Identifying your negative thinking is the first step towards letting it go. These are the common types of negative thinking. There is overlap among them, but giving each type a name makes it easier to remember them. (If you do any more reading in cognitive therapy, you may come across the term “distorted thinking.” Some authors use that term instead of negative thinking. But it sounds harsh.)
The Big Four Types of Negative Thinking
- All-or-Nothing Thinking. "I have to do things perfectly, because anything less than perfect is a failure."
- Disqualifying the Positives. "Life feels like one disappointment after another."
- Negative Self-Labeling. "I feel like a failure. I'm flawed. If people knew the real me, they wouldn't like me."
- Catastrophizing. "If something is going to happen, it'll probably be the worst case scenario."
Other Common Types of Negative Thinking
- Mind Reading. "I can tell people don't like me because of the way they behave."
- Should Statements. "People should be fair. If I'm nice to them, they should be nice back."
- Excessive Need for Approval. "I can only be happy if people like me. If someone is upset, it's probably my fault."
- Disqualifying the Present. "I'll relax later. But first I have to rush to finish this."
- Dwelling on Pain. “If I dwell on why I’m unhappy and think about what went wrong, maybe I’ll feel better.” Alternately, “If I worry enough about my problem, maybe I will feel better.”
- Pessimism. “Life is a struggle. I don’t think we are meant to be happy. I don’t trust people who are happy. If something good happens in my life, I usually have to pay for it with something bad.”
Consequences of Negative Thinking
Negative thinking is an obstacle to self-change. Any change feels like a big deal. You can’t see the small steps, and you don’t have the energy to take big steps, therefore you feel stuck.
All-or-nothing thinking is the most common type of negative thinking, and is the main cause of many problems including anxiety, depression, and addiction.
All-or-nothing thinking leads to anxiety because you think that any mistake is a failure, which may expose you to criticism or judgment. Therefore you don’t give yourself permission to relax and let your guard down.
All-or-nothing thinking can lead to depression because when you think you have to be perfect, you feel trapped by your own unrealistic standards. Feeling trapped is one of the known causes of depression.
All-or-nothing thinking can lead to addiction because anxiety or depression feels so uncomfortable that you may turn to drugs or alcohol to escape.