Negative thinking is a common psychological challenge that many people develop. All too often than not, it can have a devastating impact on all aspects of life. But, what exactly are negative thoughts? Well, negativity refers to perceptions or attitudes that work against you and make your life worse in some way. Generally, such destructive thoughts can leave you feeling bad, less confident or even diminish chances of success.
It is therefore important to identify negative thoughts that are making your life worse. This is essentially the first step in finding ways to battle negative attitudes. After all, if negative patterns go unnoticed, it becomes impossible to dissolve them.
Common Types of Cognitive Distortions
Negative thoughts, also called cognitive distortions in psychotherapy, can manifest in different forms. So, one way of identification is learning about common negative attitudes that people tend to develop. Once you know the various types of negative thoughts that exist, you can identify which form of negative thinking your mind has become accustomed to and then begin the process of refuting it.
Some of the common negative thoughts that are prevalent in the human mind include:
In this type of cognitive distortion, negative thoughts stem from imagining or expecting bad things to happen. Examples of when you catastrophize could be worrying about your health deteriorating, a relationship going downhill, or your career being ruined, even though such events have not actually happened yet.
- Filter Thinking
Filter thinking is common in people who harshly criticize or beat themselves up over mistakes, perceived flaws, and weaknesses. Such individuals end up focusing entirely on negative details while filtering out all the positive aspects until reality becomes distorted or darkened.
- Polarized (All-or-Nothing) Thinking
Polarized thinkers see everything in either black or white, without recognizing any middle ground. This cognitive distortion is sometimes called all-or-nothing thinking. A good example of this type of negative thought pattern would be a person who considers him/herself a total failure after falling shy of a perfect score.
People engaging in personalization may see themselves as the cause of some negative external outcome, which in fact they were not primarily responsible for. In other words, personalizing is making the assumption that you are to blame for everything that goes wrong. A good athlete for instance would be personalizing by saying “we lost the game because I did not score enough goals.”
- Need for External Validation
Another form of negative thinking is the excessive need for external validation. This means that you rely on approval from other people as a measure of your own self-worth. For example, someone who has an excessive need for external validation might say to themselves, “I can only be happy if people like me.”
Overgeneralization-based thinking involves seeing a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. So, when something bad occurs once, we expect it to happen over and over again.
There are many other cognitive distortions besides those mentioned above. Sometimes people who develop negative thought patterns become so hooked onto these detrimental attitudes in their subconscious minds that they are unable to identify them on their own. Therefore, it is also helpful if someone else like a certified psychiatrist, mentor or life coach helps to point out negative thought patterns in you.
Lastly, keep in mind that identifying dysfunctional thinking patterns is just one-half of the battle. Replacing them with positive, constructive thoughts is the other half.