Banishing every negative thought–doesn’t work.

Here’s why.

Whatever you do, don’t think of chocolate cake.  Were you thinking of chocolate cake before?  No?

Really, don’t think about chocolate cake.



Weren’t able to stop thinking about it, were you?

Now, think about the most negative event in your life.  Were you thinking about it before?  No?

Really, don’t think about the most negative event in your life.

Weren’t able to stop thinking about it, were you?

The point is, when you try to block out negative thoughts, you end up thinking about them more.  The harder you try, the more you do it.

The solution is to balance how you think about negative thoughts.  If you are seeing something in a positive light as well as a negative light and you have room for even more ways to perceive it, you are engaging in realistic thinking.  My cheating way to get a positive from a negative goes as follows:

Think about the negative event.  On a scale of 1-10, 10 best, 1 worst, where do you feel you are?

Ask yourself the question, “Why isn’t it worse?”  If you can’t think of any reasons, respond with, “I could be dead, toothless, sleeping in the cold right now, or Republican.”

Yes, I’m a Democrat.

Now where are you on the scale of 1-10?  Any better?

The key is to have many ways of looking at something negative.  If you think of something in a negative way and that way only, you are seeing things in a very unhealthy way.  Look at it in positive as well as negative ways, and you’ll have many options for how to deal with it and you’ll feel better.

Now, don’t just think about chocolate cake, go and get some.

About Nate Prentice, MSW, LCSW, CAS-PC

Nate Prentice, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Pastoral Counselor who maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Drexel Hill, PA.
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4 Responses to Banishing every negative thought–doesn’t work.

  1. Jenne says:

    I have a roommate who is very good at banishing every negative thought.

    Which is why I seem to end up being the one who calls the plumber.

  2. nateprentice says:

    She just passes them out, I see.

  3. Mikey says:

    What if your attempt at banishing negative thoughts uncovers a deeper truth that is much uglier than a few negative thoughts? Core, unshakeable beliefs, such as, “I do not like myself. I never have. I have spent my lifetime trying to be someone I like, but no matter what I do or how I trick myself into believing I am a good, worthwhile human, I know that I am worthy of nothing. I am shit.”

  4. nateprentice says:

    Hi Mikey.

    Generally, those kind of thoughts are pretty much all or nothing. You are either a shit, or you aren’t, right? In Cognitive Therapy, they refer to that kind of thinking as Labeling, i.e. giving yourself a label that “completely” describes who you are.

    My general rule is that if you only have one to two ways to think about a situation, a person, or yourself, and they are negative, you aren’t seeing reality clearly. If you are able to see yourself as multifaceted–with positive and negative points, and you are open to seeing yourself in even more ways, then your thinking is reality based.

    So, the object is not to “trick” yourself into believing one way or another. The object is to see your situation with as many possibilities as possible. That way, you have many different angles to deal with your situation.

    If you have an underlying perspective about yourself that is negative, then honor the fact that you have been able to see THAT THIS IS HOW YOU THINK ABOUT YOURSELF. The way you think about yourself is profoundly different from who you ARE in reality.

    Then decide if you ONLY want to think about yourself this way, or if you are open to finding other ways of thinking about yourself, e.g. “I am shitty only some of the time.” “I tend to look down on myself a lot, but there are times that I allow myself to see other aspects of me”, etc.

    The less options for viewing something and the less open you are to seeing other options, the worse you feel and the more inaccurate your perspective.

    The more options you have for viewing something and the more open you are to seeing other options, the better you feel and the more accurate your perspective.

    Hope this helps as a start.

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