Negative thoughts and why we need them

When it comes to negative thoughts most of us don’t want them. We can spend a lot of time and energy trying to ‘get rid’ of them. Maybe we even shame ourselves for having them. And, yes, there’s a very good reason why you don’t want to stay inside negative thoughts for too long - they aren’t realistic, they instruct your brain to confirm a negative bias (which embeds that habit) and they tend to send us into fight, flight freeze. Which is a state of stuckness and anxiety that doesn’t serve anyone. So, it’s a good idea to learn how to release negative thoughts when you have them. But before you do...


Negative thoughts are signposts

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having negative thoughts. It doesn’t mean you’re failing at life, it doesn’t mean you’re less of a person than someone currently having positive thoughts. We all have them. In fact, all humans have a negativity bias.

That’s what kept our ancestors safe when there were big predators around because we remembered the negative experiences with those predators. Because of that inherited learned behaviour, today - when we don’t need to guard against sabre tooth tigers anymore - we have to work to push the dial from negative (“the glass is half empty”) over to a different type of thinking. That might be positive thinking (“the glass is half full”) or it might be neutral thinking (“the glass is refillable”).

The desire to ‘get rid’ of negative thoughts can lead us to try and suppress them, squash them or push them away - which tends to just make them bigger (what you resist, persists). So here’s an alternative approach: get curious about them instead.

We actually need negative emotions

Because they show us what’s going on in our heads - and in our lives - that we might not be paying much attention to. When you take away any judgment about having negative thoughts and start to see them as simple messaging between one part of you and another, it’s much easier to begin to read into what these feelings might mean. And they do mean something:

  • Anger indicates you feel powerless, are playing it small, seeking too much external validation or your boundaries have been crossed.
  • Frustration shows you that you’re prioritising others too much over you, dismissing your instinct and focusing more on what you 'should' do than what you want to do.
  • Fear is usually pointing you in the direction of what you really care about - and also of your most ingrained negative thought patterns.
  • Resentment can be a sign of overwork and burnout, not feeling seen, people pleasing or not having enough time for you.

Of all the negative emotions that generate negative thoughts, there is only one that is completely pointless: shame. While other negative emotions have some value, shame is only ever you feeling like you haven’t met some kind of external standard or judgement. It offers no practical next steps or insights. It’s literally just going to hurt you. So, with shame we don’t need to listen to it, we just learn to either integrate the part that carries it or let it go.

How to stop holding on to negative emotions

Once negative emotions and thoughts have served their purpose and delivered their message it’s time that they left. No one wants anger, fear or resentment to outstay their welcome.

Interestingly, there's a 90-second chemical process that happens in the body when we react to something that happens to us. I.e.emotions only last for 90 seconds. After that, any remaining emotional response is us choosing to stay in the emotional loop. That’s useful information to have if you’re someone who often feels trapped inside emotions you don’t want to have. So, what can you do about it?

  • Name the negative thought for what it really is. For example, in response to “I don’t know what I’m doing” you can say “Oh here comes my 'I’m incompetent' narrative again.”
  • Disrupt the thought cycle. Physically shock yourself out of whatever is dominating your mind. Get up and dance, do some energetic breathing exercises, stand on your head or just look in the mirror and say “Enough!”
  • Use the passing clouds analogy. This involves seeing all your thoughts as clouds that just come and go without you having to do anything. Even the negative ones.
  • Write out how you feel and then put it away. Journaling can be a great way to organise your thoughts and also to see them for what they really are - an imagined version of reality that hurts you, rather than serving you. Once you’ve seen those thoughts in black and white you might also realise how untrue they really are.

Because of the way social conditioning has us believing we need to be “nice” or “positive” all the time to be acceptable, we tend to try and ignore the parts of us that don’t fit in with that. But all parts of us have value - and serve a purpose. If you struggle with negative thoughts then starting to see them as a message from one part of you to another will change how you feel about them - and also make it easier to let negative thinking go.

New perspectives like this are crucial when it comes to changing the thought and behaviour patterns of a lifetime. Success, happiness, connection, confidence and love - none of this is rocket science. It’s just about ensuring that you have the right tools for your challenges and a mindset that truly serves you instead of constantly tripping you up.

This is the foundation of what we do in resilience coaching - because the way you see yourself and the world will define how able you are to bounce back, be consistent, tenacious - and also spring forward into a life you have intentionally created. Book an intro call today and I’ll show you how this can work for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP cert coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She works with resilience to help clients build confidence, motivation, recover from burnout, set boundaries, find joy and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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