Cognitive Distortions Experienced During Depression

There are a number of ways that your thoughts can become distorted by depression. Recognizing and refuting these distorted thoughts can often alleviate depression. Review the following and see how many of the following cognitive distortions are common to your thinking…

  1. All or nothing thinking: No shades of gray exist, if your performance is not perfect, you view yourself as a complete failure.
  2. Overgeneralization: One single, negative event is viewed as an endless pattern of defeat.
  3. Disqualifying the positive: You discount all positive experiences.
  4. Jumping to conclusions: You make negative interpretations that are factually unsupported. You feel that you know what other people think of you (mind reading). You make negative predictions and you are certain that they must come true (fortuneteller error).
  5. Magnification or minimization: You may exaggerate the importance of an error or someone else’s achievements. You may underrate your own strengths or someone else’s weaknesses.
  6. Emotional Reasoning: You believe that your emotions mirror reality (I feel it, so it must be true).
  7. Should Statements: You motivate yourself with shoulds, oughts and musts, which leads to guilt. When you direct these statements at other people, you experience exaggerated feelings of anger, frustration and resentment.
  8. Labeling and mislabeling: You label yourself inappropriately (e.g. “I’m a loser”). You label others wrongly, which makes it difficult for you to continue speaking positively with them. (“He’s a stupid idiot”).
  9. Personalization: You blame yourself for a negative external event, for which you were not primarily responsible. (e.g. a friend that you have a date with becomes ill and calls you to cancel. You blame yourself for the cancellation.)

Negative self-talk perpetuates feelings of despair and low self-esteem. You can overcome this undesirable habit by:

  • Training yourself to recognize these self-critical thoughts and recording them in a Daily Record of Cognitive Distortions.
  • Identifying and recording the cognitive distortion and
  • Developing and recording a more objective thought, negating the “bad” thought and nurturing a more realistic system for self-evaluation.

It is recommended that you begin working with this Record for fifteen minutes daily. This tool will help you gain objectivity and to react less seriously to your thoughts.

The following instructions illustrate the process:

  • In the first column, identify and record the event that led to your negative feelings (e.g. I realized that I was late for an important meeting).
  • Ask yourself what thoughts are going through your head and record them in the second column (e.g. “I can never do anything right”).
  • Identify the distortion in your thoughts from the preceding list of cognitive distortions and record it in the third column (e.g. overgeneralization).
  • Write down a realistic rebuttal of your thought distortions (e.g. “That’s absurd. I am able to do some things right).
  • Complete your exercise by evaluating the impact that your rational response had on you (e.g. “I feel 50% less angry and 75% less frustrated with myself”).
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