In today’s video, I introduce a concept from Cognitive Behavior Therapy called “cognitive distortions,” which will be useful for anyone struggling with retroactive jealousy. I will also cover what is referred to as “all or nothing” thinking.

Read or watch below to learn more about retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions.

Zachary Stockill: The older I get, the more I realize that so much of our happiness in life comes down to telling ourselves better stories: choosing which perspectives we want to take on, choosing the meaning we choose to make out of the past, choosing perspectives we want to take on, which thoughts we choose to engage with, and which thoughts we should probably reject. 

In today’s video, I’m going to introduce a concept called cognitive distortions, which I think will be extremely useful for anyone watching this video who’s struggling with retroactive jealousy. 

By the way, for anyone watching this video who isn’t familiar with that term: the term retroactive jealousy refers to unwanted intrusive thoughts, often obsessive curiosity, and what I call mental movies about your partner’s past relationships and or dating/sexual history. I realized that most of you probably know that term. But I’m getting new viewers all the time. And I think it’s important to clarify exactly what that term refers to.

So what are cognitive distortions? 

Cognitive distortions are mental traps that many of us fall into repeatedly throughout our lives. They’re negative or irrational patterns of thinking that constitute negative thought patterns that recur in our lives, and recur in our brains, over and over again. 

And the more we buy into these negative irrational thought patterns, the more likely it is we’re going to struggle with things like anxiety, depression, or in some cases, intrusive thoughts and or retroactive jealousy. 

retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions

So needless to say, getting a handle on our cognitive distortions, identifying them, and calling them out can be extremely helpful when we’re working to overcome unwanted intrusive thoughts about our partner’s past. I’ve worked with cognitive distortions with many of my coaching clients over the years, many of them have found it very, very helpful. 

By the way, signing up for coaching, whether it’s one-on-one coaching with me or with anyone else, can be a great tool in learning to get an outside perspective on our negative mental patterns in creating better mental patterns. And, choosing and exploring different, better perspectives that are more accurate, that better reflect reality. They’re going to be helpful for us in creating a more balanced overall state of mind. 

So with this series of videos on retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions, I’m going to do something a little different. I want to produce a series of short videos outlining each of these cognitive distortions in detail in the hope that this will help you better call them out in your own life; in the hope that after you watch one of these videos, you’ll be able to pick up on this negative pattern of thinking throughout your day, throughout your week. 

Eventually, if you put all this together, they can make a big impact in beating retroactive jealousy. 

So what are the exact cognitive distortions? This is a concept that comes from cognitive behavioral therapy. And in general, most people agree or at least most therapists agree that there are roughly 10 categories of cognitive distortions. 

So the 10 categories of cognitive distortions, are: all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, mental filters, discounting the positive, jumping to conclusions, magnification, emotional reasoning, “should” statements, labeling, and personalization and blame. So I’m going to go through all of these cognitive distortions in detail over the coming weeks. 

But today, we’re starting with number one, which is called “all-or-nothing” thinking. You can think of all-or-nothing thinking kind of like black-or-white thinking. Saying things are either good or bad, positive or negative, he’s a saint, or he’s completely irredeemable, that kind of thing, where you don’t even necessarily always realize it. 

But in a way, you’re separating people or events into one or two black or white categories. 

For example, let’s say you’re approaching some work project, and in general, have a pretty good track record of performing good work. You make one error, and you start telling yourself “You know, I’m a complete failure, I can’t do this, I don’t have the ability,” and on and on. You’re making a massive assumption based on one tiny moment that doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole picture. And, doesn’t necessarily reflect the overall reality of the situation. 

retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions

I see all-or-nothing thinking all the time among retroactive jealousy sufferers, particularly men. I think some women do this, but I see this more often among men. They’re kind of looking at their partner as either the Madonna–the kind of virginal matriarch, this wholesome, “pure” angelic figure–or they’re calling her a whore. As in, “she’s completely sex-obsessed, and I can’t trust her and look at all this casual sex she’s had,” etc.

This is a concept introduced, I believe, by Dr. Sigmund Freud well over 100 years ago. Many retroactive jealousy sufferers struggle with the Madonna whore complex, which is often a result of some kind of childhood conditioning. They’re kind of slotting women into one of two categories, where she’s either a Madonna or she’s a whore. 

If you’re falling victim to retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions, you’re probably using words like “perfect.”

“I want the perfect partner with a perfect past, or I want a perfect relationship. Or if my partner hadn’t done X, things would be perfect, she’d have a perfect past…” 

And as I say, and I’m not going to stop saying it: there is no such thing as perfection. So stop looking. 

And if you go looking for perfection in people, in relationships, you’re going to drive yourself and others absolutely crazy.

If you find yourself throwing labels on people very quickly as well, this can also be an example of all-or-nothing thinking. For example, you know, “he’s a jerk,” or she’s this, or he’s that. When you kind of sum up an entire person based on one interaction or one event from their past, or, perhaps, a brief period from their past. 

You’re drawing all these conclusions based on a tiny sliver of who someone is, and you’re throwing an all-encompassing label on them. 

So as a retroactive jealousy sufferer, I would ask you: where or how are you falling victim to all-or-nothing thinking in relation to your retroactive jealousy? 

And as always, journaling can be a great tool for this. You could look at something I’ve done called The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook available on Amazon.

But you don’t have to engage with my work if you don’t want to. I would encourage all of you to spend some time and think about this. Where am I falling victim to all-or-nothing thinking in relation to my retroactive jealousy specifically? And then, crucially, what is a more balanced way to look at this statement or this situation? What is a better assumption that I could or should be making? What is a better thought that I could replace this counterproductive, irrational thought with? 

A quick reminder that I’m going to cover the rest of the list of cognitive distortions as they relate to retroactive jealousy. It will be throughout this month and possibly in the next month. So be sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified of new videos moving forward.

Also be sure you are subscribed to my free 4-part video minicourse for getting started overcoming retroactive jealousy.

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.