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Working Out What Caused Your ‘False Negatives’

The best way to discover your ‘false negatives’ (things that you have a negative association with that aren’t always negative), is to compare experiences and to work your way back.

What are the things that you’re really scared of? Above are some examples of some very widespread negative associations that people with unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviour have. There may be specific aspects of something that bother you whereas you may be able to handle it in a different situation, so, for instance, you may be able to handle hearing criticism from friends, but you may struggle to hear criticism from family.

It’s one thing if what you have a negative association with is actually a negative no matter what the context is, such as rage. But if as a result of experiencing rage, you actually have a negative association with expressing anger or experiencing someone else’s anger even if it is not rage, then you need to examine the associations and challenge them.

Part of examining your associations is to find out what your understanding of something is, the meanings you attach to certain things, and then teaching you the correct associations and messages. For instance, I’ve helped a lot of people change their negative associations with boundaries.


I’ve created a number of worksheets where you can compare positive and negative experiences of something – the one shown above is for boundaries but you can essentially use these simple worksheets for any topic, and you can print them out and use several of them for one topic if necessary. You could also put them up on a wall so that you can compare what shows up and highlight any similarities.

To help you understand what caused your negative associations, try to work your way back as far as you can to remember positive and negative memories of the topic you’re working on.

Use the information you’ve gleaned from previous activities such as Exploring Childhood Patterns and First Memories to pull information into this one. If you haven’t noted them yet, try to remember what your earliest memory is of it, or the most difficult experience of it that you remember, and also see if there is anything comparable in your memory that evokes similar feelings. If it doesn’t automatically make sense, make a note of it anyway, and you can always pop over an email to team AT

If your experiences are weighted towards being negative, then it makes sense that you have negative associations with them although it doesn’t mean that you are ‘right’ to stick with these patterns of thinking and behaviour.

Taking each experience, you then need to look at each one and evaluate whether it is truly a negative experience of the particular subject.

What meaning do/did you take from each experience?

What did each particular experience communicate to you or about you? I.e When you experience it positively or negatively, what did/do you believe about love, relationships, life, you, people, these types of situations (or whatever is relevant to the experience)? Make a note of everything because these are all ideas and statements that form part of your belief system which informs your behaviour.

  • Did it leave you feeling good or bad about you?
  • What, if anything, did it leave you thinking that you were capable/incapable of?
  • What did you think that it meant was ‘bad’ (or good) to be or do if you were to find yourself in similar circumstances again?
  • Were there any firm judgements made about you by you?


If you’re able to trace your way back to the first incidence of negativity or at least to an early incidence of it, can you step back and view it through an adult/revised perspective where it removes, for instance, self-blame or misconceptions on the subject? Can you challenge your perspective of things? If appropriate, are you able to empathise with the other person’s position and see another meaning, ideally one that doesn’t make a judgement about you?

If you haven’t had positive experiences of something, why do you feel that this is the case? Again, is it really that you’ve had a negative experience of, for example, boundaries, or is that you’ve actually had a negative experience of dealing with someone who doesn’t respect boundaries, or where you haven’t been asserting yourself? Do your reasons for why you feel that you had a negative experience look similar to beliefs that you have about you?

Does the experience truly represent that what you deem as being negative is actually negative? Or is it that in this particular situation, there are other factors at play that impacted on the message? 

As an example, if you experienced a negative consequence for what you felt was being assertive, was it really that being assertive was ‘bad’ or that this particular person, for instance, had no use for you being assertive? Were there ‘complicating factors’ going on such as abuse, drama etc? It’s also whether this is specific to a particular person in each circumstance. For instance, you may have a negative association with someone talking about the future because you got burned very badly by someone, but actually, it’s very specific to a person who will also have employed other shady means of behaviour.

Is it possible that something you view as being negative actually has a positive message or lesson in there that you may have been blinded to because you may have associated it with a ‘loss’ or negative consequence?

If there are experiences on your worksheet that represent 1) a childhood experience where you have taken all of the blame or 2) an adult experience where you have taken all of the blame even if there was more than one person involved, these are very much false negatives. You are never responsible for what an adult does when you are a child, especially if it is abusive/neglectful/got nothing whatsoever to do with you. You never deserve to be mistreated. Ever. This means that it is critical to reevaluate your experiences and rewrite them where you are not blaming you or talking about you in a derogatory manner.

Change the narrative. Change the story.

If there are positive experiences of it, are you able to see the value in it and also that this highlights existing evidence that contradicts your negative association?

Even if you don’t feel that you have personal experiences of it, can you see the benefit and value in finding positive associations, that would enable you to adapt your thinking and behaviour so that you can create different experiences?

It’s important to remember that if you’ve firmly believed something and had a negative association with it, then this has guided your behaviour and what you see so there’s a possibility that you may not recognise a good experience of something.

Can you find a way to change each association or at least work your way towards it? Part of this is working on beliefs, part of this is getting more aware of what something is (e.g. boundaries, values etc) and part of it is just challenging your message. You may find it useful to come up with challenges for each experience.


“No I’m not ____________________. [Maybe insert instances that reinforce this] and I will ___________________ [insert a positive statement of intention.]”

“No, it’s not a bad thing to _________________ (eg. have boundaries). In this situation, X was ________ and ________ which made it difficult to have boundaries and also created conflict when I tried to assert them. However, this doesn’t mean that having boundaries was bad and me trying to have them didn’t cost me the relationship. I feel happier when I respect my own boundaries and am around like-minded people.”

“I don’t need to be suspicious of every person who pays me compliments. Yes, Ned paid me compliments in an effort to manipulate me, but Ned had this, this, this and this also going on that illustrated the type of person that he was. I will look for character in my next partner and, in fact, have a number of people in my life who compliment me and do not have ulterior motives.”

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