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How to Put a Stop to Generations of Negative Thinking

The problem with putting a stop to negative thinking is that we often don’t know we’re doing it. We’re not actively throwing out every positive thought and immediately embracing every bad one. We’re on autopilot. And for many of us, it’s an age-old habit that we learned from our parents, just as it was passed down to them.

Recently, I mentioned to my husband that it would be nice to have a small, single-serving milk steamer, so I could have hot milk with my coffee. “I’d heat up a little in the microwave but it always scorches,” I explained. “Then it makes a mess and you need a whole new mug because the old one smells like burnt milk.”

“Now you sound like your family,” he said.

“Why?” I asked. Then it hit me. “Because I suggested that I might as well not even try because I’ll be disappointed and full of regret.”

My husband laughed and nodded.

In my family, adults often preached about the misstep, the one thing someone did wrong and now their life is pretty much ruined.

  • She didn’t graduate college in four years
  • He relocated his family to Memphis for work and then he got laid off
  • She got pregnant right out of high school
  • He didn’t work while he was in school and now he can’t land a job
  • As soon as she went back to work, her teenage daughter started doing drugs

The point of harping on the fateful missteps is to show that once a mistake is made, there is no recovery. My family never said this directly; this was implied. After cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychologist found this at the root of my anxiety disorder.

“I’m afraid of failure,” I said time and again.

“But what happens if you fail?” my therapist would ask.

That was actually the kicker. I wasn’t just worried about losing or being perceived as a failure. I was predominantly worried that I’d never recover and wouldn’t be able to cope with loss and disappointment. And why would I be able to cope? Coping was never modeled for me. What was modeled was fear, worry, and a phobia of taking chances.

I learned that success in life hinged on perfection. In reality, however, the path to success is a journey through failures. Without perseverance and resilience where would anyone be?

Negative thinking also keeps us from seeing the truth about ourselves. The truth is that everyone has seen their fair share of adversity and got through it. We do know how to cope, we just don’t recognize it, so we can’t appreciate it. We’re too busy focusing on the next hurdle and once again positioning ourselves perfectly to avoid the dreaded misstep.

The next time negative thoughts begin to snowball, don’t forget you are a capable person. You have every reason to be confident that you can persevere.

Choose to share your happiness and gratitude with others, not your gripes. Help others surround you with affirmative thoughts — what you put out often comes back to you.

Negative thoughts photo available from Shutterstock

How to Put a Stop to Generations of Negative Thinking

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). How to Put a Stop to Generations of Negative Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 14 Jan 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.