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When Depression Distorts Reality

I’ve been experiencing deep depression for a week now. I have rapid cycling bipolar I disorder, so this is not uncommon. During times like these I’m often lethargic, weepy, have low energy and don’t sleep well despite the fact that I’m in bed a lot. This does not describe the full magnitude of depression. It feels a lot worse than simply being tired and sad. Depression can affect a person negatively to the point that it distorts their reality.

I’m a fairly reasonable person. I like logic. When I’m depressed, neither of these things work as well as they do when I’m in remission. I find myself ruminating on negativity. Everything is bad and everything will be bad for the foreseeable future. This is not true, but it’s what depression feels like.

Many people will refer to this situation with phrases like “these are the lies depression tells.” I’ve come to dislike phrases like this. Depression is an illness, it is not a boogeyman hiding under my bed. The clinical term for this type of rumination is “cognitive distortion” and is common when dealing with depression.

There are many common cognitive distortions. Some of the most common include:

1 Personalizing
Taking something personally or blaming yourself for something that is not your fault.

2 Disqualifying the positive
If something good happens you dismiss it as insignificant and focus on the negative.

3 All-or-nothing thinking
Everything is black or white, there is no in between.

4 Overgeneralization
You may judge a person or situation without knowing all of the facts. Also, if something bad happens once, it will happen over-and-over again.

5 Catastrophizing
Anything negative is the worst possible outcome and devastating.

6 Emotional reasoning
Believing that if you feel something emotionally that must mean that it’s true.

7 Jumping to conclusions
You come to the worst conclusion with little to no information that will back up the conclusion.

8 Magnifying
Something or everything is blown out of proportion. This is similar to catastrophizing.

9 Labeling
This is typically over-generalizing or making self-statements that are emotionally loaded like “I’m a loser.”

10 Blaming
Instead of personalizing, you blame everything on someone else.

11 Should statements
You use self-talk that includes what you think should be happening as opposed to what is actually happening.

12 Control fallacy
You think you are in control over events or feelings that are truly out of your control.

13 Fallacy of fairness
You believe that everything is based on fairness or equality, when that is often not the case.

14 Assuming current feelings will stay the same
Especially in depression, you think or feel that current negative feelings will continue because they are occurring now.

15 Delusions
You hold a false belief despite evidence to the contrary. This can happen especially in depression with psychosis.


I have been guilty of feeling or experiencing most of these distortions, some even outside of a depressed state. You can deal with them by practicing positive self-talk or talking to a friend. You can also go through a process called “cognitive restructuring” used in cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive restructuring helps you to recognize cognitive distortion and evaluate evidence to see if what you’re thinking is true. It also involves practicing self-compassion, which is essential when experiencing depression.



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Image credit: Krists Luhaers

When Depression Distorts Reality

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2017). When Depression Distorts Reality. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Sep 2017
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