Cognitive Distortions: What Is Magnification and Minimization?

When you magnify the negative and minimize the positive in your life

Are your cognitive distortions, or unreasonable and/or inaccurate ways of thinking, contributing to your or your loved one's panic disorder?

Learn more about a type of cognitive distortion called magnification and minimization, and how it relates specifically to panic disorder.

Defining Magnification and Minimization

Your thoughts can lead to panic and anxiety.
Your thoughts may be causing unnecessary anxiety. Photo © Microsoft

Cognitive therapy is a form of psychotherapy, which essentially theorizes that we are what we think. It is believed that negative thinking patterns, known as cognitive distortions, contribute to a person’s symptoms of depression or anxiety.

When a person is thinking with the cognitive distortion of magnification and minimization, they are either blowing things out of proportion or lessening their importance.

Magnifications and minimizations mean a person distorts his or her reality by being far more negative than what others would perceive. In other words, a person’s problems become larger than life, while the positive aspects of their life are ignored.

People prone to panic attacks often fall into this cognitive distortion, which magnifies fears and maladaptive behaviors, while minimizing one’s ability to cope.

Below are two examples of magnification and minimization, followed by ways to combat this faulty thinking pattern.

Example One: Magnification and Minimization

Kim had rehearsed a speech for her sister’s wedding. When it came time to make her toast, though, Kim blundered a couple of words. She quickly regained control and ended up giving a moving and heartfelt toast. Afterward, many people complimented her on her speech. However, Kim complained that she was embarrassed by her slip-ups and felt that she had ultimately ruined this special occasion for her sister.​

Kim is magnifying her flaws and minimizing her accomplishment. If Kim were thinking more realistically, she would recognize that most people enjoyed her speech and did not even notice the small imperfections. Her mistakes actually may have made her toast sound even more genuine and sincere. Kim likely missed out on the fun of this wonderful event by focusing too much on the few errors that occurred in her speech. 

Example Two: Magnification and Minimization

Alex has panic disorder with agoraphobia. He displays many avoidance behaviors, but is able to go to the store every week. While on a recent trip to the grocery store, Alex got into a small fender bender in the parking lot. He had accidentally backed up into another car, but neither car had any damages. The owner of the other car was very understanding and told Alex not to worry about it. Alex was so upset by the incident that he was barely able to drive himself home. For the next few days, he went over the scene many times in his head. Alex’s anxiety over the situation continued to escalate, and he concluded that he could no longer take himself to the store.

Alex’s fears and anxiety became worse as he continued to magnify the accident. Certainly, it can be anxiety-provoking to get into even the smallest of accidents. However, Alex may have felt better if he considered the positives of the situation instead of minimizing them. No one was hurt and the other driver did not even think the accident was substantial enough to pursue for damages. Unless he stops expanding his fearful thoughts about the situation, Alex’s panic symptoms and worries will only continue to escalate.

A Word From Verywell

Become aware of when you are magnifying the negative and minimizing the positive. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill? Consider utilizing a panic diary to track how these thoughts contribute to symptoms of panic disorder. Start by making a column and writing down the good and the bad of any situation. It can be difficult to notice at first, but even many bad situations can have a silver lining. Also, try to keep in mind that no one is perfect. Don’t let your small mistakes or flaws overshadow all of your talents and achievements, and the beauty and specialness of simply being you.

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Article Sources
  • Burns, D. D. “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” Avon Books: New York, 2008.
  • Burns, D.D. “When Panic Attacks: The New Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life” Broadway Books: New York, 2007.