Ten Cognitive Distortions (and four IB’s)


REBT-CBT is built on the premise that we all make fundamental mistakes in the way we think about ourselves, other people and life in general, and that these mistakes (irrational beliefs and cognitive distortions) are the real cause of (virtually all) of our misery and dysfunction and failure. This is so important!   Continue reading to see a complete list, explanation of and tips for how to use  the Ten Cognitive Distortions and Four IB’s (Irrational Beliefs) as conceptualized by David Burns, Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis.


Hi REBT Mates!

Here are the Ten Cognitive Distortions as conceptualized by David Burns based upon his work with Aaron Beck.  Following them are what I refer to as The Big Four, the four irrational beliefs (IB’s) that drive emotional disturbance as conceptualized by Dr. Albert Ellis.


Both are valid!  And there is nothing inherently magical  or sacred about the numbers 10 or 4.  They are just different perspectives on the same content and dynamics.  All of the ten are contained within the Big Four.  Burns could have just as easily organized them as 12 or 20 or 8.  Lists of 10 items are always a catchy way to organize ideas when you are writing books and especially when you are trying to sell those books, but  10 and 4 are certainly not inherently more correct than any other number.  The trick, I suppose, is to choose a number that is sufficiently informative while remaining “user friendly.”

I do wish that more people would take me up on my earnest recommendation that the process I describe below is the a way of getting the most out of this list rather than just reading it once-over and saying “Isn’t that nice!” and then never looking at them again, never mind applying them in daily life.

Rex’s 7 Steps to working the
Cognitive distortions

  1.  Read, study and familiarize yourself each of the 10 distortions.

Then, memorize them!  I can hear you protesting already, “Rex! Surely you must be joking!”  No, I am not joking. That’s right, I said “memorize” them. I realize  that may seem really “old school” and not very amusing . . .  but it works! It really works and will pay off in dividends much greater than the time and energy you invest committing them to memory. Think about it. How can you ever learn and understand anything if you don’t first remember it? Or to put it another way, how can you possibly understand why you know what you know,  or why you  know what you understand if you can’t remember it? Duh!  If you normally use peg and link memory systems, this will seem obvious to you and it will be a snap.  If not, just a little boring work.  But the boring work will yield great benefits as you move toward being able to actually apply this process to your problems in a meaningful and useful way, rather than just “thinking about them.”


2.  Then, write about your problem,  or choose something you have already written.  You can do exactly the same thing with nearly anything that your or another person has written, fact or fiction, to great benefit.



3.  With your list of Cognitive Distortions at hand, carefully go thorough the material you have collected and written to see how many of the distortions you can identify.  Yellow highlight them.  Especially, be on the lookout for any (moralistic) shoulds, oughts and musts, and disguised shoulds in the form of “Why?” questions and “I can’t believe it!”

Highlighter.jpg (500×300)



4.  Go back over the highlighted distortions.  Can you see (really “get it) that these distortions are indeed distorted, often completely false, illogical, irrational and most important, unhelpful. Can you see how these distortions are actually provoking and evoking unpleasant feelings and disturbed emotions?  Great!  Can you see how these emotions might be leading you to behave in ways which are unrewarding and self-defeating?  Great!



5.  Do you really “get it”? Fine, now you can begin to replace this distorted thinking with thinking that is “cooler,” more rational and helpful, less provocative and inflammatory.  Do you actually believe what you are telling yourself?  Really?  Great!


6.  How do you feel now?


7. Take rational action that is counter to habitual, self-defeating behavior you are working on.

I believe this process to be sound and  intuitively correct; a natural, organic process, which operates no matter whether you follow the procedure above or use the Burns Three Column Technique, or Ellis’s ABC method, or Edelstein’s  Three Minute Technique, or other formats. We have provided a selection of self-help forms for you to use. The technique and the form and the format are merely ways or organizing your thinking.  Please, don’t get hung up on the form.  Don’t fall into the trap of filling in forms becoming an exercise in the tail wagging the dog.

I don’t care if you do this climbing a tree and talking to your cat while eating rocky road ice cream. The object is to change, really change, the self-defeating beliefs that are making you miserable. 

The various techniques all lead to the same place and help you to

1. identity your distorted thinking,

2.  see (really see, really get it)  how these distortions upset you and lead to dysfunctional behavior,

3. Replace the distorted thinking with cooler, more helpful and rational thinking,

4. behave in ways which help you to get more of what you want and less of what you do not want.



That’s all folks!
Continue reading to see the list of the ten cognitive distortions and the “The Big Four.”

Message me or join the discussion and add your questions, comments, thoughts, whatever in the box all the way at the bottom of this page.  I look forward to hearing from you.


Definitions of the
Ten Cognitive Distortions


You see things in black and white categories.  If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.


You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.


  You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality become darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.


You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or another.  In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.


You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion. There are two versions:

a.  Mind Reading:  You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.

b.  The Fortune Teller Error:  You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already established fact.


(This is Dr. Ellis’s #2 below): You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement) or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections).  This is also called the “binocular trick.”


You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are:  “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”


(This is Dr. Ellis’s #1 below) You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and
shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything.  “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders.  The emotional consequence is guilt.  When you direct your should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.


(This is Dr. Ellis’s #4 below): This is an extreme form of
overgeneralization.  Instead of describing your error, you attach a
negative label to yourself:  “I’m a loser.”  When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a goddamn louse.”  Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.


You see yourself as the cause of some negative
external event which in fact you were not primarily responsible for.

Table 3-1, _Feeling Good_
David D. Burns, MD



And Ellis reduces these IB’s to, as I call them,

“The Big Four” 

(1)  Demanding,

(2)  Awfulizing,

(3)  Low Frustration Tolerance, and

(4)  People Rating,





How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4.4 / 5. Vote count: 25

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Follow me
Latest posts by Rex Alexander (see all)
Please share the love . . .

Join discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © 2018-2024 All rights reserved.
This site is using the Desk Mess Mirrored Child Child-Theme, v2., on top of
the Parent-Theme Desk Mess Mirrored, v2.5, from BuyNowShop.com

Never miss a post!

Don't let this happen you you!
Get FREE weekly Newsletter Digest of New Posts

We respect your privacy.