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All about Disqualifying the Positive

Disqualifying the positive is a type of cognitive distortion. It can cause someone to ignore or dismiss their positive attributes, achievements and experiences and focus overwhelmingly on the negative.

Although the majority of people will experience occasional cognitive distortions, regularly engaging in disqualifying the positive can negatively impact many areas of your life, including your mental and emotional well-being and your social relationships.

What is disqualifying the positive?

Disqualifying the positive is a cognitive distortion which involves ignoring, downplaying or dismissing positive attributes, experiences, achievements or compliments. Instead, an individual will attribute these to external factors or consider them to be exceptions, rather than accepting that they are accurate or meaningful. 

Often, your brain takes cognitive shortcuts when making sense of what is happening around you. These shortcuts can result in bias or distortions of our thought processes. Many of our thoughts occur automatically. Experiencing strong emotions, both positive and negative, often occurs following automatic thought processes. In many situations, you may not be aware of the initial thought that underpins the emotion. For some people, these thoughts are distorted, biased or unrealistic. These are called cognitive distortions.

Disqualifying the positive is a negative pattern of thinking that can contribute to negative self-perception. Frequently engaging in this practice can result in long-term cognitive distortions, where your thought processes become negatively biased. It can also have a significant impact on someone’s overall well-being. 

It occurs when someone ignores, denies, dismisses or disbelieves their positive attributes, experiences and achievements. Disqualifying the positive can result in someone holding negative beliefs even if there is significant evidence to contradict their beliefs. Someone with this cognitive bias will often convince themselves that something positive, or even neutral, is actually negative. They may reject their lived experiences or only focus on specific aspects of a situation that support their narrative.

Disqualifying the positive can manifest in different ways:

  • Ignoring or dismissing information or evidence that contradicts their negative thoughts.
  • Undermining, dismissing or explaining away positive compliments or feedback.
  • Minimising or dismissing your achievements and successes.

Some examples of disqualifying the positive include:

  • Attributing an achievement to luck.
  • Claiming something was easy to explain an achievement.
  • Rejecting a positive experience, e.g. by saying it doesn’t count.
  • Consistently minimising your own knowledge and skill or the amount of effort you have put into something.
  • Rejecting positive feedback or compliments.

Some people who disqualify the positive are unaware that they do so. However, other people with this cognitive distortion are aware of what they do and may believe that disqualifying the positive benefits them in some way. For example, they may believe it motivates them, lowers their own or other people’s expectations of them (to avoid disappointment) or is a positive personal attribute.

Signs of disqualifying the positive

Cognitive distortions are highly individualised and can manifest differently in different people. Recognising the signs of disqualifying the positive can be beneficial in helping you overcome these distortions and engage in more positive thought processes.  

Signs that you may be disqualifying the positive include:

  • Disqualifying your positive attributes.
  • Disqualifying your successes.
  • Disqualifying positive experiences.
  • Disqualifying your personal safety.
  • Disqualifying by comparing yourself to others.
  • Disqualifying by your own self-expectations.

This can manifest as:

  • You may focus overwhelmingly on the negative, ignoring the positive.
  • You feel uncomfortable or like a fraud if someone gives you positive feedback.
  • You might feel unsafe or uncomfortable in certain situations.
  • You may primarily focus on the bad things that could happen to you.
  • You may find it difficult to acknowledge your achievements.
  • You discount any positive comments or compliments.
  • You may find it difficult to be optimistic about your future.
  • You may minimise or downplay your achievements (e.g. by attributing them to luck).
  • You may attribute your own success to other people (e.g. by claiming something was a team effort, even though you did all of the work).
  • You may use negative language when talking about your experiences or when using your inner voice (thinking about yourself).
  • You may view any successes as a one-off.
  • You may feel unworthy of your achievements.
  • You may set unrealistic standards for yourself and unachievable goals.
Disqualifying the Positive

Factors that influence disqualifying the positive

There are multiple factors that can cause someone to engage in cognitive distortions and disqualify the positive. These factors can vary from person to person.

Some of these factors can include:

Mental health difficulties

There are multiple health conditions that could increase the likelihood of someone engaging in these cognitive distortions. For example:

Perfectionist traits

Personality traits can be an important factor in cognitive distortions. Someone with perfectionist tendencies often sets unrealistically high expectations for themselves. They may feel that they have to be 100% perfect all of the time and may fixate on their perceived failures. Even if you are successful, you may disqualify your experience because it doesn’t meet your unrealistic expectations or because you fixate on the one small negative in the situation.

Low self-esteem

People who experience low self-esteem may be more likely to engage in disqualifying the positive. Low self-esteem can result in someone believing they are incapable, do not deserve their success or are not skilled or knowledgeable. People with low self-esteem often hold negative beliefs about themselves which can encourage cognitive distortions. People with low self-esteem also often compare themselves with others, which can contribute to a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. They may think of other people as being more successful and more capable than them.

Cultural, societal or family influences

Cognitive distortions can occur because of societal, cultural or family influences. For example, if you grew up in a family that demanded modesty, encouraged you to downplay your achievements or demanded perfection 100% of the time, you may be more likely to develop cognitive distortions.

Fear of failure

Having a fear of failure can lead to someone protecting themselves from any potential failures. You may fear not meeting your own or other people’s expectations and may downplay your positive attributes and your achievements. A fear of failure can develop in adulthood, but most frequently develops during childhood or adolescence, for example because of academic pressures.

Cognitive bias

Having a cognitive bias, such as imposter syndrome, can contribute to someone having cognitive distortions. Imposter syndrome is a form of intellectual self-doubt and someone with this condition experiences feelings of inadequacy, regardless of evidence to the contrary. Disqualifying the positive may be more likely to occur if you also have a cognitive bias, such as imposter syndrome.

The impact of disqualifying the positive

Disqualifying the positive can deny you the opportunity to learn from your experiences, both positive and negative. It can prevent you from having a balanced perspective. 

Someone who disqualifies the positive may have particular difficulties in the following areas:

  • Recognising skills, strengths and talents.
  • Acknowledging their achievements.
  • Accepting praise, compliments or positive feedback.

Negative cognitive distortions can impact many different areas of your life, including:

Your mental health

Repeatedly disqualifying the positive can have a negative impact on your mental health. Negative cognitive distortions can cause you to view yourself negatively and anticipating negative outcomes can lead to increased feelings of stress and anxiety. People who disqualify the positive often engage in negative self-talk, for example repeatedly criticising themselves or viewing situations in a negative light. This can affect their self-esteem and self-confidence and cause feelings of worthlessness and feeling like a failure. 

Some ways disqualifying the positive can affect your mental health are:

  • Increased stress and anxiety.
  • Increased likelihood of developing depression.
  • Increased likelihood of emotional burnout.
  • Increased risk of social anxiety.

Low self-esteem

The relationship between low self-esteem and self-confidence and disqualifying the positive is bidirectional. This means that while low self-esteem can cause someone to disqualify the positive, regularly disqualifying the positive can also lead to low self-esteem. Consistently dismissing the positives and focusing on the negatives can make it difficult for you to recognise your self-worth and can significantly affect your self-esteem.

Reduced motivation

Consistently undermining your achievements and successes can result in reduced motivation to pursue your goals and engage in new activities. The reduced motivation as a result of you doubting your ability to succeed and disregarding your achievements can affect your professional life (e.g. you may not pursue promotions or new opportunities) and your personal life (e.g. you may give up on your hobbies).

Your relationships

Cognitive distortions can negatively impact your relationships for a number of reasons:

  • You may feel inadequate or undeserving of your relationships.
  • Deflecting compliments and disagreeing with people’s feedback can create tension.
  • Consistently focusing on the negative can be frustrating and emotionally draining for other people.
  • You may create communication barriers with the people in your life that can be challenging.
  • You may experience reduced emotional intimacy.
  • Avoidance of affection or close relationships can affect the quality of your relationship.
  • Strained social interactions.
Suffering from disqualifying the Positive

Ways to manage and overcome disqualifying the positive

Overcoming the cognitive distortion of disqualifying the positive involves challenging negative thoughts and changing your thought process. It involves recognising and accepting positive aspects of your experiences without dismissing them or attributing them to another source. This can be a difficult process, particularly if you have been engaging in these cognitive distortions for a long time.

Some ways you can manage and overcome disqualifying the positive include:

Engage in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of the most effective ways to manage your cognitive distortion and overcome disqualifying the positive. CBT helps you to recognise negative thought patterns and your negative internal dialogue and challenge these thoughts to replace them with more realistic, rational thoughts. You can also work on identifying the root causes of your distorted thinking and work on addressing any negative emotions, behaviours, thoughts and beliefs connected to this. Disqualifying the positive is a term frequently used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Recognising and labelling your thoughts

This is an important step in overcoming this type of cognitive distortion. Self-monitoring your thoughts and recognising when disqualifying the positive occurs can help you manage your negative thoughts and transform them into more positive thoughts and beliefs. It can be beneficial to write down these thoughts when they occur and consider any factors that contributed to your negative patterns of thought. It can also be beneficial to try and identify your automatic thoughts – the thoughts that you automatically think of when thinking about yourself or certain situations. Being aware of what these automatic thoughts are allows you to challenge them.

Identify any problematic areas

You may not experience disqualifying the positive consistently. Instead, these cognitive distortions may occur only in certain situations. Identifying any areas of your life where you feel inadequate, insecure, doubt your own skills and achievements or experience negative thoughts can help you to address these areas and change your patterns of thought. Consider what it is about these situations that trigger your negative thoughts and feelings and try and identify the root cause of your feelings.

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring aims to identify and change unhelpful thought patterns. It is a form of self-monitoring which allows you to recognise disqualifying thoughts as they occur and restructure these negative thoughts into positive ones. This can promote positive and realistic thinking. Some ways you can engage in cognitive restructuring include:

  • What evidence is there to support your negative thoughts? What evidence exists to the contrary?
  • Imagine the positives you are disqualifying apply to someone else? Would you still disqualify them?
  • Is there any chance you are limiting yourself with your beliefs?
  • How does disqualifying the positive make you feel? Would accepting the positives feel better?
  • What problems do your cognitive distortions cause for you?
  • Do your cognitive distortions conflict with your goals?

Recognise the positives

Get into the habit of recognising your positive attributes and strengths and acknowledging your achievements. As well as recognising the positives, it is important you work on accepting positive experiences when they occur.

Some ways you can do this include:

  • Write down your achievements and accomplishments.
  • Write down any compliments, praise or positive feedback – even if you don’t believe them.
  • Write down your strengths and things you think you’re good at.
  • Share these recordings with someone you trust.
  • Focus on celebrating your achievements.


Decentring is a process whereby you take a step back and view a thought as a cognitive event (e.g. an opinion) rather than a fact. Learning how to decentre allows you to step outside your immediate experience and change the nature of that experience. You can learn how to regard your thoughts and feelings as temporary events, rather than facts. If you find yourself disqualifying the positive, decentring allows you to understand that your negative thoughts may not be accurate.

Make lifestyle changes

Because disqualifying the positive has a bidirectional relationship with mental health, focusing on lifestyle factors that could decrease your feelings of anxiety and stress can help to improve your overall mental health and reduce the occurrence of cognitive distortions.

Some of the lifestyle changes you could make are:

  • Implement a successful sleep routine.
  • Reduce your daily stress.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Implement an exercise routine.
  • Avoid caffeine, sugar and other stimulants.
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs.
  • Stop smoking.

Implement relaxation techniques

Strategies designed to reduce stress and anxiety and encourage relaxation can reduce the occurrence of negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Various relaxation techniques can be incorporated into your daily routine, including:

  • Deep breathing exercises: Practising deep breathing is an effective way of decreasing stress, managing anxiety and alleviating self-doubt. When you engage in deep breathing exercises, it signals your brain to relax. Regular deep breathing exercises can reduce stress, release bodily tension, and gradually ease your anxiety. If you find yourself engaging in disqualifying the positive thought processes, practise deep breathing to help you manage your negative thoughts and emotions. Consider integrating deep breathing exercises into your day-to-day routine for long-term benefits.
  • Meditation: Meditation can help you to regulate your breath in triggering situations and handle your body’s reactions to stress and anxiety. Meditation can also help to move your focus away from any intrusive or negative thoughts. Meditation contributes to both physical and mental relaxation.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you to accept your thoughts and emotions and overcome any anxiety. Through mindfulness, you learn to concentrate on your breath and attention, effectively reducing stress and anxiety. Through mindfulness, you can also practise positive inner dialogue and focus on positive thoughts and emotions.
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About the author

Megan Huziej

Megan has worked with CPD Online College since August 2020, she is in charge of content production, as well as planning, managing and delegating tasks. Megan works closely with Freelance Writers - Voice Artists - Companies and individuals to create the most appropriate and relevant content as well as also using and managing SEO. She gained her Business Administration Level 3 qualification over the duration of being at CPD Online College as well. Outside of work Megan loves to venture to different places and eateries as well as spending quality time with friends and family.

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