Identifying negative thoughts

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It can be useful to categorise your negative thoughts in order to identify the process that is occurring. Some common negative automatic thoughts and beliefs which can be challenged by using cognitive restructuring exercises include:

Negative thought Example
All or none (black and white) thinking ‘If I fail partly, it means I am a total failure.’
Mental filter

Interpreting events based on what has happened in the past.

‘I can’t trust men, they only let you down.’


Expecting that just because something has failed once that it always will.

‘I tried to give up once before and relapsed. I will never be able to give up.’


Exaggerating the impact of events – imagining the worst-case scenario.

‘I had an argument with my friend, now they hate me and are never going to want to see me again.’

Mistaking feelings for facts

People are often confused between feelings and facts.

‘I feel no good, so therefore I am no good.’

Should statements

Thinking in terms of ‘shoulds’, ‘oughts’ and ‘musts’. This kind of thinking can result in feelings of guilt, shame and failure.

‘I must always be on time.’


People frequently blame themselves for any unpleasant event and take too much responsibility for the feelings and behaviours of others.

‘It’s all my fault that my boyfriend is angry, I must have done something wrong.’

Discounting positive experiences

People often discount positive things that happen.

‘I stayed clean because I didn’t run into any of my using mates.’

Sources: Leahy, R. L. (2017). Cognitive therapy techniques: A practitioner’s guide. New York: Guildford Press; Josefowitz, N., & Myran, D. (2021). CBT made simple. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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