Examples of Negative Thoughts in People with Mental Illness
Examples of negative thoughts are not hard to come by in people with mental illness. Although negative thinking doesn’t always mean you have a mental health condition, getting stuck in unhelpful thinking patterns can be indicative of an underlying issue. No one wants to live a life fuelled by negative thoughts. Luckily, the model used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is proven to help overcome many examples of negative thoughts, particularly in those with mental illness.
Examples of Negative Thoughts: The CBT Model
The CBT model works on the basis that surface thoughts are not to blame for negativity – it’s our emotional reaction that causes us to feel anxious or stressed. You have a thought, which leads to negative emotions, which leads to negative behaviors and physical symptoms of mental illness.
Thought – Emotion – Behavior – Physical symptoms
To use one of the most common negative thinking examples from CBT, imagine your phone rings in the middle of the night. Your surface thought is that something is wrong: this causes you to feel anxious, which leads to you ignoring the phone call. Your anxiety worsens, leading to an increased heart rate, shortness of breath and a feeling of being out of control.
Another person may have the same thought on hearing their phone ring at a late hour. After all, it is not an irrational thought that there might be an emergency or that someone needs help. This person pushes the negative thought aside because it is not useful, and they cannot respond to a situation that hasn’t happened yet. Instead of worrying unnecessarily, this person picks up the phone to find out what the situation is.
Looking at it this way can be reassuring: it’s not that other people don’t have the same thoughts as you, it’s just that they interpret them differently.
How to Manage Your Negative Thoughts
Of course, managing negative thoughts is not as simple as changing your reactions to them ("How to Get Rid of Negative Thoughts. Stop Being Negative"). In fact, CBT works on the basis that we cannot change our emotions – we can only improve our thoughts and behaviors. For example, you might be able to change your physical symptoms by paying attention to your breathing, or you could try to change your behavior by going for a walk or practicing meditation when you feel anxious. You can also learn to change your thoughts, but first, you must be able to identify them.
Examples of negative thoughts include:
All or nothing: “If this date isn’t successful, I’ll be single forever.”
Overgeneralizing: “I’ve been bad at every single job I’ve had.”
Personalizing: “It’s all my fault.”
Mind reading: “All my friends/co-workers/family think I’m stupid.”
Jumping to conclusions: “My boss doesn’t look happy. She must be about to fire me.”
Catastrophizing: “This is going to be a terrible day.”
Disqualifying the positive: “They have to say nice things about me because they are my friends, but they don’t mean them.”
Should/must/ought to: “I should be a better son/daughter.” “I must start exercising.” “I ought to have a better job.”
You may notice that some of these examples fit into several categories. Next time you have a negative thought, see which unhelpful thinking patterns you can spot.
Making a Negative Thoughts List: Why It Helps
Overcoming negative thoughts isn't about stopping them altogether. These thoughts are automatic and involuntary. Therefore, trying to stop them will only make them more persistent.
For instance, challenge yourself not to think about a white bear for 30 seconds. Did you manage it? Probably not, because this isn’t how the brain works. Instead of trying to stop negative thoughts, you must learn to balance them with a more balanced and pragmatic viewpoint ("What is Thought-Stopping? Therapy, Techniques, Exercises").
Here is an exercise to try. Make a list of all the negative thoughts you experience throughout the day. Before you go to bed, do what the experts say and take your thoughts to court. Ask yourself the following questions about each negative thought:
- Is this thought helpful?
- Can you spot any negative thinking patterns? (e.g., catastrophizing, personalizing, etc.)
- Is there evidence for this thought? If so, what it is?
- Is there evidence against this thought?
- Would you say this to a friend? Would a friend say this to you?
- Are there alternative ways of looking at the situation that is more helpful and realistic?
You may find that examples of negative thinking come up more than you expected. That’s okay. There is no right or wrong way to use this technique, and you don’t have to do it every time. However, by challenging the way you interpret your thoughts, you can learn to change how they affect you over time.
Smith, E. (2018, December 11). Examples of Negative Thoughts in People with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, May 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/self-help/positivity/examples-of-negative-thoughts-in-people-with-mental-illness