11 Types Of Negative Thinking And Negative Self Talk To Avoid

It is completely normal to experience negative thoughts and negative self talk. However, some types of negative thinking 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 i only natural in circumstances like that to worry and perhaps question our faith. Such a response is normal and healthy. 

However, there are then illogical thoughts, painful ideas in the mind that have no basis in reality. Thoughts that are delusional, unrealistically bad, or just plain traumatizing, can have an adverse effect on our mental health. 

Thankfully, there are many psychological techniques we can use to change these negative thought patterns [read my guide to stopping negative thoughts].

 If you are attempting to stop negativitiy, you might wonder exactly which thoughts to focus on. Which ones are the worst? Which ones cause you the most harm? Which ones should you be trying your hardest to get rid of? 

Some types of negative thoughts that are more detrimental than the rest.  


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Why Some Types Of Negative Thoughts And Negative Self Talk Are True Killers

Some types of negative thoughts have absolutely disastrous effects.

As 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.” [1]

One of the best ways to stop stress is to stop these specific types of negative thoughts [tip: use positive-thinking meditations to stop those thoughts]. 

Take a look at the different types of negative thoughts below and 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. 

The 11 Worst Types Of Negative Thinking 

Monitor your self talk. If you notice yourself thinking and of the following types of negative thoughts try to change them in the moment. 

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking.

“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 obvious 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.

“Life is always bad.”

This is a very common type of negative thinking. All or nothing thoughts are basically a form of cognitive bias [2] in which we disqualify the positive.  

This is always a delusional way of thinking. Such thoughts are “I’m a terrible person” are rarely ever realistic. It is simply that we disqualify the negative. The solution is somewhat obvious: 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 instance. “My relationship is over, but now I can find a more positive relationship”. 


3. Negative Self-Labeling.

“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. 

For instance: 

“I’m a total loser”

“I’m a bad person”

“I’m fat”

“I’m a failure”

“I’m a fool”

“I’m an idiot”

im an idiot meme

Even if the description is accurate in some way (e.g. you think “I’m an alcoholic” when you truly are one) you can still think in more positive ways, such as “I am fighting to overcome my addiction”. 

4. Catastrophizing.

“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 bad event happened. For instance, if you’re thinking that you might lose your job, consider what would actually happen next– you will probably just get another one, it is not the end of the world. 

5. Mind Reading.

“I know people like 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 looks angrily at you and you think you know that they’re judging you, even though it is probably that their anger has nothing to do with you. 

99% of the time this is you projecting your own thoughts onto someone else. 

6. Should Statements.

 “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 idea 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.

“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 off you is you. 

This is usually based on lack of self confidence. Truly confident people do not need the approval of others. Try to be king of yourself, rather than depending on the acknowledgement of others. 


8. Disqualifying the Present.

“Everything will be all right later.”

This one is a killer. In this type of negative thinking we accept that life sucks right now because it will get better. Problem is, this also 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? 


9. Dwelling:

“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 full-on 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 bad things. 

To overcome this, balance out the positive with the negative and try to be more mindful by living in the present moment instead of in ideas of what is wrong. 

10. Pessimism:

“That glass is clearly 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 

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 (4).

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, for instance.
  • Generalised anxiety disorder, meanwhile, creates irrational worries that are usually situational.
  • Panic Disorder often creates negative thinking about health or the inability to escape a certain situation.
  • Social anxiety creates irrational negative thoughts around 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 in a more objective and rational way. 


11 Example Of Negative Self Talk You Have Probably Experienced Before Today

One of the traits of positive people is that they monitor their self talk.

We positive types simply do not allow negative self talk to exist in our minds.

Here’s the thing though: It can be hard to know if a thought is positive self talk or negative.

Sure, “I hate myself” is obviously an example of negative self talk, but what about, “I should be happy?”

Is that positive because it is focused on happiness, or negative because you’re telling yourself how you should feel?

The following examples of negative self talk reveal the types of thoughts we need to change. If you spot yourself thinking in these ways, try to change your self talk so it is more positive.

#1 : “If only‘s

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 Onlys are pessimistic. Instead, try to be hopeful.

 2:  “Should” :

“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.

For instance:

  1. if you think “I should lose weight”.
  2. Change it to, “I want to lose weight”.
  3. Then add a plan. “I want to lose weight so I am going to get a gym membership”.
  4. And then actually do it.

This turns your should thoughts into a positive action.

 #3 “When” 

When thoughts are not always a problem.

However, when thoughts can become an issue in a similar way 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 makes prevents you from taking actions right now.

Here’s how to correct a when thought:

  1. Take the When Thought, e.g. “I’ll get fit when I have more time”
  2. Now tell yourself that you need to create the conditional in order to get the result: “I need to make more time to get in shape”
  3. Then make a plan, “I need to make more time to get in share, therefore I am going to stop watching TV”.

 #4 “Have to”

This is an example of negative self talk that forces a negative on the situation and also makes us feel obligated to do something.

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:

  1. I have to make dinner 
  2. want to make dinner because I’m hungry 
  3. Feel free to add an alternative: I want to make dinner because I’m hungry, or I could order in

5: “Try”:

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 to a positive. All you have to do is turn Try into Will. 

  1. I will try to run a marathon
  2. will run a marathon

#6 “Can’t”:

Oh boy, this is one of the biggest 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, your’e done, because your mind will make the negative belief a reality. Obviously, 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 too by adding a because and a therefore.

Deal with Can’t thoughts like this:

  1. I can’t have a cigarette
  2. [add a reason ]I can’t have a cigarette because I worked so hard to quit
  3. [make it positive] I will stay off cigarettes because I worked so hard to quit
  4. [even more positive] I will stay off cigarettes because I worked so hard to quit and I deserve to be healthy




7:  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.

 #8:  “Better”  :

“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 id I lost 10 pounds over the next three months”.

#9:  “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.”

#10 : “More”:

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 weight less” say “I want to weight 10 pounds less OR I want to weigh 120 lbs”

 #11: “Eventually” :

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 negative the mind can be. And you might be wondering: Are there any exercises to stop thinking like that? (Read that link for the answer).

These negative self talk examples change the way we think.

They make us negative. And they create negative beliefs. Time to change that [Read: How To Change Negative Beliefs]

And did you know, you can even boost self confidence with movies

How to handle all types of negative thoughts

Above we looked at the worst types of negative thinking. 

So if you suffering from these types of negative thinking, challenge your thoughts and think more positively instead.

Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a yoga teacher, meditation teacher and writer. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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