Powerful techniques to optimize your emotions, beliefs, and behaviors

Tips on Self-defeating Thoughts

Self-defeating thoughts may or may not be absolutistic and irrational, but they provide us with something we don't want. This is illustrated by the Self-Defeating Thoughts Test.


You'll find the long Distorted Thinking list here


The Self-defeating Thoughts Test asks you to test your thought with the following questions. If it fails one or more of these questions you decide if you want to keep the thought or exchange it for another.

*Will this thought fit with my deepest values and yearnings?
*Will this thought interfere with my personal relationships and family life?
*Will this thought provide the emotions I prefer?
*Will this thought support my short-term & long-term goals, my enlightened self-interest?
*Will this thought give me something I don't want?
*Will I be required to balance elements in my life owing to having this thought?
*Does this thought improve my life or my ability to perform?
*Does this thought keep me out of significant conflict with others? (Unless the conflict is something I prefer).
*Does this thought effect either my physical or mental health?
*Could another thought work better for me?
*Will this thought affect my behavior adversely?
*Is this thought right for the context where it's employed?
*Are there future consequences for keeping this thought?
*What might make it difficult to keep this thought in some instances?


The Self-Defeating Thoughts List draws in part on the work of cognitive-behaviorists such as Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and David Burns.

Perfect performance: I should never lose, fail, or make errors. If I do, I am no good. 

Impossibility: My challenges in life can never be overcome or solved. I can never be happy. 

Inferior/defective: I am useless, inferior, defective, and have no value when compared to others. Why bother?

Emotionally Perfect: I must always be happy, in control, and fully confident and never be angry, down, or poorly controlled.

Approval anxiety: To be worthy I require everyone's approval.

Loveaholism: Without being loved by a special person I can not feel fulfilled and happy, nor can I accept myself and treat myself in loving and caring ways.

Just reward: You work very hard at something, do all the right things, make sacrifices, yet when you are done you are not rewarded or praised for your contribution. You feel entitled to recognition, yet none is forthcoming and you feel cheated.

Approvalitis: I must be approved and accepted or I am nothing.

Mind Reading: I can know another's intentions and feelings without them telling me or showing me. Their behavior can only be explained in my way.

Perfect human-hood: Others will not accept, love, or care about me if I am flawed, vulnerable, and make errors.

Changing others: Others must change so I can be happy and not be frustrated. People should do what suits me.

Right and wrong: I am right and you naturally are wrong.

Overly pleasing: I should please others even if it makes me feel bad and my life goes on the back-burner.

Entitlement: Others should do as I demand. I am a king walking among lowly servants.

My fault: I am to blame if anything goes wrong in a relationship.

Their fault: My partner is always to blame for anything that goes wrong in our relationship.

Aloneness fear: Being alone is intolerable, empty, and proves I'm unlovable. Aloneness always brings misery.

Self-conscious performance: I must impress others with my wit, wisdom, stimulating conversation, fashion, or I will be rejected or go unnoticed

Rejectaphobia: If I am rejected in love or at work, then I am a reject and life is horrible and unlivable.

Anger fear: Anger must be avoided because it is dangerous.

Stereotyping: People of that type all think and act the same.

Negative hindsight: I should've known or done better and because I didn't, I am a negative label.

Belief without evidence: Believing in something without supporting evidence.

Magical thinking: Believing our thoughts control the outside world. Our worry will impact the outside world or if we believe something enough, we will make it manifest in the outside world without us taking action.

Failure phobia: My value as a human rises or falls by my achievements, status, beauty, intellect, or possessions. To lack these ingredients proves I am worthless.

Conflict Fear: I must not argue or raise conflicts with people important to me. People in relationships should never fight.

Perfect strength: I must never show weakness, only strength.

Avoiding what I really want in life: It's selfish to follow your own inner calling. I must conform and get a "real" job.

Getting even: If someone hurts me or takes advantage of me, I must get revenge or I am nothing.

Frustration intolerance: Life must be easy--I must never be frustrated or denied.

Behavior expectation: Others must always act as I expect them to act. They should automatically know my rules for social behavior, manners, and loudness. My culture above all and because I say so!

Emotional anxiety: I must never feel angry, down, jealous, envious, vulnerable, anxious, or fearful especially in front of others.


Fourteen Basic Challenging Questions for Uprooting Self-Defeating Thoughts:


(1) "Double Standard Method".  Instead of putting ourself down, we speak to ourselves compassionately like we would to a friend.  "What might we say to a close friend?"

(2) "Examine the Evidence".  We find the evidence for and against a claim.  "Where is the evidence for and against this claim?"

(3) "Pro & Con Technique".  We create a double column and discover the pros and cons of a belief.  "What are the pros and cons of believing this?  What are the benefits or costs of believing this?"

(4) "Experimental Method". Finding out in real life what would happen if I did this activity.  "What really happens if I undertake this activity?"

(5) "Survey Approach".  Ask friends and associates what they would feel and believe in a similar situation to yours. "What would others feel and think in the same situation?"

(6) "Reattributional Method". Instead of blaming yourself and knocking yourself, you reconsider all the factors contributing to the difficulty and look for solutions.  "What factors contributed to this difficulty.  What can be done to solve it?"

(7) "Relabeling Approach".  You describe yourself, others, and events with new labels that are less emotionally charged and insulting.  "How could I describe myself, others, and events without negative, emotionally charged, and insulting labels?"

(8) "Specifying Rather Than Globalize."  Instead of using judgemental words like never, always, forever, total failure, and such we use more specific words.  "What if that happened sometimes or infrequently? Was it a learning experience? How might I feel?"

(9) "Thinking in Terms of Gray, Middle Grounds".  Instead of thinking in terms of all-or-nothing, black and white, we look at average, middle grounds, and gray areas.  "What are the average, gray, or middle grounds here?"

(10) "Outcome Versus Process".  You evaluate an activity on the effort you put forward, what you learned of value, or the absorption and pleasure of doing it rather than the outcome.  "What value did you derive from being absorbed in the activity?  Did you learn anything of value?  Did you find any pleasure or absorption in the activity?"

(11) "Humor".  You make humor of your thought or exaggerate it and make it very silly.  "Can you make your thought appear silly?"

(12) Shame Attacking Exercise.  You do silly and weird things in public until they are desensitized.  "Pull a box, marked dog, around a crowded park or call out all the stops on a public bus or train."

(13) "Fact of Life Acceptance"  You regard a circumstance with acceptance and as a fact of life--it happened.  "What if I experienced this situation or person as a fact of life and accepted it?"

(14) "Focusing on Our Behavior and Traits Rather than Ourselves".  Instead of globally focusing on "ourselves" and knocking ourselves with negative labels, we grade only our traits and behaviors, knowing ourselves better not be viewed as just one or a few negative behaviors or traits. "Are you a total failure for failing an algebra test?"

Take care, Steve