I have written about my ability to manipulate my own beliefs and experiences to suit my addictions many times. I would venture to guess most addicts have an uncanny ability to do this, which is probably one of the reasons why we remain addicts for so long. If we could only speak or hear the truth, we would never have allowed ourselves to indulge in our addictions to the extent to which we did. No, at some point we would have had to acknowledge the stupidity in our actions and forced ourselves to make a change. Instead, we used the power of manipulation to influence our own beliefs and actions. This tactic is one of many tactics employed by the addict to help us maintain and even further our addictions. While I have frequently written about this idea in reference to myself, I have never really defined what it is and how dangerous it can be, especially to an addict.
We subconsciously and even consciously distort truth and reality
to support false beliefs
I am talking about the idea of cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are the way we justify to ourselves something, usually negative, is true. These distortions are generally directly linked to something else I have written a lot about, core beliefs. We subconsciously and even consciously distort truth and reality to support false beliefs we have formed over periods of time about ourselves and the world. These distortions allow us to collect the evidence we need to justify our negative core beliefs. It sounds weird, doesn't it? To collect evidence to support negativity. But, most people do this on, at least, some level. The addict, however, does this on almost every level. It is, after all, one of the reasons we drink. We drink to drown out the feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, fear, anxiety, loss, and a myriad of other feelings we would rather not feel.
The most interesting aspect of cognitive distortions and core beliefs is how they are only a minimal part of the truth of our reality. In some cases, there is actually no truth present in them whatsoever. The obvious question then is, why do we work so hard to engage with cognitive distortions in order to support our negative core beliefs? It is a really good question, and to be honest, it is the question of the century. Answering this question appeals to our why's, which I have also written a lot about. Why do we drink? Why do we want to quit? Answers to both questions lie in our core beliefs and cognitive distortions. In order to adequately answer these questions, however, we have to be able to look past our addictions. As I have said before, the reasons we drink rarely have anything to do with alcohol.
A person is generally more motivated to do something out of fear of loss
than out of the joy of gain
With that said, we also have to understand that we, as human beings, tend to lean toward the negative. Psychologists call it a negativity bias. We innately focus on negativity more than we do on positivity. For example, a person is generally more motivated to do something out of fear of loss than out of the joy of gain. Meaning, I am more likely to do something if I am afraid I will lose something else as a result of inaction. We are less motivated to do something for gain. I found this very interesting, but I guess perception plays a role in this as well. Nevertheless, the point is we have to be aware of our proclivity for negativity in order to adjust or focus more toward the positive. This is the only way to affect change in our core beliefs.
Evolution plays a role in our negativity bias as well. Think about it. Our ancestors lived in a world of fight or flight. Each day was literally a fight for survival. In such an environment, a person did not have the luxury of positivity. In order to survive, our ancestors had to live with a constant expectation of death. It was all around them all the time. If they let their guard down, they may have starved to death, died of thirst, froze to death, or fallen victim to a predator. Positivity did not aid the survival of our ancestors, fear and action did. With a history like this, it is no wonder we tend to lean toward the negative. Thankfully, we do not live in that world any longer. We are afforded the luxury of positivity, but there is a caveat. We have to choose to enact positivity in our lives. It is not innate, yet.
It stands to reason we can also develop a tendency to see the positive
by way of repetition over time as well
Back to cognitive distortions. I have a strong belief we have an inherent ability to change our perceptions of things at will. We have the ability, but that does not mean we are enacting that ability. One way to conceptualize this is to consider what we are already doing, inherently by nature, as talked about earlier. We tend to see the negative first. If we have a tendency to see the negative first, then that means there is always a choice. We just choose to see the negative based on our history. We developed the tendency over time and by way of repetition. Conversely, it stands to reason we can also develop a tendency to see the positive by way of repetition over time as well. In fact, one may argue we could develop positive cognitive distortions too, but they may be just as damaging. The key is to find a balance in the way we perceive the world and in the way the world actually exists. As they say, too much of anything is a bad thing.
What does all of this have to do with addiction and recovery? Well, cognitive distortions are generally the negative things we do to adjust the way we see the world. So, it has everything to do with where I am going to take this blog over the next couple of weeks. There are many different forms of cognitive distortions, but I will focus more on the ones I have personally used and experienced. I will share how my cognitive distortions and core beliefs negatively affected the way I felt about and saw the world. I will also share how I began to shift my focus away from the negative and more toward the positive in each scenario. Here are a couple of examples of my goto cognitive distortions.
Filtering: Focusing on the negative (see what I mean) and ignoring the positive.
Confirmation Bias: The tendency to find evidence that supports our own preexisting beliefs.
Polarizing: The all or nothing way of thinking.
Overgeneralization: Assumes a rule from one experience.
Emotional Reasoning: If I feel it, it must be true.
In my next blog, I will write about my strongest cognitive distortion technique - Filtering. It is the essence of negative core belief formation and something in which I actively participated for most of my adult life. I hope you will join me for this blog series on cognitive distortions.