Cognitive distortions, especially for someone suffering from addiction, are inaccurate thoughts that tend to be habitual, and negative in nature. They are ingrained in the addict’s thinking processes, so much so that the brain has well-worn neural pathways for each pattern of thoughts.
So, when a situation matches the criteria of that pattern, the mind travels down that pathway to the same old conclusions it is familiar with. While there are many known cognitive distortions, we will focus on the five most common ones found in addiction recovery.
This one is a biggie. Overgeneralizing people, situations, and circumstances is distorted thinking. For example, if you apply for a loan and get rejected, then instead of sucking it up and trying a different bank or improving your credit, you just tell yourself you’ll never get a loan.
Racism and discrimination are good examples of overgeneralization. Basing your opinion of other people on your interaction with completely different people is distorted thinking. You’re making broad assumptions with very little data.
I remember walking into a bookstore and coincidentally trying to buy the book Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies (which is an amazing read, and it taught me some awesome coping skills) and I found every book imaginable about CBT except that one, and thought to myself, “I’ll never find this damn book!”
I felt irritated and I left. That would be a common reaction if I hadn’t given up going to the other two stores in the area because, in my head, I already knew they didn’t have the book I wanted.
These types of distortions can seem harmless, but they aren’t really. What applies to looking for a book to purchase, can also apply to looking for a 12-step meeting to attend. All it takes is walking into one boring meeting, and then out of the hamster wheel comes, “all meetings are boring, so I’m never going.”
That is a perfect transition to our next distortion, number four:
4. Mind Reading (Jumping to Conclusions)
Mind reading is a useful tool when used properly. Like Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Addicts in recovery often take normal intuition and stretch it into La La Land. I would know because I’ve taken part in many mind-reading sessions free of charge over the years. I can tell you one thing for sure: I am definitely not clairvoyant.
If I had a nickel for every time I judged somebody wrong when I first met them, I would have a house that looked like this:
Many of my close friends were people with whom I initially didn’t get along.
You would be amazed how convincing some of these conclusions can be, especially if you add a little coincidence or dumb luck into the mix.
As an addict grows in their recovery, they start to become familiar with their own thinking processes, and how those processes deviate from the normal.
For myself, I try to go on only what I know to be true at the time I know it to be true. Sure, I can make assumptions if I have to, but only if I have to, not for any other reason.
Personalization is a cognitive distortion that can be a real stumbling block for an addict’s growth in recovery and life in general. It is when you attribute the behavior or reaction you see from other people around you to something you did wrong.
It is rooted in low self-esteem. In a desperate attempt to be accepted and please others, we panic at the first sign of something going wrong and figure it is something we did. Paradoxically, it is egotistical as well. Everything is about us. Addicts are attention whores who don’t want to be bothered.
I was once in a rehab, and a fellow constituent of mine relapsed and left the rehab. Afterwards, we were talking about it with one of the therapists and I said with a somber tone and tears in my eyes, “I should have done more.”
I knew the guy who relapsed for two days. What could I have done? Circumcise him? I’m not a counselor. I’m not Jesus. Furthermore, I barely knew the dude (the guy who relapsed, not Jesus). Get over yourself and worry about you. Let Go and Let God.
Everyone in the group sighed and rolled their eyes. I realized years later how delusional I had been.
2. Disqualifying the Positive
Disqualifying the positive is another malignant cognitive distortion very common in people suffering from addiction. When you become so used to being a drain on society, and looked-down upon, it is very difficult to reverse the cycle of negative-self talk to which you’ve become accustomed.
People who have this distortion will ignore anything good that happens, because that would burst their negative bubble. However, anything negative that happens is seized upon, and confirms their original belief that everything sucks.
It is a sort of confirmation bias, when you think about it. Also, it is similar to the tactic that a so-called “psychic” uses, known as a cold reading. The person asking for the psychic to talk to a dead relative is so grief-stricken and desperate they ignore all the inaccurate things the psychic says, and focus on all the things the psychic gets right by pure chance.
I remember when someone in recovery pointed out to me how I didn’t take compliments well. When someone would tell me I was good at something, the first word out of my mouth, even though I would be smiling, would be, “No.”
I would explain that I only do it how any normal person would do it. I would always have a reason why their compliment wasn’t really valid. That type of behavior can make other people think you’re being fake modest when you’re actually insecure and have terrible self-esteem.
If you can identify with this, comment on this post, let’s get a discussion going; because, my heart goes out to you. I know how it is to tell yourself that you are a loser, and will die alone, with nothing. Trust me, there’s hope.
Catastrophizing is assuming the worst is always going to happen in every situation or scenario you play out in your head. It is one thing to be prepared if anything bad should happen. However, to be laser focused and assuming that those bad things will happen is extremely unhealthy and unproductive.
The anxiety from worrying about the worst-case scenario all the time is crippling. The tendency to exaggerate negative situations and circumstances affects every nook and cranny of life.
The problem with addicts is that the worst happens quite often, unfortunately, and the longer they are on the street, the longer it takes to reverse their belief system.
Overcoming Cognitive Distortions
I want to make one thing crystal clear, I am not a therapist, doctor, or counselor. It takes hard work, and commitment to change your thought patterns. Here is what I suggest you do:
- Find a licensed CBT therapist.
- Make sure your therapist has a therapist also.
- Start keeping a record of your thoughts. (Click here for FREE Automatic Thought Record PDF Printable)
- Make a short list of positive affirmations to read to yourself out loud every night. For example, “I am a great person. I am a smart person.” Don’t use negative terminology, such as the word, “not”.
- Before you go to bed each night, after you read a few short positive affirmations (again, keep everything real short so you’ll stick with it) look yourself in the eye, in the mirror, and say out loud, “I love you“.
- Do this every night, no matter what.
Remember this, you are worth recovering.
Difficult people are everywhere in life. You can’t live with them, and you can’t make them disappear; so, you need the coping skills to deal with them. That’s what this article is all about—having the coping skills to deal with people you work with whom you can’t stand.
Sometimes the Most Difficult Person to Work With: Yourself
I need to cover something else before we talk about other people. If every place you go, you find difficult people, you might want to look at that. Because the only common denominator in all of that is you.
Advice From Good Old Dad
My father once told me, “Jimmy, if you wake up to go to work in the morning, and the guy at the red light is a jerk, and the guy at the deli is a jerk, and the guy at work is a jerk, then the jerk is YOU.” Yeah, my father had a way with words.
Remember You Can’t Control People
The first step in recovery is to admit we are powerless over our addiction. It means we are powerless over other people, the way they think, and what they do. We can only control how we react to their behavior. To better manage your reaction, and remain Triple C (Calm, Cool, and Collected), try to focus only on your reaction and not the other person’s behavior.
Don’t Let Your Disdain for Them Show
Try to avoid looking for confirmation of your negative feelings for other people at work from other coworkers. I know it is tough to do but try. Your Higher Power will help you with that if you pray about it. I suggest you give it a shot.
Don’t Avoid Uncomfortable Conversations
This is a big one. Uncomfortable conversations live amongst us every day, but we never have them. They die silent deaths, but their residue shortens our lives through heart attacks, strokes, addictions, and suicides.
People working together should be able to talk to each other openly to a certain extent. If something you’re doing is endangering my recovery, but you don’t even realize it, the situation will only deteriorate if we don’t have that uncomfortable, but necessary, conversation.
What is an uncomfortable conversation? Well, say a fellow employee likes to use the bathroom near the cafeteria instead of in the back during lunchtime and we all must smell his bunghole while eating meatball subs.
What’s an uncomfortable conversation?
What if that employee was the supervisor’s wife?
Do you see how uncomfortable things can get?
Uncomfortable Conversation Tips
- Be direct, no beating around the bush. State the problem in simple, direct language.
- State your needs. You have the right to have needs.
- Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, empathize with their situation.
- Try for a middle ground, but don’t let them avoid the topic.
At the End of the Day
And remember, at the end of the day if all else fails, you can either adopt an “I don’t care” attitude or just quit. No job is worth your spirit or sanity. And please, at the end of the day, please find the guy who first started saying, “at the end of the day” and put him in prison for life.
What is the primary cause of relapse?This is an incredibly common question that you’ll hear in the recovery community. If you’re an addict, you’ll pose this question to yourself and to other people. Not everyone’s relapse triggers are the same. For some it could be things like:
- New Friends
- New Job
Some of us have a nasty habit of sabotaging our lives at exactly the wrong moment. Just when things are going perfect, we hit this button:
Why, on Earth, would anyone want to press that button? Some say we are addicted to chaos. Others say we don’t have enough coping skills to deal with the increased pressure, so we look for the only release valve of which we are familiar.
I say we are spiritually sick, and it is due to some sort of trauma we suffered as a child, or as a young adolescent.
I am not just shooting my mouth off. There is science to back this up.
As a result of trauma, we detach from our true self, and remain in this traumatic state. Our minds may lock away the memories, but our bodies remember.
Anxiety, depression, mood swings, violence, etc.
The symptoms always tell the story. People lie, biology doesn’t. No child grows up wanting to destroy themselves for no reason. Something happened to them.
All of it has been linked back to trauma in childhood.
So, what is the number one cause of relapse? I say it could be unresolved trauma. God can help us with that; but a therapist trained in the field of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, or something along those lines, can only improve your chances of healing.
The best thing to know is that our trauma is not us, and we can overcome it and be our true self.
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The outcome of outpatient substance abuse treatment depends on several variables. Probably the most important one is your attitude at the outset. Most people with long-term sobriety would agree that if you think treatment won’t work for you, then you’re absolutely correct—it won’t. Your subconscious mind is dumb. It believes whatever your conscious mind tells it. So, take a glass-half-full approach going into outpatient treatment, and follow the rest of the advice in this article to get the most out of your experience.
Advocate for Yourself
There is no such thing as a stupid question, especially if it pertains to treatment. Some people hesitate to ask questions when undergoing any kind of medical treatment because they don’t want to be bothersome. That is how mistakes happen; and, asking the right questions upfront can save you a lot of grief later on. Here are some good questions to ask:
- Do I have a Copayment to make?
- If so, how much?
- What happens if I can’t pay?
- Can I still attend therapy if I can’t?
- What are the available group times?
- Do you have a card or a schedule with the group hours and phone number here?
- What happens if I am late, absent or have an emergency?
- Do you have a special phone number to call for weather-related closures?
- When can I schedule an intake appointment?
- Who’s my counselor?
Those are all important questions, and you should be concerned if you can’t obtain concrete answers to them.
Keep Your Medical Records
Statistics show that 80% of medical records contain errors. If the nurse or doctor at the clinic enters the wrong medication information into the system, you want to catch that mistake as early as possible. The quicker you catch medical record errors, the less of a hassle they cause you.
Purchase a Pendaflex folder keeper from Amazon, or something similar, and keep track of every piece of paper people give you. It may sound like hoarding, but it isn’t. What you do is employ a priority system, and triage all of your paperwork at the end of every week. Only carry the highest-level paperwork on your person, just in case you need to produce it.
Keep an Open Mind and Stay Positive
In order to get through roadblocks during substance abuse treatment, you must learn how to maintain a positive outlook on situations which may not have anything positive to offer you. Afterwards, you’ll be able to look back on those moments, and be glad they didn’t steer you off the road of recovery.
Of course, that is easier said than done. But it is important to say it anyway, because attitudes and thoughts determine behaviors. Behaviors determine a person’s habits. And a person’s character is essentially a collection of their habits.
If you follow no other piece of advice, and just keep an open-mind and stay positive, then you are still on the right track. Why? Because anyone who enters substance abuse treatment with an open-mind and a positive attitude can learn everything else along the way. Learn to change your perspective on situations. Try to see things from the other person’s point of view. Ask yourself some helpful questions, such as:
- How would I feel if I were in this person’s shoes (figuratively)?
- Is this person trying to help me, or hurt me?
- How good have I been at making decisions lately?
- Is it possible that I am reading the situation wrong, or taking things personally?
Questions such as the ones above can break you out of the redundancy of an argument or a stressful situation, and they help center you emotionally. For example, if you have to attend intensive outpatient treatment for two months, it is easy to lose your temper because of the time commitment and possible loss of earnings from employment, etc. However, if you change your perspective of the situation to a positive one, you drastically change the effect the situation has on you without changing the actual situation one bit.
Instead of being angry, you say to yourself, “It is great that I finally can get help for this life-threatening disease, without having any distractions. I can just concentrate on my recovery.” The effect that has on your mood is enormous. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a positive attitude.