It’s true we all experience negative thoughts when life gets challenging and we feel overwhelmed.
But perhaps the thoughts that do the most damage aren’t the big despairing ones, but the constant stream of negative thoughts you might be having on a daily basis without even realising it.
But they are just thoughts, what’s the big deal?
Constant negative thinking can be so ingrained that we don’t even notice we are doing it, unless we take the time to listen through a practise like mindfulness. Because we are used to negative thinking, it’s easy to assume it’s therefore benign.
But negative thinking leads to negative emotions, leads to negative choices in life (known as a negative thinking loop). So the more negative your thoughts, the more likely it is you aren’t taking actions that lead to the life you actually want.
And negative thinking leads to low moods and often depression.
One of the main reasons for this is that negative thinking creates a perfect environment for low self-esteem to flourish.
Negative thinking patterns that are damaging your self-esteem
Once you start to listen to your thoughts, these are the most common esteem-lowering negative thoughts you will likely catch first:
Even if you think your thoughts aren’t damaging your self-esteem here’s why they are…
Not all forms of negative thinking are as obvious as the above. Some of the ones that can erode your esteem the most are far more insidious, such as:
1. Blaming yourself when something that isn’t your fault happens. It sounds like, “if only I had of come home five minutes earlier the robbery wouldn’t have happened”. “If only I had of thought to put better treads on my child’s boots they wouldn’t have had a terrible fall on ice”. You might try to pass this sort of thinking off as ‘logic’, but it’s sort of a fancy way of saying you are not smart and you only mess up. Would you tell a friend that ‘if only they had of been smarter their partner wouldn’t have left them’? Probably not. And it’s just as illogic.
2. Always anticipating the worst outcome. This sounds like, “this presentation is bound to go badly”, “there is no way this blind date will like me”, or “I’m sure to fail my drivers test”. You might smugly tell yourself that it’s just a ‘tactic’ you use to keep calm and that by expecting the worst you are never disappointed in life. But you are at the same time training your brain with what is behind such thoughts – I never do well. And your esteem will, with time, take a hit.
3. Giving yourself many inner ‘pep talks’. This sounds like, “You can do better. Why get 9 out of 10, go for 10, you can do it!” or, “Be a winner not a failure!”. You can trick yourself into thinking you are ‘boosting your confidence‘. But are you? Or are you just implying that you never do things good enough or achieve enough? Both kicks to your esteem.
4. Doubting others. It sounds like, ““They will never like me the way I am”, or “I can’t trust them to be there for me”, or “I am sure they are not as nice as they seem”. But doubt is often a way of psychologically projecting onto others our own worries about ourselves. We are really asking, can you like yourself the way you are, can you trust yourself, and do you see yourself as a nice person? (For more, read our piece on doubt in relationships).
5. Shame. Shame might seem like something that would so obviously knock anyone’s sense of worth that it should be in the previous section about obvious negative thinking patterns. But the thing with shame is that it is perhaps the most hidden of difficult emotions, so much so that we often don’t hear it and have to dig behind other thoughts to get at it. Shame sounds like very disparaging and extreme statements about your self, like, “I’m a monster” and “I’m not a good person” or “I don’t deserve to live”.
What do I do if my negative thinking is destroying my self-esteem?
There are ways you can begin to manage your negative thinking yourself, like educating yourself ( try our connected piece on How Negative Thinking Sabotages Your Life ) and trying mindfulness meditation.
But it’s important to not discount the benefit of support when it comes to strong patterns of negative thinking. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a short-term therapy that specialises in helping you notice and change your thinking patterns. Mindfulness-based therapies that help you get more in touch with your thoughts and feelings can also be helpful, as can any sort of talk therapy which all work to help you clarify your sense of self and see your worth.
Do you want to share a form of negative thinking that lowers esteem that we’ve missed? Do so below, we love hearing from you.