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10 Cognitive Distortions Common Among Students with Low Self-Concept (and How to Move Past Them)

Wednesday, April 29, 2020
10 Cognitive Distortions Common Among Students with Low Self-Concept (and How to Move Past Them)

A child’s self-concept, or view of one’s self and abilities, begins to form shortly after birth and hinges partly on how primary caregivers treat the newborn. As the baby grows into a child, his or her broader environment plays a larger role in helping to develop self-concept.

Self-concept refers to self-perceptions in relation to important aspects of one’s life, according to the authors of the Piers-Harris Self-Concept Scale, the most widely used psychological assessment measuring self-concept.

These self-perceptions motivate behavior and generate self-evaluative attitudes and feelings that have important organizing functions.

A person’s self-concept may change over time in response to environmental or developmental changes, or as a result of changes in priorities or values. However, these changes usually do not occur quickly or because of isolated experiences or interventions, according to the Piers-Harris 3 manual.

The Piers-Harris 3 can help identify children, adolescents, and young adults with low self-concept experiencing cognitive distortions, which are inaccurate thought patterns that reinforce negative thinking or emotions. Once such distortions are identified, teachers, therapists, and other professionals can work with students to modify these distortions through cognitive restructuring—a method used in cognitive-behavioral therapy to treat maladaptive thoughts by presenting more accurate and healthy alternatives.

Below is a list of 10 examples of cognitive distortion associated with some of the 58 items covering self-concept that comprise the Piers-Harris 3. Each example is listed next to an alternative thought that students can achieve through cognitive restructuring.

Examples of Cognitive Distortion

Alternative Thoughts

1. My family is disappointed in me.

1. My family knows I’m not perfect but loves me anyway.

2. I am not popular.

2. I have a few close friends.

3. It is usually my fault when something goes wrong. 3. Sometimes things just don’t go my way. 
4. I wish I were different.  4. There are some things I like about myself and some things I’d like to change. 
5. I am nervous. 5. I feel nervous from time to time. 
6. I do many bad things.  6. I mess up now and then. 
7. My parents (or caregivers) expect too much of me.  7. My parents (or caregivers) want me to try my best. 
8. It is hard for me to follow in class.  8. I sometimes get distracted in class. 
9. I feel alone.  9. I may feel lonely sometimes, but my friends and family are here for me if I need them. 
10. I forget what I learn. 10. I forget some things I learn but remember a lot of it.



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