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What is mental filtering? 

Mental filtering is a form of cognitive distortion, in which the individual filters out all the positives and only focuses/dwells on the negatives of a situation. Even if the situation has more positives than negatives, someone exhibiting this form of cognitive distortion would only focus on the negatives. For example, an employee during their performance review may get excellent comments but may be too busy focusing on the constructive feedback to enjoy the satisfaction of the overall good review. A similar cognitive distortion is discounting the positives. Someone who exhibits this way of thinking tends to dismiss any positive or good things that may occur.  For instance, someone can be told they look nice, and they may feel the person is just being nice or friendly. 

How does mental filtering impact my mental health?

Any form of cognitive distortion or problematic thinking can have impacts on our mental health. Mental filtering and discounting the positive can do so in many ways. When we ruminate and dwell on the negative things that occur to us, we can put ourselves in long-term sad or angry moods. We may even develop a negative and pessimistic outlook on life. For instance, if we only focus on the negative critiques we get at work, we may not feel fulfilled or motivated to continue doing well. We may even feel cynical about the job. Or, if we are constantly thinking people’s compliments aren’t genuine, we may feel like we are deserving of compliments at all. Long-term effect of this type of thinking can be depression and anxiety. 

How can I challenge mental filtering? 

It can be easy to dwell on the negative aspects of our lives or even of a specific situation. Cognitive reframing can be a great way to overcome this way of thinking. The reality is that we will experience good and bad experiences, but they won’t be all bad (or good). If you find yourself in a pattern of mental filtering, try focusing on all the positives that happened in that specific situation; chances are the situation wasn’t completely negative. Afterwards, try reflecting on the situation and coming up with a more balanced way of thinking about it. Continuing to consistently challenge this way of thinking is key to combat the negative effects it can have on our mental health. 

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.