Negative Thought Patterns: Disqualifying the Positive

woman standing in front of a labyrinth style puzzle. If we succumb to negative thought patterns such as disqualifying the positive, we can get lost.
via Wikimedia Commons

Even though we may think we have an accurate perception of the world we live in, we can fall into certain negative thought patterns, or cognitive distortions, which are incorrect and unrealistic ways of thinking about the world. Because thoughts have such a huge sway on our moods and emotions, we need to be mindful of how we think and the kinds of negative thought patterns we may be susceptible to. One such negative thought pattern is called ‘disqualifying the positive’ which can lead to anxiety, stress, and panic in our patients.

How negative thought patterns such as disqualifying the positive lead to mental illnesses

Have you ever received a compliment from a friend and found yourself thinking “they don’t really mean that” or something along those lines? That could be the cognitive distortion “disqualifying the positive” at work.

Disqualifying the positive means to write off or dismiss one’s own positive characteristics or experiences in their life. In other words, the individual will explain away positive experiences in their life as something that “doesn’t count” or that they just “got lucky.”

A person who is susceptible to this type of negative thought pattern will come up with excuses for their positive achievements and outcomes. This person is biased towards negative experiences and against positive experiences. Negative experiences are given more attention in this person’s life. Positive experiences are discounted and ignored. Because of this hyper focus on the negative and the dismissal of the positive, this cognitive distortion tends to be associated with feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Those who make it a habit of disqualifying the positive aspects of their life have a higher risk of falling into a vicious cycle of depression – they think that their hard work or their positive attributes count for very little, thus they will not want to strive to accomplish their goals or pursue their dreams in their life, and thus fall even more deeply into depression.

Examples of ‘disqualifying the positive’ at work:

Let’s take a look at some examples of this negative thought pattern:

Dismissing and undermining one’s own accomplishments or attributing it to luck:
Maria gets a good grade on her exam. Instead of feeling pride in her job well done, she says to herself and her friends: “It’s not a big deal, the exam was super easy.” This discounts the hard work and preparation that went into studying for the exam.

Focusing on the negative aspects of a situation rather than the positive:
Tyler gives an excellent presentation in front of his colleagues at his company. Generally, the presentation was well received and he received compliments for his good work throughout the meeting. Only one of his colleagues gave constructive criticism on the presentation. After the meeting, Tyler was annoyed and resented this colleague from that point onward.

Ignoring or dismissing improvements or progress made in a situation:
Samantha has been stuck in a job where she gets tasked with what she considers to be boring, low-level projects. Finally, her boss tasks her with a project that involves a great deal of creativity and responsibility. Instead of feeling excited for this newfound responsibility and to prove her worth, she thinks to herself: “She gave this to me because nobody else wants this project.”

How to stop disqualifying the positive:

Disqualifying the positive is a damaging negative thought pattern that we must avoid. To overcome this, there are some ways to help:

Recognize the presence of a negative thought. Sometimes negative thoughts can enter our minds automatically, without us realizing it. Negative thought patterns can become an ingrained habit or an automatic reflex. This can become dangerous when it goes on for too long. An important step in overcoming such negative thought patterns is to recognize when you are having negative thoughts and if they resemble any of the examples above.

Write down or take note of the negative thought and think about any possible contradictory evidence. When we find ourselves having negative thoughts about our accomplishments, try and look for evidence that supports the opposite. Did you really get that promotion because your boss was trying to be nice to you? In order to get you a promotion they would have had to get it cleared with their manager first. Why would they go through all this trouble?

Think about the things you are truly grateful for: Research shows that practicing gratitude and thinking about the things you are grateful for helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression as well as boosting self-esteem and physical health. Practicing gratitude is one of the best ways to escape negative thought patterns. Gratitude can be practiced simply by starting your morning thinking about the things you are grateful for and writing it down in a journal, or thinking about the kind things people have done for you and simply sending them a thank you note.

How disqualifying the positive can sabotage our spiritual life:

Not only do negative thought patterns give way to depression and anxiety but it also means that we may not be able to recognize the good in our life and give thanks to our Lord. We cannot see and count our blessings as they are.

When we make it a habit to dismiss our achievements to simply “luck”, or when we fixate on only the negative aspects of a situation or event, we are dismissing the blessings that God has given us with and therefore we become blind to His presence. When we are blind to His presence, we are unable to give thanks to God. The Bible teaches us that we need to trust in God and give thanks to Him regardless of how our life is going in this given moment and how we feel about it.

Focusing on the positive: examples in the Bible

There are many examples of this in the Bible from the prophet Habakkuk to the Apostle Paul where despite the horrendous circumstances Satan inflicts them with, they find it in their hearts to praise God:

Apostle Paul wrote this when he was imprisoned and persecuted for preaching the gospel:
1 Thessalonian 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Habakkuk wrote this after the Babylonians laid waste to his hometown of Judah:
Habakkuk 3: 17-18: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

How to find gratitude in our hearts:

Despite experiencing persecution, imprisonment, or witnessing devastation laid waste to their cities, apostle Paul and the prophet Habakkuk gave thanks to God. How can this be? What if we can’t find it in our hearts to be grateful to God?

They remembered God’s promise of eternal salvation:
1 John 5:11-13: “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you…so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Through the ultimate sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, God wiped away all our sins and promised us the gift of eternal salvation. When believing in this, the trials and tribulations of our life on earth seemed much more finite and temporary compared to this promise of eternal life. Even the worst circumstances that seem to drag interminably and crush our soul and extinguish our fire are only temporary compared to the eternal life that is promised to followers of Christ.

God was their only solace and refuge in the darkest of times:
Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When apostle Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and taken to prison, Paul wrote some of his most devoted writings giving thanks to God. When the entire world seemed to be against him and imprisoned him for spreading the gospel, Paul still turned to God and practiced gratitude. He found refuge in the one thing that is constant in our lives: God’s love. In a world where love can be conditional and fleeting, God’s love is the only thing that is constant, unwavering, and steadfast. God’s love strengthens us when we are weak or when we feel lost. We find ourselves again and are renewed by God’s love. When we feel weak and are unable to find gratitude, this is a sign to lay our souls bare to God as only He can give us the strength to keep going through times of trouble (Psalms 41).

Sometimes, life gets so difficult that we are unable to see the good in our lives. We may become entrapped by our negative thought patterns. Our hearts become closed, and we are unable to give thanks to God. We hope that the verses in this post can help provide some hope and encourage you to turn to God and remember that He can be a marvelous source of strength when we feel hopeless and weak.

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If you found our resources useful, please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources regarding holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

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