I Am Having Negative Thoughts
An internal dialogue is absolutely normal and, in fact, is representative of an active and enquiring mind. When we are depressed or anxious however, our self-talk can change dramatically and can often become highly self-critical, or derogatory, so that we are exposed to a daily berating of ourselves.
Such negative thoughts can come from all sorts of places:
- early experiences of having been criticised
- ‘scripts’ from families, early friendships or schools, for example, about how we should be
- current friendship groups
- partners or other relationships
- media and advertising, which can put pressure on people to look or behave in a certain way
We can internalise these negative messages over time and, when we feel low or anxious, begin to repeat them back to ourselves as our own.
We can also experience ruminating thoughts – internal repeating negative thoughts in which we replay certain situations or conversations over and over. Such thoughts can leave us feeling raw and exhausted, as well as having an impact on our physical well-being, perhaps through sleep loss.
Additionally, negatively intrusive thoughts might also be experienced – these are usually very imbalanced, harsh, and disproportionately critical of ourselves, often manifesting as self-hatred or self-blame. These thoughts also very often include some form of ‘mental filter’, which greatly exaggerates the negatives while blocking out all the positive aspects of our current situation.
We might also find distressing images entering our heads, or even into our dreams, of situations that we would usually find difficult or upsetting. Having such thoughts does not mean we would act on them, nor that they are what we hope would happen. Instead, the opposite is generally true: our negative intrusive thoughts often link to things or situations we might find morally or personally repugnant. We fear the worst, and think accordingly.
Depressed and Anxious Thinking
Our thoughts and beliefs about a situation determine not only how we feel about it, but also how well we cope with it. Unhelpful or negative depressed thinking habits help depression and anxiety to flourish. This, in turn, only exacerbates those thinking habits, and establishes vicious cycles of negativity that can quickly spiral out of control if nothing is done to address them.
Check these common types of depressed thinking, and see if you think any of them might be having an impact on your well-being:
When faced with a situation or ‘trigger’, we experience thoughts in response to that situation. The thought sequence that follows will either feed depression, or curb it, depending on whether our thinking habits are unhelpful, like the examples above, or helpful, respectively. The value of being able to identify the above examples of unhelpful thinking habits in our own thought sequences is that we can then redirect them to curb, rather than feed, depression, using more helpful alternatives.
This idea is illustrated in the diagram below. This diagram should hopefully demonstrate that it is possible to have very different responses to the same situation, if only our thinking about that situation can be altered:
There are things we can do to begin to tackle our thinking. This is something that we might consider talking to our GP about, or a counsellor, but there are other self-help steps we can take. Take a look at our page on challenging depressed thinking.