Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thinking patterns, often negative,
that can distort your perception of reality. They’re also called “distorted thinking’
or” thinking traps’ or ‘twisted thinking.

These are biased thoughts about yourself, others, and the world. Cognitive distortions negatively skew your interpretation of reality, which can cause, amplify, and reinforce negative moods.

Cognitive distortions are a normal part of the human experience. But, when they show
up too often in your thoughts, they can worsen anxiety, depression, interpersonal issues, and other aspects of life. Oftentimes these patterns of thinking are subtle, so it might be hard to realize that they are causing psychological harm.

These thoughts or beliefs typically pop up automatically. Often, you simply accept them as true, even when they’re not. However, stepping back from automatic thoughts can help you analyze them for the presence of cognitive distortions.


Remember the basic idea of CBT? Your thoughts and actions affect your mood. Cognitive distortions often impact mood by driving thoughts into a negative spiral. American psychiatrist Aaron Beck, the father of CBT, hypothesized that cognitive distortions were connected to his patients’ depressive symptoms. He had observed that they held unhelpful thinking patterns that kept them in a negative mindset.

American psychiatrist David Burns popularized cognitive distortions in the 1980s when he gave them memorable names, such as All-or-Nothing Thinking and Catastrophizing, and published them in his bestselling self-help book Feeling Good. Each distortion explains a biased pattern of thoughts or beliefs.

Recognizing your cognitive distortions can help you understand yourself better, change your negative thought patterns over time, and improve your overall mood. Practice identifying cognitive distortions in your thinking with our Guided Journal: Analyze Thought.