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"Our goal is to prevent these distortions from controlling our lives."

Everyday, thousands of thoughts run through our minds. As helpful as our thoughts can be (making decisions in the moment, anticipating things in our future, or reviewing experiences from our past), when negative thinking or negative thought patterns creep in, our thoughts can be counterproductive or even harmful.

It’s unrealistic for all our thoughts to be positive, and having some negative thoughts is 100% normal – every athlete, musician, entrepreneur, or person we admire has had negative thoughts.

WHEN NEGATIVE THOUGHTS BEGIN TO SPIRAL

When negative thoughts start to interfere with our life, cause us stress, or prevent us from taking actions to improve our wellbeing, we need to start working on better ways to manage them.

If we’re also dealing with other mental health challenges like ongoing stress or depression, it’s easier to fall into negative thoughts.

Negative thoughts often follow similar themes, which are referred to as ‘negative thought patterns’ or ‘cognitive distortions’. ‘Distortion’ is a more accurate way to look at these thoughts, as they are often tied to false, unrealistic, and skewed views of reality.

Some negative thought patterns occur individually, others compound each other, and others feed into negative spirals that reinforce negative thoughts and actions.

  • For example, a guy may think ‘no one likes me’, which prevents him from going out to do something social, which then leads him to feel like he ‘never has friends’ or that ‘no one will ever like him’, which leads to more feelings of isolation.

Negative thoughts manifest uniquely in each of us – we all have our own stressors that trigger negative thought patterns.

Our goal is to prevent these distortions from controlling our lives. It’s easier said than done, but the first step is simply knowing what they are. We have another article on how to better manage and reframe negative thoughts, but for now let’s focus on learning how to identify them.

COMMON NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS

Try to see if you recognize any of these negative thought patterns in your own thinking, and if so, how often you fall into them. Over the next few days and weeks, try to be attentive to your thoughts and see if you can identify any of the following.

The list may seem long, but it’s a good idea to go through it all, so we can better identify when we’re having these kinds of thoughts.

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking

Oversimplifying complex situations or issues into black or white, yes or no, good or bad, or me vs. them scenarios that make it hard to approach issues with finesse or room for compromise. This kind of thinking can often lead us to critically judge ourselves or others in ways that simply aren’t true.

For example:

  • A guy thinks, “I don’t have a partner. That must mean no one wants to be with me, so there’s no point trying to meet someone.”

2. Emotional Reasoning

When we insist that something is factually true, even though our only evidence is our feelings.

Someone caught up in emotional reasoning is difficult to engage with productively because they centre their reasoning around negative emotions rather than logic. The emotional reasoner starts with the premise that simply because their negative feelings exist, the issue prompting those feelings must be true, and then builds a false narrative to support that.

For example:

  • Without any evidence, a guy feels that his coworkers hate him. He then reads too deep into any interactions or discussions he has with them and builds on this narrative, only recognizing the moments when he thinks they are being hostile and ignoring the ones where they are treating him kindly.

3. Overgeneralization

Fixating on one negative detail or experience and assigning it disproportionate significance in our lives. When we do this we often discredit partial achievements or accomplishments.

For example:

  • A man goes to a job interview, but doesn’t hear back afterward. He then starts to think he will never get a job again, instead of recognizing that the employer must have seen something desirable in him to invite him to an interview and that there will be more opportunities in the future.

4. Labelling

Putting negative labels on ourselves or the people and things around us.

Common labels include ‘loser’, ‘idiot’, ‘bad person’, ‘lousy father’, ‘typical man or woman’, etc. We restrict ourselves with these labels, leaving no room for us to grow beyond them.

For example:

  • A guy asks a friend to hang out on the weekend, but the friend already has plans. He thinks ‘I must be a loser’ since he didn’t make plans earlier.
  • A guy is late to pick up his son from school, when he gets there most of the other children have already been picked up. He thinks of himself as a ‘lousy father’ even though he had a legitimate reason to be late.

5. Jumping to Conclusions

Quickly coming to a negative interpretation or ‘snap judgement’ about something, without waiting to see how things unfold or without proper evidence.

For example:

  • A guy texts a friend to see if he’s free that evening, but he doesn’t hear back right away. He then jumps to the conclusion that his friend is purposely ignoring him and doesn’t want to be friends any more.

6. Mental Filtering

Choosing (consciously or otherwise) to remember only the negative parts of a situation.

For example:

  • A depressed athlete who forgets his many great plays and instead gets caught up worrying about the one mistake he made.

7. Fortune Telling / Forecasting

Repeatedly predicting that situations will turn out poorly. Projecting pessimism onto the future can create a self-fulfilling prophecy where our negative vision of the future is so strong it impacts our ability to behave in a way that would lead to positive outcomes.

For example:

  • A guy is feeling lonely and that he doesn’t have as many close friends as he wants. He then projects this feeling into the future and thinks he will never make any new friends. Thinking this is true makes him feel even lonelier and prevents him from trying to make new connections.

8. Mind Reading

Assuming you know exactly what someone else thinks and feels, especially what they think and feel about you.

For example:

  • Assuming someone hates you because they gave a short, hurried response to a question, instead of recognizing they may have been flustered or occupied by something unrelated.

9. Catastrophizing

Blowing an issue way out of proportion in a negative way.

For example:

  • Thinking that making a small mistake at work automatically means your boss is going to fire you, then worrying about how you will keep up with payments without a job, which leads you to stress out about how that means you’ll get evicted from your apartment, etc. Rather than seeing a minor mistake for what it is, you blow it out of proportion and associate it with being kicked out of your home.

10. Inability to Be Wrong

Everyone likes to be right, but this desire becomes a distortion when our need to be right outweighs evidence, logic, and reality.

For example:

  • A father writes down the wrong time for his son’s dentist appointment. When his partner confronts him about the missed appointment, he refuses to acknowledge his mistake and instead insists either she didn’t tell him the right time or the dentist office must have made the mistake on their end.

11. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy can manifest in two possible ways.

  • Feeling despair because you think you have no control over anything in your life and are therefore powerless to change any aspect of your life.
  • Feeling despair because you think you should have absolute control over everything in your life and are therefore entirely to blame for any negative or difficult circumstance.

For example:

  • Feeling you have no control over your career and that you’re stuck where you are with no way of changing your future.
  • Or, feeling like it’s completely your fault you got laid off and that you should have just tried harder, even though the company went bankrupt and everyone lost their jobs, regardless of job performance.

12. Fairness Fallacies

The old saying, “the world’s not fair” is usually spoken in response to someone struggling with a fairness fallacy. Analyzing situations in terms of how just or unjust they might be is often not helpful in the context of our mental health.

For example:

  • Despite working extra hours and performing well, a man is passed over for a promotion at work because of office politics. He then falls into a negative thought pattern of dwelling on the fact that it feels unfair. While the situation may be unjust, getting stuck on the “fairness” of our circumstances prevents us from moving forward.

13. Change Fallacies

Expecting someone or something to change to fit our needs and make us happier (when the situation isn’t likely to change).

For example:

  • If you are in an unhealthy relationship but are stuck assuming your partner will eventually change and become the person you want them to be.

14. Discounting the Positive

Rejecting or discrediting positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count”. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life.

For example:

  • Your friend compliments your clothes, but instead of feeling good about this, you think they’re only saying this because they have to and don’t take the compliment to heart.

15. Self Blame

Taking issues or details that have nothing to do with us and making them about ourselves, our feelings, or our role in matters.

For example:

  • When a child unfairly blames themselves for their parents getting divorced.
  • When something doesn’t work out, but we take all the blame on ourselves, ignoring other contributing factors.
  • Our partner comes home from work in a bad mood and we immediately assume it’s because we did something wrong

16. ‘Shoulds’ or ‘Musts’

Framing and judging ourselves based on things we think we “should” or “must” have done.

For example:

  • Someone who gets nervous talking on the phone might berate themselves because they believe they “should” be able to make a simple phone call without feeling anxious. Instead of working to manage their anxiety around talking on the phone, they get more upset with themselves, thinking this shouldn’t be an issue for them.

Overthinking or Ruminating

Stewing or ruminating is when we find ourselves repetitively running things over and over in our mind, almost as if we’re in a loop, without any fresh input or action being taken. Usually this only leads to problems growing in size and appearing even more difficult to deal with.

This is a very common and harmful habit to fall into, especially when dealing with depressed thoughts that often involve a combination of many of the thought patterns listed above.

For example:

  • A guy may be embarrassed about a mistake he made or something he said in the heat of the moment. He then gets further down on himself thinking of all the times he has made mistakes or done something embarrassing. Eventually he starts to forget all the good things in life and he starts to think he is the mistake all together – which is a distorted and more intense thought than the original embarrassment that triggered this loop.

The key to managing negative thoughts is noticing when they happen.

Once we are aware of our negative thoughts we can work on ways to reduce, manage and reframe them.

For a short overview on reframing negative thoughts, check out our article.

To gain more in-depth skills on reframing negative thoughts, try our course.

THIS IS MEN'S HEALTH WEEK | JUNE 10-16TH, 2024

Men's Health Week takes place annually in mid-June, during the week preceding Father’s Day. The week is not just a campaign, but a call to action for men to take better care of their health and for communities to support men in this endeavour.

Men's Health Week 2024