In life, we can go down several roads, through our habits, patterns, and behaviors. In many cases, we may grow so accustomed to our patterns, no matter how toxic they may be, that we eventually accept them as normal.

Toxic thought patterns are much like that. Beginning in our early adolescence, and perhaps even childhood, we begin to develop patterns of thinking, and coping strategies to move through life. However, just because we have been doing something for as long as we could remember doesn’t mean we cannot break free from those behaviors.

The following are 10 toxic thought patterns that can destroy your life, and I am not exaggerating. Additionally, I’ve included a few expert tips to help you to find freedom from them.

1. Black and white thinking.

Black or white, or all or nothing thinking patterns happen when we cannot see any middle ground. We are either all in or all out. We may view others as perfect one day, and then when they disappoint us, we instantly swap to the other side of the pendulum. This type of thinking is not only toxic in relationships but can also make it difficult to manage our lives.

2. Mental filter.

A mental filter happens when we begin to pick negative details from our life, and then get caught up in an obsession with them. In turn, while our lives are going pretty well, we may get caught up in the negative, losing sight of the good things surrounding us.

3. Overgeneralization.

Overgeneralizing happens to us when something negative happens, and we view it as something that will never stop happening. For example, you may have a string of bad luck, and then you say “Why is this happening to me? My life is over. My life is trash.” In reality, bad things have happened, yes. But that doesn’t mean they will continue to happen, and it doesn’t mean every good thing that has ever happened is now no longer valid.

4. Jumping to conclusions.

Oftentimes, our brains can trick us by picking up on a few cues, and then piecing a picture together incorrectly. We may misinterpret a situation, or what someone is saying to us, and automatically assume the worst. Different components of this are when we incorrectly read someone’s face and assume they hate us or mean us ill will. Or, when we begin to anticipate that bad things will happen, without much basis.

5. Disqualifying the positive.

In some cases, no matter how many good things happen, some of us tend to believe that those good things don’t matter. This helps them to continue to stand by negative beliefs that have no basis.

6. Cynical hostility.

Cynical hostility takes place when an individual assumes that people (most people) simply cannot be trusted. They are easily angered by others and take small things very personally. Oftentimes, they isolate themselves from others they perceive as hateful to them. In many cases, these are unfounded assumptions based on their negative thought patterns.

7. Catastrophizing.

Most people with extreme anxiety can likely relate to this one. Catastrophizing happens when overthinking takes hold in a situation that makes us anxious, and in our minds, we create a narrative of what is going to happen in the situation. However, the narrative is the absolute worst possible case outcome.

For example, you may be in a relationship, and when your partner doesn’t answer your phone call, you begin to think about things, and assume they have decided they no longer want to be with you. In fact, you believe that likely they have already replaced you and are just trying to figure out how to tell you. When they do call you back a few hours later, you decline the call, and text them “It’s over.”

That’s just an example, but many others could happen in the workspace, in friendships, and other elements of our life. Oftentimes, people who catastrophize end up making their fears play out.

8. Shoulds and Shouldn’ts

Setting high expectations and then berating yourself for not living by them can be very toxic. The reason being is that when you motivate yourself by ‘should’ and then beat yourself up later with ‘should’ you are left feeling guilty and angry. Using these phrases with others only leads to resentment.

9. Personalization

Personalization happens when we take the blame for external events. We may believe that we are the cause of everything that goes wrong around us when our thought patterns lead towards personalization.

10. Labeling

Labeling, regardless of whether it’s a label placed on ourselves or others, will never do anything beneficial for us. For example, you may take a nap and forget to take out the trash, so you say, “I’m lazy.” After you say this so many times, the next time it is time to take out the trash, you just shrug your shoulders, “Guess I’m just lazy.” And then you lay down for another nap. After a while, when we use self-deprecating labels enough, we begin to believe them.

So how do you handle and change these thought patterns?

1. Recognize them & draw awareness to them.

Now that you know what these negative thought patterns are, when you notice yourself beginning a spiral, pause. What has led you to this pattern of thinking? Remember that while these patterns are normal to you, they are generally toxic, and it’s likely that these thought patterns are holding you back. Rationalize with yourself for a moment.

2. Practice mindfulness.

Draw awareness to your present moment. Get out of your head. A great way to do this is to point out three things you can see, touch, hear or smell. It doesn’t matter what the combination is, just bring your senses out of your mind. Breathe. Look at the room you are in. Ask yourself, “What am I doing at this moment?” Do this every time you get sucked up into a pattern of overthinking.

3. Question your thought patterns.

Once you are in awareness and mindfulness, question your thought patterns. Ask yourself what benefit these thoughts are, and ask yourself about the logic and rationality is behind them.

4. Intention re-direction.

Now that you have questioned your thought patterns, re-direct them. For example, let’s say you are anxious, and you’ve just begun a new job. Your negative thought patterns take over, and you begin to catastrophize. “I’m going to get fired. No one is going to like me. I should just quit.”

Stop, breathe, and draw awareness to the moment. In reality, nothing major has happened. No one has given you a reason to think they don’t like you. You haven’t done anything wrong to get fired. You begin to consider all of these things, and you redirect your thoughts, “I’m just anxious because this is new to me. I’m okay. It’s okay to be anxious. I just need to work hard and be friendly. This is a great opportunity. I will make sure it turns out well.”

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