Thoughts are powerful, and they do shape a person’s life. This is because the way that people think impacts the way they experience the world. When individuals are trapped in addiction this will determine much of their thinking. Their life will revolve around alcohol and drugs, and they much of their thinking will be preoccupied with this. Addicts also tend to engage in an excessive amount of negative thinking, and they will use this to justify their behavior. Those individuals who hope to break away from addiction need to change the way they think. Those who are sober but still think like an addict will either relapse or live the life of the dry drunk. In order to make a success of recovery the individual needs to become more positive about life and their future. One of the biggest hurdles to achieving this is negative self talk.
When humans go about their daily life they will usually have a running commentary going on in their heads. This internal voice is constantly interpreting things and making judgments and decisions. It can act as the individual’s biggest cheerleader or their harshest critic. This commentary inside the person’s head significantly effects how the person perceives the world and interacts with it. It is created through a combination of conscious thought and unconscious beliefs and opinions. Some individuals have an internal voice that has a high tendency towards negativity and criticism. This negative self talk can seriously interfere with their ability to find happiness in life, and it can even lead to symptoms of mental illness such as depression. In addiction negative self talk is sometimes referred to as stinking thinking.
Negative self talk can come in different varieties such as:
* Pessimism about the future
* Bitterness about the past
* Overly critical of own behavior
* Resenting other people
* The individual thinks that they are worse than everyone else
* Even when the individual achieves something their inner voice finds reason to criticize.
* The individual views the world in black and white – they assign things to being either right or wrong.
* An unwillingness to forgive themselves for past mistakes.
* The individual has expectations for themselves that are impossible to achieve, and they berate themselves for not achieving these expectations.
* Schadenfreude means that they get enjoyment from watching other people fail
* The person has a habit of blowing things out of proportion – they like to make mountains out of molehills.
* They have a tendency to attribute negative motives to the actions of other people.
Negative self talk is dangerous for people in recovery for a number of reasons including:
* It can create a self fulfilling prophecy. By thinking negatively the individual can cause negative things to happen to them.
* It leads to reduced self efficacy. This means that the individual doubts their own ability to achieve a task.
* It can cause the individual to suffer from anxiety. This negative internal monologue means that the world can feel like a threatening place.
* It can lead to symptoms of depression.
* It can prevent the individual from achieving their goals in sobriety. This is because they will already have accepted failure before they have even begun.
* It saps motivation so that the individual feels unable to do the things they need to do to build a successful sobriety.
* It means that when the person does something good or achieves success they will not be able to fully enjoy their victory. This is because the negative self talk will always find something to complain about – if the person won a lottery jackpot they would probably complain about having to go and collect their winnings!
* It can be difficult for negative people to develop meaningful relationships. This is because their pessimism tends to push people away.
* It will often be this negative self talk that drove the individual to abuse alcohol or drugs in the first place. If they continue with this type of thinking in recovery they will likely turn to other maladaptive behaviors in order to cope.
* One of the great rewards of sobriety is the development of emotional sobriety and serenity. The individual will not be able to develop such high states of inner peace so long as they continue with their negative self talk.
Those people who engage in too much negative self talk risk creating a self fulfilling prophecy. This refers to how the act of predicting the future can cause the event being predicted to become true. This is because the act of making the prediction causes the individual to change their behavior, and it is this that makes the prediction a reality. A good example of this would be people in recovery who predict that they are going to fail. The fact that they do not expect to remain sober means that they are unwilling to do the work needed to remain sober. Their negative self talk not only creates their failure, but it also provides the perfect excuse for relapse. If that person had expected to find success in sobriety they would have put in the required effort to make it a reality. This just goes to show how much thinking can influence a person’s future.
Negative self talk can be lethal for people in recovery, but there are things that they can do to overcome it. Here are just a few suggestions for how people might go about this:
* The first step to overcoming negative self talk is to be aware of it. People can become so wrapped up in their thinking that they don’t even notice that they are excessively negative.
* One of the keys to escaping this type of negativity is to constantly challenge this self talk as it arises. For example, if the thought arises, ‘I’m going to fail here’ the individual has to demand how they could possibly know this – when negative self talk is challenged it tends to evaporate.
* Learning to think critically can be a real help when it comes to challenging negative self talk. Critical thinking involves being able to investigate ideas to see if they really are true.
* Meditation techniques such as mindfulness can be particularly good for get a better handle on their inner world. Those who practice these techniques become better at identifying their thought patterns, and they can see how this affects their life.
* Journaling is another good way to track thinking. When things are written down they can become easier to understand and deal with.
* Spending time with positive people can make a big difference because humans are easily influenced by their peers. Positivity can be contagious and so can negativity.
* Another powerful technique for overcoming negative self talk is to develop gratitude. This means that the person should spend a few minutes each day considering all the things in their life they have to feel grateful about – a gratitude diary is one way of doing this.
* The individual can deliberately make themselves think positively by willpower. This can be difficult in the beginning but eventually the individual begins to naturally think positively.
* It is important that people only set themselves realistic goals. People can achieve a great deal in recovery but setting the bar too high only leads to disappointment and an excuse for negative self talk.
* One way to bypass the harm of negative thinking while trying to achieve a big goal is to break it down into smaller targets. As the individual achieves each target they will feel their confidence growing and negative self talk won’t get the opportunity to poison the well because the goal is now manageable and achievable.
* If people feel that negative self talk is having a serious impact on their life they might benefit from spending time with a therapist. This professional will be able the individual delve into their psyche to find the root cause of the problem.
* Avoiding spend too much time around negative people or focusing on negative aspects of life. If people find that reading the news puts them in a negative frame of mind they might want to stick to those resources that only provide good news – a good example of this would be happy news.