How to Neutralize Destructive Thoughts Before They Can Do You Harm

How to Neutralize Destructive ThoughtsIn both personal and workplace relationships, we can get into trouble when we allow destructive thoughts to influence our attitudes and our behaviors. For example, when someone gets the better assignment at work, we may think, “That’s not fair!” Or when an acquaintance is rude, we jump right into “He’s a jerk.”

We all have destructive ways of thinking. While we can’t always control such negative thoughts coming into our mind, we can learn how to recognize when we’re doing it before reacting. Self-awareness is the first step to changing those thought patterns so we don’t end up doing or saying things we’ll regret, alienating others, or getting a reputation for being difficult.

The goal is to first recognize the negative or destructive thought, and then replace it with a simple statement that contradicts it and is absolutely true. This “truth” serves to neutralize the underlying anger, sadness, or fear that triggers the destructive thought–and any destructive behavior that might follow.

Here are some examples of destructive thoughts–and the truths that can counteract them.

Destructive Thought: You’re not working afternoons, so you’re asked to take your aging aunt to the doctor’s and wait for an hour and a half while she gets her tests. It’s tedious, boring, and unpleasant–and there are a dozen other things you’d rather do. Your reaction is, “Do I have to do this?”

            Truth: “This is an opportunity to learn something new.” This statement helps you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Once you lose the resistance and the resentment, you may be able to see the task as an essential part of a more profound deed. By focusing on the truth, you don’t have to dwell on the negative aspect of the task.

            Destructive Thought: At work you’re given a huge workload, a short deadline, and not enough support. Feeling overwhelmed and defeated, you think: “I can’t do it.” As soon as you think this, your energy goes out the window, your mood sinks, and your productivity slumps.

            Truth: To counteract this destructive way of thinking, you could say, “I’ll do the best I can. One thing at a time.” Not only does this irrefutable statement have no negative emotions attached to it, but it has the immediate effect of boosting your energy and motivation.

            Destructive Thought: You learn that someone you thought was your friend said hurtful things about you behind your back. You’re furious, and your first thought is, “How could he do that to me?”

            Truth: It won’t serve you well to hold on to all that anger and frustration. You may end up sending an inflammatory email to the gossiper and possibly ranting and making accusations. A better way is to find a truth that can reverse the negative thinking, such as: “People are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.” From this position, you will be clear-headed enough to talk to him and let him know how his words and actions affected you.

Destructive Thought: You’ve just been hired for a new job, and in the training session with other new workers, you notice that they seem less capable or experienced than you. Being eager to differentiate yourself from this pack of newbies and get noticed, you immediately think, “I’m special.”

            Truth: You may be more skilled and experienced than others, but setting yourself apart from them with superior thoughts will make you say and do things that have a negative impact. Try this irrefutable statement instead, “I can help others.” Notice how this simple truth immediately changes the way you see yourself in relation to others–in a good way.

Destructive Thought: When your partner asks for your help with a household project, your kneejerk response is to tell him or her that you don’t have time and that it’s a low priority for you. When your partner leaves, you immediately think, “I shouldn’t have said that.” You spend the rest of the day beating yourself up, cringing, and feeling like a jerk.

            Truth: Here’s an alternative:“It’s human to make mistakes.” Saying this truth to yourself automatically gives you permission to forgive yourself, move on, and talk to your partner about how you’ve undergone an attitude shift and you’re more than willing now to lend a hand.

Jude Bijou MA MFT is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and consultant. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her multi-award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Learn more at

Photo credit: Hans Vink

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