Negative thought patterns

I wonder whether I will ever be happy with myself.

My housemate said “you’re so negative.”

She’s right I am. It’s not like I choose to be though. I can’t help all the “what ifs” that pop into my head, the paranoia that no one really cares. I don’t do it on purpose, but I put up barriers, making everything harder. I don’t know why, I don’t know how.

If I ever treated anyone else the way I treat myself, I would not be considered a nice person. Sometimes I will berate myself over something, but in a very similar situation involving someone else, I will offer support, tell them it’s not their fault. From a psychology point of view (because I’m not studying for nothing!) I see myself a lot in what we learned about attribution styles. I tend to have an internal attribution style for bad things relating to me – if I fail an exam, it’s because I’m useless. Yet, for others I have an external attribution style for negative events – if a friend fails an exam I will say maybe the exam was just too hard, or maybe you had a bad day (not your fault – everyone has bad days sometimes.*) Then when it comes to positive things, I’m the opposite – if someone else succeeds at something it’s because they are clever, they worked hard, they deserved it! (Internal attribution) but if it’s something positive relating to me, I must have been lucky – the exam was easy, or it was because of the situation that I did well (external attribution.)

It’s strange when I see psychological concepts in real life. I wrote an essay about attribution for my social psychology module. And it turns out I’m not unusual in my attribution style – it’s common for people with depression to have a negative attribution style. I suppose it’s to be expected. We teach ourselves that everything we do is wrong and that nothing we could ever do will ever be good enough, and will never be as good as what others can do.

Yet EVEN THOUGH I know the psychology behind it, and EVEN THOUGH I know it’s a distorted way of thinking, I can’t seem to stop myself doing it.

I have a need to succeed, but when I do I never give myself the credit for it. For example, I recently got back my last lab report, it’s only worth 5% of the module, but somehow I got an A+. My first response: they were being a nice marker. Or it was an easy lab report because it was about format not content. EVERYONE probably got an A+**. And it doesn’t matter anyway, because it’s only 5%…

I don’t even know what I’m trying to prove, or who I’m trying to prove it to. Maybe I’m trying to show everyone that I’m not nothing. Maybe I want to prove that the ex was wrong about me. Maybe I want perfection because I think it will make me happy? 

I always thought a perfectionist would want perfection in everything. In themselves, other people, everything they do. I don’t, but A said it is perfectionism. I always see the best in other people, but the worst in myself. I don’t care about mess or if other people make mistakes. It’s only when I make mistakes that I can’t handle it. And it’s mostly about academic stuff, it’s like if I don’t succeed then I’m proving everyone who ever doubted me right. 

This reminded me of a conversation I had with A a long time ago. We were talking about uni and how I felt that I really need to get a 1st. I said I want to show that the ex was wrong about me, to prove that I’m not useless, that I can succeed – that I am good enough. And she said, “Wouldn’t it be succeeding if you got a 2:1?” And that stopped me in my tracks.

Of course that still counts as success. And if anyone else got a 2:1 I would be congratulating them. I know at 2:1 is a really good mark, I know it’s something to be proud of. And yet there would be this part in my brain saying “See, I told you that you couldn’t do it.” I think it has a lot to do with my parents always pushing me to do well in school*** and the school I went to, that was driven purely by exams. A school where getting an A is a bad thing (you need an A*) and where I learned that everyone gets As/A*s all the time. It wasn’t until I had left the school that I realised that is not what the rest of the world is like. Not everyone succeeds all the time, in fact most people don’t succeed all the time. We are human, not robots, we make mistakes, we have strengths and weaknesses, and that should be ok. It’s normal…

Sometimes it’s like an internal battle in my mind. I feel like shouting at myself: WHY can’t you just be happy for yourself that you wrote a good lab report?! WHY do you have to put yourself down all the time?! And the other side is just telling me I don’t deserve it, I’m useless, a failure, I’m never going to be good enough.

Bet you can’t guess which side is winning…

*Except me – I mean I do, I just don’t allow that as an excuse for myself.

**This is not true, but it’s the way my mind works.

***This makes them sound horrible. I know they never meant to do any damage, they just wanted what’s best for me, but when you are pushed to do better all the time it takes its toll. And I’ve seen it start to emerge in my brother too, I’ve talked to my parents about it and they’re trying to put less pressure on him now. I don’t want him to turn out like me.

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5 thoughts on “Negative thought patterns

  1. Grace says:

    This reads as if you wrote about myself 😉 I’m exactly the same.. and I really had to laugh (not at you though) when you wrote about your A+. I just got the same grade this week and I instantly thought, “Oh well. It was easy anyway. It’s only worth 6 credits” and so on, and so on. It’s maddening. Do you think we an ever stop with this? Or are we damned? 😉 Take care xox
    Oh and about that negativity in general… there is this saying, “Optimism is just a lack of information” 😉

    • anxiouselephant says:

      I’ve noticed from some of your posts that you are a perfectionist with grades too, I don’t know why we do it but I don’t know how to stop either!! Haha I like that saying, optimism is overrated anyway 😛 Hope you are having a good weekend xxx

  2. wellcallmecrazy says:

    What has best helped me break this pattern is to act as an “observer” of my thoughts. First, I would recognize negative self talk and say to myself, “oh, there is that negative pattern again.” Finally, from observing so much I am able to catch these thoughts, recognize them for what they are,right as they begin. Then I tell myself that I fully and deeply love and respect myself anyway. And hopefully in the future my brain will be reprogrammed to not think these negative thoughts about me. Really helpful post…..well written and timely. Keep on going.

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