Sometimes when we're in recovery from our addictions and mental health issues, even when we've completed a treatment program, we are still grappling with negative thought patterns that make us feel bad about ourselves and that threaten to derail our healing progress. There are countless different thought patterns we find ourselves falling into, often unconsciously, and just as many reasons for why we've developed them in the first place. Luckily, learning to shift them is one of the pieces of our recovery program that we can incorporate into the mental and emotional work we're doing.
Trauma's Impact on Our Thinking
Where do our negative thought patterns come from? For many of us, they emerge because of the traumatic things we've experienced. Our trauma can be so destabilizing that they uproot us from our sense of self and corrupt our positive ways of thinking. It's very hard to stay optimistic and hopeful, for example, when we're still reeling from a devastating loss or other painful experience. Our trauma is often a major contributor to our negative thinking. Many of us become self-blaming, self-hating and pessimistic because of our trauma.
Our Limiting Beliefs
Another cause of our negative thoughts are all of the limiting beliefs we've adopted over the years. Whether they come from our families or mainstream media, they can be powerful and impactful. We absorb them after hearing and practicing them repeatedly, and they become ingrained in our consciousness, where they then direct how we think and feel. Our limiting beliefs contribute to our deep insecurities and our self-hatred. They impact how we view ourselves and the world around us. Examples of some common limiting beliefs are that we don't deserve to be happy, or that recovery is not meant for us.
Many of the negative thought patterns we develop are self-deprecating in nature. We form inadequacy and inferiority complexes, where we constantly feel as though we aren't good enough or that we can't measure up to other people. We are subconsciously self-destructive, and this comes out in the way we think. We develop thought patterns of self-sabotage, where we are always undermining and belittling ourselves, making unhealthy choices, and setting ourselves up for failure. Our thought patterns of pessimism, cynicism and skepticism often come from our deeply rooted beliefs that happiness is impossible, that people are bad, that this is an unhappy world we live in, and many of these beliefs develop from an internal self-rejection that makes us turn our backs on our inner selves, and therefore on other people and the world. When we hate ourselves, it's normal that we would then hate other people and also be filled with bitterness and resentment, which we then extend to the world around us.
Persistent Thoughts Even in Recovery
When we're in recovery, these thought patterns we've been holding onto for so long don't just disappear overnight as soon as we get sober or receive treatment, or even when our depression begins to lift. Our thoughts are so deeply ingrained in us that they can persist even when our addictions and mental health issues have begun to improve. This is because we've been practicing thinking them for so long, giving them so much of our energy and attention, building them and strengthening them over time, that they've become second nature to us. They are the thoughts that our minds unconsciously default to. We might not intend to think negatively, but that is how our minds have become wired to think. Even when we tell ourselves it's not in our best interest to think negatively, we find ourselves falling into negative thought patterns anyway, despite our attempts to think differently.
Lack of Self-Belief
Some of the thought patterns that are particularly problematic to us in our recovery are the ones that undermine our progress and keep us from making important life changes. A huge part of a successful recovery is working to believe in ourselves, because when we are convinced that we'll fail, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for us, and we continue to make unhealthy choices for ourselves and to do things that threaten our sobriety. Some examples of these thought patterns are constantly telling ourselves that we're not meant to succeed, that we're not strong enough to get sober, that we're destined to be depressed forever, that we don't deserve happiness and good health. We believe our recovery work is futile, especially when we've tried unsuccessfully to get sober in the past, only to relapse repeatedly. We believe that we aren't good enough, strong enough, smart enough, or determined enough to recover. We convince ourselves that we don't have the willpower, the resolve, the conviction or the strength to get better. All of these self-destructive, negative thought patterns keep us locked in patterns of making the same mistakes, making the same unhealthy choices, and staying stuck in our illnesses.
The key to shifting our negative thought patterns is accessing our subconscious minds, the part of the mind that controls most of what we do, think and feel on a daily basis, the same part of our minds where our emotional information is stored. If we can clear the old negative thought patterns and beliefs and replace them with positive, self-empowering, self-encouraging ones, we can reprogram our subconscious minds to fuel our success rather than hinder it. Adopting the practice of using positive affirmations is especially beneficial. We can practice repeating them aloud and writing them down, since the subconscious mind responds to both repetition and the written word. “I am strong enough to make healthy choices. I deserve to be happy. I believe in myself. I am recovering successfully. I am destined for wonderful things.” Meditation and visualization are also powerful ways to reprogram the subconscious mind. We can visualize and meditate on the version of ourselves we want to create, hold that vision in our minds, and bring a new reality for ourselves into existence. We can also combine these methods with energy healing practices such as Reiki and tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique), both of which work to correct and restore the physical and energetic imbalances within us that are contributing to our negative thinking. When we commit to shifting our thinking in recovery, we experience huge life changes that transform not only our health but our overall happiness as well.
With over 80 years of collective experience with wilderness therapy programs, WinGate Wilderness Therapy is equipped to help troubled teens and struggling young adults find a new direction and purpose in life.
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