We All Do It – to Some Extent
The term self-talk is used to refer to the inner monologue that we all have. It’s a reflection of how we feel about our own actions as well as the world around us.
It’s normal to feel discouraged and upset occasionally, but persistently pessimistic self-talk can be a serious threat to your sobriety.
Defining Negative Self-Talk
When you’re in recovery, negative thoughts can come in many different forms. For example:
- Bitterness about the past. “I wouldn’t be so messed up if my parents hadn’t been abusive.”
- Pessimism about the future. “I relapsed once, so there’s no hope of staying sober.”
- Resentment of others. “She stayed sober because her life has been easier than mine.”
- Being overly critical of small mistakes. “I can’t believe I forgot about my AA meeting. How can I stay sober if I can’t remember one appointment?”
- Thinking there is something fundamentally wrong with you. “I can’t get sober because I’m a bad person with no willpower.”
- Being unwilling to forgive yourself for past mistakes. “I deserve to be alone forever because of the pain I caused my spouse when I was drinking.”
- Seeing complicated problems in black and white terms. “Therapy won’t work for me because I’m damaged by my past.”
- Minimizing significant accomplishments. “I’ve been sober for 30 days, but that’s nothing. I won’t be able to stay clean for the rest of my life.”
- Making unfair assumptions about how other people feel. “I shouldn’t bother trying to date because nobody can love someone an addiction.”
Dangers Associated with a Negative Attitude
A negative attitude can present several real dangers to your sobriety. Consider the following:
- Persistently negative thoughts can lead to depression symptoms. Although a pessimistic attitude doesn’t cause depression in itself, it can make the symptoms of an existing mental health disorder more of a challenge to manage.
- Negativity can cause anxiety. Pessimism makes the world seem like a scary and threatening place.
- Negativity leads to reduced self-efficacy. This can cause you to doubt your own ability to succeed at reaching the goals you’ve set for yourself.
- Negativity creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you expect the worst, that’s what you get. However, Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, found that positive thinking is associated with better problem-solving skills. Her research shows that people who experience higher levels of positive emotions like joy and contentment are better able to see the possibilities involved in handling challenging life situations.
- Negativity blows problems out of proportion. When negative self-talk focuses on the same issues repeatedly, this is referred to as rumination. Rumination can cause small problems to seem like insurmountable obstacles.
- Negativity can push away friends and family. This robs you of relationships with people who want to provide support for your recovery.
How to Stay Positive in the Face of Adversity
It’s a common misconception that some people are simply born pessimists. While it’s true that certain individuals seem to have a perpetually sunny outlook on life, anyone can learn to make their self-talk more optimistic. Consider the following:
- Talk about yourself in the third person. It sounds silly, but a 2014 study found that referring to yourself in the third person is a simple way to force yourself to think more objectively about your responses and emotions. This can help lower stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Treat yourself like you’d treat your best friend. If you catch yourself caught in a spiral of negativity, ask yourself what you’d say to a friend who was going through something similar. No matter what mistakes you’ve made in the past, you’re worthy of the same consideration you’d give to your close friends.
- Start your day in a positive way. Getting up early to allow yourself time for a relaxing morning yoga routine or time to enjoy breakfast outdoors can make a big difference in your attitude throughout the day.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices. Exercising, eating nutritious food, and getting the rest your body needs will provide the foundation for a happier outlook on life. When your physical body feels less than 100%, it’s hard to stay positive.
- Do something nice for someone else. When you go out of your way to do something positive for someone else, the appreciation will provide a sense of validation. Even small acts such as listening to a friend talk about her hard day at work or bringing a casserole to neighbor who recently had surgery can help you refocus your attention on the world around you.
- Give yourself permission to slow down. In today’s fast-paced world, it often seems like multitasking and rushing through your day is the only way to get anything done. However, consistently running at full speed is a recipe for exhaustion. Mindfully moving throughout your day is a much better approach.
Changing old habits takes work, but making the effort to promote positive self-talk will help set the stage for a successful recovery.