What is Negative Thinking?
Following on from last month’s article on positive thinking, (here), I’m going to have a look at negative thinking, which is something a lot of my clients report. Negativity gets a lot of bad press, but it’s a normal part of life, and can often be dealt with in a healthy manner. If negative thoughts spread out of control they can become a severe nuisance, but they may serve a purpose and, if so, shouldn’t be ignored.
Why do we get negative thoughts?
If you find it hard to imagine negative thoughts having a positive purpose, try this thought experiment; imagine you’re taking a walk and a large hungry tiger jumps out at you. Do you feel positive or negative about the situation, and what does that feeling lead you to do?
I hope this shows you that negative emotions are sometimes the rational response. It’s natural, and very useful, to experience fear when you’re threatened because fear causes you to focus on getting away from the danger. Unfortunately, although this is fine when dealing with physical danger, it’s less helpful with the emotional stresses we now encounter daily. For example, during an argument anger can take over and result in you saying hurtful things you don’t mean because your subconscious is trying to stop the other person hurting you, and not to resolve the disagreement. Less in-the-moment examples would be long-term stress from a difficult life situation or low self-esteem. All of these can result in a spiral of constantly focusing on the negatives, which results in it being much harder to solve the problem.
Negative thinking styles
Most negative thought patterns fall into one or more of several categories:
- Filtering: ignoring good things in favour of bad.
- Polarisation/black-and-white thinking: seeing only failure or success with no in-between.
- Overgeneralisation: using one bad experience as “proof” of a wider conclusion. The extreme form is known as global labelling.
- Jumping to conclusions: making a decision with no evidence.
- Catastrophising: expecting the worst from a small problem.
- Personalisation and blaming: assuming every problem is caused directly by either yourself or someone else, respectively. These are known as control fallacies.
- Fairness fallacy: assuming life should be fair and resenting it when it isn’t.
- Shoulds: deciding how things should be, and being upset when they are not.
- Emotional reasoning: thinking that if you feel a certain way, it must be a fact.
- The fallacy of change: expecting others to change to suit your preferences, and possibly trying to force them to.
- Always being right: inability to admit errors.
- Heaven’s Reward Fallacy: assuming good deeds will always be rewarded.
If these sound familiar to you, you can find more information about each type via an online search. I recommend learning to spot these negative thought patterns so they can be stopped before they spiral out of control – maybe keep a negative thoughts diary for a week or two and see which ones pop into your mind most often.
Dealing with negative thinking
Learning to deal with negative thoughts can have many benefits, as discussed in the previous positive thinking article. First, when you feel negative, do not simply try to force the feeling away. Consider carefully what purpose the feeling is serving; remember, bad feelings are there to alert you that something is wrong.
It’s okay to spend some time feeling negative, just don’t let it completely overwhelm you in the long-term. Try setting aside a specific “worrying time” each day and distracting yourself from negative thoughts outside that time; “okay, it’s not time to think about that yet”. When it’s time, let yourself cry or be angry, listen to sad music or scream into a pillow if it helps to get the bad feelings out, but stop when the set time is over. Once your worrying time is done, try to find something good about the bad thing. See if you can learn a lesson from it, or if you can make it funny.
You can find more ideas about dealing with negative thinking here, in my other blog on the topic.
Help with negative thinking
Finally, if it’s really bringing you down, talk to someone about it. A friend or family member might be able to see things differently and to help you to do the same. If there is no obvious cause for the bad feeling and it persists for a long time, it might be a sign of depression or anxiety, and you should speak to your doctor.
And, of course, you can contact me at any time to see how hypnotherapy could help you to ditch the negative thinking and feel happy again.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter on these blogs: Rachel Waller.