James Radford

Negative Thinking Patterns and How To Overcome Them

Do you struggle with negative thinking? Maybe you have a harsh inner critic that crushes your confidence. Perhaps you get caught in worry, stress, anxiety, depression.

The way you think affects everything in your life. If you mostly think negatively, it can affect your health, job, family, and more. Also, negative thoughts examples can make more negative thoughts happen in a loop.

If you’re constantly defaulting to negative conclusions, you may be suffering from negative thinking patterns in your thought process.

How To Overcome Negative Thoughts and Depression

Negative thinking patterns can have a strong and sometimes devastating impact on us. Clouding our mood, straining our relationships, and draining our vitality. Creating a burden on our health, our work, and every aspect of our lives. How to overcome negative thoughts and depression? Overcoming negative thinking – it’s not as easy as just pushing negative thoughts away and replacing them with positive ones. If it were that simple, we would all be sky-high, wouldn’t we? So, while we often know it’s happening to us, we don’t always know what to do about it.

Thinking bad thoughts can make you feel anxious, sad, stressed, or not good about yourself. To make these thoughts better, you need to know how you think now and use ways to change them or make them bother you less.

Thinking Negatively Helped People Survive

All of us have moments where we think the worst and jump to conclusions, even when logic might show us no evidence that something bad will happen. We can’t help but think of only the worst.

It’s natural for our minds to search for the negatives. This likely dates back to primal times when humans had to be on high alert for wild animals and anticipate danger or threats – our survival depended on it!

Today in modern society, we don’t have to worry about our survival in the wild, but we often find ourselves overly stressed and anxious about life. If you’ve struggled with depression, stress, or anxiety, you understand how difficult it is to turn those negative thoughts into more positive ones.

Our thoughts create our feelings. Changing our thoughts changes how we feel.

This simple yet challenging formula is what will turn these Cognitive Distortions around. The strategies outlined below challenge each one so that you can begin to think more effectively and realistically. As you practice these, you’ll find yourself feeling better – about yourself and others.

Why Negative Thinking Causes Pain and Discomfort

Negative thought patterns are repetitive, unhelpful thoughts. They directly cause what we could describe as ‘negative’ (unwanted or unpleasant) emotions. And can contribute to anxiety, depression, stress, fear, unworthiness, loss of confidence, and more.

One negative thought example is consciousness. That is, we are aware of them.

Negative unconscious thoughts are a common occurrence that can significantly affect us. They are thoughts, words, or images that reside in our subconscious and often operate in the background of our awareness. Though we may not be consciously aware of them, these thought patterns have a powerful influence on us. These ingrained thoughts often originate from our internal belief systems and past experiences.

Negative thinking is often conversational. It’s a conversation we have with ourselves mentally, but it can also impact the way we speak out loud to others. It can also be situational. It can skew the way we anticipate situations, the way we view and experience them in the present moment, and the way we interpret them afterward.

Why It Is Important to Address Negative Thinking

Negative thoughts can make us feel bad. If we don’t deal with them, they can cause stress and sadness. It’s important to understand and change these negative thought patterns to stay mentally healthy and have good relationships and a happy life.

1. Mental Well-Being

Negative thoughts can cause stress, anxiety, and depression. Understanding and managing these thoughts is important for maintaining good mental health.

2. Relationships

Constant negativity can strain relationships. By recognizing and changing negative thinking, we can foster healthier connections with others.

3. Professional Success

Negative thinking can hinder performance at work. Overcoming these patterns is key to unlocking our full potential in our professional lives.

4. Overall Happiness

A positive mindset is closely linked to happiness. Breaking free from negative thinking patterns can lead to a more fulfilling and joyful life.

What Causes Negative Thinking Patterns

There are many theories as to why human beings sometimes seem so hyper-focused on the negative aspects of existence. Our culture and media often glorify struggle and conflict. Our evolutionary makeup is based on a need to fight and survive. There is no single main cause that we can point to, as negative thinking arises from a complex web of dynamic factors. The primary driver of a negative thought pattern will vary greatly depending on the person engaged in the negative thinking, their particular history, their triggers, and their current mental health situation. Whatever the true root of our negative thought patterns, we can all take steps to empower ourselves to overcome them and break free of their influence.

When harmful examples of negative thoughts in depression occur repeatedly, this meets the definition of cognitive distortion. The term “distortion” is used because these negative thoughts and examples may lead to untrue and unrealistic conclusions or even distortions of reality itself.

By recognizing and coping with the issue when the negative thought pattern is first beginning, you have a better chance of disrupting this pattern before it spirals into a larger mental health crisis.

Common cognitive distortions include thinking yourself unworthy of love or success, believing everyone hates you, blaming yourself for your parents’ divorce, and other self-destructive beliefs. Cognitive distortions are not always self-deprecating, however. They can also be projected onto other people and the world around you, such as believing everyone is lying, blaming a person or institution for your problems, or obsessing over a partner’s feelings towards you.

Mental health experts have identified many specific types of negative thinking patterns, including:

Emotional Reasoning

When a person insists that something is factually true even though their only evidence is their feelings, they are engaging in emotional reasoning. Someone in the throes of emotional reasoning is difficult to engage with productively because they center their reasoning around negative emotions rather than any sort of logic. The emotional reasoner starts with the premise that their negative feelings must be true and justified simply because they exist and then builds a narrative to support that. “I’m anxious about going to school, therefore going to school must be dangerous,” would be an example of emotional reasoning.


Putting negative labels on yourself and the people and things around you is another very common type of harmful thought pattern that many people engage in every day without really thinking about it. If someone consistently sees themselves as “a loser” “stupid” or “a bad father,” they can eventually grow into that mold because their negative perception leaves them no room to live outside those labels or grow beyond them.

Mental Filtering

When someone chooses (consciously or otherwise) to remember only the bad parts of a situation, they’re engaged in mental filtering. A depressed athlete who forgets their many excellent plays and instead rants about one blown assignment and how it cost their team the game would be an example of mental filtering.


Fortune-telling and mind-reading may sound like amazing psychic abilities, but when we’re talking about cognitive distortion, neither of them is particularly helpful. Mind reading in this context means assuming you know exactly what someone else thinks and feels, especially what they think and feel about you. Assuming someone hates you because they gave a short, hurried response to a question (when perhaps they were just flustered by something unrelated) would be an example of negative mind-reading behavior.

Inability to Be Wrong

Everyone likes to feel correct, but this desire becomes a cognitive distortion when the need to be right outweighs evidence, logic, and material reality. Growth—including the growth needed for mental health recovery—requires allowing yourself the room to be forgiven and to grow. If you can never be incorrect in the first place, there’s no space for that growth to occur.

Personalization and Self-Blame

When you take issues or details that have nothing to do with you and make them all about yourself, your feelings, or your role in matters, you are experiencing the cognitive distortion called personalization. A ubiquitous example of personalization is a child blaming themselves for their parents getting divorced.


Framing things in terms like “should” or “must” can be a big part of negative thinking. For example, someone who gets nervous talking on the telephone might berate themselves because they believe they “should” be able to make a simple phone call without feeling anxious. This minimizes their ability to accept that it’s okay to feel anxious, and in turn, prevents them from doing the work of actually coping with anxiety. Instead, they remain uselessly distraught that the anxiety exists at all.

Not every pattern of negative thought will fit neatly into one of the above definitions, and oftentimes two or more forms of cognitive distortion will manifest together. In other cases, one type of negative thinking will lead directly to another, creating larger and more complex patterns that can require a lot of hard work and support to break.

Habits that Lead to Negative Thinking Patterns

Working on your mental health involves identifying patterns within patterns. There are some attitudes and mental habits you may be bringing into your day-to-day life that lead to cycles of negative thought. You can help yourself by learning to recognize them as they occur and stop them before they lead to a negative place. Here are some examples of negative thoughts in depression.

1. Overthinking:

It’s good to be thorough when making important choices, but if you can’t decide where to go for lunch because you’re wracked by insecurity and doubt, you’re engaging in a harmful thought pattern. Overthinking involves looking at your role in every decision from every possible angle and trying to model every potential outcome in your mind. This can be exhausting at best and devastating if your carefully considered predictions turn out completely wrong. Avoid overthinking by imposing limits on it. Give yourself deadlines for making choices and stick to them.

2. Rumination:

Negative rumination is itself a cyclical pattern that projects your flaws onto your vision of the future, making you believe that your life will only get worse. Break the cycle by doing something else when you first notice yourself fixating on negative thoughts. Don’t allow yourself to be alone with your thoughts. Read a book, watch a movie, work on a hobby, or visit with a friend (but don’t simply use them as a convenient outlet for the negative thoughts in your head). Avoid food and alcohol as diversions. Overeating and intoxication can worsen the situation.

3. Cynical Hostility:

Cynical hostility is a type of thought pattern that involves directing anger, mistrust, judgment, or disdain at other people. These feelings may be borne of insecurity, projection, or past baggage. This type of thinking makes it hard to maintain a support system because you see people as inherently dangerous, evil, or untrustworthy. Studies have linked this sort of hostile demeanor to heart disease and increased blood pressure. Combat cynical hostility with empathy. Instead of defaulting to distrust, try to see a situation from every possible perspective. Find ways to re-frame situations as cooperative rather than competitive.

4. Perfectionism:

Embrace your imperfections, for they are part of what makes you unique. Mistakes are simply a natural part of the journey towards personal growth and development. Instead of letting them bring you down, celebrate the small strides you make towards improvement. Every accomplishment, no matter its size, should be celebrated with pride. Remember, it is not only acceptable but freeing to be your authentic self – that is what truly sets you apart.

Overcoming Negative Thinking Patterns

1. Positive Thinking Techniques:

Identify negative thoughts that bring you down. Challenge them by asking if they’re true. Replace these thoughts with ones that are more balanced and positive. It takes practice, but over time, you’ll notice a shift in how you think and feel about things.

2. Present-Moment Practices:

Mindfulness and meditation are like exercises for your mind. They help you stay in the present instead of worrying about the future. Practice deep breathing and focus on what’s happening right now. These habits can reduce anxiety and make it easier to handle challenges.

3. Gratitude Boost:

Take a few moments each day to think about things you appreciate. It could be as simple as a good meal, a kind gesture, or a sunny day. Writing them down in a journal adds extra power to this practice. As you focus on the positive, your mindset gradually shifts, and you start to see more good things around you.

4. Professional Support:

Talking to a therapist or counselor is like having a guide on your journey to better mental health. They listen, understand, and provide strategies tailored to you. With their support, you can explore the roots of negative thinking and learn effective ways to break free from those patterns. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength and courage.

Developing a Positive Mindset for Long-Term Change

1. Setting Realistic Goals:

Setting goals is like creating a roadmap for your life. Make sure your goals are doable and practical. Small achievements lead to a big sense of accomplishment. When you see progress, it boosts your confidence and motivates you to reach for even bigger dreams.

2. Surrounding Yourself with Positivity:

The things and people around you affect how you feel. Choose uplifting movies, and music, and spend time with those who make you happy. Positive vibes create a supportive environment, making it easier to stay optimistic even when facing challenges.

3. Practicing Self-Compassion:

Treat yourself kindly, especially when things don’t go as planned. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s a part of being human. Instead of being too hard on yourself, learn from the experience. Understand that setbacks are normal, and they don’t define your worth. Being gentle with yourself builds resilience and a healthier mindset.

4. Embracing Growth Mindset:

See challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. A growth mindset means believing in your ability to improve. When faced with difficulties, view them as a chance to develop new skills. This mindset helps you navigate setbacks with a positive outlook, turning obstacles into stepping stones for personal development.


Negative thinking patterns can significantly impact our mental well-being, relationships, and overall happiness. These patterns often stem from various cognitive distortions and habits that can be deeply ingrained. Understanding the root causes of negative thinking is crucial in addressing and overcoming these patterns.

Overcoming negative thinking involves adopting positive thinking techniques, embracing present-moment practices like mindfulness, seeking professional support, and developing a positive mindset for long-term change. It’s essential to set realistic goals, surround ourselves with positivity, practice self-compassion, and foster a growth mindset.

Recognizing harmful thought patterns early on and implementing strategies to break the cycle is key to maintaining good mental health. By challenging negative thoughts and replacing them with more balanced and positive alternatives, we can reshape our mindset and experience a more fulfilling and joyful life. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and with the right strategies, we can empower ourselves to break free from the influence of negative thinking patterns.

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