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  • Writer's pictureAsia Hardin

Cognitive Distortions for Teens


Cognitive Distortions, also known as thinking errors, are unhelpful thinking styles/patterns that distort our view of reality.


While these distortions can affect the thinking of anyone, younger people (i.e. teens) tend to be especially vulnerable to them.


Most teens are hard on themselves already, easily getting stuck in negative thinking patterns that can increase feelings of depression and anxiety.


The teenage years are full of strong emotions, ones that are overwhelming and hard to control.


But by being able to recognize the cognitive distortions that might be amplifying those feelings, you can feel a little bit better in understanding the reasoning around your negative things and be able to challenge those thoughts.



Here are some examples of unhelpful thinking styles...


All or Nothing Thinking: Also known as black or white thinking; viewing situations or people in all-or-none/black-and-white terms. Example: If I’m not perfect then I’m a failure

Disqualifying the Positive: Discounting the good things that have happened to you, that they don’t count. Example: She told me that I look nice but I know that she was just being nice.


Overgeneralization: You perceive the likelihood of a negative outcome based upon a single incident. Example: Nothing good ever happens to me


Emotional Reasoning: You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality or you assume that because you feel a certain way what we think is true. Example: I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot.


Mind Reading: You assume you know what people are thinking without having evidence or proof of their thoughts. Example: They probably think I’m a bad friend.


Labeling: Assigning negative labels to ourselves or other people. Example: I’m completely useless!


Catastrophizing: You believe what might happen will be so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it. Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation. Example: If I make a bad grade then I will never get into a good college.


Minimizing or Magnification: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of an event. Example: If I don’t make it to school on time, then I’m going to get kicked out of school.


Mental Filtering: Only paying attention to certain types of evidence, only seeing the negative. Example: I didn’t make the team, I will never be able to try out for the team again.

Personalization: Thinking that other people’s negative behavior is your own fault. Example: My friend got a bad grade on an assignment, it’s my fault I should have helped them.


Here are a few steps to help challenge negative and unhelpful thinking patterns:


1. Identify the negative thoughts: Before we can face the distortion, we must first know which one(s) we're trying to solve.


2. Check the facts & critically examine your thoughts: Are the thoughts you are having actual facts or opinions and interpretations of the situation? Is there evidence that contradicts your thoughts?


3. Revisit or recall positive experiences: If you're stuck in a negative headspace, try to recall positive outcomes that you have experienced before.


4. Practice self-compassion: Speak kindly to yourself, build yourself up, and supply the internal love and support you need.



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