Where Does Negative Thinking Come From?
Or Why Are We Doing This to Ourselves?

Why do we use the power of our mind to create a negative reality? If our mind can generate health, wealth, and happiness as easily as illness, poverty, and despair, why aren't we healthy, wealthy, and happy all the time?

The strangest and most fantastic fact about negative emotions is that people actually worship them.


If a genie appeared and offered you a choice--health, wealth, and happiness or illness, poverty, and despair--which would you choose? If the former is the obvious choice, why do we sometimes choose the negative? There must be something else--something deeper--generating the impulse to think negatively.

Although you may have another word to describe the phenomenon, allow me to call this spring of negative thinking unworthiness. It's more than just a feeling or a passing thought; it's a ground of being, a deep-seated belief that "I'm just not good enough." Other words for it are insecurity, undeservingness, and low self-esteem.

Unworthiness undermines all our positive ideas and validates all our negative thoughts.

When we think something good about ourselves, unworthiness pops up and says, "No, you're not." When we desire something positive for ourselves, unworthiness says, "You don't deserve it." When something good happens to us, unworthiness says (often with our own lips), "This is too good to be true!"

You have no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself-- and how little I deserve it.


When we think something bad about ourselves, unworthiness agrees, "Yes, that's true, and furthermore . . . . " When we tell ourselves we can't have or do something we want, unworthiness says, "Now you're being realistic." When something bad happens to us, unworthiness is the first to point out, "See? I told you so."

Jack Canfield describes unworthiness as a vulture sitting on your shoulder, squawking in your ear an endless stream of "You can't do it!" "You're not good enough!" "Don't even try!" "Who do you think you are?" "You'll never make it!" "Settle down!" "You don't deserve it!" "Somebody better than you should have it!"

Some people cover their unworthiness with a self-confidence and bravado bordering on arrogance. me. Their cover-up encompasses a self-indulgence and self-absorption that are, well, selfish. These people (it appears on the surface) could use a healthy dose of unworthiness. But, in fact, they are merely lost in a desperate attempt to hide--from themselves as much as from anyone else--the fact that they just don't feel worth it. They think the unworthiness is real, not just an illusion, and they respond by concealing it rather than laughing at it. (Did you ever try to conceal a vulture? It can be pretty funny to everyone but the person trying to conceal it.)

If unworthiness is so fundamental, does this mean we're born with it? I believe humans were born to have joy and to have it more abundantly; that the birthright of everyone is loving, caring, sharing, and abundance. All the negative stuff has just been layered on top of our essential core of goodness. (Not that there isn't strong genetic predispositioning--but that's another book.)

The childhood shows the man, As morning shows the day.


Where does unworthiness come from? A look at how children are raised might offer a clue.

Imagine a child--two, three, or four years old--playing alone in a room. An adult, usually a parent, is nearby. What for? To praise the child every five minutes? No. For "supervision." (Did your parents have super-vision? Mine did.) The adult is on hand "in case there's any trouble."

The child is playing and having a wonderful time. Two hours go by. The child is "behaving" wonderfully. The interaction with the adult world is minimal.

Suddenly, the child knocks a lamp off a table. CRASH! What happens next? Lots of interaction with the adult, almost all of it negative. Yelling, screaming ("This was my favorite lamp," "How many times have I told you?" "Bad, bad, bad") and probably some form of physical punishment (spanking, no more playing, "go to your room"). Almost the only interaction in two hours from the adult community was: "You are bad. Shame on you."

As an infant, we get unconditional, almost never-ending praise. Goo-goo ga-ga. Once we grow a little and begin exploring our world, much of our interaction with adults--the symbols of power, love, authority, and life itself--consists of being corrected. Don't do this. Don't do that.

If we draw a picture, we get praise. If we draw the same picture again, we get less praise. If we draw the same picture five times in a row, we are told to try something new.

If we pour jam on the cat, we are scolded. If we pour jam on the cat a second time, we are scolded more severely. If we pour jam on the cat five times, we may begin wishing that, like the cat, we had nine lives.

The more we do something good, the less praise we get for it. The more we do something bad, the more punishment we receive. Some children learn to do negative things just to get attention because they figure (using child-logic) that negative attention is better than no attention at all. To a child, being ignored can seem like abandonment.

Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their children say to them. The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out.


Inside, a part of us begins to add up all the times we're called "wonderful" and all the times we're called "bad." The bad seems to outnumber the wonderful.

We may begin to believe we are bad; that unless we do something new and remarkable and tremendous, we're not going to be thought of as good; that we must strive, work hard, and never disobey if we hope to get even a little appreciation; that our goodness must be earned because we are, after all, essentially bad.

Bad, unlovable, not good enough, undeserving, unworthy.

From this fertile ground spring our negative thoughts. Sure, we have a lot of positive thoughts, but we tend to believe the negative ones more. A positive thought, checked against this belief of unworthiness, is labeled "False." A negative thought feels at home. The unworthiness proclaims it true, accurate, right.

Another reason we don't feel quite as magnificent as we might is technology--the mass communication of sounds and images is a relatively new phenomenon.

A hundred years ago or so, if you played a musical instrument or sang with any degree of competence, you would be among the best any of your acquaintances had ever heard. (The phonograph wasn't invented until 1877.) If you danced, juggled, or "play acted," you were in demand for socials and other gatherings. (The first motion pictures weren't shown publicly until 1894.) If you read books or could write more than your name, you were considered a local scholar and called upon to read or write for those who could not--which was the majority of the population, by the way. (In 1880, only 2.5 percent of high-school aged children went to high school.)

Today, all our achievements are compared with the best of the best. We have become accustomed to the highest form of excellence as our standard to judge everything from intelligence ("Did you read about that three-year-old who memorized the entire Encyclopedia Britannica?") to brute force ("So you can lift car. Big deal. I saw this guy on TV who could pull a jumbo jet--with his teeth!") to absurdity ("You think that's big? I heard about a girl who could blow a bubble bigger than her whole body!")

You mean you can actually spend $70,000 at Woolworth's?

After seeing Ike and Tina Turner's house

One wonders, for example, if Beethoven would have been encouraged to follow his musical bent if,as a child, he had been constantly compared toMozart (who was twenty-six at the time of Beethoven's birth). Mozart made a living composing and performing at age five. Beethoven didn't become a professional musician until the ripe old age of eleven. If Mozart's childhood performances had been shown again and again on TV, one can imagine a seven-year-old Beethoven, struggling with a composition, being told, "Mozart did better than this when he was four!"

With the best-of-the-best as the standard, it's little wonder that our initial inklings of uniqueness, brilliance, and perhaps even genius can be trampled under the crushing hooves of "You think that's good? Well, I saw on TV . . . . "

In fact, we don't even need the critical "help" of others. We make our own comparisons (in which we lose) long before we dare to share our accomplishments or desires with others. With larger-than-life achievements and achievers on all media fronts, it's little wonder we might think our meager initial offerings--and, perhaps, we ourselves--don't make the grade.

No matter how good we may be, we just aren't good enough.

Negative Thinking and Life-Threatening Illness

The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts.


There are as many examples of how negative thinking helps bring about life-threatening illnesses as there are people who have them. We each have our own personal list of disasters--those things that push us "over the edge," that make us decide life isn't worth living.

For some, it's one or two tragedies, the depth and intensity of which created a desire to die. For others, it's the daily dose of "slings and arrows"--the situations to which we respond: "What's the use?" "Why bother?" "Who cares?" The accumulation of these over the years forms the desire: "Why should I bother anymore?"

The latest example of a method that many are using in response to the intention "not to bother anymore" is AIDS. Yes, more people are using the "tried and true" methods of cancer, heart disease, and others--but AIDS is a perfect example of how we let negative thinking "win" in the "never-ending struggle for truth, justice, and the American Way." (That's the opening to Superman--a standard no one I've ever met lived up to.)

I'm not saying negative thinking causes AIDS--or any other life-threatening illness. I am suggesting that negative thinking promotes conditions in the mind, body, and emotions that make it possible for the AIDS virus (or whatever does cause AIDS--there seems to be some controversy on this point) to take root.

Negative thinking helps provide the opportunity. The illness takes it from there. Once it takes root, how quickly the illness progresses and grows depends a lot on how much fertilizer we give it from that great manure generator--negative thinking.

Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.


Probably the most common negative thought surrounding AIDS is fear. Anyone in the so-called "high-risk group" is a candidate for the epidemic of fear that's spread far faster than AIDS itself. (Actually, the only people in the high-risk group are those who practice high-risk activities.) If you've had a test that indicated the presence of HIV antibodies in your system, you probably are even more susceptible to the dis-ease of fear.

The epidemic of fear (a subset of the epidemic of negative thinking) is one of the most easily spread. Unlike any viral or bacterial illness, fear can be caught over the telephone, from reading newspapers, or from watching television.

For those afraid of catching AIDS--especially people who have the antibodies to the HIV virus in their system--every symptom of every disease generates the terror of imminent death.

A cold? "Oh my God, pneumocystis!" A bruise? "Kaposi's sarcoma!" A sore in the mouth? "Thrush!" A little perspiration because the bedroom is too warm? "Night sweats!" It's hypochondriac heaven: fear enlarges every minor symptom into a fatal illness.

This fear is the same for every life-threatening illness. There is a certain "high-risk group" for every illness, and the people within that group often torture themselves. For cancer, it's smokers. Thirty percent of all cancer deaths are smoking-related. Smokers may worry so much about cancer that they need another cigarette.

People with possible genetic predispositions to illness tend to worry. "My father died at sixty-five of a heart attack, my grandfather died at sixty-five of a heart attack, and I'm almost sixty."

Fear, fear, fear.

The tragic results of the epidemic are many:

  1. From a medical point of view, negative thinking suppresses the immune system, raises the blood pressure, and creates a general level of stress and fatigue in the body. In short, infections, cardiovascular irregularities, the degeneration of muscles, and the random growth of unwanted cells get more opportunity.

    He was a poor weak human being like themselves, a human soul, weak and helpless in suffering, shivering in the toils of the eternal struggle of the human soul with pain.


  2. From a thoughts-are-creative point of view, our worry about a particular disease tends to create that disease. There's an old saying: "What you fear may come upon you." It's old because there's a certain degree of truth in it. Medical students and psychology students will often take on the symptoms of the disease or disorder they are currently studying. In some cases, they produce the disease itself. The thought, "Oh my God, it's cancer!" every time you cough might be misinterpreted by your body as an invitation--or even a directive.

  3. If you're thinking an illness might be AIDS or lung cancer, and it turns out to be just the flu, you might say, "Thank God, it's the flu!" Such enthusiasm and gratitude for the flu may create more flu.

  4. The more people believe they are going to die "within a few years, at best," the less they tend to start long-term projects--career goals, relationships, moving--which, in turn, tends to make life less fulfilling and enjoyable, therefore less livable. After a while, the question, "What have I got to live for?" might not have a satisfactory answer. The desire to die takes root.

  5. It's a miserable way to live. If we had a bomb strapped to our chest and were told it could go off at any time, that might be something, over time, we could learn to live with. (We all live with a similar situation in that we know we're going to die, but we don't know when.) If, however, we were told the bomb would tick precisely 1,243 times before exploding, every time the bomb started ticking we'd stop everything we might be doing and start counting. Some days it might only tick ten times, other days it might get up to 287, but while it ticked--panic. And, after a while, the fear that it might start ticking begins. So, even when it's not ticking, we're scared. It's a miserable way to live.

Once negative thinking has given the life-threatening illness the opportunity to enter the body, is it too late? Is the progression of a life-threatening illness irreversible? I don't think so. I'm not being hopelessly optimistic about this, however; some things are irreversible.

Let's say, for example, that negative thinking had you throw yourself from the top of a thirty-story building. Once you were in the air, I would probably say it's too late for a change in thinking to greatly affect the physical outcome.

But for anything short of the law of gravity, there's a chance. (That's why it's called the law of gravity--levity has no effect upon it.)

Life-threatening illnesses tend to be either active or dormant. When dormant, they do us no further harm; they just sleep quietly.

The vital question is: What puts the illness to sleep and what keeps it sleeping? I like to think the gentle lapping of positive thoughts on the shoreline of the mind acts as a virtual Sominex (or Demerol or chloroform or nitrous oxide, as you prefer) to life-threatening illness.

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.


Cardiovascular illnesses are directly related to the general mental-emotional-physical state of ease in the body. The more often the body is at ease, the less the heart must work and the less pressure is exerted on the entire cardiovascular system. (A primary goal of exercise, in fact, is letting the heart work less by becoming stronger.)

When the pressures caused by negative thinking are released and a natural state of ease returns, the cardiovascular system can heal itself and function as it was designed to.

Degenerative muscle diseases may be hastened along their course by degenerative thinking. Generating generative (positive) thoughts may help slow the degeneration and, perhaps, even regenerate muscles.

Cancer is, by definition, cells that are growing out of control. This pattern can be swift, or it can be slow. Cancer can take over a vital organ in a matter of weeks, or it can take decades. The cells can stop growing altogether for indefinite periods of time. When discussing "incurable" cancer (and more than fifty percent of all cancers are now considered curable), the medical establishment doesn't quite know why a cancer would slow, stop, or, more mysteriously still, get smaller.

It's known as "remission." When it happens because of medical treatment, it is understood. "Your cancer is in remission." When it happens for "no good reason" (the patient's rediscovered desire to live and related changes in lifestyle not being a good enough "reason"), it's called "spontaneous remission." Doctors explain: "It's spontaneous, like lightning or earthquakes. It just happens sometimes. We don't know why."

Tens of thousands of cancer patients, whose cancers have been in "spontaneous remission" for years, know why. They changed their thinking, and the thinking changed the course of the cancer.

The same is true of any infection or life-threatening illness you can name. Some of the "miracle cures" were not miracles to the people who experienced them. These people discovered why they desired death, changed that to a desire for life, and got busy changing everything in their lives that was contributing to their physical demise.

Consider the remainder of this book a lullaby for any infection; a road map on ways to ease your cardiovascular system; lessons in how to heal the hurts of the heart; instruction in generating generative thinking to counteract degenerative illness; a guidebook on creating spontaneity in your commissions and your remissions; and a wake-up call to the worthiness, well-being, and wellness within you.

The fear of death is more to be dreaded than death itself.



Purchase the book from Amazon

Copyright © 1988-1996 Peter McWilliams & Prelude Press, Inc.

This site maintained by
site credits