Cognitive Distortions And Socializing

Many of the problems and conflicts people face are sustained in part by distorted, maladaptive thinking:

I could easily give hundreds more examples. Someone could have maladaptive thoughts about being able to grow tomatoes on their balcony. While there are a limitless number of distorted thoughts a person can have, about any number of subjects and situations, psychologists have identified about a dozen core errors in thinking. The first step to dealing with them is knowing what they are.

This article will describe these main cognitive distortions. They're a well known concept from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and you may have seen a similar list elsewhere. I'll also provide a lot of examples related to the difficulties people have with social situations.

As you read the descriptions below you'll likely notice that several of the distortions blur into each other or produce similar outcomes. When someone has a maladaptive thought you can often make a case for several different distortions applying to it.

All-or-Nothing Thinking / Black and White Thinking

Seeing things in simplistic, absolute terms. This may involve extreme comparisons like Perfect vs. Useless, or words like "never" or "always". People may think things such as:

Black and White thinking also tends to trip people up when they're setting goals or monitoring their progress:


Taking a few isolated incidents and making sweeping generalizations about yourself, other people, or your life:


Applying a "dark tinted" mental filter to your perceptions so that you see and dwell on the bad aspects of something, while ignoring the good. This can involve "seeing what you want to see". Because life offers up a variety of experiences, no matter what conclusion someone wants to reach, they can usually cherry pick enough "evidence" to support it.

Disqualifying the positive

When you dismiss positive events for no good reason, probably while being all too eager to accept the negative ones.

Jumping to conclusions

When you quickly assume something negative, even though it has no basis in reality. There are two variations, one involving how people think, the other related to how something might turn out:

Mind reading

When you believe someone thinks a certain, usually negative, way, even though you have no real evidence to support it:

Fortune telling

When you jump to conclusions by assuming something will turn out a certain way, though the belief has a shaky grounding.

Article continues below...

Magnification and minimization

Overstating or understating how something really is, again with a poor reason to back up your thinking.


When your mind leaps to the worst thing that could possibly happen. It can also mean to see a situation as totally hopeless or unbearable, when it's really just uncomfortable. This cognitive distortion tends to fan the flames of anxiety.

Emotional reasoning

Thinking that because your emotions are telling you something is X, that it is truly is X.

Should statements

Constraining yourself with unrealistic expectations about how things "should" be.


Slapping simplistic labels on things in order to explain them, rather than looking at the unique facets of the situation.


Thinking you directly caused something to happen, or that something relates to you, when other forces may have been at work.

That's it for the cognitive distortions. Here's one more thinking "error" that usually doesn't make the main list:

Unanswered questions

Sometimes when we're worried about something we'll pose these scary questions to ourselves, but not actually answer them. We may ask ourselves, "What if I never meet any friends all through college?!?" That's not a pleasant possibility, and it makes us more worked up.

Often if we just take a minute to actually address the question in our minds it can take away most of its steam. Someone might think, "What if I never meet any friends all through college?... Well that's highly unlikely, especially if I put effort into it. But I suppose I'd be kind of lonely and would have to do other fun things instead of being with people. I'd have to rely on my friends from high school and my family for support. Maybe I'd volunteer at an agency where I have to be around people, so I can still get some social interaction in." Maybe not the best situation, but it also seems kind of mundane and tolerable at the same time. That's often what happens when we answer those types of scary questions. What we come up with is some real world situation that we could handle.