The way we think about ourselves defines who we are, and it also drives our actions and behaviors. People with addictions often think destructive, negative thoughts about themselves, and it is these self-defeating thoughts that propel their addiction.
Many times, people look at surface issues and external influences as the triggers for their addictive behavior. The Positive Psychology Program explains that research shows digging deeper through cognitive behavioral therapy can reveal harmful thought patterns, and changing these can defuse the power of the external triggers.
One of the things a therapist does with clients is to explore the behavioral patterns that lead to their self-defeating activities, and then to identify the beliefs that are giving rise to them.
The negative beliefs that perpetuate addiction are often critically flawed. These distorted thought patterns include the following:
- Mental filter – Dwelling on negative aspects of events and being unable to see the positives
- Disqualified positives – Seeing the positives but believing that some other force cancels them out
- Overgeneralization – Identifying a single negative incident as the only proof necessary for a broad negative conclusion
- All-or-nothing – Viewing circumstances as either black or white
- Jumping to conclusions – Assuming a belief, feeling, or thought is true without seeking any evidence
- Control fallacy – Believing that everything that happens is either all an individual’s fault, or not the individual’s fault at all
- Blame – Thinking that any negative event is someone else’s fault
By viewing the world through these or other faulty cognitive lenses, people’s feelings and beliefs about themselves will drag them down.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
A goal of CBT is to directly address an individual’s distortions. The therapist may help clients identify how the distortion developed and why it became part of who they are. Then, when something comes up that makes them begin to think the negative thoughts, they can evaluate the belief that caused the negativity to begin and identify its flaws. Once people see the flaws in the belief, they can begin to restructure it in their mind.
Many people find that it helps to keep a journal of thoughts and moods so that it becomes easier to see what triggers them and the patterns that arise. As they gather this information, they can begin to develop coping mechanisms, such as ways to interrupt or challenge the negative thoughts.
There are many other facets of this type of therapy, and it can be used in both individual and group settings in a variety of ways. As a method that has consistently proven to be effective, it is often an essential part of chemical dependency treatment.