I have come to see a connection between self-hate and addiction. I have come to understand that negative self-talk is the same as eating junk food.
People know it is bad for them, but they keep doing it. Why? There has to be a payoff for any behavior we do, otherwise we wouldn’t keep doing it.
Children who misbehave do so because it gets them attention. Any attention is better than no attention. If the parents don’t make a fuss over them when they do something right, but yell when they do something wrong, the child will persist in the misbehavior. This seems paradoxical. You’d think the child would want to not get yelled at, but really the goal is attention. Getting negative attention is still getting attention.
There are plenty of people whose parents yelled at them all the time when they were growing up. They were constantly taught that they was bad, wrong, stupid. Their parents drilled into them how imperfect they were.
The bad part is that they often learn this lesson well. Even with their parents not around, they will often tell themselves the same things. They may hit themselves or curse at themselves the same way their parents did when they made a mistake.
Sometimes they will seems to set themselves up for failure. They will not plan enough time to do a project. They will leave things for the last minute. They are then constantly late and overwhelmed and making mistakes. It is a self perpetuating cycle.
The scary part – they are living up to their parent’s image of them. There is some odd negative validation going on. There is a strange payoff.
This self-abuse is the same as a person who constantly binges on junk food. Our bodies crave fats and salt and sugar, even though it is bad for us. We will overeat at a buffet and feel miserable, yet we will do it again and again. Why? We know we should eat less and eat better food, but we don’t? Why?
It is the same thing. We get a payoff. We like the feeling we get from overeating and from eating unhealthy food. We like feeling like we are bad, like we are rebels. We are rebelling against good by being bad. The “bad boy” is a hero.
We have to retrain ourselves to get pleasure from good things. Nobody gets excited about broccoli and lima beans. Nobody gets excited about going to the gym. The payoff is quieter. The payoff is slower. It is harder to notice.
Your brain works better. Your clothes fit better. Your knees don’t hurt. Your heart works better. Your health improves. These are pretty good payoffs, but you don’t see them right away.
The same is true with negative thinking.
Negative self talk is an addiction the same way that overeating and drugs are. And it is healed the same way.
We humans need habits. Instead of going on autopilot and living with bad habits running your life, fill up your time with good habits. Seek positive choices and do them. Leave yourself reminders. You’ll forget. That is a normal trick of the bad-habit brain. That isn’t you.
Sometimes our minds are like small children that just want attention. Just like with children, ignore the bad and praise the good.
Make an intentional choice to say good things to yourself. Know that it takes a long time to retrain your mind. Nothing is automatic or easy. It takes a long time to get well. Have patience with the process. Understand that you won’t have patience at the beginning. That too is part of the process.
When you do something good, notice it. Don’t dismiss it. Write up a certificate. Draw up an award. Write down a list of all the good things you did that day.
Don’t make a negative list (“didn’t wreck the car”, “didn’t get into a fight”). While those are good things, work on noticing the little things that you did right. They have a way of hiding at first. It will get easier the more you do this. Make it a daily practice to write down at least three good things that happened that day. When that gets easy, increase the number.
Give yourself easy goals to start with. You are taking baby steps, not running a marathon.
You have to choose to love yourself in a way you were not shown how to by your parents or the people who you were raised with.
Sometimes we have to re-parent ourselves.
Sometimes they broke us, because they themselves were broken. They didn’t know any better. That doesn’t excuse the damage they did. But it does explain it, a little. People tend to repeat bad habits. People who were hurt tend to become people who hurt other people.
You don’t have to repeat the same bad habits. You can heal that wound.
I’m not going to lie here – it hurts to heal that wound. Just like with a broken leg, sometimes it has to be broken to finally heal right. It is painful whether the wound is physical or emotional or mental. It takes a long time to heal.
But it is so worth it. Who wants to walk with an emotional limp all the time? Sometimes it is “the devil you know” so you stick with it, because change is scary. But trust me, press on.
That pain you feel from trying to make a good change is a sign of healing. Don’t run from it. Lean into it, breathe, and walk forward. It will get easier.
And know that you aren’t alone on this journey.
A lot of us hide our brokenness, because we were taught that our brokenness is shameful. It isn’t. It is part of being human, and being human is a messy thing.