Distortion 4: Disqualifying the Positive

[Continuing my series on some of David Burns cognitive distortions. It helps me to really see them for what they are and how I apply them to my thinking.]

Disqualifying the positive can be summed up thusly: continually deemphasizing or shooting down positive experiences for ad hoc reasons. Ad hoc is one of my favorite phrases because it is amazing how easily humans are tripped up by what might be, may be, or could be, with absolutely no bearing on what is true or even probable.

In other words, when something good happens–especially if someone points it out publicly–I can mentally distort that event to be a fluke, coincidence, accident, or even a mistake, thereby allowing myself to continue to be negative. If I don’t want to do something, or don’t believe that something will work, I can shoot it down with a quickness by simply responding with a “well that’s just because…”

This is generally how it happens: someone says, “Hey! That was pretty awesome, huh?!”, and then I say something like:

–Oh, he’s just trying to be nice.

–Oh, she’s just having a good day.

–Oh, he just wants to look good in front of ______.

–Just a lucky guess.

–Someone up there must like me. [Even if One does like me, this is usually just special pleading implying that my good event was undeserved or unearned. And it doesn’t even imply gratitude on my part!]

–Meh, the planets must be aligned right.

–It’s probably to cushion the blow for some letdown later.

–That’s nothing special. It happens to most everybody.

Or maybe I can take an even more negative route:

–Whatever; I won’t get my hopes up.

–It’s going to fall apart / backfire / breakdown later / get forgotten / go unnoticed anyways.

It’s almost a direct contradiction of myself. “Hey cool! No it’s not.” It doesn’t even matter if my response has any grounds. The awesomeness of event A cannot be negated by whatever may happens after A, even if the state of affairs after A sucks.


Eeyore has probably been the most iconic naysayer to me. He brings the negative around with him and dumps it on whatever unsuspecting happy person he happens to be near at the moment.

Does the fact that my parent(s) used to call me “Eeyore” when I was talking like him reinforce the negativism? I don’t know. But what does it really matter?

I think Debbie Downer is a far better smelling salt, because she’s so awful she’s hilarious, and no one wants to be like her. “I’m flirtin’ with a melanoma.” Waa-waaaaw…

Just like choosing to consciously say “thanks” whenever someone gives a compliment no matter how much I agree or like it, I need to just follow a good experience with “that was great!” Maybe it will attract more of them.

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