One of the great contributors to anxiety and depression -- and potentially, to problems in our relationships -- is negative thinking. I see this frequently in clients who find the glass half empty, and such thinking tends to create additional problems in their functioning and coping.
A person who tends to be negative usually experiences cognitive distortions, irrational thought patterns that involve viewing the world unrealistically. They are thoughts that may feel very real to someone but are, in fact, not necessarily true. It's normal to experience an occasional cognitive distortion from time to time, but when these thought patterns are frequent and pervasive, problems in coping will arise. The following are examples of some common cognitive distortions.
- Personalizing: This occurs when we assume that events occur as consequences of our own behavior. For example, assuming that someone's irritability is because of something you've done is personalizing.
- Blaming: If I tend to blame others for my difficulties, without taking any personal responsibility, I'm engaged in blaming. This is the opposite of personalization.
- Mindreading: When we think we know what someone else is thinking or what their motivations are, we're mindreading. It's impossible to know what another is thinking unless they tell us.
- Disqualifying the positive: Refusing to recognize positive events when they occur or minimizing them reinforces negative thinking.
- Magnifying and Minimizing: Viewing an event disproportionately to its realistic impact results in magnifying (or catastrophizing) or minimizing. Both are viewing an event in an unrealistic way.
- All-or-Nothing / Black-and-White Thinking: This is dichotomous reasoning that lacks any recognition of the "gray" areas that pervade life. Signs of this kind of thinking include using words like "always", "never", "good", and "bad".
These are just a few of the more common cognitive distortions. Therapy can help clients both identify the cognitive distortions they're utilizing and restructure their thinking in a more realistic, adaptive, and healthy way. When this restructuring occurs, clients often report an improved mood with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and greater satisfaction in their relationships as they begin to view their interactions in a more positive, realistic light.
Remember, you cannot live a positive life with a negative mind.