Often as alcoholics and addicts, we have what is known as black and white thinking which I shared in my last blog. This is a cognitive or (thinking) distortion. Part of that distortion comes from our perfectionist thinking. For example, as I also mentioned, I have been beating myself up over my appearance on CNN’s Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell. If you haven’t read about it already, I truly believed I could have done such a better job. I believe I looked too serious and didn’t smile enough; therefore, my cognitive distortion is “I must have done a bad job.” This also comes from black and white thinking and my perfectionist personality. Being perfectionist usually comes from a feeling of not ever feeling “good enough.”
Perfectionism is a painful drive toward a never-ending journey for flawlessness; it does not allow for mistakes, personal limitations, or imperfections. It causes you to feel anxious, fearful, and full of second guessing yourself. It can keep you frozen, discourage creativity, reduce confidence, and cause you to never take the leap or to ever take chances. In recovery, you could have perfectionist thinking such as, “If I don’t go to a 12 step meeting every day, I might relapse,” or “If I relapse, then why even bother getting sober again,” or “My sponsor doesn’t want to work with me, so I won’t bother getting a new one.”
All of these types of thoughts will only sabotage your recovery. It keeps you in a never ending cycle of always feeling that if you don’t do something just right, then why bother.
Ask yourself if you are a perfectionist by answering the following questions:
I never do anything halfway; it is all or nothing for me?
I believe there is a certain way to do things and they should always be done that way?
I hate to make mistakes. I get angry or defensive when I make them?
I feel humiliated when things are not perfect?
If I can’t do something perfectly, I won’t do it?
People say I am too hard on myself or them? (That’s how I was this week when I did my appearance on CNN).
Even when I do something great or accomplish a goal, I feel empty inside and feel it “should “have been better?
After you have answered these questions, let me know how you are a perfectionist? How is it sabotaging your recovery? Is it sabotaging other areas of your life such as your career, relationships, or well-being? I look forward to hearing some of your responses. I did get over my beating myself up over the television appearance by some positive self-talk, and reminded myself that although I might have done a better job, I showed up, did the best I could under last minute circumstances, and that I can always improve next time. In addition, I reminded myself that at this point I was powerless, the newscast was over, and I needed to let the obsession go. Not always easy for people in recovery to do…..but when you finally surrender, you usually feel a whole lot better.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach and author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.” She is the go-to expert on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and has developed a seven step action program of recovery for living a purposeful life.
Cognitive distortions are distorted, exaggerated, negative ways of thinking. For example, your boss tells you that your presentation was not as good as she had expected, and you take that to mean your boss hates everything you do and thinks you’re terrible at your job. This kind of distortion is called overgeneralization: You take one isolated instance and assume it applies to everything in your life. I am having one of those moments now. I appeared on “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell” on CNN Headline News and really really did not like how I looked. I liked what I had to say, but my cognitive distortion is I really was un-happy with my appearance. Everyone is telling me this is not true but my cognitive distortion says otherwise.
Most people think in distorted ways from time to time, but addicts are especially prone to many types of cognitive distortions. They tend to filter all information through a negative lens. This kind of thinking is really dangerous, because it leads to hopelessness, inaction, feelings of worthlessness, and a belief that change is not possible.
When your thinking is so distorted, you no longer see the world as it really is. You’re living in your head, rather than living in the real world.
The first step in clearing out this kind of distorted thinking is to recognize it. When you know what to look for, you can catch yourself thinking in distorted ways, re-examine an event and understand it for what it really is. In the example I just gave about the boss and the presentation, you might realize your boss was being critical of only one thing that you did. And the fact that she expected better work from you means she generally thinks your work is good.
Psychologists recognize the following 10 cognitive distortions as being the most common. See if any of them seem familiar.
1. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things as black and white–total success or total failure.
2. Overgeneralization: You see a single event as evidence of an endless pattern.
3. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and focus exclusively on that, so that you never see the good in anything.
4. Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences as being irrelevant; somehow, they “don’t count.”
5. Jumping to conclusions: You interpret things negatively and assume everything will turn out badly. You might assume everyone dislikes you without even asking them, or assume things will turnout badly without even trying them.
6. Magnification or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of bad things in your life and minimize the importance of good things.
7. Emotional reasoning: You assume your negative emotions reflect the way things really are.
8. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself and others by saying “you should do this,” or you “shouldn’t do that,” as if you and everyone else must be punished and made to feel guilty before you will actually do anything.
9. Labeling and mislabeling: You negatively label yourself or others based on a single event. So, for example, you forget to say “thank you” once and you conclude, “I’m a rude person.”
10. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of external events that you really had nothing to do with.
This list of cognitive distortions comes from work done by David D. Burns, MD (you can read about it in his book The Feeling Good Handbook, William Morrow and Company, 1989). Also, check out http://depression.about.com/cs/psychotherapy/a/cognitive.htm–a web site that explains these cognitive distortions really well.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach and author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery” and the go-to expert for life-coaching matters on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab. Sherry has developed a 7 step program on how uniting the concepts of the Law of Attraction with one’s authentic self can create a powerful recovery.
Have you ever felt you have trouble with your impulse control or coping skills? Do you get anxious easily? Do you have difficulty accepting help from others? Do you self medicate and don’t consider yourself an addict or alcoholic? These are some of the symptoms of being an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA).
The media spends so much time on alcoholics and addicts because let’s face it, celebrity addiction is scandalous news and it goes along with a generation of “celebrity worshipers.” However, there is a whole population of others that suffer along with the addicts and alcoholics? They are known as Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA’s). Their issues are just as painful and as you may already know, addiction is a family disease. Growing up as a child in a family of alcoholics and addicts can be extremely traumatic.
If you answered yes to most of the questions above, you may be dealing with the after effects of growing up in a chaotic family system. Other symptoms of ACOA’s can include having a loss of trust in others and yourself, always feeling helpless, self-destructive behaviors, shame, intimacy problems, isolation, and somatic issues.
I have one client who had been self sufficient, a high achiever, raised two children, and when she decided to retire, she developed a host of problems including panic attacks, severe depression, and fibromyalgia. She was experiencing trauma frozen in her body. Now all her childhood pain being raised by a mentally ill and alcoholic mother was expressing itself physically and emotionally.
· If you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms, there is help out there. See a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, a chemical dependency counselor, a spiritual advisor, and most importantly go to an Al-Anon meeting. Al- Anon offers strength and hope for friends and families of problem drinkers and Nar-Anon is for families of addicts. At least four other people are effected by someone’s addiction or alcoholism. Another helpful program is Codependents Anonymous (CODA). I started my road to recovery in the rooms of Coda. It is a program that helps individuals who have the tendency to be people pleasers and excessively caretaking focusing on others.
· When you are continually dealing with the trauma of having an addict and alcoholic in your life, the continual focus on them can have an extremely negative impact on your own relationships and quality of life. Sometimes you don’t even realize you are being codependent because you were so invisible growing up in a family where your own needs weren’t met. You were too busy taking care of your sick parents in their disease of alcoholism or addiction and never learned to take care of yourself. Take care of yourself now. You are that important.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach. She is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery.” She is the Life Coach and go-to expert on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and has created a seven step program for uniting the concepts of the Law of Attraction with one’s authentic self for a powerful recovery.
In Lindsay’s case she became famous quite young, and most likely had many handlers around her or are what are known as “yes” people. You have seen these handlers around other actors, actresses, and musicians such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and tragically they could have been responsible for enabling Michael Jackson to his death. This Hollywood treatment had to have given Lindsay a feeling of being in total control and somehow not having to abide by the same standards that others do in the court of law. In fact, she has not complied seven times to the court’s orders. Her disrespect by the profanity painted on her finger nail toward the court is an example of such disregard for the legal system, and on some level herself.
Lindsay is still experiencing herself as the “victim”, and until she realizes she is responsible for her actions, no one else, she will remain one. Until the consequences of her behavior become so un-tolerable for Lindsay, she will keep doing what she is doing to self-destruct. I don’t necessarily believe jail is the answer for her, but I know something very drastic has to change for Lindsay to make the shift from feeling like a victim to becoming a victor.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW, is the author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery”, and Life Coach on Celebrity Rehab on VH1. She has a private practice where she does psychotherapy, life coaching, participates in webinars, tele-seminars, and speaking engagements.