“I should’ve said that differently. Now they’re going to think I’m stupid.”
“I’m such a loser.”
“I’m probably not going to reach my recovery goals. I’m not that strong.”
We all have moments of self-doubt, but negative self-talk can become outright abusive if we let it go on for too long. The way we treat ourselves is what shapes our self-perception, yet we tend to be much more critical on ourselves that we really should be.
Why Those in Recovery Experience Negative Self-Talk
Once we’ve detoxed and spent some time sober, it’s normal to feel a pinge of guilt or sadness over what we’ve gone through with addiction. For many people, they begin to realize just how much they’ve hurt their loved ones – and this can bring a lot of shame into the equation. Christopher Smith, a person who has struggled with addiction, shared his personal story via The Fix, a website dedicated to sharing information on addiction and recovery-related topics.
He explained that much of his negative self-talk has derived from negative messages he received when he was younger – either implicitly or explicitly. He recalled traumatic experiences from his past that further became part of his own self-talk script – and he explained that for those in addiction recovery, it’s not abnormal for a person to have a lot of negative self-talk. Unfortunately, negative self-talk can lead to relapse if intervention isn’t sought.
“A large part of combatting relapse for me has been learning to identify the negative self-talk early. When the voices are still whispers, they are easier stifled – if you know what to listen for. I have put together a few guidelines for myself that have generally helped me identify when I may not be thinking the most clearly…”
Relapse tends to occur because we’re holding in certain painful emotions that truly need to be worked through and released. In cases of self-talk, we beat ourselves up – and naturally, these pent-up feelings lead us to buy into these false beliefs, which we act on through reverting back to substance abuse. The authors of the book, Mind-Body Workbook for Addiction, explain that awareness is such a crucial practice in identifying and managing negative self-talk. If you’re ready to combat the mean, degrading voices in your head, you have to build awareness.
Positive Self-Talk Practices
When we’re aware of our thoughts, emotions and the sensations around us, we’re more apt to recognize negative self-talk when it arises. Not only that, but we’re also able to make healthier decisions quicker – which means that if we start with those phrases – “I’m useless”, “Nobody wants me to succeed”, “I’m not a good person” and more – we know to stop and start applying some cognitive behavioral techniques. There’s a lot you will explore in both individual and group therapy within addiction recovery that will provide you with steps to take towards working through these moments of negativity, but here are a few suggestions for promoting positive self-talk:
Say it Differently
In 2014, researchers published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which found that it’s not just what we say to ourselves that affects our mood and emotions throughout the day – it’s also how we say it. For example, the researchers suggested speaking to oneself in third person – using “he” or “she” – to help gain some perspective and to force us to look at the situation with more objectivity.
Emotions can be all encompassing, and if you become too wrapped up in negative self-talk, you may find yourself starting to spiral. Instead, ground yourself by focusing on the sensations around you. What colors do you currently see in the room that you’re in? What do you smell? What textures do you feel? What tastes are there? If you close your eyes right now, what sounds do you hear? Sometimes this method of grounding can take you away and distract you from the negative messages in your mind to the present moment.
Refer to Your ‘Mental List’
Create a list in your head of all the lies your negative self tells you. Remind yourself that this is just another one of those phrases that you’ve decided no longer benefit your recovery. Combat the heavy weight of these false beliefs with the truth – use logic to dismantle the arguments your negative self-talk is trying to make. For example, if you’re self-talk is saying, “nobody likes me”, you could remind yourself that you just spoke with a friend earlier today, or that you’re only at the beginning of your recovery journey and there’s still time to go and meet new people. In doing this, your limiting self-doubts won’t stand a chance – because the logic you use against them will be too strong.
If you’re currently struggling with addiction, know that you’re not alone. Everyone experiences negative self-talk, but there are many tools, people and resources to help a person recognize the gift they can bring to this world. Don’t wait any longer to seek the help you need.
Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug-addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland river in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of 2 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first.