Common unhelpful thoughts

When you have unhelpful thoughts, this can make you feel down or sad. When you have these thoughts all the time, it can change the way you view the world. When you start to notice these thoughts, you can start to swap them for more helpful ones.

In one day you have many different thoughts that run through your head. Some of them might be about what you want to do, what you are going to eat or what has happened.

The way you think about yourself is important because it can change how you feel and the things you do. When you have unhelpful thoughts, this can make you feel down or sad. When you have worries, this can make you feel nervous and pull out of activities.

There are a few common thought patterns that lots of people have. Most people have these thoughts every once in a while, but it is a problem when you have them all the time because it becomes your brain’s program. This can be the case when you have pain and the thoughts get trapped in your brain and change the way you see the world. The good thing is, when you start to notice these thoughts, you can start to swap them for more helpful ones.

Below on the left are the common unhelpful thoughts. Do any of these feel familiar?

Below on the right there are some more helpful thought swaps.

All or nothing thinkingMore helpful thought

Also called black and white thinking. You see everything as either right or wrong, good or bad and there is nothing in between.

‘Unless I do it perfectly, it’s a failure.’

‘Just because something isn’t exactly perfect, that doesn’t mean it’s all wrong.'

Mind readingMore helpful thought

You think that you know what others are thinking, even when they haven’t told you. You usually think it is something bad about you.

‘He must think I’m an idiot.’

‘It doesn’t matter what other people think of me, just what I think about myself.’

BlamingMore helpful thought

When bad things happen in your life, you often think you are to blame for them.

‘It’s my fault the party was ruined.’

‘I did leave the party early, but everyone was feeling tired, so it was ending soon anyway.’

Fairness MythMore helpful thought

You think that things should work out based on what you think is fair.

‘It’s not fair, that shouldn’t have happened.’

‘Not everything that happens to me is fair, but I now have to focus on making things work best for me.’

LabellingMore helpful thought

You put a label on yourself or others because of one flaw or mistake.

‘I always say something stupid when I go out with my old friends.’

‘Everyone says something stupid every now and then, but my friends know the real me.’

Shoulds and MustsMore helpful thought

You have made hard and fast rules about how the world SHOULD work and how you and other people MUST behave.

‘I should be able to push through my pain.’

‘It would be good if I could push through the pain, but it doesn’t really work for me. It helps when I pace myself and manage my pain.’

CatastrophisingMore helpful thought

This is when you expect the worst will happen.

‘My pain is so bad today, I know it will only be worse tomorrow and in the future.

‘My pain is bad today, but that doesn’t mean it will be worse tomorrow or in the future. Pain flare-ups happen. If I keep using my pain tools there is no reason why my pain will get worse in the future.’

Jumping to conclusionsMore helpful thought

You believe something is true just because you feel strongly or have a ‘hunch’ – but you don’t know it is true.

‘They’re all talking about me and all the things I can’t do now.’

‘I don’t really know what anyone is thinking, but they’re all being nice and trying to help me. I will try to focus on what they’re doing.’


More helpful thought

You compare yourself to others or to the person you were before.

‘I used to be able to do so much more without pain.’

‘I can’t do everything I could do before, but there are still plenty of things I can do and I can keep working to get better.’

Over-generalisingMore helpful thought

You make broad sweeping comments about you or your whole life based on one off, usually negative, events.

‘I’m always stressed. I worry about everything all the time.’

‘I have been able to relax before. I can practice letting go of my worries.’

Think about the unhelpful thought patterns that feel familiar to you. Then use the Common unhelpful thoughts guide and My common unhelpful thoughts worksheet to see if you can make your own helpful thought swaps and learn to Be Pain Smart.

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