‘Five patterns of negative thinking to escape from in recovery’ by Peapod

“Your radar is tuned to the negative. It’s a sophisticated old radar because it also has a magnifying glass. And that magnifying glass is peculiar in that it has a blind spot. A blind spot for the positive. The negative is magnified, the positive overlooked and the focus on the negatives out of the context of all the rich, nurturing and lovely things makes life seem a very bleak place.”

“Your radar is tuned to the negative. It’s a sophisticated old radar because it also has a magnifying glass. And that magnifying glass is peculiar in that it has a blind spot. A blind spot for the positive. The negative is magnified, the positive overlooked and the focus on the negatives out of the context of all the rich, nurturing and lovely things makes life seem a very bleak place.”

As recovering people, we need all the help we can get to grow emotionally and to build our resources and resilience. Sometimes, we can get tripped up by returning to deeply embedded patterns of thinking that are no longer serving us well. We’re not always aware of them and sometimes when aware not sure what we can do.

Here are a few examples of typical potentially harmful styles of thinking that are worth identifying and avoiding:

1. Negatively selective radar
Your radar is tuned to the negative. It’s a sophisticated old radar because it also has a magnifying glass. And that magnifying glass is peculiar in that it has a blind spot. A blind spot for the positive. The negative is magnified, the positive overlooked and the focus on the negatives out of the context of all the rich, nurturing and lovely things makes life seem a very bleak place.

Solution: First awareness, then retune the radar.

Leif Garrett said: “I’ve come to believe that there is always something positive, even in a negative situation.”

2. Blaming
Classic disempowering thinking and widespread in those suffering from addiction. Someone else is responsible for the way you feel. Or sometimes, you blame your own ‘deficiencies’ for every single problem there is.

This is a clever little distortion of thinking that is guaranteed to keep us from emotional freedom. If someone else is to blame for your pain then you can’t do anything about it.

Solution: Take responsibility for your own feelings (even if what happened was not your responsibility). It’s up to you to change the way you feel.

Eric Allenbaugh said: “Yes, there are times when something is legitimately not our fault. Blaming others, however, keeps us in a stuck state and is ultimately rough on our own self-esteem.”

3. Catastrophising
A variation on selective radar, only here negative anticipation of the future is what’s going on. Disaster is just around the corner. You play out ‘what ifs’ in your mind.

If you are imaginative enough, you can have conjure up a scenario where you, your loved ones and the cat are all dead by tea-time due to an asteroid strike that only you had a premonition of. Underlying this is lack of faith in your self and your resilience.

Solution: get some support from positive thinkers and build self-worth.

4. Fallacy of fairness
You have a strong sense of fairness and feel it’s reasonable to expect that life should be fair. What’s frustrating is that while you know what is fair, others don’t necessarily agree with you.

Resentment develops.

Frances Childress describes it like this: “Fallacy of Fairness is a cognitive distortion compelling people to obsessively walk around with a measuring ruler assuring everything ‘is fair and even.’ It is the belief they are the best ones who can measure what is fair and what is not fair, taken to the extent the inequalities consume their thoughts with agitation until fairness is achieved.”

Because fairness is relative and essentially self-defined, conflict arises and you feel emotional pain. Essentially you feel that it’s ‘not fair’.

Solution: Work on humility, plurality and open-mindedness. The fallacy of fairness is grandiosity disguised as saint-like righteousness.

5. Black and white thinking
Everything is ‘great’ or it’s ‘terrible’. You think in extremes. The Lift Depression Website describes the issue like this:

[It]“occurs when the emotional limbic system inhibits access to the rational neocortex. To put it simply, the brain gets too ‘emotionally aroused’ to think rationally.

Black and white thinking is a feature of all highly emotional states, including depression and anxiety.”

I liked George Carlin’s light-hearted take: “Have you ever noticed? Everyone going slower than you is an idiot and everyone going faster is a maniac.”

This polarisation is dangerous because you tend to end up judging yourself on the same terms and if you are not ‘perfect’ then you are failing. Growing up in recovery means accepting shades of grey and a more nuanced view of the world.

Solution: Be prepared to not judge, to learn and to see the world in glorious Technicolor.

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