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“I’m so stupid” can be easy for many people to say, especially in the wake of addiction-related damage. But if you dwell on the thought (or on any other negative self-label such as “no good,” “deficient” or “hopeless”), you’re sending an open invitation to relapse. If you’re already convinced you’ll always fail, what do you really have to lose by countering the pain of discouragement with more drugs?
In fact, if you’re in recovery from addiction, chances are you had the self-criticism habit long before you touched drugs. People with high self-confidence are less likely to develop addictions than people who feel chronically inadequate. And people who already have addiction disorders are less likely to relapse if they make a practice of cultivating self-confidence to reduce discouragement and depression.
Here, then, are a few ways to defang the self-criticism habit and grow the self-confidence habit.
DECLARE A MORATORIUM ON ALL “LABELING”
Resolve not only to stop calling yourself names, but to strip “dumb” and “stupid” from your vocabulary in reference to other people and even situations. If you stop saying the words altogether, it’ll be easier not to apply them to yourself: plus, you’ll significantly reduce frustration in your life and the related relapse temptations.
You may be thinking, “But what if someone really is being stupid, like Politician X who keeps telling the public that all drug users are morally deficient and the ‘disease’ idea of addiction is an excuse for being too lazy to quit?” First, remember that there are no stupid people, only stupid ideas. Second, even when dealing with someone who is committed to a stupid idea, remember that focusing on the negative only reinforces the idea that everything is hopeless. Be calm, stick to objective facts, and show respect even to people who do little to earn it. Every tough situation you deal with, without losing control of yourself, adds to your self-confidence reserves.
AVOID TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS
Of course, if you spend too much time with people who habitually create tough situations for you, both your ability to cope and your self-confidence will erode. So whenever you can, completely avoid anyone who labels you with negative words. Sever ties completely with toxic “friends” and casual acquaintances. If your toxic connections are coworkers or family members, or anyone with whom you’ve been intimately connected, you’ll probably need professional counseling to decide whether and how to end the relationship. In any case, build a strong support network with others who believe in you.
DON’T CRITICIZE YOURSELF FOR BEING NEGATIVE
Many people get caught in a vicious circle: they vow never to insult themselves again, slip up on the “never again” part, and then berate themselves for being so stupid as to call themselves stupid.
Understand that, since you can’t physically avoid your brain and tongue as you can the liquor bottle, it’s virtually impossible to quit any habit of speech or thought without some relapses. When you do catch yourself insulting yourself, state firmly and calmly: “I am not stupid. I am a strong, intelligent, worthy person who can cope with this and learn to handle any tough situation.” Then list your successes and good qualities. After practicing this regularly for a few weeks, you’ll find your tendency toward self-criticism starts to diminish on its own.
DO WHAT YOU’RE GOOD AT AND ENJOY
Nothing feeds self-esteem like well-earned success. Consider what others spontaneously compliment you for, and seek opportunities to build those talents. Pick your favorite creative hobby, or something you’ve always wanted to try, and schedule large blocks of it into your off-work time. It doesn’t matter whether it’s obviously “useful,” or whether the results are “perfect.” What’s important is that you involve your best self for the joy of doing, and that you keep learning and growing for life.
If you aren’t sure where to start, try these tips:
- Consider whether there’s anything you were already “meaning to get back to sometime.”
- Take a self-inventory: are you extroverted or introverted? Organized or spontaneous? Artistic or mathematical? (If you’re in a 12-Step Program, review the self-inventory you already completed for Step 4.) Try Googling “artistic activities” or “hobbies for the organized person.”
- Don’t get derailed by fatigue or overloaded schedules. Pick one thing you can really look forward to and schedule it to be worth getting up early for on Saturday. Or instead of going home to collapse after work, go straight to your preferred activity: it’ll revive your energy, plus displacing longings for “good old days” of unwinding at the bar.
- To further increase motivation, make an appointment to join a friend for your chosen activity.
- Have fun! It does your self-esteem good to enjoy yourself just because you’re worth it.