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Don’t Be so Hard on Yourself: How Self-Criticism Fuels Addiction and Mental Illness

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If you are someone who has battled mental health issues and or addiction for a significant portion of your life, you understand the processes, routines, check-ins, and self-criticism involved in getting clean, sober, and healthy — and staying that way. But sometimes, the checklists can feel like too much to bear. Even when we are doing everything “right,” it can feel like nothing is working when we suffer an anxiety attack, a bout of depression, or relapse. It’s in these moments we have to remember to be the most careful with our hearts.

Whether we want to believe it or not, in these darker moments, we are truly doing the best we can. Recovery is a slow process, and that means we need to honor the concepts of time and patience. Sometimes when we plateau in recovery,  we are visited by the “self-criticism monster.” This nasty narrative lives in the depths of our minds and keeps pushing us. Sometimes self-criticism can be a good thing. It can keep us disciplined and on the right track, but what happens when we let the self-criticism monster take over and run the show? The result is that we become so hard on ourselves, we begin to move away from health and wellness and back into the depths of addiction’s reigns.

Negative Narrative Cycles

Let’s say you struggle with your mental health. You have anxiety, and you are prone to panic attacks. You’ve come a long way from battling addiction. It’s been two years since the last time you’ve used, but you are so afraid of relapsing, you begin to push yourself harder to ensure you stay clean. Here’s what happens: perhaps you start the week eating well with limited caffeine because you know caffeine affects your sleep cycle (which affects your anxiety), but by the end of the week, work has created significant stress in your body. You stop sleeping well, and now you’re having caffeine twice a day. The cycle gets worse until you have a panic attack and are forced to take a mental health day.

Now you’re not only in a bad way emotionally and physically, but mentally, you’re angry. You’re mad that you “broke” your routine, and disappointed that you weren’t able to manage your stress with coping mechanisms. This cycle makes you feel depressed, more anxious, and in need of something external for comfort.

The reality here is about learning and accepting the cycle and flux of life. There are always going to be things we can’t control, such as work stress or internalized thoughts, but we can control how we react to them. Life becomes a balancing act between self-care and self-destruction. The number one takeaway here stems from your inner narrative. 

Let’s say this scenario happens to you. What will berating yourself do in this situation? How will it help you find your footing and move beyond a difficult day or week? It won’t. When sh*t happens in life — and it will — it’s important to remember to stop, breathe, and remind yourself you are doing the best you can. Remove the negative narrative and see how much easier the task of resetting your mental and physical well-being becomes.

Redirecting Negative Self-Criticism During Difficult Moments

One of the hardest parts of overcoming and controlling our mental health issues, which include addiction, is learning to trust our gut. Intuition is the thing inside us that tells us a person/situation is good, gives us warning signals, and overall, helps guide us on our life journey. But when mental health and addiction come into play, it can be difficult to hear this voice.

It’s important to remember one thing when learning to establish our intuitive voice and acknowledge the drives within our systems: our intuition, our inner guidance system, will never hurt us. It won’t tell us negative narratives, and it won’t weave false fantasies. Our intuition and the connected internal monologue are always positive, helpful, and kind. If we can remember this fact, we can remind ourselves that if we are caught in the web of negative self-criticism, that voice is the disease of addiction and mental illness. It can take some time to differentiate, but the quickest way to stop being so hard on yourself is realizing that you, your soul, is a kind, gentle being that simply wants to be loved and cared for.

Learning to hear that voice isn’t always easy, especially if you’ve relapsed in the past, but you can learn to trust yourself again and work towards a positive internal relationship. If this narrative sounds familiar, Burning Tree Ranch might be a great option for you. We are a residential recovery facility that works with populations who are struggling to get clean and sober, and stay that way. Let us help you hear your intuition and get you back on track to loving yourself and your life. Call today to learn about our 30 and 90-day treatment programs: (855-458-2797)


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