How to Stop Negative Self-Talk in Addiction Recovery

Negative Self-Talk in Addiction Recovery

If you’re going into rehab, it means you’re taking steps to improve your life and to actively improve things. Yet, many of us go into addiction treatment with significant guilt and shame issues. Addiction is surrounded by social stigma, where we’re made to feel that a drug or alcohol addiction is a personal failing. You might have the idea that every time you use or drink is a personal failing. And, while it is letting yourself down, that popular approach completely ignores the reality of addiction as a severe behavioral disorder.

Unfortunately, having that knowledge doesn’t mean you immediately feel better about yourself. Instead, many of us are plagued by negative self-talk that can work out to something that sounds a lot like bullying if you say it aloud. Putting a stop to that and treating yourself with kindness and empathy is important for your mental health and your recovery.

Why Does Substance Abuse Affect Self Esteem?

Mental health problems and poor self-esteem can result in substance abuse – where you use drugs or alcohol to improve your social capability or to improve how you feel. In other cases, drugs and alcohol work to damage your self-esteem and how you treat yourself, because you feel worse about yourself every time you fail to stop drinking or using on your own.

In addition, substance use disorder is characterized by damage to the sense of self. Most of us lose our sense of identity and who we are, feel like we are nothing and do nothing, and overall feel worthless during an addiction. That can result in significantly bad outlooks on yourself, what you are capable of, and what you need to be a better person.

Coupled with the fact that substance use disorders are often a part of generational trauma, where you may have experienced child abuse, strict discipline, and unhealthy examples from parents, and it can seem normal and even necessary to beat yourself up.

This results in a large portion of people with substance abuse problems turning to what is essentially bullying, aimed at themselves. Here, underlying problems include unscientific views of addiction, poor self-esteem, and poor understanding of how motivation to change works.

Changing Your Approach and Stopping Negative Self-Talk

The first step to stopping negative self-talk is recognizing that you do it. And, if you’re reading this article, you’re probably already at that stage. From there, you can take several steps to improve your personal outlook and how you treat yourself.

  • Take care of yourself – It’s harder to talk negatively to yourself if you’re actively trying to provide good care for yourself. For example, eating well, exercising enough, spending time with people to improve your social life, having a wake up routine, spending time meditating, working towards skills or career goals you want, etc.
  • Remind yourself to treat yourself like a friend – if you wouldn’t say something to a friend aloud, don’t say it to yourself in your head. It’s okay to slip up, but reminding yourself, every time you say something negative, that that isn’t a way to treat a friend, can help.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down negative thoughts and then unpacking them later can help a great deal. For example, if you say something negative, write it down on the top of a page. Then, when you’re feeling better, come back and write down a way you could have said that in a more healthy and constructive way and write down what will actually motivate you to change the behavior.
  • Set Goals – If you have small goals that you can work towards and achieve, you will feel better about yourself. It’s also important to make those goals realistic, measurable, and achievable. At the same time, you’ll want to start small. You can’t go “I’ll go to the gym every day for the rest of my life” because that’s unrealistic and too big, but a goal like “I’ll work out 15 minutes a day” might not seem like enough. Assess what you’re capable of, create goals, and work towards them.

It’s also important to start changes a few at a time. You don’t’ want to add 10 new habits at once because you will become overwhelmed. Add new things as you get comfortable and then go from there.

a female client struggling from addiction getting help

Get Professional Help

Nothing will replace the ability to get professional insight from counselors and therapists who understand you and your problems. Talking to professionals is always an option, whether or not you’ve been to rehab. Here, an addiction counselor may be more valuable than a general therapist, because they’ll be able to help from an addiction-informed approach. However, that may not be the case.

Professional help may include behavioral therapy to help you unpack your behaviors and thought processes. That may mean learning what’s behind the negative thought patterns and changing those behaviors.

That may work out to:

  • Understanding where negative self-talk comes from. E.g., did you have a strict upbringing and do you have to unlearn things your parents taught you? Or did you start with negative self-talk after losing self-esteem?
  • Figuring out motivation and accountability for you so that you can motivate yourself rather than bullying yourself to achieve things you want
  • Work on improving your self-esteem by creating a better picture of yourself

However, it will always mean discussing your needs with your healthcare provider and working towards goals, understanding your behaviors, and attempting to build new and healthier behaviors.

Talk to Your Peers

It can be eye-opening to understand that most people in recovery experience significant negative self-talk. That’s because most people in recovery have major issues with self-esteem. But, it can be quite a big difference to see yourself talking to yourself in a negative way versus someone who seems like they are working hard to be a better person doing the same. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, NA, SMART Recovery, LifeRing Recovery, etc., will all give you opportunities to talk with your peers – in situations where you’re working to help each other stay clean and sober.

Recovering from a substance use disorder is a long process. It will take you years to “Fully recover” and you will never be the person you were before. Even building your self-esteem will take time, and probably more so than you’d like. At the same time, acknowledging that you should take care of yourself and treat yourself better is a good first step towards stopping negative self-talk and towards treating yourself like a friend who is worthy of care, empathy, and understanding.

Stairway Recovery Homes has multiple sober living homes located in Los Angeles, CA. We provide quality recovery homes for both men’s sober living and women’s sober living

About Jim Sugel

SEO and Digital Marketing Expert Jim Sugel is an SEO and Digital Marketing Expert in addition to having achieved the coveted Google Partner status for PPC expertise. Prior to focusing on Digital Marketing, Jim worked in Information Technology roles at a variety of national firms as a software engineer and consultant, resulting in many years of professional coding and consulting experience. Jim holds a Bachelor of Science, cum laude in Computer Science and Psychology from Loyola University Chicago. After relocating to Southern California from his native Chicago, he became involved in the recovery industry here, discovering a natural niche in helping treatment centers with Digital Marketing and other technology projects. Jim is the Founder and CEO of Airtight Digital, a firm that specializes in digital marketing for the behavioral health industry. His other interests include hiking, canyoneering, urban exploration, and screenwriting. Jim now lives in beautiful and sunny Orange County, California.