Cognitive Distortions – Disqualifying the Positive

Have you ever found yourself downplaying or dismissing your positive experiences and attributes in life? Perhaps a stranger compliments your outfit and you dismiss it as the stranger just trying to make small talk. Maybe you get a good score on an exam but dismiss it as the exam being extremely easy. This negative pattern of thinking is a type of cognitive distortion known as disqualifying the positive.

What does it mean to disqualify the positive?

To disqualify the positive is to reject, dismiss, or ignore the positive experiences in your day-to-day life by insisting they do not count even in the face of contradictory information and evidence. People who experience this pattern of thinking tend to chalk their positive experiences up to blind luck rather than actual skill or steadfast determination. Disqualifying the positive can be especially destructive as it can reinforce the negative perceptions we have of ourselves which can lead to the development or worsening of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

Most of us will disqualify the positive from time to time in our day-to-day lives without even being consciously aware of it. Some of us may even find it useful to disqualify the positive in some circumstances if it keeps us modest or motivates us to reach higher goals. However, disqualifying the positive too much and too often can give us a negatively biased perception of ourselves to the point where our sense of well-being and self-worth suffer greatly. Those who tend to disqualify the positive regularly may have trouble when it comes to setting realistic expectations of themselves, recognizing their strengths, acknowledging personal progress, and accepting genuine praise from others.

Common examples of disqualifying the positive include:

- Dismissing contradictory information: “Having an A in the class doesn’t matter. I still got a bad grade on the quiz and that makes me an utter failure.”

- Minimizing personal progress: “I’ve lost some weight, but I could be doing so much better if I wasn’t so lazy.”

- Undermining evidence to the contrary: “Sure I did get a promotion, but only because the job is so simple”

Techniques to address disqualifying the positive

- Counting the positives: Utilize a positive data log to acknowledge and keep track of positive attributes and experiences in day-to-day life.

- Accepting the positives: Actively attempt to respond differently to the positive experiences in life (i.e., express gratitude).

- Decentering: Decentering is the ability to recognize thoughts and cognitions from an objective perspective without engaging with the thoughts on a personal level.

- Keep thought records: Self-monitor via thought records to write down and challenge automatic thoughts when you find yourself disqualifying the positive.

When habitual, disqualifying the positive can maintain the negative perceptions we have of ourselves and contribute to the onset or worsening of anxiety or depression. By acknowledging when we disqualify the positive and challenging ourselves to address it, we can disrupt distorted patterns of thinking and live more fulfilling lives. Do you find yourself disqualifying the positive? What techniques will you utilize? If you are concerned about how disqualifying the positive or other distorted patterns of thinking may be negatively affecting your life, our specially-trained therapists here at Pacific CBT are here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free, 15-minute video consultation.


About The Author

Christian Wertman currently works as a behavior therapist in the field of applied behavior analysis. Christian received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and has aspirations for a career in clinical psychology.