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Why Is Negative Thinking Detrimental and How Do I Combat It?

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

The downward spiral of negative thinking can be incredibly powerful. We’ve all been there and descended into a damaging thought pattern we don’t want to be in. Many of my clients struggle with this and once they go down the rabbit hole of negative thought patterns, they aren’t sure how to get themselves out. Naturally, this leads to an undesirable mood and feelings of being stuck. 

Often, it can be helpful to combat these negative thought traps by utilizing the following interventions:  

Recognize the Negative Thought Distortions

Because our minds have clever and strategic ways of convincing us into believing something that isn’t true, inaccurate thoughts tend to reinforce negative thinking and feed the fire. So, in order to combat the thoughts, we must challenge them and ask ourselves questions. In doing this, we must be aware of the four most common thought distortions: 

  1. Black and white thinking: viewing everything as one way or the other, without allowing any room in between or for “gray matter” 
  2. Personalizing: making the assumption that you are to blame for anything that goes wrong
  3. Filter thinking: making the choice to only see the negative aspects of the situation 
  4. Catastrophizing: assuming the worst possible outcome will happen 

Questions to ask yourself when experiencing negative thinking:

  • How are these negative thoughts serving me? 
  • How would someone else look at or view the situation? 
  • Is this a fact or is this my opinion? 
  • Could I be wrong? 
  • What makes me so certain of the conclusion that I have reached? 
  • What assumptions am I making? 
  • What evidence is there to support my thinking? 
  • What evidence is there to dispute my thinking? 
  • What is the worst that can happen, and how would I handle or cope with the worst case scenario outcome? 
  • What would someone I trust think of my conclusion? 
  • How else might I view the situation? 
  • Am I accepting responsibility for something which is not my fault, or within my control? 
  • When I have felt like this before, how did I change my viewpoint – what worked and what didn’t? 

Challenge Negative Thoughts 

Whenever a distorted thought invasively enters your brain, have the courage to ask yourself questions and consider the evidence that this is in fact true. If a friend shared this thought with you, what would you say to them? More often than not, you’d offer a good rebuttal to the negative thought process. How we speak to ourselves matters, and you should be doing the same thing for the person that you spend the most time with – you.  

Take a Break from Negative Thoughts 

Separating the self from negative thoughts is crucial. Often the intervention I offer my clients in these situations is diffusion. Diffusion involves distancing, disconnecting and seeing thoughts for what they are – just that, thoughts. They do not define you. Stop, take a step back, observe, and get yourself out of the negative cycle as soon as possible. Often when we enter this state, reactions come from the emotional part of our brains, as opposed to the prefrontal cortex – which is responsible for logic and reasoning. Instead, we want to think about being proactive in place of being reactive. 

But…that’s not all. Check out part two to this blog series to finish learning more about ways to rid yourself of negative thinking. 

It may be helpful to talk to a licensed therapist about your feelings to support your mental health and well-being. Contact Symmetry Counseling in Chicago to arrange an appointment.


Harteneck, P. (2015). 7 ways to deal with negative thoughts. Psychology Today. Retrieved from:

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