak, felt disgusted with herself, and criticized herself in conversations with friends.
  2. “You’re either for me or against me.”


Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, better looking, more emotionally stable, etc. The basic thinking error in personalization is that you interpret each experience, each conversation, each look as a clue to your worth and value.


  1. A somewhat depressed mother blames herself when she sees sadness in her children.
  2. A recently marred man thinks that every time his wife talks about tiredness she means she is tired of him.
  3. “I’m the slowest person in the office.”
  4. “They listen to her and not to me.”

Global Labeling

When you generalize on one or two qualities into a global negative judgment. The label ignores all contrary evidence, making your view of the world stereotyped and one-dimensional.


  1. “He was a loser from the first day that he showed up here.”
  2. A person who refused to give you a life insurance policy is a total jerk.
  3. A quiet guy on a date is labeled a dull clam.


You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules.


  1. I should assert myself and at the same time I should never hurt anybody else.
  2. I should never make mistakes.
  3. I should never be tired or get sick.


You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other track and blame yourself for every problem or reversal.


  1. It’s your fault the we’re always in the hole each month
  2. A man got angry because his wife suggested he build the fence he’d been meaning to put up. She ought to have known how tired he was – she was being totally insensitive.

Fallacy of Fairness

You feel resentful because you think you know what is fair but other people won’t agree with you. The fallacy of fairness is frequently expressed in conditional assumptions: “If he loves me, he’d do the dishes.” It is tempting to make assumptions about how things would change if people were only fair or really valued you. But the other person hardly ever sees it that way and you end up causing yourself a lot of pain.

Emotional Reasoning

When you believe that what you feel must be true – automatically. If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring. The problem with emotional reasoning is that emotions themselves have no validity. They are products of what you think.


  1. “I feel depressed, life must be pointless.”
  2. If I feel guilty, then I must have done something wrong.
  3. If I feel ugly, then I must be ugly.
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