Our way of thinking can be second nature. But if your way of thinking is negative, it can begin to seep into other parts of your life (like your mental health!).
Having negative thoughts is normal, but when it’s all the time and overpowering, it can start to affect you and those around you. It needs to change for you to feel better and improve your quality of life.
Let’s look deeper into negative thinking patterns and learn how to overcome them.
What Are Cognitive Distortions?
Negative thinking patterns are medically known as cognitive distortions. All of the common cognitive distortions can spiral many issues that affect your mental well-being and are unhelpful.
Forms of negative thinking patterns include:
Black and White Thinking
This way of thinking is when you see the situation and make it an absolute. It’s either all good or all bad, with no in-between. It’s either one extreme or the other.
An example of this is, “They made a mistake; they are a bad person and always will be.”
This thinking pattern is when you have an emotional reaction, which is now truth, regardless of any actual truth to the situation. An example of this is ‘“I feel so very lonely; that must be because no one wants to spend time with me or love me.”
After an experience or feeling, all similar things will be categorized as “always” and “never.” You typically don’t see the situation changing or being different at another point.
You take one (negative) experience and apply it to all future experiences. For example, “I didn’t get that job I interviewed for; I’ll never get the job I want.”
This is when you assign negative labels to others or yourself; it’s a strict judgment. It is often negative self-talk and self-blame, such as, “I failed a test; I am a failure.”
This can be used against other people. You may think someone is a jerk because they were stern with you when they were just having a bad day. But in your mind, they are now just a jerk.
You choose to remember the negative parts of any situation. This blows up a negative event/experience to the point where you no longer remember the positive experiences.
An example is if someone gets a poor grade in one subject and thinks they aren’t smart or a good student.
This kind of thinking pattern is when someone assumes they know what the other person is thinking, usually in a negative pattern. For example, “When I came into the room, everyone quieted down. They must have been talking about how annoying I am.” When the reality is, the conversation just died down naturally.
Fortune telling is often expecting that a situation that hasn’t happened yet will end poorly. You end up going into something, expecting it to be a negative experience.
This way of thinking minimizes and rejects all the positive and good things you’ve done or have happened to you. An example is if you get a job you’ve worked hard for and just think it’s because there weren’t other applicants.
This way of thinking is when you blow up a situation that then ends up tainting any future situations. You start to expect the worst outcome for everything.
Used against yourself and others, this pushes expectations and can cause a lot of guilt or frustration. For example, “I should have cleaned the house rather than relax.” You now feel guilt and shame even though there is nothing wrong with taking time to relax.
This way of thinking may be self-blaming, blaming others, or blaming the world. You criticize yourself for something that wasn’t your fault, or you may lay blame on others when you did have a part in it.
Those are just some of the well-known negative thinking patterns; some people might have one or multiple ways of this type of thinking. These negative thought patterns can affect you in an impactful way, so it’s important to step back from yourself to evaluate your current thinking patterns.
What Causes Negative Thinking Patterns?
You may be wondering how or why this way of thinking starts. Often the changes happen over time and may result from certain events, such as childhood or adult trauma.
Certain feelings ignited during these impactful events form this way of thinking. Some people may be more prone to these patterns due to their environment or personality. Certain habits can kick start and continue the cycle of cognitive distortions.
Overthinking is the obsessive breakdown of a decision or idea to be sure you have thought of all possibilities. This can make choices or decisions stressful or near impossible.
You try to expect any and all outcomes to prepare yourself. Often people who struggle with overthinking experience insecurity and doubt, which contribute to difficulty in making decisions.
Ruminating is the constant cycle of negative thoughts and self-criticism. Sometimes this can show up as the repeating of a stressful memory or decision that causes distress. This is often accompanied by racing thoughts, which those with anxiety disorders are all too familiar with.
Racing thoughts are a cyclone of many thoughts all at once that can be overwhelming and hard to process. Read this blog here if this sounds like something you’ve been experiencing. Ruminating is the repetition of negative thoughts concerning the past or future
The projection of negative emotions onto others, typically anger, distrust, and contempt. You expect the worst from everyone, affecting your relationships.
You often seem standoffish, mean, or hostile. Often this can be seen stemming from feeling insecure or vulnerable; rather than directing it towards ourselves, it is thrown onto other people.
What Are the Effects of Negative Thinking?
Mental health can be a balancing game, though if you have a negative way of thinking, it’s bound to lead you to struggle mentally.
The constant cycle of negative thoughts in your head can lead to:
- Low self-esteem
- Heightened stress
- Inability to reach goals
- Missed opportunities
- Loss of relationships
- Eating or body dysmorphia
- Additions or substance abuse
- Risky behaviors
- Health changes, such as heightened blood pressure, lowered immune system, or GI issues
- Worsening of other mental health disorders
How Do I Combat My Thought Patterns?
It will take some time and work to start overcoming negative thinking patterns. You have to start reframing your thought process by not paying attention to and highlighting all those negative beliefs and details.
Easier said than done, right? Keeping consistent and kind to yourself is the best way to be as you journey forward.
By recognizing these negative thoughts, you can analyze them. Since you now know what cognitive distortions there are, you can identify which one the negative thoughts fall into it. And then you can challenge the negative thoughts.
Start by letting out all those negative thoughts. Everyone has them; it’s when it overtakes your mind that it becomes the issue. Ideally, journaling all those negative thoughts is a healthy way to express your emotions. You could even plan on doing this every night so that in the morning, you wake up feeling like you could express all those negative thoughts in the morning.
You should also shift your focus onto positive experiences and write these down too. Often the negatives wash away all the good things in our minds.
So even if it feels small and stupid, write it down or take a picture. Make a positivity board. Find the good in anything, a beautiful flower, donate a dollar, or take your trash out on time. These small changes to your focus will teach your brain that the positive matters too.
Love yourself; yup, that’s right. Start working on loving and accepting who you are right now. Even with a negative mindset, because the beauty is that you are working to change it, and staying mad at yourself for being this way does nothing.
Whenever your mind starts to speak negatively about yourself, stop it. Ask yourself if you would say that to your best friend. If the answer is no, you tell yourself, “That is not true; I am good and kind.”
It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle as you start breaking this cycle. Eat balanced meals, enjoy movement, and take some time to do things you love.
Read here for some apps targeted toward mental health that you can use as a tool to boost your mood.
Can Therapy Help My Thought Patterns?
Utilizing mental health professionals is an important part of the process. Often we have learned or adjusted to use these thinking patterns and behaviors for one reason or another, sometimes without us even knowing the cause.
A mental health professional can help you discover the root of the issue. Then they can teach you why you think or act the way you do and help you learn appropriate ways to change them.
You can accomplish a lot on your own, but taking part in therapy can be beneficial if you suffer from mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or any other disorder. A therapist will be able to figure out the specific therapy or therapies needed for your unique situation.
Many professionals will use CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy to start working on your current issues and then use a different form of therapy to tackle those inner, deeper matters.
Bring It Together
Negative thinking and emotions are a part of everyday life, but when it gets to the point that it is the only way your mind works, it’s time to do something about it. You’ll feel the shift as you work towards flipping the script on your routine negative thought patterns.
You deserve to have a happy life filled with joy, peace, and the ability to have self-compassion. We believe in you, and soon you’ll believe in yourself too.