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Negative mental narratives: A threat to recovery

By Tim Woodley

As we grow older and live our lives, it’s normal for us to establish stories around our path through life. The collection of our experiences, successes and failures comes together to create a narrative about who we are – and how much we love or hate ourselves.

These narratives play an important role in our ability to delay gratification and challenge ourselves for the better. They’re important barriers to identify in drug and alcohol treatment and therapy, and we’ll be talking about them in this article as relates to rehab programmes.


The negative narrative

Negative narratives operate on the conscious level but tend to come from deeper, more unconscious parts of our minds. Deeply rooted self-loathing, for instance, can manifest in a simple decision to not care for ourselves on a given day or to consume a substance we know we shouldn’t.

Often hailing back to traumatic experiences in our early youth and childhood, the slippery slope of negative thought is more easily believed as adults than positive stories about ourselves. We’ve failed before, so why should we believe the future to hold any different outcome? Many adults, particularly those struggling with problematic drug and alcohol use, find themselves locked in a daily struggle against the simple belief that they are not worth saving.

The truth, of course, couldn’t be more different. Every person is worthy of a life with dignity, is worthy of being loved, and is worthy of being free from addiction to drugs and alcohol.


Danger during rehab

Negative narratives come to the surface during drug and alcohol treatment for the simple reason that the person is laid bare before others. Your therapists and peers in group work both will come to know you intimately, building a mutual network of support that nevertheless leaves you exposed. Trust is required, and the development of that trust typically clashes with the negative narratives common to individuals struggling with drug and alcohol use..

Judging yourself for the presence of this negative self-belief is a mistake many make during a drug and alcohol treatment programme. If a person is able to detach their view of themselves from the narrative that holds them back, rehab programmes like our Dayhab offering provide a means to understand the origins of such destructive self-belief – and how it manifests in behaviour that leads to and sustains addiction and substance misuse.


Achieving understanding

For many, the presence of a negative self-belief or narrative stems from childhood and is something that may never entirely go away and as such is carried into adulthood. The process of therapy and drug and alcohol treatment allows one to see and understand negative patterns of thought when they arise and explore their origins, allowing them to be addressed and to live alongside its voice without being so affected by it.

Dealing with negative narratives such as shame, guilt, self-esteem and self-worth are key issues that need to be addressed for those struggling with drugs and alcohol. Negative narratives manifest in destructive behaviour, and by examining a person in one-to-one therapy and through group work, an understanding can be achieved that separates the person from their destructive self-beliefs. By doing so, judgement is removed and, although the voice may remain, its control over behaviour is lessened.


We’re here if you’d like to talk

Despite them usually being private things, negative narratives are very common in adults across the world. In closing for today’s article, we’d like to remind you that you are far from alone or unusual if you have these negative self-beliefs; they’re shared by billions of others and are no reflection of your worth or character.

If you’d like to speak to a member of the Help Me Stop team directly on this subject, you can reach us by phone on 0208 191 8920. Or, if you’d rather, you can get in touch using our contact form.

More details on our Dayhab programme, available at a tenth of the price of traditional residential rehab, can be found here.