4 Self-Destructive Thought Patterns You Should Quit
What does your inner monologue sound like? Is it a bunch of “You can do its” peppered with some “Yaaas King” or “Yaaas Queens” in there? Or does it sound like “You’re so stupid. Of course they didn’t answer”, “You’re so clingy. That’s why you weren’t invited”?
In 1920, a German neurologist named Sigmund Freud hypothesized that humans are driven by two main things: life drive and death drive. The death drive, which was later renamed Thanatos after the Greek god of death, is what leads us towards destruction. Freud believed that this is why humans turn to aggression towards others and themselves. This aggression can look like smoking or illegal drug use, binge drinking, or self-harming. Sometimes, it’s your own mind pushing you into a spiral of self-destructive thoughts.
As with most of Freud’s theories, Thanatos isn’t really confirmed as a legitimate theory today. But, it served as a starting point to help us explain why we sometimes succumb to self-destructive thinking. Let’s explore some of the self-destructive thinking patterns that are holding us back!
Is the Grass Greener?
Do you play the Social Media Comparison Game? That’s when you doom scroll through a social media platform of your choice and compare yourself to every post you see. Joan graduated from grad school? You just have your high school diploma. Sam got married? You’ve been single for the last four years. Anthony is super fit? You don’t even take walks around the neighborhood. It’s tempting to compare ourselves with people we like, and we all do it sometimes. However, these comparisons are a very self-destructive thought pattern. Social psychologist Leon Festinger came up with a theory called the social comparison theory. According to him, we compare ourselves to others in order to self-evaluate and learn more about ourselves. Essentially, this is how you decide if you like what you’ve learned about yourself or not.
When you fall into the slump of comparing yourself with others and start believing everyone else is “better”, this can impact your mental health negatively. Earlier this year, Current Psychology published a study that found that social comparison may cause negative emotions and decrease your perceived social support, self-esteem, and psychological well-being. If you think it, you perceive it to be true, even if it isn’t.
External Locus of Control
You just got a perfect score on your exam. Do you say:
- “I studied really hard for this one!”, or
- “Well, I guess I just got lucky this time”?
If the second option sounds more like you, it means you most likely have an external locus of control. Locus of control is a concept that was brought to life by an American psychologist, Julian Rotter in 1945. Simply put, it is a degree to which you believe that you have control over your life and not some external forces. External locus of control means that you feel like you don’t really have much control over things, especially when something good happens. As we saw in our example, even when you ace a test, you’re more likely to think it was just sheer luck, and not your own abilities.
Believing you don’t have much control might develop as a response to a traumatic childhood event. A 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology suggests that an external locus of control is often seen in people who experience the world as dangerous or full of others who wish to control them.
This way of thinking can negatively impact your confidence and the choices you make. According to The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology, people who think this way often credit luck or chance for any success and don’t believe that they can change their situation through their own efforts. These individuals frequently feel helpless or powerless in the face of difficulties.
So the next time you ace that test and know you studied mad hard for it, take credit for your hard work. You earned it!
“It Was Nothing”
Do you like receiving compliments? Some of us love a good praise parade. For others, compliments make us blush – but not in a good way. They can sometimes make you embarrassed or awkward. Instead of happily accepting it, you may deflect or completely reject the compliment to get rid of the negative feelings.
Licensed psychologist Guy Winch wrote on Psychology Today that low self-esteem might be what makes you turn down a gift of compliments. If you don’t really see yourself in a positive light, hearing someone compliment you might be extremely uncomfortable because it contradicts how you feel about yourself. When that happens, you’re left in a state that psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of mental discomfort which happens because your mind doesn’t know how to handle this opposing information. You may think: Are they just trying to be nice? Do they really mean it? Am I the one who’s wrong?? Since you have no idea how to react, you say something vague like “Oh, it’s not a big deal” or “Thanks, but I don’t really think my hair looks that good”. This helps everyone to segue to the next topic without being rude.
However, when you continue to reject all the nice things people say about you, you may unintentionally color your world in black. A 2019 research study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology showed that people who usually dismiss compliments may have a harder time remembering the positive things people say about them. So, you’re left with the negativity and let the positives drift away.
The next time you get a compliment, pause. Instead of making a witty comment to deflect, say thank you or let the person know you appreciate the compliment. Let us know if it felt any different!
I Think I Can’t…
Imagine this situation: after learning about self-destructive thoughts, you decide it’s time to get on a path of self-improvement! You’re eager to start treating yourself with compassion, being mindful of the world around you, and finding gratitude in little things in life… You even bought a notebook to start journaling. But then, you ask yourself: will I really make it?
Even if the answer is obviously “Yes!”, you may think the opposite and doubt yourself. You may be unsure if you’re able to go on this big journey. If that’s the case, it means you’re lacking self-efficacy. Having low self-efficacy basically means not believing in yourself – not believing that you’re capable of being successful in work, school, relationships… in anything you wish to achieve.
What if Izuku Midoriya had just believed that he couldn’t be a hero because he didn’t have a Quirk? He would never have known all the amazing things he would grow to accomplish.
But how do these thoughts develop? The theory of self-efficacy came from Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura. When you perform a task successfully, your sense of self-efficacy gets stronger. But, when you don’t achieve such glowing results, you may start to think you’re just not capable of doing it. The more this happens, the stronger your belief becomes that you can’t do it. The people around you play a role, too. If you’re not given enough verbal encouragement, you may start doubting yourself, as well.
As a result, you may rob yourself of some wonderful, fulfilling experiences, all out of fear of not being good enough to succeed.
Dealing with these negative, self-destructive thoughts can be so exhausting sometimes. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not easy to change these self-destructive thought patterns, but it is possible. Visiting a mental health professional can be a great way to equip yourself with tools and strategies to fight Thanatos when he comes to visit! But in the meantime, feel free to take a look at 6 Ways To Stop Negative Thoughts.
- APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.-b). Cognitive Dissonace. https://dictionary.apa.org/cognitive-dissonance
- Boyd, N. (n.d.). Social Comparison: Theory, Types, and Examples. Study.com. https://study.com/learn/lesson/social-comparison-theory.html
- Cherry, K. (2022, October 17). Locus of Control and Your Life. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-locus-of-control-2795434
- Cherry, K. (2022a, March 28). Freud’s Theories of Life and Death Instincts. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/life-and-death-instincts-2795847
- Cherry, K. (2022a, October 12). Self Efficacy and Why Believing in Yourself Matters. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-self-efficacy-2795954
- Glazier, B. L., & Alden, L. E. (2019). Social anxiety disorder and memory for positive feedback. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 128(3), 228–233. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000407
- Lee, J. K. (2020). The effects of social comparison orientation on psychological well-being in social networking sites: Serial mediation of perceived social support and self-esteem. Current Psychology, 41(9), 6247–6259. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-020-01114-3
- Lopez, S. J. (2011). The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology (1st ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.
- Sigmund Freud, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” in On Metapsychology (Middlesex 1987), p. 316.
- Tyler, N., Heffernan, R., & Fortune, C. A. (2020). Reorienting Locus of Control in Individuals Who Have Offended Through Strengths-Based Interventions: Personal Agency and the Good Lives Model. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.553240
- Why Some People Hate Receiving Compliments. (2013, August 27). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201308/why-some-people-hate-receiving-compliments?amp