Unlearning Negative Thought Patterns That Promote Depression

October 18, 2012 Amie Merz, LPC, NCC

When negative thought patterns stick like broken records, there are ways to turn them into positive thoughts. Here's how to get some positive thoughts turning.

Do you remember vinyl records? When they had a scratch, the needle would stick in the groove and the same line would sing over and over and over until you moved the needle off the crack. Sometimes we can feel like we have that “broken record” in our heads, repeating negative thought patterns, negative self-talk, doubts, worries. Sometimes it is the voices from our past who told us we would never be good enough, or didn’t try hard enough and now even though that person isn’t here, the voice plays on and on and on.

Negative Thought Patterns Are Hard to Break

Repetition of negative thought patterns or any thought, really, can soon become subconscious. If you hear something enough times, you might start to believe it, even if it isn’t rational. Training is often thought of being used with animals or pets. But actually, humans are “trained” every day. Ideally, we are conditioned to do the right and healthy thing, but sometimes not so much.

Even if as a child your inner voice says one thing, like this isn’t safe, or this doesn’t feel good, if your environment doesn’t confirm that (i.e. a negative or abusive situation), you “learn” to doubt your inner voice. So although you know there is no logical reason why you are worse than anyone else, you have a negative inner voice that tells you otherwise; that broken record that criticizes and calls yourself names.

Replace Negative Thought Patterns with a Positive Mantra

They say it takes 21 days to break a habit. So to “unlearn” these negative thought patterns, we must replace them with positive ones, and do so over and over and over. The change does not happen overnight, but when you hear yourself saying negative self-talk, catch it and turn it around, catch it and turn it around, catch it and turn it around. The mantra you use should be simple and believable, something you will remember and can use every day. Here are a couple of examples.

  • I’m not crazy.
  • I’m not alone.
  • I’m not the only one.
  • It’s not my fault.
  • I didn’t cause this.
  • I’m an adult.
  • I’m the boss of me.
  • I can do this.
  • I don’t have to be perfect.
  • I’m doing the best I can.
  • I will get through this.
  • I have handled hard stuff before and I will again.

Try practicing something like this on a daily basis and see if you can turn that broken record of negative thought patterns into happier tunes.

APA Reference
Merz, A. (2012, October 18). Unlearning Negative Thought Patterns That Promote Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Amie Merz, LPC, NCC

April, 28 2017 at 8:52 am

Growing up in an alcoholic home has left it ugly scars of anxiety, depression, negativity and insomnia. I'm excited about trying your positive suggestions for replacing negative thoughts.

November, 27 2015 at 9:19 am

I need to stop replaying events that happened a long time ago (like the time I was placing an order in french at a restaurant about 15 years ago and pronounced one word incorrectly). I don't think about it all the time but every once in awhile it pops up very clearly. It happened on front of a French person, too, so it made it that much worse! I am going to try to tweak some of the above mentioned suggestions to address this issue. Maybe that will help. ..

June, 15 2013 at 9:07 am

I have been a victim of emotional abuse (parental). I know it has been quite long back but it was brutal and it was almost everyday of my childhood. I used to live in a perpetual fear. Today the fear has been converted to anger, but anger and hate so deep that it feels suicidal. I know I can't change it but I can't get myself to moving ahead in life. Everyone has always controlled me as a kid and now when it comes to making decisions I feel helpless and hopeless. I only feel suicidal bcoz it seems like an eternal problem. Pls help.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 9 2018 at 8:10 am

Hey, SJ. I'm sorry you've felt this way. I hope you're doing better.
I know it's a cliche, but here's the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255
I felt suicidal in the past. It took finding the right friends and loved ones who were able to help me work my way out.
If you have anybody who is a positive and empathetic/sympathetic presence in your life, please allow them to continue to be present.
I know this is about 5 years late, and it might not be much in the way of practical advice. I just saw your message and thought I'd try to give you a friendly message.
I hope you're doing well.

February, 26 2013 at 11:23 am

I like the idea of this, but instead of starting with "I am not" I find it more useful to think of the complete opposite so that I can make a positive "I am" statement. So, in place of "I am not crazy" I prefer "I am sane" or for "I am not alone" "I am loved" or "I am surrounded by friends." etc. This helps to focus the attention on the positive rather than perceived deficiencies.

December, 17 2012 at 1:25 am

I read through your article. It was helpful to me. Please keep me posted on any other article you write.

November, 28 2012 at 10:05 am

I definitely try to be aware of my self-talk,and for the most part am able to quell those voices. The ones that gets me is "I should have done...instead" and "I can't believe I did this". It is easy to dwell on past situations and get caught up in a negative point of view; it can turn into a vicious cycle pretty fast. When I find myself in that situation, I know tell myself that "This is in the past, and can't change what happened, but I can change the way I look at it".

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 14 2012 at 4:05 pm

Great points! It really can be a cycle that is hard to break.

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