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Ways We Think That Can Make or Break Us – Part 2

Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More

In my last post, I introduced you to the concept of “cognitive distortions” – unhealthy thinking patterns that create negative emotional responses to the challenges of daily life. I told you about all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filter, discounting the positive, and jumping to conclusions. Here are the other five that I promised you:

The Binocular Trick – Exaggerating things that attribute credit to others while minimizing your own desirable qualities. Also, emphasizing your own perceived faults while downplaying external complications.

Example: “It was clearly my own fault that Sarah caught a cold; the bad cough that her teacher had was probably just allergies.”

Emotional Reasoning – Assuming that your negative emotions reflect reality.

Example: “I feel miserable; therefore, my situation must be so.”

Should Statements – Trying to motivate yourself by using “should” and “shouldn’t” in your self-talk, which usually results in guilt.

Example: “I should cancel my vacation and work on that project, or else I’ll be failing in my work responsibilities.”

Labeling – Engaging in extreme overgeneralization by attaching a negative label to yourself or someone else.

Example – “I’m a complete loser because I could not manage my full-time job and take care of all of the household tasks at the same time.”

Personalization – Seeing yourself as the cause of a negative external event for which you were not responsible.

Example: “If my boss is in a bad mood, it must be due to something I did wrong.”

If you recognize some of these cognitive distortions (or the five I described previously) in yourself, guess what? You are absolutely not alone, and there’s no reason to beat yourself up about it. In fact, cognitive distortions are basically ways that we beat ourselves up unnecessarily.

It is all too easy for our thoughts to get twisted and misdirected, especially when we’re under stress. But there is also very good news about all of this cognitive distortion stuff. We can do something about it. Simply becoming familiar with the ten distortions (which you have just accomplished) makes you more likely to recognize them when they occur. And the more you recognize them, the more power you have to adjust your thinking so that they occur less often over time, even as your life changes and you encounter new and more interesting challenges.

Some people keep a list of these distortions on a note card in their wallet or saved in their smartphone. I’ve seen it tacked up in cubicles, which can help your co-workers, too. Try putting the list where you are most likely to see it every day so you can take stock of what you are telling yourself.

But these are only suggestions. I would never engage in “should statements” and tell you that you must do something with this list. That is a truth that only you can determine.


Burns, D. D. (1999). Feeling good: The new mood therapy. New York: Harper.

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