Couple looking down

The 5 Negative Thinking Patterns

We are what we think. But where does our thinking come from and why it is so important? Here are 5 negative thinking patterns that undercut our effectiveness.

A situation happens to us. This is the trigger.

Our Belief is what we think about this event. Why did it happen? Is it good or bad? Is it temporary or permanent?

The Consequences of these thoughts are the emotions we feel and the reactions we have to this event. Happy? Sad? Angry? Helpless? Anxious?

This ABC model is developed by Dr. Albert Ellis and he explains that its not the activating event that determines how we feel about it but the explanations we give ourselves about that particular event.

Situation leads to interpretation and that leads to reaction

Take a moment and think about it.

We are always explaining or justifying our or others’ behaviors in our head, reasoning why situations happen and whether they are good or bad for us.

But sometimes these overly rigid negative thinking patterns undercut our effectiveness. When we bring these patterns to new situations or people we are not seeing the situation for what it is but how we think it is.

The following are 5 most common negative thinking patterns which are like traps. They make us less effective and less positive.

The 5 Mind Traps

1. Mind Reading

Two people not understanding each other

How many of us are guilty of this one? I know I am. We assume we know what the other person is thinking and that they know what we are thinking about. We think we are 100 percent correct and react to this not so solid assumption. But we have no proof. We kind of just made it up! This negative pattern of thinking affects relationships the most.


You write a new associate/friend a text to meet up. They do not answer for the next two hours. Your mind says –

“S/he did not like me. “

“Or s/he did not like ‘this’ thing I said or did.”

“Maybe s/he have too many friends and do not care.”

“I am sure s/he will never talk to me again.”

Suddenly a text is returned saying that s/he was in a meeting and did not see the text. S/he would love to meet up. The tension in your body is released.

You are smiling again.


  • It blocks communication since people tend not to ask and only assume.
  • This leads to judgment and thinking negatively of people since you assume you know the person 100 percent and read their actions.
  • Leads to misinformation and miscommunication.
  • Feelings of hurt and resentment.

2. Me

Sad person

Again, it used to be a favorite. This is when people tend to think that they are the sole cause of their problems. They believe they are solely responsible for all setbacks and feel they are causing harm to loved ones. Thus, good things cannot and should not happen to them as they do not deserve it. This negative pattern of thinking leads to guilt and shame.


A small child falls down the stairs, scrapes his knee, and starts to wail loudly. The mother rushes to the scene and her mind says:

“How careless can you be? This is all your fault!”

“You are the worst mother possible!”

“If you were a good mother, you would have foreseen this!”

“You must not leave his side for a moment from now on! Or he will fall again, because of you!”

“You do not deserve to be a mother…..”

The mother is inconsolable. Her body and mind are weak unable to respond correctly.


  • It leads to an overwhelming sense of guilt, shame, and disappointment
  • A sense of isolation as you distance yourself from others thinking you will harm them.
  • Resulting in loneliness, sadness, despair, and depression

To know more about how shame effects us, please read:

From Shame to Empathy: A Journey Filled with Self Compassion

3. Them

Angry man pointing a finger

This is when we believe that other people or circumstance is the sole cause of every problem. We blame society, people, government, world, and even God. We blame and accuse others of every setback, problem, violation, and betrayal. Every problem is caused and attributed to everything and everyone except ourselves. This negative pattern of thinking leads to anger and aggression.


A product consignment has not been completed on time. The manager needs to find out the reason. His mind says:

“The juniors do not listen to me. They do not finish the work on time and are very lazy.”

“The company rules are not helpful to efficiency.”

“The weather has not supported the last few days production schedule.”

“The power cuts have majorly slowed us down.”

“The customers have too many specifications and have given us too less time to deliver shipment.”

He starts to get angry at all these people and circumstances. His body tenses up and he wants to get all those who have wronged him.


  • Leads to anger and aggression towards everyone
  • Resentment and cynicism
  • Since everything is out of your control, it leads to a sense of helplessness
  • Words and actions towards everyone become cruel

4. Catastrophizing

Man holding his head

Something I used to do a lot and still need to work on. It means being on a runaway train of negative thoughts. Your mind dramatizes the current situation to the worst possible outcome leaving you overwhelmed and afraid. These scenarios are usually highly irrational. The thoughts keeping going round and round from bad to worse. It could also be taking a small negative event and let it culminate into all areas of life, making it impossible to fight. This negative pattern of thinking leads to errors in logic and inaction.


A student gets a much lower grade than s/he expected. His mind says:

“Mom is going to be super disappointed. She will love my brother more. She will never trust me again.”

“I will not get in the college I want.”

“My friends will all go to good colleges and not want to be by friends anymore.”

“Papa is going to be so angry, he will beat me and throw me out of the house.”

“My brother will laugh at me forever for this.”

“My life is completely ruined and no one will ever respect me again.”

The body and mind feel drained of energy and he cannot focus on the present. A feeling of dread takes on in the pit of the stomach, leading to aches in arms, head, or legs.


  • Energy depletion causing inaction.
  • Error in judging the situation, leading to an imbalance of assessment of the threat.
  • Resulting in, overestimating the threat and underestimating your ability to cope with it.
  • This leads to anxiety, feeling stress in the body, not focusing, headaches, or body aches.

5. Helplessness

Depressed person

This describes the sinking feeling that nothing is going your way and it never will. It seeps into every area of your life and you feel isolated and alone. The world seems cold and you cannot muster the strength to fight the impending doom. Family and friends seem no solace. Everything seems out of your control and you feel too small and helpless in front of enormous problems. This negative pattern of thinking leads to hopelessness and self-isolation.


A middle aged man has just incurred a huge loss in his family run business. The mind says:

“I will never be able to pay all my debts.”

“I am doomed.”

“How will I feed my family?”

“All my relatives and friends will make jokes on me.”

“This is my fate and I am a complete failure.”

“All my hard work has gone to waste. I will never recover from this setback.”

The body begins to feel the weight of these thoughts. Slowly, the mind begins to wonder if life is worth living? And thoughts of causing harm to his body come to his mind.


  • Feelings of deep despair and sadness
  • Self Pity and anxiousness
  • Hopelessness and no strength to fight back
  • Leads to depression and unwillingness to change circumstances

The above mentioned negative thinking patterns cause errors in the way we analyze our circumstances and the people around us. It creates a negative impact on our mind and body leading to stress and sometimes major health problems.

Which patterns do you follow? Do you have different patterns at work and in relationships?

Do write, think and reflect on them. Awareness is always the first step.

So how do we deal with these negative thinking patterns and make ourselves more resilient?

To learn this valuable skill, please read my next article – How to deal with negative thinking patterns effectively?

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