Negative Thought Patterns: The Myths of the Mind

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Have you ever considered that your negative thought patterns could be sabotaging your happiness? 

Of course, many of us can recognize negative emotions, such as sadness, anxiety and anger, but how our mind processes stress can be hard to pinpoint. When we are under stress, our brain can develop patterns of thinking and unhealthy ones are called “Cognitive Biases.”

Posted: April 6th, 2021

Disclaimer: Although I am a mental health professional, all information and reflections are meant for educational purposes only. If you plan to make changes in your life, it may be worth consulting with loved ones and/or your wellness team. Also, this post may contain affiliate links that will connect you with some pretty cool products and when making a purchase through those links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Intro

When it comes to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a cognitive bias can be defined as “exaggerations in thinking that we all experience from time to time when we are emotionally aroused or depressed” (Kennerley, Kirk & Westbrook, 2017). Many of us can relate to having intense reactions to our surroundings, but if the thought patterns are prolonged, problems can arise. Our automatic thoughts can become predominantly negative, whether the situation warrants it or not.

Curious about which ones to look out for?

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    External Thinking

    1. Dichotomous Thinking: Feeling like a situation is all good or all bad. This is also called black or white or all or nothing thinking.

    Examples: “I can’t trust anyone.” “All relationships lead to suffering.”

    1. Unrealistic Expectations: Having high standards for yourself and others.

    Examples: “I must get an A+ in every class.” “They should have stayed sober.”

    1. Catastrophizing: Expecting the worst-case scenario or quickly determining an awful conclusion to a stressor.

    Examples: “If I get a divorce, I will have no money, I’ll never see my children again and I won’t be happy for the rest of my life.” “If I don’t do well on this test, I may as well quit school because I will probably just fail and never get a job anyway.”

    Selective Attention

    1. Over Generalisation: Assuming one negative thing means everything is negative.

    Examples: “He broke up with me, I’ll be forever alone.” “I failed my bio final; I need to drop out because I suck at being a student.”

    1. Mental Filter: Letting one bad happening ruin an entire day that was otherwise good. Focusing on negative things and not giving time for the other pieces of the situation.

    Examples: “The whole camping trip is ruined because I forgot my bathing suit.” “I waved at someone who was not waving to me. I am so awkward!”

    1. Disqualifying the Positive: If something positive happens you dismiss the compliment or minimize the good.

    Examples: “They only complimented me because they want to manipulate me.” “It was only a 94%. I should have gotten 100%.”

    1. Magnification: High focus on what went wrong in a situation and dismiss how you did well.

    Example: “She asked if I would like to go out again, but I was super awkward.”

    1. Minimisation: When you’ve contributed to an event positively, but don’t give yourself credit.

    Example: “Even though I scored the winning goal during the hockey game, it was probably just luck.”

    Relying on Intuition

    1. Mind-Reading: Assuming you know what others are thinking or feeling.

    Examples: “Susan is mad at me because she didn’t wave at me in the park today.” “I can tell you don’t want to listen to me even though you are my counsellor.”

    1. Fortune-Telling: Guessing how a future event or situation will play out. Ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophesy? (This can be helpful with positive thinking or trying to manifest a good outcome.)

    Examples: “Guarantee, I won’t get the job.” “This Tinder date will for sure be a catfish, so I’m not going to bother to go.”

    1. Emotional Reasoning: Believing how you are feeling is true.

    Examples: “I feel anxious, so something bad is probably going to happen.” “I feel shy, so I can’t make friends.”

    Self-Criticism

    1. Taking Things Personally: Taking responsibility for something that went wrong or badly based on our perception.

    Examples: “My date got super drunk. It’s probably because I was boring, or they weren’t attracted to me.” “Only a few people came to my birthday party, I probably did something to upset the people who didn’t come.”

    1. Self-Blame: Feeling you are at fault of something bad without cause.

    Examples: “I can’t keep up with my schoolwork, so I must be dumb.” “I feel weak today. I probably am lazy.”

    1. Name-Calling: Internally criticizing yourself using demeaning statements or words.

    Examples: “Such a loser.” “How could I be such a *insert swear here*?”

    Insight

    Do you recognize some of these negative thought patterns in you?

    Remember, it isn’t a bad thing to have these thoughts at times. It is hard to diminish every negative thought pattern that crosses our mind, especially during hard times.

    There is also nothing “wrong” with you if you are finding a lot of familiarity in the negative thought patterns, but if these thoughts are interfering with your life, it wouldn’t hurt to find ways of managing them.

    Were there some you were surprised that others have felt?

    Awareness is the first step in changing unhealthy and negative thought patterns. I hope you realize that you are not alone in how you think. It can feel very lonely and defeating if you feel segregated from others, but please know, there is a name for your negative thoughts and there ARE ways to manage them.

    Exercises/Options

    Look through the examples and try to find other ways to look at the thoughts. For example, the drunk date could have not eaten enough that day or is struggling with alcohol use. The person who assumed they would not get the job they applied for may be a great candidate, but someone else may have had more work experience. Maybe the person ends up acing the interview.

    Write down which thinking patterns you relate to and would like to change.

    If you are feeling you need extra help, contact mental health services in your area OR pick up a self-help book for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CB). Both forms can be very helpful dependent on how much extra guidance you would like or can afford.

    Reference

    Kennerley, H., Kirk, J., & Westbrook, D. (2017). An introduction to cognitive behaviour therapy – Skills and applications (3rd ed.). London, England: Sage Publications

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