Negative self-talk is quite common among many people, but addicts often face this condemnation on many levels. Cultural abuse of those who suffer from addiction, as well as personal experiences with verbal abuse, leave recovering and active addicts feeling particularly battered no matter where they are in the recovery process. For those who suffered any form of abuse in childhood, negative self-talk may actually be so normal that you don’t even realize it’s happening. If you’re surprised or a little thrown when you receive a positive verbal comment, you may have normalized verbal abuse in your head to the point that your first abuser no longer needs to put in the effort. Avoiding abusers in the present is much easier than shutting them down in your head, but the tips below can increase your awareness and limit the damage.
Acknowledge That Negative Self Talk is a Learned Behavior
If you’re mentally hard on yourself, it’s likely because you paid careful attention to someone who once hurt you and you’ve internalized the lesson. If a parent was always deriding you, or if you struggled to manage a behavior that made them unhappy and their response was “Finally!” then you learned that you were bad, and even when you were good, it didn’t matter very much. Once you put those words in your own voice, the abuser has trained you up.
However, if you’ve learned to verbally abuse yourself, you can learn to be kind to yourself. When you step in front of the mirror, smile and wish yourself good morning. Splash some cool water on your face, brush your teeth and comb your hair. Smile again and tell yourself that you clean up well. It will feel silly. However, it will also be a great lesson in just how much a kind word can do for you and for those around you. Learn a more gentle way to be in your own head.
Change Your Physical Position or Take Action
When the negative chatter gets rolling in your head, move your body. Go somewhere quiet and do ten wall push-ups. Stretch your quads. Make a cup of tea. Do something to break the dialogue in your head, and do your best to make it a healthy choice. Be ready to make this a longer project than just push-ups or tea. If you struggle with food issues or have serious or chronic emotional or physical pain, you may have been self-medicating for longer than you realized.
The power of negative self-talk, and the reason that we internalize this form of abuse and cling to it, is that it makes us right. If you truly were trained to believe that you are not worthy of a life of self-determination, joy, personal power, and success because someone oriented you to that belief, then letting negative self-talk creep in and batter your spirit is weirdly internally positive. It makes the abuser, now yourself, correct. You’re not worthy, because a parent or loved one said so. In your lifelong struggle to please them, you’re proving them right. Keep a journal of your negative self-talk to build awareness of your internal abuse patterns. When is it the worst? What do you have to do to break away from the loop?
Take Black and White Thinking to the Extreme
Always and Never are words that rarely exist in the real world. You’re not always a mess, and while we humans will never be perfect, we can do some amazing things when we allow for a little grey area. Be ready also to get a little silly about this. If you tend to have a bad bed-head in the morning, say out loud to the mirror, “Ugh! What a mess! I should shave my head before bed…” so you can quietly think or I could just comb it now. A lot of the negative self-talk that we’ve been trained to accept was delivered at high volume, either as a declaration or as a command.
Generally, this Napoleonic form of communication isn’t accurate or sustainable, so get a little sarcastic and pick it apart. Humor is an excellent way to defeat negative self-talk. There’s a poisonous beast living under a rock in your head. Figure out a way to greet it and make it laugh. You may never find a Pollyanna life path, but you deserve a break, a bit of humor, and some grace from yourself. Ready to get started? Call us today at 772-266-5320.