• Unrealistic Self Talk
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    Unrealistic Self Talk

    Most of us aren’t that aware of the things we tell ourselves. Many of us have constant chatter running in our minds like a hamster on an exercise wheel. The problem is that, unlike the hamster, all that spinning around isn’t making us healthier. Spinning thoughts and negative self talk are actually an unhealthy exercise when we aren’t being balanced and logical about what we are telling ourselves. When we allow unrealistic thinking, negative thoughts or illogical ideas free reign, we end up with a distorted image of ourselves, others and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Those of us in addiction recovery need to be mindful of the dialogs we have running in our heads, and we need to try and change unrealistic self talk that may undermine us and our sober recovery.

    It’s not so much what happens in our lives that undermines us, but how we think about our circumstances that determines how we feel. Most of our negativity is caused by distorted thoughts, even though those thoughts that may seem perfectly valid at the time. Negative thoughts can lead to negative self-esteem. When we begin to look at things more realistically by getting rid of our distorted thought patterns, we can often begin to feel much better about ourselves, others and our situations in life, without having to rely on or become addicted to drugs, alcohol, people or any habits that can be unhealthy for us.

    Just what are some of these unrealistic, distorted thoughts that can undermine us? Here are some examples of unrealistic self talk:

    All or nothing thinking: This is where we classify everything as black or white, good or evil. Example: “I made a mistake. I can’t do anything right. I’m a loser. Because of my mistake, I’m a failure.”

    Over-generalization: We view the negative situation as a never- ending pattern. Example: “It didn’t work the last time so it will never work.”

    Minimizing or maximizing: We blow things out of proportion or diminish their importance in our thoughts. Example: “I’m going to die if I have to stay in this job another day”. Or, “It was only the first time he got violent and he promised he’d never do it again.”

    Making “should” statements: Example: “I should be a better parent”. We criticize ourselves and others by using these words: should, ought to, have to and must. By doing this, we’re generally assuming there’s only one right way to do anything, which isn’t always the case.

    Catastrophizing: We make every stumbling block into a major crisis or catastrophe. Example:  “My car got a flat tire! This is a disaster!.” “The entire project is ruined!” “Nothing will ever work right again!”

    Fortune-telling: We assume that we know everything that’s going to happen in the future based upon the events that are happening now. Example: “There’s no point in trying, I already know exactly what will happen.” We can do this by either thinking the worst case scenario or being overly confident.

    Mind reading: We think we know what the other person is thinking. Example: “I already know what he’s going to say or do, so why should I even talk to him?”

    Comparative thinking: We compare ourselves to someone else so that we either look exceptionally better or worse than the other person. Example: “I could never measure up to what my friend is doing, therefore I am a failure”.

    Emotional Reasoning: We reason by our feelings. If we feel inadequate we must therefore be inadequate.

    Personalization and blame: We blame ourselves for something we weren’t responsible for, or blame others and overlook the influence of your own attitudes. Example: “Because I didn’t call my friend yesterday, I’m responsible for her relapse.” Or “They didn’t like my idea, therefore they don’t like me”.

    Discounting the positive: We insist that the positive accomplishments don’t count because the negatives outweigh everything.

    Changing the Pattern of Irrational or Unrealistic Thoughts

    Case Study

    Jason, a successful businessman, was starting to become highly anxious when he walked into his office in the morning. He told himself he had way too much work to do, and he would never catch up. What if he forgot something important or made a mistake and the deal didn’t go through? His colleagues would look down on him. His boss would get angry and maybe even fire him. Then he’d be destitute.

    What type of unrealistic self talk was Jason guilty of?

    All or nothing thinking. He was worrying about everything that eventually needed to get done instead of the specific things he needed to do just that morning.

    Discounting the positive. He had so much work to do because he was a tremendously successful businessman. He saw his busy calendar as a burden rather than a tribute to his success.

    Fortune telling. He was predicting without evidence that he was going to make a terrible mistake that would lead to his downfall.

    Mind reading. He was assuming that, if he did make a mistake, everyone in his office would turn against him and his career would be in shambles.

    How could Jason have made his self talk more realistic?

    Once he identified the distortions in his thoughts and set them aside, he could have reminded himself that since he had made many successful deals in his past, he most likely would continue to have many more. He could have reminded himself that, even if he did lose this deal, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world because no one can be successful 100 percent of the time. Jason could talk to his colleagues over a coffee break or dinner and share with them his fears about losing the deal. He might end up being amazed that his colleages had just as many fears and anxieties as he did. He may even find some true support when he thought he had none.


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