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Negative Thinking Patterns That Are Damaging Your Mental Health

Negative Thinking Patterns That Are Damaging Your Mental Health

It’s widely accepted by psychologists that our feelings come directly from our thoughts, not from the facts or events that triggered those thoughts. Though it does happen spontaneously, certain types of negative thinking can hurt our mental health.

Often, the less control we feel like we have over a situation, the more anxiety we have. It helps to remember that we always have control over what and how we think.


FACT: You text your friend and ask them to meet for coffee and they don’t respond. However, you saw them share a post on Facebook, so you know they have their phone.

THOUGHT: She’s upset with me about something

FEELING: Frustration, rejection

The feelings about the situation came directly from your thoughts and assumptions – not from the fact itself.

The biggest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by changing their minds – William James

Distorted Thinking

Negatives thoughts about facts in our lives can be categorized into six different types of negative thinking.

The value in being able to label them is it gives you the chance to identify when you think this way and then makes it easier for you to change your thinking and improve your mental health.

Types of Distorted Thinking
  • All or nothing
  • Over Generalizations
  • Disqualifying the positive
  • Emotional reasoning
  • Using “should” too often
  • Personalizing events

All or Nothing

All or nothing thinking refers to thinking about things in one extreme or the other. You’re either successful, or you’re a failure. Someone loves you, or they hate you.

Truthfully, extremes are rarely factual. It’s like setting a rule for yourself that if you don’t achieve 100%, then you achieved a 0.

This form of distorted thinking often leads us to sabotage our efforts to diet and lose weight. I know I’m guilty of this. Imagine your diet is going fantastic. Then a co-worker brings cake to the office.

You have one bite – decide the whole day is derailed – and continue to binge on junk food for the rest of the day.

A more appropriate way of thinking is that although you may have had a small slip up eating cake, you’ve still done great for 95% of the day and you are still on track for achieving your goals.

Over Generalizations

Drawing a faulty conclusion about something based off of only one example is known as overgeneralizing.

So when you’re overgeneralizing, you’re taking one bad thing that happened, and you’re applying that thought to all other scenerios.

For example, you’re giving your boss a presentation about a new product and slip up, mispronouncing a word. This leads you to think ” I suck at public speaking – I can’t speak in front of people”

This type of distorted thinking can lead to self-doubt and avoiding things that may actually benefit you.

For example, you may turn down the chance to speak at your best friend’s wedding or miss out on a job opportunity as a result of overgeneralizing.

A more appropriate way of thinking would be to tell yourself “I made a mistake during that presentation. Next time, I’ll practice beforehand and come more prepared”.

Disqualifying the Positive

This type of thinking refers to filtering out all the positive evidence about a situation and focusing solely on the negative. You use negative thoughts to explain away any type of positive in a given situation.

It’s like all or nothing thinking, but without the all.

Emotional Reasoning

Emotional reasoning is when you conclude that your emotional reaction to something makes that thing become a reality. Basically you feel something to the point that you believe it’s reality, even though it’s not based on fact.

For example, in your relationship, you may struggle with feelings of jealousy to the point that you accuse your partner of cheating on you – even though they’ve shown nothing but devotion to you and you have no plausible evidence that you’ve been betrayed.

Using Should Too Often

“Should” statements are another form of distorted thinking that contribute to negative feelings like worry and fear.

These are negative thoughts you have about yourself that include the word should.

For example:

  • I should be able to do this
  • I shouldn’t be afraid of …..
  • I’m pathetic, I should just get over it

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right. – Henry Ford

Personalizing Events

Personalizing events is when you assume yourself responsible or to blame for situations that were out of your control.

For example, your child gets a bad grade in school and you think “This is all my fault – I’m a terrible mother” you may even throw some shoulds in there – “I should have spent more time helping her study”

Another example is when a loved one dies and we blame ourselves – “If I hadn’t asked him to go to the store for me, he wouldn’t have been in that car accident”

Negative thinking can contribute to having a poor self-esteem, negative outlook on life, and poor mental health.

It may worsen mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, phobias and panic disorders.

Reframing your thoughts helps change the feelings you have about events outside of your control. It helps you see things in a realistic, logical way.

The discontent and frustration you feel is entirely your own creation. – Stephen Richards

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