Negative Thought Patterns

Negative thought patterns lead to negative emotions. David Burns in The Feeling Good Handbook (1990) emphasizes the relationship between thoughts and feelings and how specific types of negative thinking bring about mood-states. In effect, we do not "feel good" because we think in certain ways and create our emotions. He stresses that external events do not create your emotions. 

When you discover that your child has been sexually abused, you feel grief. You will  experience the range of emotions associated with loss: sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, confusion. This is a normal process. You may also feel emotions related to ongoing stress as you go through the process of disclosure, investigation, and possible choices and changes in your life. 

When you read the following negative thought patterns, think about your normal responses to everyday events and how these negative thoughts may create or increase negative emotions in your life.

  • Focusing only on the problem, not the solution.You have a mental filter that selects to focus on the negative, not the positive. Instead of being solution-focused, you are problem-focused. When you are stuck in the problem, it is difficult to find the way out.
  • Catastrophizing. You exaggerate the situation. You view whatever has occurred as the worst possible event. It is a disaster. Something is not just a mistake, it is a failure. You may see the event or situation as the end of the world - your world - rather than a day in your life - or a week, month, or year. Not your whole life. Your life and your child's life is never defined by one event. 
  • Expecting the worst.You focus with your imagination on the worst case scenario. In your mind, you see a situation through to the end, and the end is not good. You see it as very, very bad. Horrific. Expecting the worst is similar to catastrophizing, but it is future-focused. 
  • Stereotyping.You have categories, and they are neat boxes into which you can place yourself and others. An example: "terrible twos." Are all two year olds terrible? No. Or adolescents. Do they all rebel and drive their parents crazy? No. 
  • Shoulds. Words that have a lot of power that you may frequently use include "should," "ought," "must," and "have to." Each of these words assumes something. They assume a common standard of behavior. They assume that others live by your rules. If you say these words about yourself, you are holding something an expectation for yourself and these words evoke guilt and shame.
  • Thinking in absolutes. You overgeneralize by using words  like "always,"  "never," "everyone," or "no one."
  • All-or-nothing thinking. You do not see things as part of a picture. Instead, you see a part, and judge it as the whole picture.You think in extremes and distort reality. You see yourself or someone else as a complete failure or complete success - with no middle ground.
  • Negative labeling. If you use negative labeling about yourself, you are lowering your own self-esteem. These negative labels become your identity, create your reality, and limit your future choices. Labeling is all-or-nothing thinking. For example, you may make a mistake and then call yourself a "loser." You are labeling your entire self instead of seeing the behavior as one mistake and choosing not to judge yourself based on that. You are not your mistake. Labeling is irrational. What you do cannot be who you are. When you view yourself or others through the filter of labels, change does not seem possible. 
  • Personalizing or Blaming. Personalizing is when you see events through the filter of your responsibility and feel guilty, ashamed, or inadequate. For example, your child does not behave, you see yourself as a bad mother. Your husband has an affair, you see yourself as a bad wife. Blaming is the opposite. When events occur, you do not see your part in the event. You tend to think it is someone else who is responsible and assign guilt to that person. You do not see that you may contribute to the problem.
  • "Yes, but _________." When you are given a possible solution, your first response is to state what is wrong with the plan. You think it will not work and want to give your reasons why you believe this. You are closed to possibilities.  You see through the negative lens.
  • Jumping to conclusions. You practice mind-reading or fortune-telling. When something happens, you make an assumption. That assumption may or may not be based in reality. When you practice mind-reading, you think you know what someone is thinking or why they did something. However, you have no way to know what another person is thinking or what was in their mind when behaving in a certain way. With fortune-telling, you predict negative future events. An example is saying "I'm going to fail" or "I'll never get better." You expect the worst. 


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