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Negative Self Talk


“I should’ve said something else in my 12-Step program. Now everyone probably thinks I’m stupid.”

“I’m not going to be able to survive this program.”

“There’s no way I’m going to reach my recovery goals. I’m not strong enough.”

We all have moments of self-doubt, but negative self-talk can greatly harm our sense of self-worth, self-esteem and success in recovery, if we let it go on for too long. The way we treat ourselves is what shapes our self-perception – but many times, we’re more critical of ourselves than we really need to be.

After we’ve taken the time to undergo detoxification and live sober for a while, it’s not uncommon to feel a little sorry for ourselves and what we’ve gone through with addiction and other challenging aspects of our lives. For many people, they begin to realize just how much they’ve hurt their loved ones – which can generate and multiply shame. Those in addiction recovery tend to view themselves as “bad people” or even “monsters” as they’ve gained clarity on the scope of their addiction and how it’s affected the people they love, but that’s simply not true.

 Much of the negative self-talk that those in recovery have is from societal stigma and negative messaging they’ve received from others, even growing up – either implicitly or explicitly. For instance, traumatic situations from the past can leave damaging wounds and hurtful messages inside a person’s mind – and so, in recovery, when a person is completely sober and unable to drown those messages out, it’s possible that negative self-talk can arise. It becomes increasingly important because negative self-talk can lead to relapse if a person isn’t careful – and that’s why a stop needs to be put to it immediately. 

Those in addiction recovery often have to learn how to identify the negative messages that are appearing, and then to take action against them. It’s hard to combat negative thoughts – they’re so tempting and strong, sometimes it feels as though they’re whispering words of reality into our ears (although they’re really not). If you can identify the messages and set them apart from what’s really happening in your life, you’ll be much better off.

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. Awareness is such a crucial part of recovery because it enables us to identify what’s holding us back and then gives us greater empowerment to respond differently than we normally would. 

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 when the mind starts acting up, and we start hearing some negativity, we can combat them using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques that are learned in addiction recovery. 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 there are some excellent coping skills you can use for when your thoughts are bringing you down.  

One major strategy is to change the way you’re saying the negative thoughts out loud. For example, if your mind is telling you that you’re “stupid,” you could change the way you express that thought and say that you just had a silly thought – that your mind is playing tricks on you and that you’re not actually “stupid” because you’re working really hard towards your recovery and that’s probably the smartest choice you could’ve made for your health and wellbeing. Sometimes the way we express those negative thoughts out loud can make the situation worse – so be careful of how you express it. 

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 sights, smells, and textures 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 type of activity works well for people who are feeling very overwhelmed by their thoughts.  

Create a list in your head of all the lies your negative self-talk is trying to tell you. Remind yourself that this is just another one of those phrases that you’ve decided to no longer allow to run your recovery. Combat the heavy weight of these false beliefs with the truth – use logic to break apart the negative arguments that are being made, because they’re likely not true. If they are, you can work to change the situation in your daily life by focusing on recovery.

There are addiction treatment options available to fit your needs at Enlightened Solutions. Our professional staff can help you understand why negative self-talk can trigger relapse, recognize the signs of relapse, and course-correct before you start using again. And if you do relapse, that is okay too – we are here to get you back on track and healthy again. At Enlightened Solutions,  we understand the complexities of addiction and foster hope for the future. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.