Negative Thoughts in Early Recovery and How to Avoid Them

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There’s no way around it: recovery from addiction is hard. From handling the physical side effects of withdrawal to working through psychological challenges with a counselor, there is nothing easy about breaking the cycle of addiction. As such, it’s not uncommon for recovering substance abusers to fall into a pattern of negative thinking as they struggle to come to terms with a new kind of reality.

Many individuals believe that negativity is a personality trait, but this is not true. While some people may be more negative than others, these kinds of thoughts are often learned behaviors, not innate characteristics. Positive thoughts can be a choice, too, and learning to highlight good rather than bad is quite advantageous. After all, negative thinking during recovery can actively damage chances of success, as every imperfect moment will further erode self-esteem and focus. Instead of letting your own personal shortcomings stand in the way of sobriety, you can learn to move beyond negativity. These steps can help you interpret negative thoughts, develop a heightened awareness, and actively choose positive ideas in order to see success on your journey to recovery.

The Reality of Negative Thoughts

No one is happy all of the time and life isn’t a magical world where only good things happen. However, in many situations, your mindset is a choice, not an unavoidable reality. It may take some mental gymnastics, but with a conscious effort to focus on the good, not the bad, you will be able to gradually change the ways in which you react to the world.

A big part of accomplishing this involves identifying common negative thought patterns and striving to move past them. Mental health experts divide these kinds of sentiments into four categories: all-or-nothing, positive elimination, self-labeling, and catastrophizing.

  • All-or-nothing thinking: in this approach to life, nothing but perfection is accepted. If, for example, you finish all but a few minor tasks on your to-do list, an all-or-nothing thinker will not but pleased with accomplishments but will instead fixate on the failure to finish, thus seeing the whole day as a waste.
  • Eliminating the positives: in this kind of thinking, individuals disqualify accomplishments if a primary goal is not met. For example, receiving strong feedback during an internal job interview isn’t worth anything if an appropriate promotion isn’t awarded.
  • Self-labeling: the world is often seen in shades of gray. Negative self-labelers, however, view the world and their role in with finality, equating little mistakes with a final consequential ruling. While most people, for example, can shake off a missed deadline at work, a self-labeler will believe that this kind of error makes them the worst employee ever who is not worthy of maintaining a job.
  • Catastrophizing: in life, few things are all good or all bad. However, those with catastrophizing thoughts will fixate only on the negative and actively expect problematic results. For example, a recovering addict won’t focus on personal successes, choosing instead to assume that relapse is inevitable and rehabilitation is a waste of time.

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Implementing Positive Thought Patterns

Once you are aware of the negative thoughts you experience on a day to day basis, it’s time to change. These simple steps can assist you in overcoming negativity, helping you to avoid damaging sentiments as you progress through recovery.

Make a Conscious Effort to Stay Positive

If you’re not naturally a positive person, now’s the time to learn. It may sound next to impossible, especially for those suffering from mood disorders or other emotional struggles related to recovery, but a part of stamping out negative thoughts means identifying them and willfully redirecting them.

First, identify the negative thought patterns you experience most often. Do you expect the worst out of life and catastrophize normal events, or do you always label yourself with the worst possible extremes? Perhaps you fail to see the positives when your primary goal isn’t accomplished. No matter your negative tendencies, knowing where you’re going wrong is the key to seeing changes.

Take the example above for thinkers who eliminate the positives: receiving positive feedback but not ultimately securing a promotion. A negative thinker’s first instinct will be to focus on the bad – I must be terrible if my bosses don’t want to promote me. Maybe I should quit my job and give up on this field – while a positive thinker will see good in the experience – I didn’t get the position, but my bosses had very nice things to say about my progress. If I keep working hard and continue to improve my performance, I bet I’ll get there next time. When you can identify these patterns and see the problems with your thinking, it’s easier to redirect your sentiments in a beneficial way.

Avoid Negative People

negative thoughts 3Negativity begets negativity, and this is especially true in recovery. Those who do not see themselves sticking to sobriety are likely to inspire a self-fulfilling prophecy: I thought I would fail, so I did.

Personal support is very important in the months and years following drug abuse, but the right kind of support is arguably even more so. Recovering addicts who spend time with negative people are likely to sink even further into a spiral of damaging thoughts, while those who spend time with positive people are likely to begin imitating these thought processes.

When you need a boost in recovery, negative peers are likely to drag you down and make you feel worse about your struggles. Positive people, on the other hand, can support you and cheer for you, reminding you of the good in your situation while motivating you to keep trying. When you want to succeed in sobriety and learn how to think positively about your future, you need to surround yourself with others on the same page. Otherwise, your current bad habits are likely to continue to stand in your way.

Set Attainable Goals

Using goals as milestones is a big part of recovery, especially for those who are in the early stages of rehabilitation. Guided by counselors, newly recovering addicts may be encouraged to set goals regarding sobriety, relationships, or job successes to provide a driver for positive momentum. With well-defined objectives and a clear-cut path, those in recovery are in the best possible position to see true, measurable results.

However, utilizing goal posts to move forward only works when aims are actually achievable. It’s human nature to dream big, but pushing too hard, too fast can be a big mistake. That’s why only 8% of people actually stick to New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, continually coming up short can be a big detriment, perpetuating negative thoughts and encouraging inappropriate behavior (ex: I can’t meet this goal anyway, so why try?).

In order to create a positive trajectory, set goals that make sense for you. Instead of shooting for a year of sobriety right out of the gate, focus instead on making it to one month, and then two, and then three. Rather than striving for a big promotion within a year of starting a new job, set your sights on a good performance review in your first year and a promotion by year three. When you stay realistic with your goals, you are more likely to meet them – and find the strength to keep forging ahead with confidence.

Find Help for Addiction

Many factors affect the outcome of addiction, and positive thinking is certainly one of them. When you are able to identify the problems with your thought patterns and make a true effort to change, it’s possible to see the progress you never thought possible.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Outpatient Services is here to help. With a focus on providing holistic guidance for all stages of the recovery process, we can offer the support you deserve. Call today at (844) 211-7944 to learn more.