In this excerpt, from Chapter 10 of Powerless No Longer, I am going to describe some of the more common self-defeating beliefs, along with the ways we can dispute them.
You may notice two things as you are going through the list. These irrational beliefs are not new, they are variations on the same theme as others we have explored, and most of them effect our self-esteem. The messages we send to ourselves are far worse than any we receive from the outside world. These are in no particular order.
“I should always feel happy, confident, and in control of my emotions, I should never feel angry, anxious, inadequate, jealous, or vulnerable.”
First, notice the absolutes, “should always,” and “should never.” Anytime we start thinking in absolutes we are asking for trouble. Emotional upsets are difficult enough to resolve without beating ourselves over being in that position in the first place. Whatever they are, our feelings are indeed valid, and a result of our current belief system, healthy or not. Being upset for being upset makes no logical sense, and keeps us from looking at the underlying belief that caused the upset.
“I must never fail or make a mistake, because people will not love and accept me if I do.”
They say about addicts that we are people with huge egos and low self-esteem. We never seem to meet our own ridiculously high standards, and we set ourselves up for failure time and time again. Most of us are walking contradictions when we are using, and these beliefs take a long time to root out. When I first stopped drinking, I continued treating people the same way as I did before, and it took me a while to figure out why.
For many years, I never let anyone see the twisted ugliness I kept hidden inside myself. I knew I would be banished if anyone ever saw the real me. The only way I could face myself was if I was successful in dragging those around me down into the slime with me. I had to bring you down to my level, and I did it by verbally assaulting your self-esteem.
When we first stop using, many of us compare our ugly twisted insides to the smooth and serene outsides of those around us. What we do not understand is that most of us feel the same way about ourselves when we first quit. We’ve all done things, said things, and thought things that we aren’t too proud of, we are, none of us, unique. As we work on our own self-esteem, we soon find it no longer necessary to build ourselves up at the expense of others. We find that as we practice Universal Self-Acceptance others accept us as well.
“My worth as a human being depends upon my achievements, or my intelligence, or my status.”
In this excerpt, we discussed self-worth as a variable. We found that we could not rate ourselves as people based upon one or two arbitrary traits. If we do, our self-esteem will rise and fall with our subjective view of each day’s achievements – and failures. We have intrinsic value as human beings, and one of the most valuable lessons we can learn is to treat ourselves as our own best friend.
“I am responsible for everybody and everything.”
We see ourselves as all powerful sometimes, and yet the only things we really control are our own feelings, beliefs, and actions. Once we realize we are not responsible for others, we usually feel a tremendous relief now that the weight is off our shoulders. We are now free to focus upon what we can control, and one of those is our own recovery.
“My needs are not important, and I should not spend time taking care of myself.”
Of all the irrational beliefs, this one can be the most harmful, because it goes to the heart of the messages we give ourselves. Every time we ignore our own needs, we are telling ourselves that we are worthless — others are worth much more than we are. Whether we mean it or not, that is the message, and our addiction is only too willing to listen. The best way to dispute this irrational belief is to start meeting your own needs first. If you don’t know what they are, sit down and make a list.
What do you need? What would you change if you wanted to treat yourself better? Eat some good healthy food; treat yourself to a meal out. Get plenty of rest and exercise. Do something you enjoy, see someone you like spending time with. Sit down and write that letter that has been on your to-do list waiting for a free moment. In short, try being your own best friend, for a change, instead of your worst enemy.
At times, we ignore our own needs and do not even notice that we are doing it. We begin doing something we want to do, and the doorbell or the telephone rings. Off we go, serving the needs of a friend or loved one, and once again ignoring our own. Even the airlines tell us to put our own oxygen masks on first, before we help another. That’s a valuable lesson we could apply in all the areas of our life.
“As soon as (________________) happens, I will be happy.”
Fill in the blank however you like. It could be a new house or car; it could be a new job or lover. It doesn’t matter what it is. We begin to recover when we realize that nothing stands between happiness and ourselves other than…ourselves. Happiness is something we choose, not something we are granted by an outside source. There is an old Zen saying that is appropriate here:
“I have lost my favorite teacup.
I can have lost my favorite teacup and be miserable,
I can have lost my favorite teacup and be happy.
Either way, the teacup is gone.”
Most of the time, events are out of our control, what we do control is our reaction to them. Choose happiness.
These are just a few of the self-defeating beliefs we use to beat ourselves on a daily basis. To discover more of them, take a piece of paper and write down your own personal self-defeating beliefs. We all have a few that we’ve clung to for years. They may have originally come from others, parents, teachers, etc., but they are now part of who we are. Much of the process of recovery is ferreting them out, disputing them, and sending them on their way.