Insights – 3 min read

Cognitive Distortions. Seeing things as they are not.

March 26, 2024
By Dr. Mark Whittington and Gaby Bush

Cognitive Distortions are irrational thoughts and perceptions that influence our emotions. As you may remember, we recently published a blog on co-morbidity, the tendency of psychological disorders to occur not in isolation but frequently simultaneously. Depression and anxiety are a notorious example of two conditions that not only frequently occur together but that also make each other worse. Like co-morbidity, types of cognitive distortion often occur together. We all experience cognitive distortions at some time or another and, while this is perfectly normal, in their more extreme forms these distortions can be extremely harmful. Here is a quick overview of common forms of cognitive distortion viewed through the revealing lens of visual metaphor. Knowing what they are and the forms they can take can forearm you against the serious harm that cognitive distortions can cause.


Magnification and Minimisation

Think of the old “making mountains out of molehills” metaphor. And of the reverse – “making molehills out of mountains” because we very often are guilty of doing both. Example: You view your own significant achievements as unimportant while exaggerating and overemphasising your mistakes.


You make broad interpretations and come to conclusions based on limited experience gained from a single, or very few events. Example: “I felt really awkward during my job interview. I guess I’ll always feel awkward.”


You see only the worst possible outcome in every situation. Example: “This will end in tears.” Or, “Dinner is going to be an absolute disaster.”

Mind Reading

You irrationally second-guess others and interpret their thoughts without adequate evidence. Example: “She’ll never go out on a date with me. I am sure she thinks I’m ugly.”

Magical Thinking

You believe that certain acts and facts will totally influence unrelated circumstances and situations. Example: “I’m a good person. I deserve a win.” Or, “I’m a good person. Bad things shouldn’t happen to me.”

All or Nothing Thinking

By thinking in finite absolutes like, “always”, “never” and “every, you blind yourself to many self-evident contradictory truths. Example: “I never do a good enough job. I always mess it up. I am never going to get it right.”

Emotional Reasoning 

You make the dangerous assumption that emotions show things as they really are. Example: “I feel like a bad selfish partner therefore; a bad selfish partner is what I must be”

Fortune Telling

You act like you have access to a future-revealing crystal ball and predict that things will turn out a certain way even in the face of solid evidence to the contrary. Example: “I just know she’s going to leave me.”


You behave like everything is your responsibility and as if everything that goes wrong is your fault. Example: “Mum is upset. She’d be fine if I did more to help her.” Or “Mum and Dad are getting divorced. It must be because of something I have done.”

Should Statements

You believe that there is some iron-clad reason why things “should” be a certain way. Example: “Fat people should always be jolly.” Or “I should always be friendly.”

Jumping to Conclusions

You leap to Interpretation of the meaning of a given situation and often predict an outcome with little or even no evidence. Example: “You’re not going to let me finish speaking are you.” With that kind of thinking you are going to need a parachute.

Disqualifying the Positive.

You readily recognise the negative aspects of a situation but studiously ignore the positives. Example: “Everyone said the potatoes were awesome, but no one mentioned the beans. The beans must have been awful. I am a terrible cook!”

The next time you suspect that you might be seeing things not quite as they are remember to view the situation through the lens of metaphor. You’ll be amazed at how often things come into focus and how readily common distortions disappear.

About the author

Dr. Mark Whittington and Gaby Bush

Dr. Mark Whittington is a graduate of the distinguished Otago Medical School, and has more than 30 years’ experience working at the clinical coalface as a Consultant Psychiatrist.

Gaby Bush is a creative director, writer ,ex-patient, corporate refugee, and survivor of severe PTSD. Gaby is living proof of how well the Metaphorical Therapy System works in the real world.

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