Negative Thoughts

Updated: July 23, 2022

Negative thoughts are automatic, pessimistic patterns of thinking that can lead to stress and low mood. These intrusive and often irrational thoughts can affect self-esteem, relationships, and overall well-being. Learning to recognise and challenge them is essential for better mental health and a more positive outlook on life.

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What Are Negative Thoughts?

Negative thoughts are recurring, pessimistic patterns of thinking that infiltrate our minds, often without invitation. These thought patterns are characterised by a focus on what can go wrong, self-doubt, and a bleak outlook on situations and life in general. They tend to magnify problems, undermine self-esteem, and can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, or depression.


These thoughts often arise from cognitive distortions, which are irrational thought patterns that don’t align with reality. Common distortions include black-and-white thinking (seeing only extremes), catastrophising (assuming the worst will happen), and personalisation (attributing everything to oneself). Negative thoughts can be automatic and subconscious, impacting how we perceive ourselves, others, and the world. Identifying and addressing these thoughts is a crucial step toward improving mental health and overall well-being.

What Are The Symptoms?

Behavioural Symptoms

Avoidance: Avoiding situations or people that trigger negative thoughts or emotions.


Health Issues: Negative thoughts can contribute to physical health problems like stress-related ailments.


Isolation: Withdrawing from social interactions and support due to low self-esteem or fear of judgment.


Procrastination: Delaying tasks due to self-doubt or fear of failure.


Self-Sabotage: Unconsciously undermining one’s own efforts or success.

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive Distortions: Patterns of irrational thinking, such as overgeneralisation or catastrophising.


Doubt: Constant questioning of one’s abilities or decisions.


Perfectionism: Setting unrealistically high standards and feeling anxious when they aren’t met.


Rumination: Repetitive and intrusive dwelling on negative events or thoughts.


Selective Attention: Focusing mainly on negative aspects while overlooking positives.


Self-Criticism: A harsh inner voice that constantly judges and devalues oneself.

Emotional Symptoms

Anxiety: Excessive worry, nervousness, or fear, often related to negative outcomes.


Depression: Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness.


Fear of Failure: Avoidance of challenges or opportunities due to fear of not meeting expectations.


Guilt and Shame: Overwhelming feelings of remorse or inadequacy.


Irritability: Easily triggered frustration or anger due to negative thought patterns.


Low Self-Esteem: A negative self-image and a sense of inadequacy.

Interpersonal Symptoms

Conflict: Negative thoughts can lead to interpersonal conflicts due to increased irritability or sensitivity.


Difficulty Trusting Others: Suspicion or distrust toward others’ intentions or motivations.


Isolation: A tendency to isolate oneself from friends and family due to emotional distress.

What Causes Negative Thoughts?

The causes of negative thoughts can interact and vary from person to person. Understanding the underlying causes is crucial for effective intervention and treatment, which may involve therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of approaches. The causes of negative thoughts and thought patterns can be complex and multifaceted and may include:

Brain Chemistry: Imbalances in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, can affect mood regulation and contribute to negative thoughts.

Cognitive Habits: Repeated exposure to negative thinking can form cognitive habits, making it more likely for pessimistic thoughts to arise automatically.

Past Experiences: Negative thoughts can stem from past traumatic or distressing experiences, shaping how individuals perceive and interpret new situations.

Genetics: There may be a genetic predisposition to certain mental health conditions or thought patterns, influencing a person’s susceptibility to negative thinking.

Life Stressors: High levels of stress, ongoing difficulties, or major life changes can trigger or exacerbate negative thinking.

Mental Health Conditions: Conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder often involve negative thought patterns as key symptoms.

Social and Environmental Factors: Negative thinking can be influenced by a person’s social environment, upbringing, cultural influences, or exposure to negative media.

Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, like perfectionism or neuroticism, may be associated with a greater likelihood of negative thinking.

Health Conditions: Physical health problems, chronic pain, or illness can contribute to negative thinking due to their impact on overall well-being.

Substance Abuse: Substance abuse or addiction can lead to negative thought patterns, as drugs or alcohol can affect brain function and mood regulation.

How Phinity Therapy Can Help

Working with negative thoughts in therapy involves a variety of therapeutic approaches tailored to your unique needs, circumstances, and preferences. We aim to foster a collaborative therapeutic relationship to empower individuals to regain control over thought patterns, improve emotional well-being, and enhance overall quality of life. Here’s some ways we might  address negative thought patterns:

Assessment: This is important to understand the nature, frequency, and impact of negative thoughts on an individual’s life.

Psychoeducation: We provide information about the concept of negative thought patterns, helping you recognise that these patterns can be changed.

Identifying Triggers: We will help you to identify the specific triggers or situations that lead to your negative thinking, enabling you to develop coping strategies.

Coping strategies: You can learn emotion regulation techniques to manage the intense emotions often associated with negative thoughts. Other techniques might include journaling or gradual exposure.

Self-Compassion: We will encourage self-compassion and self-kindness as a counterbalance to self-criticism.

Role of Beliefs: You can be helped to address underlying beliefs and schemas that contribute to negative thinking patterns, helping you to challenge and modify them.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is highly effective for addressing negative thoughts. It involves identifying and challenging cognitive distortions and replacing them with more balanced, rational thoughts.


Mindfulness-Based Techniques: We can offer mindfulness and meditation practices to increase awareness of negative thought patterns and promote present-moment focus.


Positive Psychology Interventions: You can learn to incorporate positive psychology exercises to promote gratitude, optimism, and overall well-being.


Narrative Therapy: We can explore personal narratives and stories to help reframe experiences and reinterpret negative events.

Long-Term Maintenance: Focus on building long-term resilience and skills to sustain progress and develop a relapse prevention plan to equip you with tools to manage negative thoughts in the future.

What Causes Negative Thoughts?How Phinity Therapy Can Help


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