Rewriting Your Story: Transforming Negative Thought Patterns

In the narrative of depression, negative thoughts serve as the ink, weaving a tangled tale of despair and hopelessness. These thoughts, often the result of unhealthy habits, feed into the dark feelings of despair, hopelessness, and ultimately, depression. Conversely, depression can breed unnoticed negative thought patterns, crafting a story that ensnares you in a relentless cycle of negative perceptions and emotions. Changing negative thought patterns can feel impossible. However, learning to recognize and reframe these cognitive distortions is a powerful tool that can put you on the path to transforming your inner dialogue and deleting unwanted negativity in your life.

What Are Negative Thought Patterns?

Negative thought patterns. Thought traps. Cognitive distortions or errors. These are all names for the same irrational and exaggerated thoughts or beliefs that contribute to distorted perceptions of yourself, others, and the world. Think of them as the opposite of rose-tinted glasses; they are the lens through which you will interpret your experiences, often skewing reality and reinforcing negative beliefs. These distortions can take many forms and are often utilized or analyzed with CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

8 Types of Cognitive Distortions

1. Overgeneralization

You draw broad conclusions based on isolated incidents or experiences. You start to assume that a single setback signifies a pattern of perpetual failure. This contributes to a sense of hopelessness and despair.

2. All-or-Nothing Thinking

This is when you view situations in strict, black-and-white terms. The outcomes are either perfect or failures. It’s a polarized way of thinking that leaves no room for gray areas and can amplify your feelings of inadequacy and disappointment.

3. Catastrophizing and Downplaying

You can also call catastrophizing magnifications because you magnify negative events’ significance by anticipating the worst possible outcomes. This can intensify anxiety and fear, heightening your perception of threats and danger in everyday situations.

On the other side, downplaying is when you minimize the positives in your life. You might downplay everything good by chalking it up to good luck. It’s very similar to number six below.

4. Comparison

This is when you unfairly compare your achievements or qualities to others without considering why either of you has your own strengths and weaknesses.

5. Mind Reading and Fortune Telling

You assume the ability to discern the thoughts and intentions of others without concrete evidence. This can often lead to insecurity and social withdrawal as you may perceive you’re constantly being judged or rejected by others.

Like mind reading, fortune telling is when you predict that things will turn out negatively. When you believe it’s already going to happen, you often act like it, turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

6. Discounting the Positives

In any situation, you observe both positives and negatives. However, you can mentally filter and discount any positives as if they never existed. You may also hear this distortion called selective abstraction. By doing this, you are invalidating your joy and happiness. You can become more pessimistic and are more likely to feel down about yourself and life.

7. Labeling

You apply negative labels or terms to yourself, and others based on past behaviors or perceived flaws. Your self-labeling can reinforce negative self-perceptions, eroding your self-worth and confidence.

8. Should Statements

You impose rigid and unrealistic expectations on yourself and others. You frame everything in imperatives like “must” or “should.” You can feel guilty, frustrated, and self-blame when you or anyone else doesn’t meet these expectations. The internal pressure can fuel perfectionism and exacerbate feelings of inadequacy.

Other types of cognitive distortions include emotional reasoning, self-blaming and personalization, and fallacies relating to control, fairness, and change.

Habits Contributing to or Causes of Negative Thought Patterns

Thought traps come from many dynamic, individual factors such as your triggers, history, and current mental wellness. However, some thinking habits can feed into negative thinking patterns:


Self-reflection is a healthy process, but it can be distorted by negativity and depression. You can dwell on flaws and mistakes instead of the positives or ways to improve things. When this happens, it can be devastating. Negative rumination is a fixation that feeds into itself, becoming a cyclical pattern.

Cynical Hostility

Because of projecting, insecurity, or baggage, you may direct mistrust, judgment, or anger at others. This thinking makes it hard to maintain a support system, which then can justify your feelings, thoughts, or actions, or so you think.


Being thorough is a positive quality. However, there is such a thing as too much. Take choosing a place for lunch. Simple, right? All you should have to think about is what you feel like eating. However, when overthinking, you think about the traffic surrounding various places. You might be considering recent health inspector findings. You might think about what you’re doing later and if you’ll need to brush your teeth. You might need to stop at a gas station to get some gum, but then you’re exposing yourself to unnecessary fumes. You might trigger a headache. You’ve been having more of those, so you might need to see a doctor…

Pretty soon, you’ve forgotten all about lunch and your primary motivation for your choice, or you’re so exhausted trying to model every potential outcome to choose the best one that you’re frozen with indecision (and hunger).

The Power of Reframing

Recognizing these habits and challenging these cognitive distortions is pivotal in combating your low moods and fostering mental well-being. Reframing involves consciously disrupting and disputing your negative thoughts and replacing them with more balanced and rational alternatives.

Reframing your negative thoughts can cultivate a more accurate and compassionate understanding of yourself and your experiences. Follow these three steps to break free:

1. Be Aware of Your Negative Thoughts

Start by identifying specific distortions or thought patterns that often play out in your mind. Notice how they impact your mood and behavior. You can keep a thought log or journal to help. Start by writing down your mood and the situation. Then, write down the thoughts and evidence to support your thoughts. Next, you’ll record any evidence you can think of that disproves your thoughts. Finally, reframe it all with an alternate thought.

Don’t worry. We’ll cover those last few pieces in the next two steps. Remember, awareness is the first step toward change.

2. Let Go of Your Negative Thinking

If you need to, allow yourself to have negative thoughts–just not all the time. Schedule your negative thinking in your day. Because it becomes part of your structured routine, you can compartmentalize. You’ll have time to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and let them go instead of ruminating or wallowing. You can set a timer and use your journal to let you feel and release your negative thoughts. Think of it as a daily cleanse.

Be the devil’s advocate for your own thoughts. Consider alternative interpretations or viewpoints of the situation that are more realistic and constructive. Recognize that your thoughts are not facts, and interpretations will vary based on others’ experiences and biases. Look for evidence that contradicts your negative beliefs and acknowledge the positive aspects of yourself and your experiences.

Practice self-compassion and kindness toward yourself, especially during self-doubt and criticism. Treat yourself with the same understanding you would offer a friend or loved one facing similar challenges.

3. Replace Bad Thoughts

You can replace negative thoughts in a number of ways:

● Look for the beauty. Remind yourself that there are good things in the world and look for them. Make time to enjoy things and spend quality time with your loved ones.

● Focus on the positives. If your mind is trying to make you ignore or discount the positives in your life, you need to make a concerted effort to look for them. They don’t have to be big things but try to identify at least three positives per day. Once you start to make lists of these, you’ll start to notice more and more.

● Take a media break. Social media can make you compare yourself to others and be more discontented with your life. News and other media outlets can be hyper-focused on everything that’s going wrong in the world. Step away from things that can bring down your mood or fixate on negative things. Your mental health will bounce back.

● Seek Treatment for Your Depression. You’ve identified your cognitive distortions and have taken steps to reframe your negative thoughts, however, you are still struggling with depression. It’s time to seek professional help. Search for “clinical depression treatment near me” to see what options are closest to you to get help immediately.

Embracing a New Narrative

Reframing cognitive distortions is a gradual and ongoing process that requires patience, persistence, and self-reflection. You won’t be able to dismantle these in a day. By challenging the negative narratives perpetuated by these distortions, you can cultivate a more resilient and empowered mindset. Instead of being a prisoner of your distorted thoughts, you can become an author of your own narrative, rewriting your story as one of strength, hope, and self-compassion.