Cognitive Distortions: Mental Filter


Cognitive distortions are viewed as patterns of thought that reinforce a person’s negative thoughts or emotions. These distortions can interfere with how someone perceives a conversation, event or relationship. The idea is that the way a person feels affects how they think and if someone’s thinking is distorted, it can feed a negative outlook further increasing depressive and anxious symptoms. They often feed into each other and it is normal for a person to be able to identify more than one as affecting how they perceive a situation.

Using a “Mental Filter is one of the 10 cognitive distortions as identified by psychiatrist Aaron Beck and David Burns, (n.d). When someone uses a mental filter, they tend to pick out one negative detail of their life or situation and obsess over it. This rumination over the negative aspects of their life filters out any of the positive things that have also occurred. When we allow ourselves to perseverate on the negative, our lives begin to feel as though only negative things happen to us all the time. That leads us into another cognitive distortion called “over generalizing” which we will get to in the next blog.

When someone recognizes that they are using a mental filter to focus only on a negative aspect of their life, it can be helpful for them to write down all of the positive things that have happened. It can be as small as someone holding the door open for them or as big as graduating from college. The more positive aspects a person writes down the more it will counteract the negative thought and break that pattern. There will always be negative aspects to life, but when we can look at the positive too, things won’t feel as overwhelming.


Written by Marie Thompson, MA



10 Forms of Cognitive Distortions (Faulty Thinking). (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2016, from

Photo Source: