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Negative thinking patterns developed from childhood

Updated: May 11, 2022

In life, we develop profound beliefs about how we see ourselves, others, and the world. If it all goes well, these beliefs will adapt as you and your environment change. But, you can also develop beliefs that don't help you, and that don't adapt to change. You might be experiencing harmful thinking patterns that you are unaware of that served as a survival strategy when you were younger. It can interfere with your development and make life very difficult when you get older.

In this article, we'll talk about negative thinking patterns, what maladaptive patterns are, how they are developed, and we'll find out if you (the reader) are dealing with negative patterns that may be developed from your childhood.

What are maladaptive thinking patterns?

You may develop certain thinking patterns that interfere with your development. At the time, they suited the situations in which they developed and served as survival strategies. For example, think of a dog rescued from a house where the animal was mistreated. The dog learned that the world is a dangerous place and that people cannot be trusted. Often when the dog is taken into a loving family afterward, he remains anxious, even though he is now cherished. The fear and mistrust can cause him to hide and avoid people. Or even lunge and bite to protect themselves. People work the same way.

We call this pattern maladaptive or dysfunctional. It does not adapt when the circumstances change. These triggers often occur with familiar events, which peak your emotions and lead to destructive behavior and consequences. It's like being pulled back into the experiences in which it developed. You react with emotions, thoughts, and behavior that do not match the situation as it is now.

10 things about dysfunctional thinking patterns:

Dysfunctional thinking patterns are:

1. Ideas, which are not always right, and can be very destructive.

2. Important beliefs about yourself, others, and the world.

3. Perceived as the truth.

4. Perpetuate themselves.

5. Difficult to detect.

6. Usually, out of our consciousness.

7. It works subtly.

8. Activated by events and they control our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

9. Difficult to change until treated with targeted therapy.

10. Designed to survive, but not to heal or recover.

How do negative thinking patterns develop?

Negative, dysfunctional, or maladaptive thinking patterns develop during childhood. Children have certain needs that must be fulfilled to develop properly. Such as:

1. Raised in a warm, stable, connected, and secure environment. 2. Having space to function autonomously and independently. 3. Being able to find their own needs and interests. 4. Being able to express themselves freely. 5. Being raised by someone with realistic boundaries.

If you didn't feel loved as a child, you might see yourself as unlovable, even as an adult. Even if people in your adult life are trying to give you love and warmth, you may catch yourself trying to find "proof" that you are not worth loving. You might be attracted to people who mistreat you, or you may avoid intimate relationships altogether.

When you look at a nest of puppies, you can see the difference in the temperament of the puppies. One stays close to its mother, the other carefully explores, and the last puppy jumps at everything without having a break. It is the same with people. We get a certain temperament at birth. Besides your temperament, the way you are treated in your environment, the things you experience (think of traumas), and the kind of society you grow up in impact your development.

With negative thinking patterns you may find yourself acting in the following 3 ways:

Confirmation: You will only see the information that matches your negative thinking pattern.

Avoidances: You avoid situations that can trigger your patterns.

Overcompensation: You overcompensate your patterns with opposite behavior.

Do I have negative thinking patterns?

Below are 60 statements from 10 different maladaptive patterns developed from childhood that someone might use to describe themselves. Read the statements and see if it matches your way of thinking.

Emotional neglect

1. There are no people to fulfill my emotional needs.

2. I don't get love and attention.

3. No one is ever there for me.

4. I am not special to anyone.

5. I don't have anyone who listens to me or understands me.

6. When someone is nice to me, he wants something from me.

You do not believe that others can provide for your needs, such as affection, protection, and care. People with this pattern have trouble trusting others, are not quick to accept help from others, and seem very independent and distant. This pattern may have its origin that someone important to you could not meet your needs.

Fear of abandonment

7. People always let me down.

8. I don't get close to anyone because they eventually let me down.

9. In the end, I remain alone.

10. I cling to people because I'm afraid they'll let me down.

11. I end relationships before the other does.

12. I'm afraid that people I love will dump me for someone else.

You think that everyone who comes close will eventually leave you. To avoid the pain of abandonment, people with this pattern avoid intimate relationships and intentionally do something to end a relationship before the other does. This pattern may have developed because of a significant loss in the past, or by being regularly left alone for extended periods, especially during childhood.


13. People are dangerous and cannot be trusted.

14. Letting others know how I feel can hurt me.

15. People take advantage of me.

16. I test people to see if they can be trusted.

17. I have been abused by others.

18. I have to protect myself from others.

You believe that you cannot trust others and that others will eventually take advantage of you anyway. People with this pattern may decide to attack the other person first or go to great lengths to retaliate. It may be a result of severe or long-term abuse or unreasonable treatment by an important person such as a parent.

Social undesirability/falling short

19. I am different (in a negative way) from everyone else.

20. There is something wrong with me, and others know it.

21. Anyone who gets to know my true self doesn't like me anymore.

22. I don't let people see my real me.

23. People don't want to include me in their company.

24. I am not someone to love.

You think you are different from others, weaker, worse, less, socially undesirable, and that if you allow others to get to know you, they will find this out. It often leads to a strong sense of shame. People with this pattern can be hypersensitive to criticism, rejection, and accusation and are shy and insecure in social situations. It may be the result of prolonged rejection by significant others such as parents or classmates.

Inability to perform/failure

25. I cannot do as well as other people.

26. I am not as intelligent or talented as my associates or colleagues.

27. I fail at everything I try.

28. I compare my results with others and think theirs are better.

29. I am essentially a failure.

30. There isn't anything I'm good at.

The belief is that you are underperforming compared to others in areas such as work, education, or sports. They may feel stupid, worthless, talentless, and often don't even try to achieve anything because they assume they will fail anyway.

Vulnerability to disease and danger

31. Sooner or later, something bad will happen.

32. Good things never last very long.

33. I worry about having an anxiety attack or going crazy.

34. The world is a dangerous place.

35. Terrible things always happen to me.

36. Disaster can happen at any moment.

You constantly feel that you are on the brink of some major catastrophe (financially, medical, criminal, etc.) People with this pattern sometimes take extreme precautions to protect themselves. They may avoid pleasurable activities to avoid the misery that could break out at any moment. Some people with this pattern rely heavily on the support of others when it involves things like making decisions and starting something new. It may be the result of a traumatic experience, such as an illness or the loss of someone important.


37. I feel guilty if I don't put other people's needs above mine.

38. I can't be happy if others don't like me.

39. Saying 'no' is selfish.

40. To be a good person, I must help anyone who needs my help.

41. I'm the one people turn to when they want to talk.

42. I feel more comfortable when I give something than when I receive something.

You believe that you have to sacrifice yourself to help others. People with this pattern feel guilty paying attention to their own needs. In order not to feel guilty, they put others' needs above their own. Helping others can give a sense of self-esteem. This pattern may be related to excessive demands placed on you, especially when you were a small child.


43. My feelings are not important

44. I give other people their way so they don't get mad at me.

45. I bend over backward to avoid conflict.

​​46. I let others make decisions for me.

47. I need someone to run my life.

48. I keep getting into relationships with people who control me.

You feel you have to submit to others to avoid negative consequences. You abandon control over your behavior and emotional expression and decisions because you feel pressured by other people. With this pattern, someone often experiences fear that others will get angry or harm them when they do something on their own. They may feel that their wishes, opinions, and feelings are unimportant. They are extremely forgiving and can be hypersensitive to being caught. Anger is often suppressed until this pattern is triggered. It can develop when a person is constantly criticized and made dependent on another.

High demands/excessively strict standards

49. I make a bad impression on people when I make a mistake.

50. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.

51. If I'm not able to do something right, I don't even try.

52. I always have to be the best.

53. I deserve criticism or punishment if I make a mistake

54. Nothing that I do is good enough.

You feel that whatever you do is not good enough or acceptable. Someone with this pattern can emphasize status, wealth, and power at the expense of relationships, health, and happiness. They often have trouble slowing down, feel pressured, and are highly critical of themselves and others. This pattern may be the result of perfectionist standards from parents or co-workers.

Egocentric thinking

55. If I want something, I want it right away.

56. I get angry if I don't get what I want right away.

57. I don't like it when others tell me what to do.

58. Society still owes me something.

59. People tell me that I am very demanding.

60. I don't have time to do things for others.

You feel that you should be able to say or receive anything you want immediately regardless of others. Others and the world owe you something. People with this pattern tend to misuse their power, force their opinions, or play boss on others. They can be very demanding and selfish and often are unaware of how they alienate other perspectives. This pattern can develop in response to negative experiences in life.

If you recognize yourself in a significant amount of the statements above, I advise seeing a mental health professional so you can find the underlying reasons.


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