More Cognitive Distortion Examples: Should Statements & Anxiety

We have discussed before how situations and other people can at times be a source of duress.  In this article, we provide more assistance by reviewing additional cognitive distortion examples.  And best of all, we work through an actual example and provide a very detailed set of instructions that you can apply in your daily life.

Here’s the process in a nutshell:

When situations arise that upset you (whether it be a specific situation or individual), you are likely “making should statements.”  Should statements are: “Concentrating on what you think “should” or ought to be rather than the actual situation you are faced with, or having rigid rules which you think should always apply no matter what the circumstances are.”

I refer to the resulting process of becoming anxious or depressed when “should” rules have been violated as Negative Reflection.  I chose this name because what happens is that we begin to reflect on negative a situation was and make it worse (in our minds).

This process of making it worse actually has a name – it’s another Cognitive Distortion called Magnification. Magnification refers to inappropriately exaggerating the way people or situations truly are.

Dr. John M. Grohol, Psy.D., provides some very useful information in his article on Cognitive Distortions.  What really peaked my interest was his discussion of the Fallacy of Fairness:

‘We feel resentful because we think we know what is fair, but other people won’t agree with us. As our parents tell us, “Life is always fair,” and people who go through life applying a measuring ruler against every situation judging its “fairness” will often feel badly and negative because of it.’

What’s the relevancy of this?

I think the Fallacy of Fairness explains very clearly how each of us has our own should rules with which we think the world should conform.  The problem is that this is not how the world always works.  But there is no need to despair because we can learn to work with our thinking on this matter.

Fortunately you no longer need to suffer because:

  1. I have completed a Cost Benefit Analysis on the process of Negative Reflection.
  2. I have developed a technique for working through these situations.

First, the Cost Benefit Analysis.

You’ll likely recall that a Cost Benefit Analysis involves writing down the pros and cons of this belief (in other words, the advantages and disadvantages) and then rating them as a approximate percentage.

So let’s generate some right now.

Negative Reflection Cost Benefit Analysis

Advantages Disadvantages
1. Might be helpful to develop a future strategy if I encounter the same situation.2. I can reflect on correctness of actions (whether I could have done something differently). 1. Feel bad2. Less productive

3. Not in the “moment”

4. Negative view of things in general

5. More inclined to act more negatively towards others

6. Overall “Being” is compromised

7. It clearly compromises my goal of autonomy

70% Disadvantages vs. 30% Advantages

Utilizing a new strategy

New Strategy: Questioning Technique.  It can be used whenever someone or something bothers you – before or after Negative Reflection occurs.  There’s a caveat: the technique requires you to be honest with yourself.

The steps are below.

Ask yourself:

  1. Did you cause or contribute to the existence of the negative event?
  2. If yes, what could you have done differently? If no, might there have been a better way to handle the situation, now that you have the benefit of hindsight?
  3. Regardless of whether you’ve answered yes or no above, analyze your thinking and locate your “Should” rules that are driving your frustration about the event. Then replace these should rules with more realistic statements.
  4. Finally, what are the general lesson(s) or take-home-ideas that you can use for future reference?

If applicable, the idea(s) / lesson(s) generated from step #2, will serve as a lesson that can be integrated into future conduct, if similar enough situations arise.

The idea(s) / lesson(s) generated from step #4 will form part of your life lessons which can be used for future reference at any time.

The idea is that if something or someone bothers you, there is a lesson or take-home-message to get, regardless of who’s to blame.  This does not necessarily assume any responsibility on your part for causing the event; rather, the idea is that a lesson, or take-home-idea, can be taken from every life experience and thus every experience is valuable.

The above technique works to convert a negative encounter into a positive one because:

  1. Cost benefit analysis illustrates how counterproductive negative reflection is.
  2. You now have a clear alternative strategy that actually allows you to gain advantages of the negative reflection without having any disadvantages.
  3. You can move forward and truly live the life you wish to live without being inhibited by negative reflection.

Some Tips:

  • If you’ve followed the above steps and negative reflection reoccurs for the same event, remind yourself: A. that it is already resolved, B. what the lesson(s) were, and C. the outcome of the Cost benefit analysis on negative reflection vis-à-vis your goal of autonomy, (i.e. it is completely contrary and impedes your goals of autonomy in life.)
  • Perhaps a future event might seem to generate the same lesson; however, it serves to strengthen/reinforce the lesson or “take-home-message” which will serve you moving forward.
  • A continual theme of lessons will be that people are individuals and “should” rules cannot be applied unanimously. (This is due to the fact that “Should” beliefs are a cognitive distortion. Once corrected, the distortion of course is gone and your bad feelings about the event can be gone at the same time.
  •  Diversity / contrast exist, and will always exist. There is nothing you can do about it. Doing CBT on the “should” rules can develop a more useful perspective. Utilizing the Questioning Technique allows you to turn a negative event into a positive one, feel better, be more productive and move forward to lead the life you really want to lead.

When you perform exercises above you are utilizing two specific fundamentals – which are critical: 1. setting the agenda to make an ongoing commitment throughout the day to keep working on your thoughts and 2. being resilient.

A real great way to dramatically facilitate and supplement the above exercises along with setting the agenda for changing your thought processes and being resilient is by having someone coach you, particularly someone who has experience with anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia.

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Grohol J. Common Cognitive Distortions. PsychCentral.15 Retrieved September 12, 2012, from: