Overcoming Self-Defeating Thoughts and Behavior—Making Recovery a Reality
Self-defeating thoughts and behaviors are hallmarks of addiction, and so some cannot be helped without help. For example, when the brain and body become substance dependent, they ‘insist’ upon a steady supply of the addictive substance. Cravings are biologically based at that point, and compulsive use is in large part driven by the biological distress of a lowered or stopped supply. However, there are strong psychological components to any addictive process, too. While biological issues can be remedied with safe, medically supervised withdrawal and detox, psychological factors require other interventions. Together, these two approaches best ensure a sustained abstinence.
The Nature of Self-Defeating Thoughts and Behavior
When behavior is self-defeating, it is the result of choice, and we always have the potential to do it differently. Of course, we may not feel we do at the moment, and this is usually because we don’t know of other possibilities, or also because our behavior is driven by unconscious forces. However our self-defeating behavior comes about, with enough awareness and exploration, we can learn to choose differently. We can learn and then later practice choosing behaviors that help us, rather than sabotage us.
Self-defeating thoughts are beliefs and thought patterns that fuel our self-defeating behaviors. And, these can contain an endless stream of possible content. Here are some examples of self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that people with addictions have:
I am a loser.
You can’t trust anybody.
Recovery works for other people, but not me.
I never do anything right.
Other people are smarter than me.
Nobody likes me.
Nothing I do makes any difference.
I’m a failure.
The world is against me.
Treatment won’t work for me.
I can’t improve my life.
What’s the point?
The above lists just some of the defeatist thoughts someone with an addiction may have. These types of thoughts affect us deeply and in various ways. They can form a negative and fatalistic or pessimistic core inside us that colors how we think and feel about ourselves, others and the world. Consequently, they influence our feeling states, motivations, and choices. When thoughts and beliefs are disempowering, we will be disempowered.
Overcoming the Personal Disempowerment of Addiction
It is a hard and arduous journey through an addiction, and tragically, many do not survive it. Addiction can be a fatal disease., and almost everyone has known someone who has been profoundly and negatively affected by it. When you are the person with an addiction or are a loved one of someone who is, you know all too well the disempowerment and its suffering, helplessness, and hopelessness.
It takes most people a long time to decide to tackle their addiction head-on. Typically, lots of ‘research’ must happen—meaning one must see for themselves there is a problem, life can’t continue this way, and there are solutions. Then, after all that internal work, one must summon the readiness to act, secure help and go for the solutions that have worked for others. This process too is an arduous one.
Reaching out for help is a significant step. First, it indicates that your personal ‘research’ has come to an end, and you are preparing to take action. This transition time is notable. It heralds a significant movement in your process of seeing and accepting addiction as a reality in your life. With that reality in mind, and the erosion of denial, preparations can be made, help secured, and action is taken.
Addiction is so powerful that it can completely dismantle a life and the lives of loved ones who are near. Since it is progressive, the toll and costs increase and accumulate as time goes on. The personal disempowerment accelerates as the illness does, and there is likely to be a loss of support and resources as time goes on, too.
Many speak of ‘hitting bottom’ as the pivotal moment in their addictions—the place where they are so desperate they surrender to treatment. Of course, it is a helpful moment if it changes your direction, convincing you finally to seek help. However, it is also tragic that so much suffering must occur in the lives of many with the illness, as well as in the lives of people who care about them.
At ‘bottom’, people find themselves where self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, as well as an addictive illness, have taken them. This is the point in life that people describe as the most disempowered they have ever been. However, ironically and fortunately, it is the point where countless make the best decision they have ever made for themselves—to go to treatment.
Capturing the Self-Defeating Thoughts
You can expect to accomplish much in rehab and to be prepared for life outside of treatment. You’ll have to continue your recovery efforts when you go home because recovery, like addiction, is a process. You’ll be faced, for example, with the need to do things without using; to cope with life stressors while abstaining from use, and even to relax and have fun without substances. It’s no small feat to make it through early sobriety. We need support and resources, both inside and outside of us.
Of the many helpful skills we can learn, is the ability to monitor and evaluate our own thoughts. Our thoughts become so ‘automatic’ that we get into the habit of acting upon them, almost by instinct. Many of us must pause a good long while to know exactly what the belief or thinking behind our habits is. And, chances are, the things that drive a good deal of our habits were learned a very long time ago.
Counseling and education in treatment help us reflect upon our thought patterns and how they relate to our behaviors. In individual, group, family and education sessions, we begin to understand how we work. We also come to understand that we have far more control over our thoughts and our related choices than we ever thought possible.
When we capture our thoughts by being aware and listening inside ourselves, we can ask ourselves if they are helpful—do they work for us or against us? Then, if they are self-sabotaging, we can replace them with more healthful thoughts.
Self-Defeating Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
Our thinking forms the basis of how we relate to the world, how we see ourselves, others and life, and the choices we make. For example, we all have to interpret the information we get. Let’s say 3 of us see the same car accident. All 3 of us will have seen 3 versions of what happened, but none of us will be more right or wrong than the other.
This demonstrates how individual we are all in our perceptions. The same applies to other life situations. We bring our personalities, unique experiences, thinking habits and beliefs to whatever situation we enter. Through those filters, we interpret and deal with what happens.
If one has a pessimistic outlook, one will see the pessimistic aspects of a situation. If one has an optimistic outlook, it follows suit that one will see the optimistic aspects of the same situation. Consequently, our feelings follow. A pessimistic outlook is unlikely to make us happy. Instead, it triggers other feelings… So, feelings flow from our thoughts and when we have that line of information, we move to make behavioral choices. Self-defeating thoughts inevitably lead to negative emotions and poor choices unless we take charge of them.
Self-Sabotaging Behavior in Addiction
Of course, using addictive substances is the core self-sabotaging behavior of addiction. Active use also causes self-defeating thoughts and negative emotions. Without use, we would not suffer from an active addictive illness. We can stop use in withdrawal and detox and that absolutely needs to happen if we want to overcome an addiction. However, if we do not weed out the things inside us and our lives that make substance use an option, we can easily return to active addiction.
Many have to learn how to manage the daily stress of life in healthier ways, for example. And, if stress management skills are lacking, people who have used substances previously are vulnerable to relapse after detox. Also, many do not know how to communicate and negotiate well with others, and they need to build communication skills, anger management skills, and conflict resolution skills. All of these types of skill-building help weed out underlying problems in daily life that people have turned to substance use for.
If You or a Loved One Need Help
If you or a loved one are actively addicted and ready to overcome your problem, there is a great deal of effective help available today. We are fortunate to live in a time of diverse treatment options. It is no longer the case that rehab is a one-size-fits-all situation. There are treatment programs available that cover a wide range of treatment philosophies and methods. So, for example, if your faith is a guiding force in your life, you can find an addiction program that is faith-based. Or, if you would prefer a setting in which holistic methods are used, those are available, too.
It’s difficult to know exactly what you need when you are in crisis and struggling. Even as a loved one who is trying to help, it is overwhelming and difficult to sort out. Fortunately, we can help you clarify needs, insurance, and preferences. We have an extensive database compiled from our research and can match you to treatment programs that most suit you or your loved one. Our consultations are free, and we will be glad to help you. Many have found the right help with our help. You or your loved one can, too. Give us a call today.