Cognitive Distortion Series, Unhealthy Behaviors

Cognitive Distortion Series – Jumping to Conclusions

Cognitive Distortion Series:  2nd in a series of explaining what cognitive distortions are and how they negatively impact our lives and relationships.

Jumping to Conclusions is also called ‘mind reading’ and ‘fortune telling’. We all do it from time to time.

It’s that conversation in your head that makes a decision based on information in your environment. The problem lies in that the decision is usually about or for another individual.  It’s when you catch yourself saying:

“I know what he’s going to say”

“I know what she’s going to do”

This style of reasoning becomes distorted when we focus on the NEGATIVE predictions we make about another’s action or reaction without specific evidence to support the prediction. It’s not always based on another person – we can use this negative distortion about our own lives as well.


“I don’t know why I bother.  No matter what I do it will never be good enough for her.”

“He won’t appreciate anything I do; he doesn’t want to put in the effort.”

“You’re just going to tell me not to, so I am not going to ask.”

When we jump to conclusions, we are imposing our own fears, our personal insecurities and our individual life experiences onto a situation or person without verifying if in FACT, there is evidence to substantiate our rationale.

Susan was married to a man who carried on an affair for 5 years prior to its discovery. Trust was extremely difficult to reestablish in part, due to the development of the cognitive distortion jumping to conclusions by Susan.

If her husband was distracted, Susan felt as though (and would accuse) that he was thinking of the other woman.

If he was late or unreachable, she experienced anxiety and believed he ‘must be’ with the other woman.

She eventually developed the belief, regardless of how much or in what way, her husband denied it – that he didn’t want to be with her; that he would prefer to be with the other woman.

While an affair HAD existed – it was in the PAST.  All the thoughts that Susan had IN THE PRESENT failed to be supported by PRESENT evidence. Her husband had ended the affair but Susan was unable to focus on current evidence and was instead, governed by her newly developed distorted thoughts.

While re-establishing trust after infidelity is always challenging, much of the work focuses on quieting the fears the past behavior will return.  It is imperative that we focus on the evidence for what is happening in the PRESENT.

Despite receiving an invitation to attend a family reunion for her half-sisters family, Katie believed that no one really included her in the ‘family’.  [Katie’s mom abandoned the family after the birth of her sister. Katie was 16 and stayed in the home of her step-father until she went to college.]  She recalled years of feeling excluded even though she spent family time and holidays at the home of her step-father and sister.  She was unable to describe specific evidence that supported the idea that she wasn’t welcome. All she had to go on was a ‘feeling’.

That ‘feeling’ was instrumental in the thoughts that ran through Katie’s mind when thinking about her sister’s family:

“When people see me they must think of my mother.”

“This is a courtesy invite; they don’t really want me here.”

“I don’t belong here.”

Even though family members welcomed Katie and attempted to involve her in activities, she was convinced that she knew what everyone wanted and/or was thinking. Katie was mind reading and jumping to conclusions.  She had developed cognitive distortions based on feelings – not facts.

Many times, we jump to conclusions because of the way that WE decode information versus the way another does. We use our own understanding of the world to assess our experiences of a situation and fail to consider that it may be different for others.

After a counseling session, MJ is silent. She needs time to process everything she heard during the session. She is an internal thinker. Pete, on the other hand, likes to think out loud and interprets silence as anger.  Pete, assuming that anger is forthcoming, develops a defensive posture and begins prepping for a fight about something he said during the session.

Pete is ASSUMING he knows why MJ is silent. He is jumping to a conclusion about the intent of her silence. Because he would only be silent when angry – he is interpreting her silence as anger.  His only “evidence” is HIS OWN understanding – not what is FACTUAL for MJ.

Remember – all of us have some degree of Cognitive Distortions and use them from time to time. They become maladaptive when the quality of our life and/or the quality of our relationships are compromised!

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