What is Cognitive Distortion?

What is Cognitive Distortion

Because we experience our realities as so… real… it might surprise you to know that sometimes, our brains are lying to us. Sometimes, that very real experience has actually been distorted or altered in some way, leading us to experience something that isn’t actually based in reality. Wild, right?

Though if you think about it, I’m sure you’ve seen this happen to others: perhaps a relative who has adopted some really wild conspiracy theories, or a friend who “lives on another planet,” or a partner who creates arguments out of perceived slights and inaccurate events. It’s very possible that these people are experiencing something that feels very real to them—their brains are just telling them falsehoods.


And it happens in our own minds more often than you might think, and these experiences are called cognitive distortions. According to Positive Psychology, cognitive distortions are:


“biased perspectives we take on ourselves and the world around us. They are irrational thoughts and beliefs that we unknowingly reinforce over time.”


Additionally, Positive Psychology outlines a few things that all cognitive distortions have in common:


  • They are tendencies or patterns of thinking or believing;

  • That are false or inaccurate;

  • And have the potential to cause psychological damage.


Another example of a cognitive distortion is the damaging way we might begin talking to ourselves in our minds. If we have developed a really nasty inner dialogue—one that says we are worthless, unloveable, trash humans—we are experiencing cognitive distortions. Our brains have taken on false perspectives that begin to amplify over time, leaving us feelings really lousy. (Or paranoid, or confused, or aggrieved.)