“Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies of perception rather than mistake of logic.”
— Edward de Bono
What are Negative Thoughts?
Can you identify with the thoughts mentioned below?
I often find myself ruminating specially over an unpleasant incident
A fearful anticipation of what’s going to happen next or in future always keeps me preoccupied
There is always an unsaid need to feel validated from my loved ones to feel safe and happy about myself and my choices
I tend feel dejected, upset, irritated and moody when things do not go my way
Often, I find myself expecting a lot from people/ loved ones and when they fail to deliver, I hold onto it against them and myself too
I question myself somewhere even if I know the other person has done me wrong
I just find positives to not be very convincing or believable based on my observation and experiences in life
We may be able to relate to some of these thoughts with varying degrees of intensity.
Never-ending negative thoughts often make the subject bigger than it is in our minds, thus robbing us of our peace of mind and happiness. Such thought processes become an easy formula for negative thinking, which draws people into depression, anxiety and low self-worth. When stressed with a tirade of such negative thoughts, we start to wonder if there is a more efficient way to overcome them. Many motivational speakers and self-help guides uphold that positive thinking is a choice, but it seldom feels that simple.
Definition of Negative Thoughts:
“Negative thoughts are cognitions about the self, others, or the world in general that are characterized by negative perceptions, expectations, and attributions and are associated with unpleasant emotions and adverse behavioural, physiological, and health outcomes.”
– (Hawkley, 2013)
The negative thinking description from Rethink Mental Illness specifies that:
“Negative thought refers to a pattern of thinking destructively about yourself and your surroundings. While everyone experiences negative thoughts very often, negative thinking that seriously affects the way you think about yourself and the world and even interferes with work/study and everyday functioning could be a symptom of a mental illness, including depression, anxiety disorders and personality disorders”
Negative thoughts – Origin and Types:
The origin of negative thoughts is generally based on the negative core beliefs that we have about ourselves and the way we see the world. Learning is based on observation and experience and when while growing up if both has impacted a person negatively then they seem to absorb and implement that.
For example: If you were always compared to someone while growing up; you tend to become more critical about yourself.
If you saw your parents not sharing a great bond, there is most likely possibility is that you might end up doubting your relationship.
If you’ve experienced infidelity, the thought of having a meaningful bond again seems like a task.
It’s as if our negative experiences and observations starts controlling the way we should behave rather than being our authentic self. It’s quite natural but it’s possible to have a better understand about our cognition in order to not hold onto these negative thoughts. It’s important to know and explore what could be the possible cognitive errors that makes us feel and think this way in order to try and overcome it.
Cognitive errors are irrational thoughts that ca influence your emotions. Everyone experiences these errors to some extent but their more extreme forms can be distressful for a person. The checklist of these errors are:
All-or-nothing thinking: We see things either in black or white categories. There is less or no space for a grey area to exist that makes things polarised. If we do not perform the best, we see ourselves as a total failure.
Over generalisation: We see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat thereby making broad interpretations out of a single event.
Mental filter: We choose to select a single negative detail and dwell on it entirely that blurs our vision of reality just like like a drop of ink that discolours the whole beaker of water.
Disqualifying the positive: We fail to accept positive experiences by asserting they ‘don’t count’ for some reason or other. In this way, we end up maintaining a negative belief that is opposed by our everyday experiences. One might have a good day but still chooses to think about the one negative thing that happened.
Jumping to conclusions: Making negative interpretations and assumptions without having a definite fact that convincingly support our conclusions. She doesn’t give me enough attention hence she doesn’t love me.
Mind reading: Interpreting the thoughts ad beliefs of others without adequate evidence. She would not go on a date with me. She probably thinks I’m stupid.
Fortune Telling: We feel convinced that our forecast is an established fact and based on it we anticipate that things will turn out badly
Magnification (catastrophising) or minimisation: When we either exaggerate our mistakes or flaws (Magnification) or are indifferent towards our or other people’s strengths and positives (Minimisation)
Emotional reasoning: When we go by the saying, I feel it, therefore it must be true. It is the ritual of making decisions based on how we feel rather than being objective. We assume that our undesirable emotions or feelings define the reality of how things are, when in practicality they may be different.
Should statements: We try to motivate/reprimand ourselves with ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’, ‘musts’ and ‘ought to haves. The emotional consequences are guilt. ‘Should’ statements when directed towards others would make you feel angry, frustrated and anxious.
Labelling: This is an extreme form of over generalisation. One attaches a negative label to oneself – “I’m a bad person” instead of describing our error, when someone else’s behaviour impacts us the wrong way, we ascribe a negative label to that person. He lied to me hence all men are liars.
Personalisation: It is an error where a human believes that everything others do or say is some kind of a direct, particular reaction towards them. They take everything personally, even when if it is not meant in that way.
Impact of Negative Thinking:
Negative thinking can be incapacitating for the person suffering from them. It often also disturbs the people around the individual. Below mentioned are some of the impacts of negative thinking:
It impacts our overall physical and psychological health
It unfavourably affects our relationships.
Negative thinking breaks our spirit and has a tenacity to grow if not attended.
Excessive negative thoughts can lead to severe anxiety or clinical depression, and in severe cases lead to self-harm or even damaging others. As per WHO statistics, over 300 million people are a subject to depression worldwide (WHO, 2018) while around 800,000 people die from suicide universally each year (1 death every 40 seconds) (WHO, 2019).
They have a direct influence on increasing psychosomatic illnesses leading to numerous chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, epilepsy, cancer and asthma.
It leads to many disruptions in everyday functioning. However, in life-threatening cases, it can escalate into debilitating personal, social and occupational impairments
Overcoming Negative thoughts:
1. Ask yourself the right questions:
Mostly people just chain themselves into a loop of negative thoughts without asking themselves the right questions. Few of the important questions you need to ask yourself are:
What are some of the major emotions I feel?
What’s one thing I can do differently the next time that’ll help me have a better outcome?
What’s one thing I can learn from this situation and what does it say about me?
If it happened to someone else, how would I support them and make it better for them?
2. Question the thought enough:
One of the common mistakes is accepting someone else’s beliefs and opinions without questioning it enough. Sometimes we just borrow a negative belief and make it our own. Few things to ask here are:
Should I take what they said seriously?
It could be that they are experiencing a negative emotion and they projected onto us. If so, then shouldn’t I give it some time?
Do I have a filter to protect myself or I just accept how the world makes me feel?
3. Sorting negative core beliefs:
It’s very important to sort out some of your negative core beliefs and not rather seek evidence to make it true. Your negative core beliefs may sound like:
I am worthless
I don’t feel I’m enough
I am stupid
I am fat or ugly
I don’t deserve good in life, etc
It’s important to gather evidence against these negatives beliefs and not let these beliefs define who you are.
4. Replacing the negativity in your environment:
Most we also tend to become negative if the environment around is not facilitating. It could be coming from parents, siblings, relationships, friendships, relatives, etc. It’s important to understand that if something is hampering your growth, you’re allowed to keep an arms distance from them without feeling guilty about it. Spending time on positive sources like yourself, your hobbies and interests, will give you a motivation to look forward.
5. Healthy Lifestyle:
Generally having a healthy lifestyle helps you overcome negative thoughts effectively. Sleeping on time, making a good diet, working out for your physical body, meditation for your mind and spending time with people who love and value you will add on more substance into your life.
Also, if you feel these negative emotions are still very difficult to manage then reaching out to a counselor or therapist is always suggested. This will help delve deeper and understand what are some of the challenges that you’re facing and where is it coming from. A different perspective to look at things might help you give your life a new direction.
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Disclaimer: Please note that we are not a crisis intervention helpline. Should you have severe symptoms or have thought about harming yourself, please seek immediate medical help or call suicide prevention helplines such as
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