Unhelpful Negative Thinking

What happens when negative thinking seems to be taking up too much of your thoughts? A powerful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tool to treat depression is recognizing what and when an unhelpful thinking habit is happening and challenging it.  Unhelpful Thoughts can be so automatic they hide in plain sight.  So what are negative thoughts and what can you do about them?

Some examples of unhelpful thoughts: All or Nothing Thinking; Personalization; Catastrophic Thinking and Minimization to name a few.

All or Nothing Thinking is experiencing and seeing things at each end of a continuum. On the one side the super positive, over idealized the other side the super negative. It’s assessing an experience as a success or failure but not seeing the nuance of the in between.  “If it wasn’t perfect, then it was a failure.”  “I screwed up the proposal- I am never going to get the account.”

Personalization-When it comes to negative thinking the sting of taking something personally sometimes isn’t so easy to shake off.  It’s reading into the comments- written or verbal, or interpreting others actions- as being personally attacking- on a constant basis. It’s taking the blame even if you aren’t to blame. It’s like living in a reality tv show in your head where everything is directed negatively towards you. But it’s hard to turn the channel -worse turn off the show.  The other side of personalization is also blaming others when something goes wrong that you need to be accountable for. Personalization is intertwined with shame.  (  Shame resources: Dr Brene Brown or Ron Potter-Effron)

Catastrophizing: This is experiencing a situation, or thought as a worst case scenario. Thoughts bypass what is most likely to happen and head straight to the catastrophic thought as being the outcome. It’s a stress response that can leave one feeling powerless, overwhelmed. It takes both a mental an physical toll.

Minimization:  One’s attributes are downplayed. The thoughts are along the lines of – ” It doesn’t count, I got lucky.” “No, that person was only being nice- they didn’t mean it.”  Its beyond being humble- it’s low self esteem where you feel small and insignificant. A great resource to consider with minimization is practicing self compassion. There are many great resources such as:   ( https://self-compassion.org/)

If you recognize any of the unhelpful thinking traps above, this is a good starting place to challenge the validity of these thoughts. By challenging your negative thoughts, you start to nurture your brain to focus on other more balanced thought patterns. This takes time. Automatic Thoughts have an edge over more balanced one. Those are the worn down interstates in the brain. When you are trying something new, it can feel like you are on a dirt road that is slow going. Stick with it the more you utilize helpful thinking skills the more it will be the new interstate.

Here’s what I recommend for clients:

  1. Recognize the Unhelpful Thought/s
  2. Create a Pause – notice this moment, this thought. Instead of following the thought go to #3.
  3. STOPP (Stop, Take a deep breath make sure the exhale is longer than the inhale)
  4. Observe- what are you noticing around you? Notice your environment, your body.
  5. Get Perspective- What is most likely going on? What are you responding to? What is most likely to happen? Imagine you taking on the perspective of someone you admire? How would they respond or think- given the same situation?  Do I need to respond now? What if I waited 6 hours, 6 days- will this be as important then?
  6. Proceed with a course of action or inaction that is reflective of the healthy values you are cultivating or know to be true within yourself.


Speak Your Mind


313 Price Place Suite#10
Madison, WI 53705

(608) 231-3300 ext. #227

Message Me

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.