Do you tend to ignore a situation's positive aspects and focus on the only thing that’s wrong? If so, you might be experiencing a cognitive distortion called disqualifying the positive.
Research suggests that people who’ve had prolonged and severe hardships in life are more prone to perceiving events in a negatively biased way[*].
Disqualifying the positive makes it difficult for you to enjoy situations that other people normally would. Also, you discount compliments and may even think that people are just being nice to you.
Here’s more about disqualifying the positive, its signs, how this type of thinking can impact your life, examples, and ways to overcome it for mental health.
Disqualifying the Positive (A Cognitive Distortion)
Of the various cognitive distortions or thinking errors, disqualifying the positive is when a person actively disregards the good things in life.
For example, you travel to a dream destination. But instead of appreciating the beautiful scenery, culture, and food, you point out everything that was off — the weight of your luggage, delayed transportation, and not being able to speak the local language.
This is just one of the many examples of this cognitive distortion.
Signs That You Have Disqualifying the Positive Thoughts
Recognizing disqualifying the positive starts with paying attention to your thoughts and feelings. Faulty beliefs often make you feel stressed, irritated, anxious, worried, angry, or depressed.
Whenever you experience these negative emotions, try to identify the thought or situation that may have triggered these feelings. For example, being alone, going somewhere for the first time, or thinking about the past.
Here’s a worksheet for kids that will allow them to identify triggers leading to anxious feelings.
Behaviors that arise from discounting the positive may include:
- Having difficulty accepting praise for your work
- Attributing your accomplishments to luck
- Telling yourself that you’re not good enough
- Setting low expectations about anything
If you’re a parent who needs help identifying a negative thinking pattern in your child or teen, consider getting cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT from a therapist.
How Disqualifying the Positive Can Affect One's Life
Dwelling on negativity can prevent you from experiencing joy. Self-defeating thoughts, such as “My accomplishments don’t matter,” “They’re just being nice to me,” “It’s pure luck — not hard work,” and “The whole event was a mess” can lead to higher levels of stress, low self-worth, and depressive symptoms[*][*].
For instance, one study done on youths with type 1 diabetes found that cognitive distortions led to more stress. This affected their ability to adhere to treatment and contributed to poor metabolic control[*]. In other words, negative thinking affects not just your emotions and behaviors but also your health.
Disqualifying the Positive Examples
What does disqualifying the positive look like? Here are sample scenarios:
- Performing in front of a crowd: Neil delivered a great musical performance. His friends and family congratulated him. However, he responds by saying, “Thanks, but I hit a wrong note. Didn’t you notice?”
- Auditioning for a dance team: Mary honed her dance skills for months. During the audition process, she passed the first and second rounds but wasn’t selected after the interview portion. This led her to believe that she was not good enough.
- Scoring high on a test: Andrew aced a test. Despite doing his part in studying, he thinks that the test was “just easy” and that his efforts didn’t count.
- Getting stuck in traffic: On his way to school, Liam spent almost an hour in traffic. That was all he thought of and talked about throughout the day even though other positive things happened.
How to Overcome Disqualifying the Positive
If you want to fix this thought pattern and cultivate a better mindset, here are 5 tips that will help.
1. Know when you’re disqualifying the positive.
Cognitive behavioral therapy starts with recognizing the presence of any negative thought patterns. As for disqualifying the positive, you might want to pay attention to your internal dialogue and how you usually respond to others. Refer to the signs of disqualifying the positive and examples above.
Using a CBT journal can help you spot cognitive distortions by observing common thoughts and behaviors that transpire daily and writing them down in the journal.
2. Look at the facts.
You don’t have to believe in everything you feel. Whenever you feel anxious, worthless, and hopeless, take a moment to explore evidence against these feelings.
For example, if Mary feels that she’s “not good enough” because she didn’t make the dance team, she can prove this feeling wrong by reminding herself how much she practiced for the audition and the fact that she passed the previous rounds.
Negative emotions can be dangerous when you mistake them for truth.
3. Do a cost-benefit analysis.
One of the techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy is the cost-benefit analysis, which involves weighing the pros and cons of your thought patterns.
In Mary’s situation, she can do a cost-benefit analysis by recalling the times when she told herself she wasn’t good enough. Did it motivate her to reach her goals? Or did it only lead to more self-criticism and depression?
After realizing how this belief costs Mary her success, she can start visualizing the benefits of embracing more helpful thoughts.
4. Find things to be grateful for.
Gratitude means appreciating the positive things in your life. It applies even to the simplest things, such as your delicious breakfast or something nice that someone said to you.
5. Practice receiving positive feedback.
If someone comes to you to offer praise, don’t interrupt it. Accepting praise is one way of challenging the negative beliefs you have about yourself. Avoid responding with, “Thanks, but…”
Even better, practice complimenting others. Each time you notice positive behaviors from others, such as getting homework done or giving their best, be sure to tell that person what they did well. Be specific.
Final Thoughts on Disqualifying the Positive
Disqualifying the positive isn’t something that can be dealt with overnight. It takes practice to notice negative thoughts when they occur and shift your perspective. By following the tips in this article consistently, approaching any triggering situation from a positive point of view becomes easier over time.
- Panourgia C et al. Do cognitive distortions explain the longitudinal relationship between life adversity and emotional and behavioural problems in secondary school children? 2017 February 15
- Farrell S et al. The impact of cognitive distortions, stress, and adherence on metabolic control in youths with type 1 diabetes. 2004 June
- Rnic K et al. Cognitive Distortions, Humor Styles, and Depression. 2016 August 19
- Komase Y et al. Effects of gratitude intervention on mental health and well‐being among workers: A systematic review. 2021 November 11
- Leyland M. Gratitude diaries as part of the CBT toolkit: Do they ameliorate depression, negative thinking and hopelessness, and increase gratitude? 2012 November