Thinking As The Source of Suffering
There is a definite link between what people think and how they behave. It is usually because the individual holds irrational thoughts that they will fall into maladaptive behaviors such as addiction. Approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, work by challenging unhelpful thinking patterns in order to improve the individual’s life. This is important because there is a tendency for such thinking to lead to all sorts of misery. It could even be claimed that substance abuse is a symptom of illogical thought processes, and if these thoughts are not dealt with the individual may move from one maladaptive behavior to another. This could mean that an addict might escape the suffering of addiction just to become trapped by another inappropriate coping strategy later on.
Irrational Thinking Defined
To say that something is irrational is to infer that it is without or deprived of normal mental clarity or sound judgment. Irrational thinking involves holding onto beliefs that prevents the individual from getting the most out of life. All humans will hold onto at least some beliefs or opinions that are not fully based on logical thinking, but for some individuals this inability to think rationally can have detrimental effects.
Causes of Irrational Thinking in Recovery
There are many reasons for why those people who become sober may continue to engage in irrational thinking such as:
* Just because a person has giving up alcohol or drugs does not always mean that their thinking will change dramatically. Some individuals will become sober and continue to think and behave much as they always did – this is sometimes referred to as dry drunk syndrome.
* Some people who become sober may be dealing with symptoms of a dual diagnosis. This is where they have a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety disorder alongside their addiction.
* People are highly influenced by their peer groups and this means that can easily absorb illogical ideas from these people. Unless the individual makes a conscious effort to examine these beliefs they may continue to hold them.
* If the person grew up in a household where irrational thinking was encouraged they may continue to hold some unhelpful beliefs or opinions. An example of this would be the people who grew up believing that substance abuse was normal behavior.
* Sometimes the individual can hold two beliefs that are in conflict with each other and this creates internal tension – this can be referred to as cognitive dissonance. They can respond to this by adopting irrational beliefs in order to explain away the discrepancy between their conflicting thoughts.
* Emotions such as anger, hatred, and bitterness mean that people have a reduced ability to think rationally.
* If people fail to keep an open mind they may refuse to consider opposing evidence against their beliefs. The evidence that shows there thoughts to be irrational will be there, but they will refuse to look at it.
* Some people associate their self esteem too closely with their beliefs and opinions. This is why they will see any questioning of such thoughts as a personal attack, and they will automatically go on the defensive.
* There is a great deal of misinformation that people can be fooled by – this can be a particular risk for those who use online resources. It is always recommended that people double check information before accepting it as fact.
Irrational Thinking and Addiction
Irrational thinking is one of the hallmarks of addiction. There is usually ample evidence that the individual is on a downward trajectory, but they fail to recognize this. Instead they will use all types of irrational thoughts to justify their behavior. This means that the addict will become willing to believe anything but substance abuse is the reason for their suffering. Some addicts will become so delusional that they will believe that there is a conspiracy of people that is trying to prevent them from enjoying alcohol and drugs. Their irrational mode of thinking can put them at odds with family and friends and in direct conflict with reality. Much of the suffering associated with addiction is due to the individual’s inability to think rationally about things.
Examples of Irrational Thinking in Recovery
The types of irrational thinking that people are in danger of falling into during recovery include:
* Grandiosity means that the individual has an exaggerated sense of their own importance. Such people need to be the centre of attention and they act in ways that would be considered pompous and pretentious.
* Magical thinking usually refers to the belief that performing certain rituals will prevent (bad things from happening. This is something that all humans do to at least some extent, but for some people the rituals can begin to take over their life.
* Maintaining an all or nothing approach to life means that the individual is unable to see the gray areas. This is dangerous because life is full of uncertainty and things are rarely as simple as black and white.
* Personalization is where the person comes to believe that they are the centre of the universe. This means that they can believe that they are responsible for things that have nothing to do with them.
* Some people fall into a type of illogical thinking known as minimization. This could mean that they fail to see the good or the bad in other people and they can also fail to see the good in themselves.
* Delusional thinking means that the individual is willing to believe in things that other people would consider irrational.
* The person may use leaps of logic to back their irrational claims. This is where they end up with ideas that sound logical to them but they have failed to follow logical steps in order to reach their conclusions.
* Another irrational mode of thinking that people can experience in recovery is paranoia. This is the similar to personalization but in some instances the individual can be so paranoid that they become a danger to themselves or other people.
Dangers of Irrational Thinking in Recovery
Irrational thinking is not just something that makes the individual appear a bit foolish to others. It can lead to suffering for the person as well as those around them. If people are recovering from addiction and they continue with such irrationally it may lead to:
* It will mean that the person will be at much greater risk of relapse. This is because they may not be able to think themselves out of trouble using logic.
* The aim of recovery is to learn to deal with life on life’s terms. If people refuse to face reality it will almost certainly lead to further suffering.
* Irrational thinking can lead to great suffering for other people.
* When people continue to hold onto irrational thoughts and beliefs it can prevent them making further progress in recovery. When people become stuck it leads to discomfort and they may react by relapsing or developing dry drunk syndrome.
* It can mean that the individual falls into other types of maladaptive behavior such as workaholism or exercise addiction.
* Some individuals will make their own life miserable because of an inner dialogue that is overly critical and completely irrational.
How to Avoid Irrational Thinking
There is no doubt that irrational thinking can harm people’s ability to make progress in recovery. The individual can avoid falling into this trap by:
* It is important to be open to criticisms and challenges. This means carefully considering arguments from other people who see things differently.
* Learning to think critically can be a great help to those who wish to avoid irrationality. Critical thinking involves being more objective about beliefs and opinions and being willing to discard them if there is good reason to do so.
* When other people are expressing concerns about the individual’s behavior or thought processes it is not a good idea to just dismiss such concerns. Of course, this doesn’t mean that these concerns are valid only that they are worth considering.
* If people find that they are regularly coming into conflict with other people it sensible to at least consider the possibility that they might be the one at fault.
* It is not a good idea to associate personal identity to tightly to beliefs.
* Practices such as mindfulness meditation are ideal for helping people examine their own thought processes. The more aware that people are of their inner world the less likely they will be to fall into irrationality.
* Keeping a journal can be a good way to keep track of thinking. It is common for journal keepers to look back on old entries and be surprised at what they once believed to be true – this teaches them to be less dogmatic in the future.
* It can be a great idea for people to spend time with a therapist after they become sober. This professional is highly skilled at weeding out dangerous thinking.