Negative Attitudes Prevent Positive Change

Painful feelings can be useful. Anxiety and depression can be critical components in the recovery process. Often, depression, sadness, and anxiety nudge people to make changes in their lives and help create the motivation for change to take place. The expression “no pain, no gain” can be related to the anxiety or discomfort a recovering individual feels while undergoing the process of change to reach a better state. Identifying the barriers standing in the way of change helps a person work through the process of change.

Old attitudes and beliefs can get in the way of recovery. A few examples of the attitudes that can block change are negative thinking, being judgmental and critical of others, staying stuck in a “victim” role, needing to be perfect and always right, or beliefs like not needing others and not wanting to ask for help. When people begin to recognize these old attitudes and beliefs they often say, “I was my own worst enemy.” Furthermore, people find it difficult to identify with symptoms they have not experienced “yet.” It is human nature to say, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” or “I have to personally experience something before I believe it will happen to me, because I am different.”

The Leap of Faith

Treatment often takes a “leap of faith.” A leap of faith means beginning to trust that the consequences of the late stages of untreated psychiatric or substance use disorders must simply be accepted. A person begins to realize it is not necessary to personally experience all the symptoms or consequences before starting to get help. For example, accepting the fact that untreated depression increases the chances of a heart attack does not require personal experience. Nor does an individual need to personally experience the reality that continued substance dependence lead to life-threatening diseases like liver failure. After all, experiencing all the realities of a fatal disease would, of course, be fatal.

“Yeah, Buts” are initially a common response to most treatment information. It is a protection against the realities of a progressive disorder and the need for treatment. A person may say, “Yeah, but that does not apply to me,” or “Yeah, but at least I am not that bad.” The real question is, “Just how bad does it have to get before a person begins to accept help and make changes?” It is a myth that a person must “hit bottom” in order to begin to make changes. Hitting bottom with either a psychiatric or substance disorder can be a devastating place to be. Late stage symptoms or consequences that have not been experienced simply means they have not been experienced “yet.” A person will experience the late stage symptoms of an untreated mental health or substance use disorder eventually. Without recovery, all the yet will become “now.” A more appropriate response to “Yeah, but I don’t have medical problems from major depression or substance dependence” is “Well, not yet.”

Delaying Change and Recovery

It is easy for a person to make verbal declarations of wanting change. Let’s say a person says they want to pick a pen up off the table. They may say, “I am really, really going to try to pick up the pen this time. I am going to try harder than I have ever tried before.” In fact, they may add those five often used words, “This time I mean it.” This is not to say that all this energy spent is not worthwhile. It does take time to put the action with the decision to make changes. It is just that all the time that was spent declaring how had the person is going to try never really produced the desired result…picking up the pen!

So, many times a delay in deciding to take action in changing a behavior is based on thinking the decision is so important it needs to be put off until exactly the right time. For some people this results in a temporary delay because they are working through the pros and cons of change. For others it may result in never taking action, which keeps a person stuck in old behaviors indefinitely. If the delay results in not getting help for a disorder, like depression, then a person’s symptoms can worsen in the meantime. If the delay results in putting off a decision to work toward abstinence the consequences can begin to pile up.

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