Accentuate The Negative: A Word About Distorted Thinking



So, just to start 2015 off with a bang, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My mind is like a bad neighborhood – no one should go in there alone. And yet I’ve lived with it and been plagued by all manner of the detrimental, destructive thinking processes and patterns that reside there almost all of my life. Kay Redfield Jamison even wrote a book about it – “An Unquiet Mind”. Yes, like a hamster on a wheel my mind never stops, and even when there’s nothing negative going on per se, it will create something for me to be negative about, just to be sure about the inevitability of it and all.

Case in point – judging people. Ever find yourself just seething over something you perceived someone to have done to you and then proceed to mentally accuse them of this, that, or the other on top of their original “offense”? No decent human being who thought anything of you would do such such dastardly deed, because, let’s face it – people can be real assholes…Only to find out – for the eleventy millionth time – it really wasn’t anything like what you thought it was?

Conversely, have you ever given your consent, trust and/or loyalty to someone or something, all while blowing past that little voice in the back of your head or the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you that you ought do something a tad differently (or at the very least consider it more carefully), and then have it blow up in your face, leaving you with a nasty case of the “What ifs and If onlys”?

Have you ever done these things enough that you’ve come to feel extremely doubtful of your worth and abilities, or wonder why you’re scared to death of other people?

This is all not to mention the main event – the judging you do of yourself, just to be completely thorough; I mean, no one beats me up like I do. For example, I’ve judged myself almost non-stop throughout the writing of this piece over every…little…detail. Oh, dear, is there a warehouse located somewhere in, say, Greenland that I might be able to store all of this in instead of my brain? Yeah, I didn’t think so…

And all that’s just the tip of the iceberg. To say these unfortunate distortions of reality are bewitching, bothersome, and bewildering is like saying Debbie’s a bit of a downer, or that wild cats have a few sharp claws. And some teeth. Oh yes, they do have teeth.

You know what else these unfortunate distortions of reality are also like, almost exactly in that they seem to occur organically and naturally and therefore I buy them as authentic and pure without question? They’re a LOT like the addict thought process, and the results are quite similar – they are cyphers designed to keep one clinging to them as a barnacle to a ship, but that get one nowhere of their own volition. Oh, and they make you feel bad. 

But grinning and bearing it aside and in spite of all this, every once in a while an inspired thought grounded in truthful clarity elbows it’s way through the crowd to me, and it’s in those moments that I cling to the belief that it really doesn’t have to be this way. And I don’t know about you, but I’m damned tired of it, so I declare to you all here and now that in addition to what I hope will be helpful, inspiring and useful posts throughout the New Year, I will be concentrating a great deal of my energy on learning how to think in new, different, vastly better ways. Because if I learned one thing about myself in sobriety that I never knew before, it’s this: I can.

Hope you’ll come along for the ride and maybe even share some of your own stuff, too. 🙂


  1. Richard on January 10, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    Another great piece, Bobbi. It’s lovely to read the many comments from our wonderful friends. Mary, I wonder if the fellow you’re referring to was Rex, who lived in Thailand? I actually have information on him, if you would like. He was quite the proponent of REBT, and if I’m not mistaken has become a clinician of some kind passing along his wisdom.

  2. Angela Nolan on January 10, 2015 at 5:40 am

    Bobbi, All,

    Thank you so much for this post and all your insightful and helpful comments. I really, really needed to read this this morning and here it is. One thing I love about sobriety, without going all woo-woo, is that synchronicities really do begin to happen when we’re on the lookout for them. I’ve been headed towards beating myself up pretty good lately, and I needed to be reminded that that is a tool of the LB, and a damned good one he’s got up his sleeve. I feel like Wendy doesn’t really want to see me; I start thinking about Celeste laying in that bed in that nursing home with absolutely no hope of survival; my mind begins to linger on past mistakes and regrets (got plenty of those!), and before I know it, I’m not only in a lot of physical pain, but I’m making things much, much worse for myself with my thoughts. I’m learning that when I start to get like this, we’ll call it depression for lack of a better word, I have to be very careful about what books I read, what I choose to watch or not on the telly (really don’t watch it when I’m home), and who I’m around.

    Thanks again, so much, each of you, for being here to light the way for us stragglers. 🙂


    • Bobbi C. on January 10, 2015 at 6:32 pm

      Thanks for your reply, Ang, and I agree with you not only about noticing the synchronicities (Rich calls them “Strange Weirdos”, and we’re guaranteed to at least one a day, if not more) but about how one thing leads to another if you don’t cut it off somewhere. I can start feeling very anxious and/or depressed all by just thinking the way I too often do, and then if I compound it by surrounding myself with depressing shit it’s all the worse. You know that old saying – misery loves company! 🙂

      The reality is, with a few exceptions, things are never as great or as terrible as they seem (and neither are people), but one of the other things I’ve noticed is how used to thinking in these ways we get, to the point we head through life on autopilot so much of the time and yet wondering why we feel so bad mentally, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. I know I have!!!

      Glad you found some good things to take away from this, and thanks for joining the conversation!

  3. Craig W on January 6, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Negative thinking? Oh, no, not me. Never. “Realistic” thinking, that’s me! Objectively assessing various characteristics of myself and others and, surprisingly, finding them all to be inadequate.

    Thank you, Bobbi, for this gem of a post. What a great resource you’ve created at the LifeRing Blog!

  4. illona on January 6, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    . . .and I’m in line with Mary and Dennis, too.

  5. illona on January 6, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Yet, the victory is catching ourselves when we dip into distorted thinking, and it seems you have a good handle on this, Bobbi. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to lay bare the inner process. Who is not familiar with some aspect of this dynamic? In fact, I have friends and teachers who refer to this in different ways: “the crazy aunt or uncle up in the attic,” or, “my little schmoos.” A friend says he enters a room, and it’s as though, comically, there are five little “schmoos” under one arm and another four or five under the other arm; and they all enter the room together. This one has an opinion about what my friend looks like, another one thinks the person across from him should be doing something differently, the other is irritated that whatever is going on at the moment is not happening faster, etc.

    So I try to break it down. When I’m doing the dishes, for instance, and catch myself in a negative loop of thought, I try to remember to name the emotion behind the thought, “Oh, anger” or “frustration,” “fear.” Then I say to myself, “no wonder.” This phrase is like a bit of magic. Simply in hearing those words, “no wonder,” a cascade of logical reasons come forward that help me understand why I’m feeling annoyed at this moment, angry or afraid. At a surface level, it often has something to do with the immediate experience. At other times the feeling of what’s going on has ancient roots from childhood and from an old family haze of confusion, pain and misunderstanding–times when my parents were young, stressed, afraid and not parenting well. Whatever the current theme is, it often has a correlate from those early years.

    It’s at this point that I say, internally, “there, there.” Gradually, compassion becomes more readily available. It’s listening to the internal grumps and doing the “there, there” thing that allows empathy to arise–quietly at first and then more strongly. It’s not feeling sorry for. . .it’s having compassion. When my perspective is that of a victim’s, and I feel sorry for myself, there’s a desire to drink to submerge feelings of hopelessness. On the other hand, when compassion meets annoyance or fear, the call to escape is increasingly faint. As long as I’m truly being with what is challenging during a particular day’s events–and with understanding when I can muster it–a desire to drink is less attractive. The mid-brain whisper is less likely to call me off purpose.

    Thank you for working through your process with us, Bobbi, and for laying it out. In this art of working with ourselves and locating the roots and tendrils of peace, paying attention to details is what a masterpiece teaches us to do. This masterpiece is our life, and perhaps it bears clues within itself about how better to perceive it. I’m feeling gratitude that you helped me see this more clearly today.

  6. Dennis Meeks on January 6, 2015 at 7:13 am

    Great topic, Bobbi, and you state it so well. I think, as a “group”, addicts (or whatever you want to call us) have an affinity for negative thinking. We robotically, almost, always go there first!! Beating ourselves up is so easy…we expect it even. It’s like we bully ourselves, for god’s sake! And because those “bad” things about ourselves are so much bigger and meaner than the good ones (or so we think), they pummel the positive. Hell, my bully does it. Less so, though, than previously. Learning that very difficult lesson which you wisely call “I can” helps more than anything, in my opinion. Once we can, the bully comes around less. Increased confidence threatens the bully, sometimes anyway.

  7. mary shortell on January 6, 2015 at 5:15 am

    Great article, Bobbi! When I first came to LifeRing, there was a list regular who used to really hammer home the dangers of distorted thinking and unhelpful self-talk. He brought it up so frequently, that the practice of recognizing that kind of thinking, and stopping it, became doable. Later, “The Four Agreements”, and the rudimentary aspects of The Law of Attraction, provided additional tools in thought re-direction. The result is that I NEVER slip back into negative thinking. Yeah, right! 🙂

    • Bobbi C. on January 7, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Hi Mary, Dennis, Illona and Craig! Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. As always, they’re very appreciated, and as usual, I have some responses, so here goes:

      Mary, I wonder whatever happened to that fellow on the list, as I’d really like to pick his brain right about now, 😀 ! I’ve also read “The Four Agreements” which I agree is a simple, practical, and yet profound set of basic ground rules that would help all of us have a better, easier time through life, and yet are still very difficult to practice! But I suspect if anyone’s been able to put it to good use, it would be you.

      Dennis, I love that you compare our inner bombardments “bullying ourselves”, as that’s really the most apt description of what it is. I started calling my inner bully “The Warden” some time ago, even before I got sober, and based on a picture of her one of my former shrinky dinks asked me to drw of her, boy is she one nasty beeyatch **Brrrrr! Shivering at the memory**!

      Someone else on the list (I can’t tell you who it was because unfortunately I can’t remember right now) called it their “inner Dobby”, based on a poor creature in JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series who literally beats himself mercilessly over just about everything, and that sums it up pretty well, too.

      Some of it for me, I think, is based on the idea that if I just kick the shit out of myself enough then perhaps I can head committing some of my more horrid behaviors – like being alive, and breathing, and stuff – off at the pass, and then some of it’s the added benefit of it not hurting as much if/when someone else goes ahead and kicks me, as I’ve already done the great bulk of it for them. Handy, no?

      Illona, there’s so much fantastic stuff in your comment I really don’t even know where to start! But will say this: I think I’ve become MUCH better over the years about talking myself down from the ledge, so to speak, in that I’m able to get through some things I’m not sure I would have even tried pre-sobriety without a total breakdown of one kind or another, and that in itself has been a definite triumph in many ways. But you know…I’m not sure I’ve ever even considered giving myself a little “There, there,” or “No wonder,” – not even once. Never even occurred to me to do so. Man…

      Craig, well, as usual you put it in a nutshell so well, and also as usual, it’s you have to thank for giving me the opportunity to post on this blog!

      Anyway…I could go on and on, but I’ll stop for the time being and just also say you guys are the best! Thanks again. 🙂