Overcoming Disqualifying the Positive (A Cognitive Distortion)

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Thank you for stopping by for my ongoing positive self-talk seriesSelf-love starts with positive self-talk, and all of that starts with you.  Shifting the way you think requires recognizing the power of your thoughts and challenging cognitive distortions.  You can learn to love yourself by changing what you think about yourself and how you talk with yourself.   

We all struggle from time to time with cognitive distortions.  You know the healthiest person will struggle with a little cognitive distortion here and a little exaggeration there.  Doing this here and there won’t impact your mental state in the short term.  However, when you start to do it constantly and become your everyday thinking style, your mental health will suffer. 

If you feel that your mental health has suffered to the point that you would benefit from therapy, then take a look at Therapy-Online.com and you can use my link to receive a 20% discount [affiliate link]. It’s my belief that everyone should be able to have access to mental health resources and if you feel that you would benefit from therapy then I encourage you to give it a try.

What does it look like to disqualify the positive?

You unreasonably tell yourself that positive things that you experience for some reason do not count and are dismissed.  Perhaps they are dismissed because you tell yourself it was due to luck, the stars were aligned that day, or it was too easy and should not count. 

This type of thinking is common in people that struggle with depression, low self-worth, and self-criticism. 

Here are some examples of what disqualifying the positives looks like.   

Excusing your successes due to luck, ease of the task, or others just being nice.

You excuse praise or compliments as not counting or meaning anything.     

You reject positive things in your life and only acknowledge the negative things or the things that are not going well.       

How disqualifying the positives can be harmful. 

It robs you of joy in your life and takes away from your achievements and successes as if they do not matter or are not good enough.  It then reinforces the negative beliefs you have of yourself and how you see yourself in the world and increase depressive symptoms. 

How to know if you are disqualifying the positives in your life. 

You might be if…

You are saying things like, “that test score doesn’t count because the test was too easy.”


“They’re just saying that to be nice.” 

How to get out and overcome disqualifying the positives. 

  • I.C.E. – and I’m not talking about “in case of emergency.” 

I’m talking about…

Identify the thought. 

Call it what it is – a cognitive distortion or disqualifying the positive. 

Explore a new thought to replace it with. 

Daring Greatly book by Brene' Brown Ph.D

  • Begin to cultivate your self-worth – It sounds easier than done, and truthfully it is.  I recommend that you check out Daring Greatly by Brene Brown [affiliate].  It’s an exceptionally well-written book all about perfectionism, shame, how it has shaped our lives, and ways to get your life back.   
  • Challenge yourself – if you wouldn’t tell your BF that their success, achievements, and accomplishments don’t matter, then why are you saying these things to yourself?   

If you are interested in a more comprehensive view of disqualifying the positives, check out my much longer article below.    

Disqualifying the Positive – A cognitive distortion

A More Comprehensive View Of Disqualifying The Positives

Shifting the way that you think requires the ability to recognize the power of your thoughts.  Recognize how they guide our actions and interactions with the world around us.  To better understand how thoughts may influence you, it also helps to recognize how thoughts influence emotions.  And how emotions can influence how you feel about yourself in your world. 

Below you will find common ways in which people will engage in this cognitive distortion.  While this is not an exhaustive example of how this cognitive distortion can be seen, it can be helpful to make sense of how they think. In addition, making a mental shift offers you the opportunity to choose to do something about it.   


Is rejecting positive experiences as though they “do not count” to maintain the belief that everything is negative.  This may be the most common cognitive distortion that is used. 

Good things don’t count because it “was an easy task.”  And bad things that happen are due to character flaws.  Success happens because the stars were aligned, and “I just got lucky.” 

No matter how weak or irrational, negative evidence suddenly becomes the only thing that counts. Conversely, no matter how factual or strong, the positives can be easily explained away.  In this way, you can maintain a negative belief contradicted by your everyday life experiences.     

Cognitive – how you think or perceive.

Distortion – inaccurate, misleading, or irrational. 

Examples of this type of cognitive distortion may look like:

  • Excusing your successes due to luck, ease of the task or others just being nice.
  • You excuse praise or compliments as not counting or meaning anything.      
  • You reject positive things in your life and only acknowledge the negative things or the things that are not going well.        

The dangers of disqualifying the positives.

Do you find yourself focusing on only the things that are going wrong?  Do you find yourself feeling more depressed when you do this?  That is one thing about disqualifying the positives, and it can lead to higher levels of depression.  This is because you are so focused on only the negative aspects of a situation that you cannot acknowledge the positive aspects.  This form of filtering brings more attention to your dissatisfaction and can intensify the situation.   

  • You are setting yourself up for more depression.

Meaning that if you are only acknowledging the negatives, you will only see the negatives.  That can be depressing to view yourself and the world through this type of lens. 

  • You are focused on self-defeating thoughts.

You cannot see things more balanced and may find yourself thinking in ways that encourage negative thoughts.  And are maintained despite contrary evidence to this.   

  • A vicious cycle of depression, self-defeating thoughts and uncomfortable emotions. 

At its core, it is self-sabotage.  It keeps you stuck and in a cycle of discomfort but for what reason? 

Disqualifying the Positives

Steps to get you out of the discomfort.

First, it is understanding what disqualifying the positives is providing for you.  Does disqualifying the positive help you to feel justified in your emotions?  Does disqualifying the positive reaffirm your self-defeating thoughts because perhaps you feel deep down that they are or may be true?  Are you struggling with depression/anxiety and disqualifying the positive feel familiar?

Emotions are powerful.  If you believe that the only positive things are due to luck or kindness, it will make sense to fixate on whatever triggers the emotions you associate with your anxiety/depression.

Thoughts have a powerful impact on how we think about ourselves and our place in our world.  If you are struggling with a negative internal dialogue or self-defeating thoughts, it will make sense that you would fixate on the negatives that ‘support’ this.  It would also make sense to fixate on the events that reaffirm these thoughts and, as a result, reaffirm the emotion(s) you are feeling.     

Your thoughts and feelings inform your actions.  If you are engaging in disqualifying the positive, what actions are you likely engaging in?  Are you spending your time dismissing everything good and then finding yourself moping around because all you do is fixate on the negatives? 

How to overcome disqualifying the positives 

It can be difficult to stop using this cognitive distortion until you understand how you engage in it.   

Learn how to identify when you are disqualifying the positives.

To learn how you are disqualifying the positives, it is helpful to check in with yourself. For example, if you find it difficult to accept praise or compliments, this is an indication that you need to check in with yourself. Suppose you find yourself moping around, check-in, and see what you have been saying to yourself.  Or, if you find yourself feeling depressed, ask yourself what is going on and what you are thinking about.  Take notice if you are fixating on the negatives of something and dismissing the positives.   

Identify what emotion(s) are coming up for you. 

Are you noticing an increase in depression when you fixate on a negative event?  Is this giving you ‘permission’ to be whatever emotion you feel by fixating on this event? 

Explore how you use disqualifying the positive.

Do you disqualify the positives in some situations but not others?  If you notice yourself doing this – get curious and explore why you might do this. For example, do you only do this when interacting with certain people?  Do you only do this when you are only doing certain things?  It may be interesting to discover why you selectively use this cognitive distortion.    

What is a more accurate interpretation? 

Write your thoughts down in a journal or log.  Challenge the thought you wrote down.  Review any other thoughts you have written down and look for other instances when you have disqualified the positive.  If you were to present a list of your thoughts to someone else, would they formulate a similar conclusion? 

Or would they raise an eyebrow and give you that look of “do you seriously believe this?” 

Change the thought.  Replace it with something more positive and realistic to the situation.  A single negative event does not sum up the entirety of a situation.  

You may find it helpful, especially in the beginning, to write down your thoughts and the other interpretations that you come up with.  This can be really helpful as you learn how to challenge and change your thoughts. Then, through practice, you can begin to see your world in a healthier and more balanced way.        


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