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  • Lemuel Tan


Aaron Beck is often considered the Father of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (cognitive basically means thinking). In his research on depression in the 1960s, he noted that depressed clients have a negative and unhelpful view in their interpretation of certain life events. These interpretations then contribute to their cognitive distortions. He also noted that people with emotional problems tend to commit “logical errors” that change their reality in the direction of self-depreciation. These logical errors are incorrect conclusions based on insufficient or incorrect information. He suggested that by understanding this cognitive distortions we could understand the emotional problems and distress of an individual.

Although Beck coined the term “Cognitive Distortions”, modern day clinicians have given this term various names, for example: unhelpful thinking styles, categories of negative automatic thinking, maladaptive thinking patterns, twisted thinking, etc. They means more or less the same thing. Below are some common cognitive distortions.

ALL OR NOTHING THINKING Seeing things in black or white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. Example: “I will make no mistakes in my assignments.” or “That mistake in my report is going to cost me my job.”

OVERGENERALISATION Seeing a single negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat. People who overgeneralised tend to use words like “always” or “never”. Example: “I can never find a job OR I am always the last one to be informed about news in the office.”

MENTAL FILTERS Picking a single negative detail and dwelling on it exclusively. Example: Being obsessed about a single negative feedback and ignoring all the other positive feedback provided by your manager.

DISCOUNTING THE POSITIVES Rejecting positive experiences by insisting they “do not count”. Example: If you did a good job, you might tell yourself that it was not good enough or that someone else would have done it better.

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS Interpreting things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.

  • MIND READING: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.

  • FORTUNE-TELLING: You predict that things will turn out badly.

MAGNIFICATION OR MINIMISATION Exaggerating the importance of your problems and shortcomings or minimising the importance of your desirable qualities. Example: “Everyone will think that I am the worse employee because I came in late today.”

EMOTIONAL REASONING Assuming that negative emotions reflect the way things really are. Example: “I feel scared going on an airplane. It means that flying is very dangerous.”

SHOULD STATEMENTS Telling yourself that things should, ought, need, have to or must be a certain way. Example: “He should not be so stubborn.”


Labelling is an extreme form of all or nothing thinking. Instead of saying “I made a mistake”, you attached a negative label to yourself “I am a loser”. Human beings exist but “a fool”, “a failure”, and “jerks” do not. They create a lot of emotions, usually negative.

PERSONALISATION AND BLAME Holding yourself personally responsible for an event that is not entirely under your control. Example: “I am a bad mother because my child has a note from school saying he has been truanting.”

Often these unhelpful thinking styles are acquired over the years through life experiences. Learning and being aware of your thinking styles can help you challenge or distance yourself from this unhelpful thoughts and see a situation in a different and helpful way. Writing these thoughts down, exploring how they impact you and challenging these thoughts are the back bone of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

What are some “stinking thinking” that you are experiencing? Can you challenge them and refute them?

Disclaimer: The material on this blog is not to be used by any commercial or personal entity without expressed written consent of the blog's author. The article above is an opinion of an individual clinician and should not be taken as full clinical advice. The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any mental health or mental illnesses. Always consult your doctor for medical advice or seek professional therapy.

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