Nine Cognitive Distortions of Depression

Although the origin of depression is multifactorial, cognitive distortions are one of the elements that have the most weight in its origin. Do you want to know what these are?
Nine Cognitive Distortions of Depression
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 24 November, 2021

The cognitive distortions of depression are like mental filters that mean you see, interpret, and experience the world in a negative way. In fact, you see it as loaded with sadness and with no hope. Some say it isn’t clear which comes first. Whether it’s the depressive order itself or the adverse thoughts that reinforce this harmful approach to well-being.

Although more and more people are now talking about mood disorders, we still don’t know everything about them. However, depression can certainly take you to some extremely unpleasant places. In fact, it’s what you think and how you think that usually end up being the architects of your mental prison.

Depression is the result of a whole multifactorial network in which the influence of different variables is integrated. These range from your genetic predisposition to environmental and social factors which are beyond your control.

It’s extremely useful to get to know depression and some of its psychological aspects. In this article, we’ll take a look at cognitive distortions.

Young people deal more than ever with states of high mental exhaustion. This needs to be addressed.

teenager suffering from the cognitive distortions of depression

Types of cognitive distortions of depression

We really need to have more conversations about depression, anxiety, sadness, and the kind of irritability that doesn’t go away. In short, about mental health. It isn’t easy to determine why these disorders appear. However, it’s essential to know how to detect the mechanisms that build the structure of a depressive disorder.

The University of Western Ontario (Canada) conducted research that suggested cognitive distortions, understood as negative biases in thinking, tend to make people more vulnerable to depression. However, they shouldn’t be taken as the only variables that promote the development of this disorder.

In reality, it’s moods and feelings that act as the fuel to ignite these negative and exhausting thoughts. They result in the kind of irritability that traps you without you knowing why. The type of irritability that gives rise to thoughts like ” I’m worthless” “Nobody trusts me” or “Why should I even bother?” 

Understanding these thought filters, such as cognitive distortions, allows for a better understanding of depression itself.

1. Emotional reasoning

Emotional reasoning is a psychological process by which you interpret everything that happens to you in accordance with the way you feel. For example, say you’re feeling particularly low and you’re due to meet someone. They’re late. You’re likely to interpret this as: “They’re delayed because they don’t really want to meet me.”

By not being able or not knowing how to manage your emotions, your brain weaves traps. In fact, you limit yourself to processing things in an emotional and non-objective way.

2. All or nothing

Another of the cognitive distortions of depression is dichotomous or all-or-nothing thinking. This causes your reality and all its events to filter into a form of extreme thinking. For example, you consider that either everything always turns out really well for you or it turns out extremely badly. And, if it turns out badly, you feel like it’s the end of the world. Seeing things categorically and in such absolute terms defines an extremely rigid pattern of thought that leads to suffering.

3. Disqualification of the positive

If you’re suffering from depression, you’re often unable to value anything as positive or hopeful. Neither are you capable of being aware of your own virtues or skills. As a matter of fact, if anything pleasant happens to you, you tend to underestimate it and play it down.

4. The anticipation of fatalistic conclusions

Your mind works differently when it’s dominated by discouragement, anguish, and discomfort. In fact, it interprets everything from an emotional and negative valence point of view. Furthermore, you lack patience and anticipate unwarranted conclusions.

For example, if you’re waiting for an answer to an exam, job interview, or medical diagnosis, you’ll always fear the worst. This filter of negativity leaves no room for any doubt and even less for any hope. Tomorrow’s always going to be stormy.

5. Overgeneralization

Say you’ve been cheated on in your last relationship. Now, you think that everyone’s going to disappoint you in the same way. Or, you lost your job a month ago but you don’t feel able to start looking for another one. You think that everything’s lost, that you’re no longer a suitable employee for any organization.

As a matter of fact, overgeneralization is one of the most common cognitive distortions of depression.  What happens is that you extrapolate one negative experience to all your future circumstances. With that kind of approach, all your hope disappears. 

6. The “shoulds”

In 1976, cognitive psychologist Aaron Beck put together a whole theoretical architecture around cognitive distortions. Later, in the 80s, David Burns described them and made them more popular in various publications, such as in his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

One of the most common cognitive distortions of depression is when the “shoulds” appear. For example, “My brother hasn’t come to visit me yet. After all I’ve done for him, he should really be more grateful.” Or “I should try and be more efficient or they’ll start to think badly of me”.

These cognitive distortions involve rigid beliefs about how others or you should be.  Furthermore, they undermine your self-esteem and well-being.

7. The fallacy of justice

The fallacy of justice is consistently integrated into the depressive focus. It describes that hidden need for things to be just as you want them to be. As this doesn’t always happen, you experience disappointment after disappointment. Gradually, this leads to mood disorders.

Woman thinking about the cognitive distortions of depression

8. Personalization

If your partner’s had a bad day at work, it’s your fault because you were talking to him about your problems yesterday. If your son has fallen over playing soccer, it’s your fault for not being there. Few things are more harmful than carrying realities that don’t belong to you on your own shoulders.

9. The obsession with labeling and devaluing

This is another example of how thoughts can act as traps into which you fall and get hurt on an ongoing basis. For example, you make a mistake and tell yourself, ” I’m completely worthless”. You look in the mirror and despise what you see. You devalue yourself. This turns you into someone who’s extremely dangerous for your own well-being. It’s never the right thing to do.

We must bear in mind that all these cognitive distortions of depression intensify the suffering of the disorder itself. As a matter of fact, almost without realizing it, you end up trapped in a psychological prison where your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors conspire against you. If you feel like this, ask for help, as soon as you can. 

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bathina, K.C., ten Thij, M., Lorenzo-Luaces, L. et al. Individuals with depression express more distorted thinking on social media. Nat Hum Behav 5, 458–466 (2021).
  • Rnic, K., Dozois, DJ y Martin, RA (2016). Distorsiones cognitivas, estilos de humor y depresión. Revista europea de psicología , 12 (3), 348–362.
  • Spinhoven P, van Hemert AM, Penninx BW. Repetitive negative thinking as a predictor of depression and anxiety: A longitudinal cohort study. J Affect Disord. 2018 Dec 1;241:216-225. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.08.037. Epub 2018 Aug 10. PMID: 30138805.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.