Separate Fact From Fiction

Written by Judy Belmont

In my 35 years as a psychotherapist, I have been struck by the inability many people have to distinguish between fact and fiction.   People get depressed, they get negative, and they get anxious for generally one main reason – they treat interpretations like facts!  They never learned to do otherwise – this is not taught in school along with algebra and chemistry.  People often cannot tell the difference between reality and the stories they tell themselves. My work as a therapist is to help people identify what is their story or their own personal myth and what is objective reality.

The following are some examples of fiction that people regard as true:

separate_fact_from_fiction“Things always go wrong.”  “He makes me so mad.” “I can’t change how I feel. “I’ll never love again.” “It’s all my fault.”  “I’m a loser.”

Notice the distorted thinking, and irrational words such as “always, never, “can’t” and the fortune telling in the phrase “I will never love again!” How can anyone predict the future with certainty?

Changing these distorted interpretations to stick to the facts looks like this:

“Things do not go the way I wished very often.”  “I was mad when he said that.” “It is hard to change the way I feel.” and “It might be hard to love again, but I will sure try.”  “I feel partly responsible.”  “I am just as worthy as everyone else.”

As a psychotherapist, I often find the more depressed and anxious a client is, the more they live in the land of fiction that they take as fact.  For example, just the other day I had a client tell me that her children are misbehaving so much, and she blames herself for her drug, alcohol and sexual promiscuity in her teens which she thinks resulted in her having such difficult children.  She felt she was being punished for her past, and was getting “paid back” for being a problem teen.  She felt this way despite the fact that at the ripe age of 45 she had been leading a law abiding life as a mother, wife, and school teacher for 20 years!    Her lack of self- forgiveness for her past regretful behavior loomed larger than life, even though those behaviors were of the distant past.  Yet, they still defined her as a person, and she became a person not defined by her dreams and aspirations, but rather her disappointments and her poor choices.

Separate Fact From Fiction Takeaways

  • Many thoughts we treat as facts are really interpretations
  • Many interpretations are so automatic we do not know they’re not fact
  • Examine your thought habits so that you are aware of what is your “default” way of thinking – only then can you change them.
  • As you can discern facts from your take on things, you will feel more positive and empowered
  • Realize when you are just telling yourself stories!  Nothing is wrong with being a story teller – just know when you are!
  • Stop upsetting yourself with nonsense that you believe to be true
  • Stop over-catastrophizing and making mountains out of molehills
  • Refuse to feel like a victim and feel more like a victor
  • Be more solution focused and not problem focused

Activity for Your Separating Fact From fiction

Take a magnifying glass to remind you to be “thought detective” to look behind what you are thinking and identify distorted thinking that is fiction rather than fact. Remind yourself that when we interpret, we are telling ourselves stories.  There is nothing wrong with stories – but just know that they are not real or true!

Remember, when you can not separate fact from fiction, one plus one does not equal 2, and not even 11, but numbers that don;t make sense, like 145!  And the more irrational you live in the land of fiction, the higher the numbers go up!

So take your magnifying glass and identity your thought habits – and make sure you can distinguish between the stories you tell yourself and the actual facts at hand!

Some Amazing Comments


About the author

Judy Belmont

Judy Belmont, M.S., L.P.C. is the co-author of “The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life:  How To Get Through Life’s Holes without Getting Stuck In Them!”  She is a licensed psychotherapist,  a national wellness speaker and corporate wellness trainer. She has served as a mental health expert in print, on radio and TV.  Visit Judy at or her book’s web site at


  • Thanks Judy for that article. I feel this is perhaps the number one reason people are unhappy. I love how you put it in a simple to understand but powerful way. Thanks for sharing that insight.

  • Feelings are how we communicate tacit wisdom to ourselves. Stories indicate where we have feelings and what those feelings are. It’s easier to get stuck in old stories than to process old bypassed emotions. It’s easier to stick with our stories than to take responsibility for our growth.

    • Well said Steven! Our stories we tell ourselves certainly can hold us back and It seems like you are suggesting that we stick to stories rather than go through the emotional journey we need to in order to deal with these buried emotions. Thanks! Judy

  • Good article and the points you make are spot on… of course it’s always easier said than done. I strongly recommend memorizing the bumper sticker I recently saw: “Don’t believe everything you think!” We all have “lies masquerading as truths” and we need to recognize the fact that it’s our “lies masquerading as truths” that wear us down, depress and dis-empower us. Our real truths will give us strength and empower us. Keep the messages flowing. The more of our positive, healthy messages there are, the closer we get to over-riding the fear that is rampant within and around us.

    • Thanks Loren – Love that bumper sticker!!!! I wonder where I could get one! Wouldn’t it be nice if this healthy focus on thinking was part of our everyday life all around us, to help keep us in line? Well, since we do not have that in reality, we need blog sites like this one to keep us in check and support us in developing healthy ways of thinking. I love your phrase “lies masquerading as truths!’ We all need to step back and evaluate rather than keep on giving into our habitual ways of thinking that we often do not even question anymore – Thanks for writing – Judy

  • It’s almost always useful to take a step and wait, before reacting. Even if all you can take is a moment , I submit that your reaction will be better. Sometimes I even say, I just need to think about that before I respond, answer, decide, whatever. “I’ll get back to you on that.” Have these phrases existing in the back of your mind for use when you need them. This gives you a chance to do what Judy is advising—figure out as best you can what that reality is.
    The other side of this piece of the topic is when you yourself, have stepped on someone else’s toes, — try to notice. Do something about it. Good luck-looks like lots of readers here trying to grow and improve—more power to you!

    • Thanks Paula! I appreciate your comment. It reminds me of one of my favorite acronyms, W.A.I.T! It stands for What Am I Thinking? If people would only stop and wait, imagine a stop sign, then they would find that by focusing on what they are thinking, they become less impulsive and irrational. A secondary W.A.I.T. is What are Irrational Thoughts? By separating the irrational from the irrational, a person is likely to break destructive habits that have become so automatic they might not realize they have a choice! Regards, Judy

  • Hi Judy, I’m really grateful that you share your ideas and advice on why people get depressed. Great insights and I’ll sure share it with my depression friend. Hopefully she will understand the differences between reality and fiction, and not drowning in her own ‘story-telling’. Thanks so much~

    • Thanks Noel – Sounds like she could use my book to get through the holes in her life without getting stuck in them!

      Understanding is one thing, but learning life skills and tools to change is another, and that is hard without some help through reading, support and therapy at minimum.

      Thanks, Judy

  • Thanks for the sharing. Yes, many people are just too caught up and trapped in their unhealthy and defeating beliefs that they believe to be true. The challenge is really to get them to want to get rid of those defeating and negative beliefs.

    • Thanks Lawrence – The problem is that although we have great intentions our habits – often so ingrained and persistent – win over almost every time! After a while the habits of thinking get so crystallized that they become quite inflexible, even if it means they rob us of our positive outlook.
      Take care, Judy

  • Great advice! We tend to interpret life through our experiences instead of stepping back and looking at things objectively, and this colored-glass vision is often to our own detriment.

    • Thanks for the comment Emily. Not only is the glass too colored and not clear, it is down right smudgy often! And then we end up telling ourselves lies to ourselves about ourselves, and although we mean well we just keep on doing it! I think next guest post will be “Do you lie to yourself and just don’t know it?”

  • Great article, Judy!

    I loved what you said about the difference between reality and interpretation. Your examples were perfect! How we interpret life and where we fit into it, what roles we play and what we believe it all means is more important to how we will feel about our lives than objective reality. Our thoughts and feelings are directly connected to what we believe to be true, no matter how inaccurate, inflated, minimized or otherwise distorted that belief may be. It is the ONLY reality experienced by that person even if, in fact, that person is 100% wrong in how reality is being interpreted.

    I have found that it can be very difficult for some people to start seeing their particular interpretations as just that, interpretations. Some are quicker to recognize how their thinking and believing affects them. And they start taking steps to take control of their lives as they start challenging their own knee-jerk interpretations. But others cling so tightly to their habitual ways of thinking that the mere mention that they are ultimately in control of how they feel is almost like hitting them in the gut with a baseball bat.

    I was wondering if you found this to be true in your practice and, if so, what you do to baby-step these people closer to Reality.

    This was an important post, Judy. Thank you for sharing it.

    • I also just looked up your post and really liked it! I love your example of a beautiful woman talking to someone’s boyfriend, and the girlfriend might get upset since this woman is flirting with her boyfriend, only to realize that it his cousin he hasd not seen in a whilem, and then the whole ;perception shifts. Shows the power of our interpertations and perceptions! Thanks, Judy

  • Thank you for a great article. I am going to, with your kind permission, reproduce the takeaway section on my blog, and put a link to your own website because I think people in my neck of the woods need this information.
    Please keep up the good work.

  • Judy,

    In addition, I think it’s interesting how often we say, “This person makes me so mad.” Again, what are they doing to twist our arm? How do they make us feel this way or that? Nobody can make us feel or act a certain way. The choice is ALWAYS ours. Thanks for sharing!

    • Yes – I catch my therapy clients saying things like that all the time – and they now catch themselves after they get the hang of it! I hear so often that people think others make them feel all sorts of ways. They are so empowered when they realize they are not victims anymore – and can be victors if they use the healthier and more self-empowering self-talk!

      Just last week I saw a 40 plus year old woman in my office and just this point was a revelation to her after she complained her sister in law makes her so irritated, and she claimed she felt “enlightened!” I can’t take credit – I am just imparting the same life skills that Steven and others impart, yet it is a shame so many people are still thinking with a victim-like mind set. Thanks for your comment. Judy

  • Hi Judy, this is such a great article ( I am wondering why I haven’t read your book yet). It hits the nail on the head when it comes to how we think vs the path our lives take. It’s also simple and clear to follow. Thank you.

    • Thank you! Likely the reason you have not read my book yet is that it was just released last month! by the way, in a few weeks we come out with a full color holiday version. If you go on you can download the first two chapters for free! The book is very clear and easy to follow also – and has plenty of cartoons for entertainment! Thanks, judy

  • Hi Judy!
    These things are definitely what I am working on. It is good to have a bulleted list like that so they are easily referenced.

    Thank you!

  • Loved reading this so much I sent it on to a number of loved ones. We have lost two family members to suicide in the past and I think this explains it beautifully.

    • Wow – So sorry Denise about your losses. How very tragic that you have lost loved ones and really appreciate you sharing your appreciation with me. I hope it gives even some amount of comfort to your loved ones. I am honored that you thought my ideas worthy enough to share – thanks. Judy

  • Great post Judy, it’s always a joy to see a client’s reaction when they suddenly realise the story they’re telling themselves is one which the Brothers Grimm would be proud of.

  • Hi Judy

    Welcome to CYT and thank you for writing just a great article.

    I think we all fall into this trap of generalizing throughout our lives, but by being conscious of the way we talk to ourselves, like you said, we can minimise or even eradicate this.

    I also think mild depression can be caused by, or exacerbated by, over generalizing and your technique could help a lot with this.

    Thanks again Judy, I hope to see a lot from you at CYT.

    • Thanks Steven! I really appreciate you allowing me to post this on your site. We are certainly on the same page in the way that we think about the power of our thoughts and I appreciate you sharing my thoughts with your readers! Thank for providing such a great service for your readers! Regards, Judy

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