It is entirely normal to experience negative thoughts and negative self-talk. However, some types of negative self-talk (examples below) can be extremely detrimental to our health and happiness.
Negative thinking is, in many ways, natural. When we go through painful events in life, it is natural and healthy to experience some kinds of negative thoughts. For instance, no one would blame a parent for being depressed when they find out their child is ill. It is only natural in certain circumstances to worry and believe the world to be unfair.
However, there are also illogical thoughts, painful ideas in the mind that have no basis in reality. Thoughts that are delusional, unrealistically bad, or just plain traumatising, can hurt our mental health. Unfortunately, they can be hard to avoid because of the negativity bias (Kanouse, D. E., & Hanson 1972, Negativity in Evaluation).
Beverly D. Flaxington states that too much negative self talk “Gets you in its grip and does everything possible to keep you trapped.” And Margarita Tartovsky, M.S., says: “Negative thoughts can sink our mood and perpetuate a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. They can lead to everything from lost opportunities to depression.” 
We need to learn how to stop the negative self-talk. Thankfully, there are many psychological techniques we can use to change these negative thought patterns [read my guide to stopping negative thoughts].
One of the best ways to stop stress is to prevent these specific types of negative thoughts [tip: use positive-thinking meditations to stop those thoughts].
Take a look at some negative thought examples. Count how many you suffer from. If there is one type that you experience more than the rest or that causes you more mental harm than the rest, focus on changing that one type.
11 Worst Types of Negative Thinking & Negative Self Talk, with Example
Monitor your self-talk. If you notice yourself thinking any of the following types of negative thoughts, change them.
1. All-or-Nothing Thinking.
Example: “If I don’t do this, I’ll be a complete failure.”
If you’re prone to this type of negative thinking, you massively exaggerate the importance of something.
Classic example: You say your life will be over if you fail an exam.
It is evident to onlookers how unrealistic this idea is. However, to the individual experiencing the thought, it can seem very real.
To combat this, consider what actually would happen in the worst-case scenario: Yes, you fail the exam, but life continues anyway.
2. Disqualifying the Positives.
Example: “Life is always bad.”
This is a widespread type of negative thinking. All or nothing thoughts are a form of cognitive bias  in which we disqualify the positive.
This is always a delusional way of thinking. Such thoughts as “I’m a terrible person” are rarely ever realistic. They occur because we disqualify the negative. The solution is somewhat apparent: When you think something entirely negative, see the positive in it. This is always possible. For instance, even if we are going through a bad time in life, such as a divorce, there will still be some positive elements, for example: “My relationship is over, but now I can find a more positive relationship”.
3. Negative Self-Labeling.
Example: “I am a complete failure, and I always will be.”
Do you think the worst about yourself? If so, you’re suffering from this kind of negativity.
Self-labelling means obsessively thinking negative things about yourself, and saying that you are those things.
- “I’m a total loser.”
- “My life sucks”
- “Why am I so stupid?”
- “I’m a bad person.”
- “I’m fat.”
- “I’m suck.”
- “My life is so bad”
- “I’m an idiot.”
Even if the description is accurate in some way (e.g. you think “I’m an alcoholic” when you indeed are one) you can still think in more positive ways, such as “I am fighting to overcome my addiction”.
Example: “This isn’t just going to be bad; it’s going to be the worst thing of all time.”
This is the type of negativity where one bad thing means game over, man, game over.
The key to overcoming this is to consider what would happen if the unfortunate event occurred. For instance, if you’re thinking that you might lose your job, consider what would happen next—you will probably just get another one, it is not the end of the world.
5. Mind Reading.
Example: “I know people love me because I can read their minds.”
In this type of negative thinking, we assume we know other people’s thoughts. This is often the case with self-conscious people who worry that other people are thinking badly of them. For instance, someone glares at you, and you think you know that they’re judging you, even though their anger probably has nothing to do with you.
99% of the time this is you projecting your thoughts onto someone else.
6. Should Statements.
Example: “I should do this, and they should do that.”.
Nobody should do anything. So-called Should-Thinking is massively unhelpful because it takes a positive (I’d like to get in shape) and makes it seem obligatory (I should get in shape)
If you suffer from this kind of negativity, focus on the choice you are making instead of the sense of obligation. For instance, instead of “I should lose weight” think “I am working on losing weight because I want to be healthier”.
7. Excessive Need for Approval.
Example: “I need you to need me.”
If you suffer from these types of negative thoughts, you constantly think you need other people to like / love / approve of you.
Newsflash: The only person who needs to approve of you is you.
This is usually based on a lack of self-confidence. Truly confident people do not require the approval of others. Try to be king of yourself, rather than depending on the acknowledgement of others.
8. Disqualifying the Present.
Example: “Everything will be all right later.”
This one is a killer. In this type of negative thinking, we accept that life sucks right now but it will get better. The problem is, this prevents us from doing something about it right now.
If you experience this, focus on the present. What can you do right now to make things better?
Example: “I have to think about everything that’s wrong in my life.”
This is the style of negative thinking where you believe that to improve you have to focus on everything that’s bad in your life. But in truth, worrying accomplishes nothing.
People who dwell on things always think about the bad, as though they are afraid that things will get worse if they lose sight of the negatives.
To overcome this, balance out the negative with the positive and try to be more mindful by living in the present moment instead of in ideas of what is wrong.
Example: “That glass is half empty.”
Pessimism is thinking the worst of a situation that is part good and part bad.
However, just because pessimism is bad doesn’t necessarily mean realism or optimism are better. What’s best is balance (acknowledge the bad, the okay, and the good at the same time).
To overcome this, look at the full picture. Yes, acknowledge what is bad. Also acknowledge what is right and what is okay. That will give you a more balanced mindset.
11. Automatic Negative Thoughts
Example: Actually, this could be any negative thought you experience over and over.
Have you ever noticed that you have automatic negative thoughts? Examples include things you think over and over again, and thoughts you can’t get rid of.
“Negative thoughts are automatic thoughts in response to uncertainty, anxiety, disappointment or other challenges,” says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist.
Negativity often spontaneously manifests.
Example of spontaneous negative thoughts: You’re sitting in a bar when a perfectly reasonable stranger walks in and looks at you quite innocently, and then you suddenly and illogically decide that they don’t like you.
The thought is not based on reality or even logic; it is negativity for negativity’s sake.
Such thoughts are sometimes the result of a specific mental health problem.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder leads to irrational, obsessive thoughts.
- Generalised anxiety disorder creates irrational worries that are usually situational.
- Panic Disorder often creates negative thinking about health or the inability to escape a particular situation.
- Social anxiety creates irrational negative thoughts about other people.
If you experience this kind of negative thinking, react to it in the moment. Remind yourself that it is just a thought, nothing more, and then try to think more objectively and rationally.
12: “If only’s”
Example: “If only I were a millionaire, I’d be happy.”
This is the most common example of negative self-talk.
“If only” thoughts can be used as excuses: “If only he/she would. . .”
Often, when we put a conditional on something, we are holding ourselves back.
For instance, “I’d be happy if only I had a better job”.
This statement logically prevents us from being happy now. Yes, it would be good to have a good job, but we can be happy without one.
Rectify this with a “but even if”:
“I’d be happy with a better job, but even if I don’t get one I will still be okay”.
If Only’s are pessimistic. Instead, try to be hopeful.
Example: I should lose weight
“Should” is such a horrible word, in self-talk or in conversation.
Should makes you feel obligated and powerless as it robs you of choice.
Use “Want” instead. “I should lose weight.” NOPE. “I want to lose weight” is better . Make sure you avoid this positive self-talk killer at all costs.
You can make “should” thoughts better by including a plan.
- If you think “I should lose weight”.
- Change it to, “I want to lose weight”.
- Then add a plan. “I want to lose weight, so I am going to get a gym membership”.
- And then actually do it.
This turns your should thoughts into a positive action.
I’ll be happy when I’m rich
When thoughts are not always a problem.
However, when thoughts can become an issue similarly to If thoughts. The problem is that when we put a future date on something, we prevent ourselves from doing it now.
An example of negative self-talk with “When” is this: “When I finally lose weight, I will feel happy.” In this example you’re telling yourself you can’t be happy until you lose weight. Negative self-talk like this prevents you from taking actions right now.
Here’s how to correct a when thought:
- Take the When Thought, e.g. “I’ll get fit when I have more time.”
- Now tell yourself that you need to create the conditional to get the result: “I need to make more time to get in shape.”
- Then make a plan, “I need to make more time to get in share, therefore I am going to stop watching TV”.
15: “Have to”
I have to pass this test
This is an example of negative self-talk that forces a negative on the situation and also makes us feel obligated to do something.
I have to make dinner implies that we absolutely must make dinner, and we do not want to.
This is inaccurate and unhelpful.
Change it like this:
- I have to make dinner
- I want to make dinner because I’m hungry
- Feel free to add an alternative: I want to make dinner because I’m hungry, or I could order in.
Do or do not, there is no try, said Yoda, and he was right. Saying you’ll “try” to do something is setting yourself up for failure. Use WILL.
The main problem with try thoughts is that they are defeatist. They already imply that we might fail. That’s not good for positivity.
Turn this negative self-talk into a positive. All you have to do is turn the word “Try” into “Will”.
- I will try to run a marathon
- I will run a marathon
Oh boy, this is one of the most prominent examples of negative self-talk. Can’t thoughts are almost always brutal. They set up the negative self-belief that we are incapable.
For instance, “I can’t get a promotion”. That’s an example of negative self-talk that will totally stop you in your tracks.
The second you think you can’t, you’re done, because your mind will make the negative belief a reality. Just change it to can.
There is another category of Can’t Thoughts, thoughts where we are warning ourselves. I can’t have a cigarette.
We can make this self-talk more positive by adding a because and a therefore.
Deal with Can’t thoughts like this:
- I can’t have a cigarette
- [add a reason] I can’t have a cigarette because I worked so hard to quit
- [make it positive] I will stay off cigarettes because I worked so hard to quit
- [even more positive] I will stay off cigarettes because I worked so hard to quit and I deserve to be healthy
18: Just plain old lazy
Another example of negative self-talk involves sheer laziness. These are thoughts that lack specific details and plans.
I’m going to be a millionaire.
The maths show that with my current stock investments rising at the rate they are, I will make a million this year.
Now that’s optimistic and specific.
“Better” is such a throwaway word.
What is better?
According to whom?
What criteria determines whether something is better or worse?
Odds are if you’re saying you want something to be “better” you’re simply expressing that you feel inadequate in some way (e.g wanting to be a better person implies not currently being good enough).
If you catch yourself using “Better” in goal setting, take the time to ask yourself precisely what it is you want and make clear and specific aims.
“I’d be better if I were fit” is better like this: “I would feel better about myself if I lost 10 pounds over the next three months”.
20: “Some day I’ll…”:
Thoughts like “some day I’ll be rich” aren’t necessarily harmful, they’re simply ineffective. Remember to be specific. “By age 34 I’ll be a millionaire because I will have published a best-selling novel.”
This is near identical to the “better” situation because ultimately you’re merely expressing that you don’t have enough of something. In this case, take the time to ask yourself exactly how much of something you want, and the same is true for the word “less.” For instance, don’t say “I want to weigh less” say “I want to weigh 10 pounds less OR I want to weigh 120 lbs.”
Possibly the worst word of them all. EVENTUALLY puts you at the mercy of time. Focus on what you can do now, in the present moment.
“Eventually I will be someone.”
By March the 18th of this year I will get promoted at work and will be feeling good about my career.
So, there we are, the most dangerous examples of negative self-talk. How many do you suffer from?
The negative self-talk examples above show how brutal the mind can be.
These negative self talk examples change the way we think. They make us negative. And they create negative beliefs. You can change them by using the tutorials I shared at the top of this page.
And did you know, you can even boost self confidence with movies.
Above we looked at the worst types of negative thinking.
So if you are suffering from these types of negative thinking, challenge your thoughts and think more positively instead.
Sources & Resources
The Power of Negative Thinking – Scientific American
Can Negative Thoughts Be Stopped? – Live Science
How to Harness the Positive Power of Negative Thinking – University of California: Berkley
Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison
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