4 Cognitive Distortions That Will Destroy Your Relationships, Self-Esteem, And Sanity

Learn how to deal with these cognitive distortions that will make your life a nightmare.

Things That Will Destroy Your Relationships, Self-Esteem, And Sanity Polina Zimmerman | Canva

How clearly do you think you see the world? Well, I have scary news. We don’t see things as they are. We don’t even see. We perceive. Your eyes, ears, and senses receive information from the outside world and send it to the brain. The brain, then, has to interpret these inputs.

The brain does that based on your already existing beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and even moods. That’s what we call perception. Our perception usually doesn’t represent reality accurately. That’s because our senses can’t make sense of everything. Plus, there will always be a percentage of toxic and biased beliefs. We call that perception errors or cognitive distortions.


The more you have them, the more distorted your reality will be — you will have versions of reality that are not only inaccurate but also will hurt you. In short, you will suffer emotionally and mentally. Why? Because the perception errors will support your false and toxic beliefs. And when you see the world through these dirty lenses, it is not a great experience. Surprisingly, when you believe in something, your perception will support that belief. Even if that means twisting facts and seeing things in a distorted way.

The key is to be aware of these cognitive distortions (or perception errors) and stop them from feeding toxic beliefs. (Also not giving you an inflated, deluding, but positive image of yourself)


Usually, people with low self-esteem have many terrible beliefs about themselves. And one of the ways they strengthen those beliefs is through distorted perceptions. So, one of the best ways we can weaken and destroy these toxic, harmful beliefs is by challenging those distortions.

Before that, you need to become aware of these cognitive distortions. In the rest of this article, we will talk about the most popular perception errors that will make you question everything in your life, including yourself, your relationships, your work, and even your sanity.

What distorts perception?


There are many lists out there that detail lots of cognitive distortions. Instead of creating another list and making the internet more crowded with similar information, I will write this list focusing on two main points: relationships and self-esteem. In other words, those are the cognitive distortions that will affect your relationships and self-esteem the most.

While reading some of the lists I found online, I realized that most of the cognitive distortions share a similar purpose: "Support and verify our already existing (and usually negative) beliefs." Based on this fact, we will talk about distortions to understand how they can affect you and how becoming aware of them is very powerful. That can be one of the best things you can do for your self-esteem and relationships. I can tell that it was one of the best things I’ve done to mine.

To illustrate how cognitive distortions work, we will talk about 4 types. The first one will give you a general idea about how your perception can be distorted (and why). The next three are examples that will drive the point home. That sounds like a lot, but it is not. It will all make sense.

RELATED: 14 Common Types Of Bias — And How They Affect You & Your Relationships


Here are 4 cognitive distortions that will destroy your relationships, self-esteem, and sanity:

1. As soon as a belief is adopted, you will do your best to confirm it

The book Insecure in Love talks mostly about the anxious attachment style (based on attachment theory). People with an anxious attachment style tend to look down at themselves (a.k.a. have a poor self-image), while at the same time, they look up at other people. This is an overgeneralized statement and should be taken with a grain of salt. However, it is true in certain situations.

This way of thinking makes the person feel like they are not worthy of love and will be abandoned sooner or later. That will cause a lot of fear and anxiety in the relationship. It will also lead to many needy and clingy behaviors.

Here is an insightful excerpt from the book: “People are especially motivated to verify their self-perceptions of being worthy or unworthy of love. They self-verify by selectively paying attention to, selectively remembering, and selectively interpreting information.”

That is interesting. As soon as someone believes that they are worthy of love (or not worthy of love), they will, based on that belief, pay attention to specific things, remember specific things, and interpret specific information. Those specific things verify their beliefs about themselves and prove them to be true.


The book goes on to explain:

“Selective attention: People pay more attention to, and spend more time considering, feedback that confirms their sense of their lovability or unlovability than feedback that disconfirms it.

Selective memory: People tend to remember feedback that confirms their sense of being worthy or unworthy of love. Sometimes they don’t even process information that conflicts with their perception, let alone remember it over time.

Selective interpretation: People tend to unquestioningly believe feedback that confirms their sense of being lovable or unlovable. They think any feedback that conflicts with their preconception is due to a mistake or deception. They also interpret absent or ambiguous evidence as support for their self-perceptions.”


This goes for people who believe they are worthy or unworthy of love. But it also applies to any beliefs we hold about ourselves. For whatever reason, you believe something negative about yourself. Whether it is about your lovability, physical looks, skills, competence, or even worth. Then the distortions happen to verify this belief and reinforce it. You start to selectively choose what to pay attention to. You pay attention to the negative experiences that reinforce negative beliefs about yourself.

For instance, for anxious attachers, the simple act of not texting them back can make them question their desirability and consider the fact that they might be dumped. Also, people cherry-pick what to remember and what to ignore based on their toxic beliefs. I notice this personally. When I feel bad about myself, I tend to remember every single thing I screwed up before.

And it applies to all sorts of beliefs:

  • Someone insecure about his/her looks will interpret every weird look as a confirmation of their ugliness.
  • Someone insecure about his social skills will interpret every yawn as a confirmation of the fact that they are boring.

The point is that as soon as a belief, positive or negative, is adopted, you will do your best to confirm it. Unfortunately, this is how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. You might have been rejected throughout your childhood and adopted the belief that you are not worthy of being accepted. Growing up, you will strengthen this belief by selectively remembering, noticing, and processing what proves it to be correct.


Sure, destroying the belief will fix the cognitive distortions. But also being aware of these distortions and consciously challenging them will help weaken the belief. It will take time and consistent effort until you learn to perceive reality more clearly and accurately.

2. You believe that what other people do is because of you

If someone frowned at you, you would take that at face value that the other person is doing that because you did something wrong. If someone ignored you, you would think they either hate you or that you are boring. If someone rejected you, you would think it was because you are inadequate.

This is called interpreting everything that other people do as a personal insult and proof of your inadequacy. People with this perception error usually interpret every conflict, rejection, or disagreement as a threat to their worth. As a result, they will end up feeling more insecure and weaker. They will strengthen their negative beliefs about themselves while weakening their souls with demeaning self-talk.


The truth is that taking things personally is unrealistic. People do not care about you that much. They are obsessed with their own lives, enjoyment, pain, and satisfaction. They are focused on their flaws and insecurities. Many people are too busy worrying about their flaws just as much as you do.

And those who are focusing on your flaws and mocking you are doing so because they are full of crap. So, they are doing that because of them, not you. Just be assertive and walk away. Do not question yourself.

Either way, most of what other people do to you has nothing to do with you. They are adults who have been acting like this for years before meeting you. Stop taking things personally and consider the other possible reasons. Those possible reasons are either that the other person is crazy, or there is a perception error.

Let us take the example of someone ignoring you. This person could be:

  • Tired.
  • Having a bad day.
  • Did not notice you.
  • Taking revenge because you’d ignored him before.
  • Shy.
  • Insecure and afraid of rejection.
  • Narcissistic.
  • I am sure I can come up with more possible scenarios that have nothing to do with you, but you get the point.

The point is that none of those reasons have anything to do with you. So, stop using them to strengthen negative beliefs about you. Just assume nothing until it is proven based on solid facts. But, again, be careful what you consider as solid facts.

RELATED: 4 Ways To Stop Taking Things So Personally

3. You think in black and white

This one is more like all-or-nothing. It goes like this:

  • All people do not like me.
  • All my friends hate me.
  • I fail every time I try to do something.
  • They never laugh at my jokes.
  • It is a bad week (just because of a bad day).

Or it could look this also:

  • He ignored my text. That means he does not like me.
  • The last exam was very difficult. That means I will not pass this semester.
  • I probably won’t get a decent job because I failed this exam.
  • They rejected my resume. That means I will never find a job. I will be broke forever.

People with this distortion go to the extreme. They take one negative aspect and assume it is everything. They catastrophize their conclusions. And that is dangerous. Life does not work this way. You cannot make stupid negative overgeneralizations about yourself, other people, or most situations in life. Be careful when you use the words “all,” “every,” and “any.” Stop immediately and ask yourself if that is true and if you can back it up.

RELATED: The 12 Most Common Mistakes People Make In Life

4. You zoom in on the negative

This is how people with low self-esteem do themselves in. They zoom in on the negative. They make the negative side bigger. And they zoom out on the positive side and make it less important.


It might have something to do with the perfection tendency. Those are the people who get 50 comments on their performance. 40 of these comments are positive. But they focus on the negative 10 comments and give very little credit to the positive ones. 

Or those are the people who can’t accept compliments and always see something wrong in themselves or their work. They do something imperfect, which is what you are expected to produce. Instead of viewing it just like it is (good and bad), they give a higher weight to the bad side and end up weakening themselves. This can also happen with looks. Many people who think they are less attractive than they are suffering from this cognitive distortion. It stops them from seeing what other people see. 

Again, this might stem from the toxic desire to be perfect. Believing that if you are not perfect, if you do not look flawless, if you do not do perfect work, you are not worthy of love, respect, and admiration. Or, as discussed above, it could be because somewhere along your journey in life, you adopted a negative belief about yourself. I guess it is time you let it go.

RELATED: How To Stop Your Negative Thoughts And Improve Your Quality Of Life


Mosab Alkhteb is a writer for Medium that helps you to identify toxic traits and people and to avoid their influence in your life.