In today’s video, I’m going to talk about a cognitive distortion called mental filtering. 

Read or watch below to learn more about the cognitive distortion of mental filtering.

Zachary Stockill: Welcome back to my ongoing series about retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions. 

In today’s video, I’m going to talk about something called mental filtering. 

Okay, if it’s your first time around these parts, I’ll just briefly mention: the term retroactive jealousy refers to unwanted intrusive thoughts, and often obsessive curiosity, about your partner’s past relationships and/or sexual history. 

And the term cognitive distortions refers to counterproductive, unhelpful, inaccurate thought patterns that we fall victim to that hold us back from happiness, and hold us back in relationships. They can also contributes to things like anxiety disorders, depression, and what we call retroactive jealousy. 

So what is a mental filter? Mental filtering is similar to generalization, which we discussed in the last video. But the difference with mental filters is rather than taking one event and generalizing inappropriately, with a mental filter, you take one small event, and you focus on that obsessively

And you completely disregard a lot of other ideas, other facts, other data. You’re simply focusing on one thing, and you’re not considering the whole picture. 

mental filtering

For example, just use a classic relationship example. Let’s say you have a fight with your partner, and it really troubles you. It really bothers you. So you start making sense out of that fight. And, you start making meaning out of that fight that isn’t necessarily there. You start saying things like, “Oh, we always fight, and why do we have this fight… It’s really destroying my perception of you. And what does this fight mean?”

And you start blowing it up into this big thing. You completely overlook the months, or maybe even years, which were mostly conflict-free in your relationship. You’re only focusing on a tiny, tiny little portion of the overall story. 

Another important component of mental filters is that when you’re looking at a situation, and you’re frequently filtering out all of the positive.

You’re not even seeing the positive because you’re so dead focused on a single negative element. 

So needless to say, if your self-belief, if your self-perception is colored by a mental filter, you’re probably only considering bad things about yourself. You’re probably only focused on the negative in yourself. Or, the challenges that you are struggling with. You’re probably missing out on a lot of the good stuff in your life, a lot of the good things in you and your character. 

And you can see how falling victim to a mental filter completely holds back your happiness. Because, again, you’re not seeing the whole picture, you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. 

To use a classic retroactive jealousy example when it comes to the mental filter: many retroactive jealousy sufferers come to me for coaching. Frequently, they’re dead focused on a single period, or sometimes even a single event or even a single person in their partner’s past. 

A lot of people have serious questions about their partner’s values. And they’re only focused on one tiny little period or even one person in their partner’s past. So when they’re looking at their partner’s past, they’re considering their partner’s past through a very, very narrow mental passageway, without realizing that their partner’s past goes back maybe 10, 20, or even 30 years. 

So if you are going to go down the road, evaluating who your partner is as a person, judging them, you really need to look at the entire picture. 

Not just one event, not just two events, not even just one tiny little period. Look at their entire past.

mental filtering

…if you truly want to go down this road of judging them and trying to assess their character. 

Another example as it relates to retroactive jealousy: some people will look at their partner’s past, and they see a bunch of red flags. They see some mistake their girlfriend made one night, going home with some idiot, or dating some idiot for an extended period of time. Or maybe their girlfriend has had a little more sex in her past that he feels comfortable with.

If you’re only looking for red flags in your partner’s past, you’re not necessarily picking up on all the green flags. 

Green flags, as I’ve covered in other videos, are the opposite of red flags.

So maybe there are events or periods or choices that your partner has made in her past or his past that indicate that they’re capable of making good decisions. They’re balanced. They’re self-aware, they’re mature, you get the idea.

If you go looking for something hard enough, you will find it, whatever it is. So if you go looking for red flags only, all you’re going to find are red flags. But if you go looking for green flags, you’ll probably find those, too.

The point is to consider the whole picture, rather than focusing on a tiny little area or subject.

If you need more help with retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions, check out my online course “Get Over Your Partner’s Past Fast”, or consider applying for one-on-one coaching with me.

Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in BBC News, BBC Radio 4, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. I'm the founder of, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.