Stinking Thinking in Recovery

March 19, 2024

What Is Stinking Thinking?

"Stinking thinking" is a term often used in psychology and is a colloquial term for cognitive distortions. These are negative thoughts and beliefs about a situation that, over time, can make life difficult to handle without some form of remedy. This phenomenon consists of our inner dialogue, which criticizes and analyzes every minute detail of our lives providing constant if not incessant negative feedback, which then produces a slurry of negative emotions and energy. This thinking often contributes to feelings of unhappiness, stress, anxiety, or depression.

Modes/Examples of Stinking Thinking

"Stinking Thinking" is a phrase commonly utilized in 12-step programs to describe detrimental thought patterns that exacerbate addiction. These thoughts impair your perception of reality and hinder your capacity to acknowledge your actions responsibly.

Some of the modes of stinking thinking are:

  • Overgeneralization: This is assuming that one point applies to everything. For example, if one fails at one task, think that he/she is a failure in all aspects of their life. Usually, it can be spotted when we use this phrase: This always/never happens to me.

  • Minimization: It occurs when someone diminishes the importance or significance of a significant issue or event. For example, during an argument where someone has hurt a loved one, they might downplay the impact by rationalizing that the person is "just" their mother, thus implying that their actions were justified.

  • Maximization/Magnification – It occurs when individuals amplify minor issues, making them seem larger or more significant than they truly are. For example, when missing one workout session or having a “cheat meal” spells the end of recovery. Or thinking that being slightly overweight means that one is not a good person.

  • Emotional Reasoning: It occurs when we accept our feelings as evidence of truth. For example, if we feel nervous about flying, it’s best to avoid it because the feeling omens an air disaster.

  • Mental Filtering: We filter out any positive regard about our actions and focus solely on the negative. For example, when given feedback, we may have a slurry of compliments, but that one negative feedback is focused exclusively and obsessed over time without number.

  • All-or-Nothing: It is seeing situations in extremes with no middle ground. For instance, believing that if you're not the best at something, you're a total failure.

  • Jumping to conclusions: We jump to conclusions / assume in two ways:
    • Mind Reading – This is when we read into situations without any conclusive evidence about our thoughts. For example, not bothering to ask someone out for a drink because we’ve concluded what his/her response is going to be. We will find that contrary action to this behavior may surprise us with wonders beyond our expectations of others.      
    • Fortune Telling – This is when given a set of circumstances, we can predict its outcomes. For instance, deciding not to go home for the holidays for fear of arguments and conflict notwithstanding current situations at home.
  • Shouldisms/Musterbation: These are thoughts that tell us what we ought to have done. It is obsessional regret over certain situations in life. For example, I should’ve swept the floor last night or I must finish this work before 4 p.m. today.  It conditions joy and therefore is not useful for accepting life on its own terms or as it stands.
  • Labeling: We tend to label ourselves with unhelpful words when we feel bad about something. For example, "I'm worthless because I failed to meet my deadline." Here, it’s important to be real with who we really are as human beings.

  • Personalization: This is taking responsibility for things that are beyond your control or attributing external events to yourself. For instance, blaming yourself for a friend's bad mood.

Importance Of Understanding Stinking Thinking In Recovery?

Understanding stinking thinking in recovery is crucial because it helps individuals recognize and challenge negative thought patterns that can hinder their progress. By identifying and addressing these patterns, individuals can develop healthier coping strategies, improve their emotional well-being, and maintain long-term sobriety. Some more are: 

  • It allows us to be mindful when it happens:
    It is important to learn about “stinking thinking” because we can then catch it when it recurs. Being mindful allows us to formulate alternative behaviors as a means to combat these cognitive distortions.
  • It encourages us to become our own therapists.
    We can dispute these thoughts and beliefs in our daily lives. One way of doing that is by practicing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on ourselves when we are in a cycle of despair and emotional pain. We need to be more curious as to why it is happening and how we can change those thoughts so that our feelings and behavior change towards the positive rather than the negative.
  • Relapse prevention
    Continuous negative dialogue is not healthy for recovery. If not intervened, it will accumulate to a point that relapse becomes the only option out of the pain. Hence, learning to deal with these cognitive disturbances is essential to maintaining one’s sobriety and preventing relapse from recurring.
  • It enhances self-compassion
    What needs to be duly noted is that by being aware of our own negative self-talk, we can take a compassionate stand away from the suffering it creates. We can accept the fact that cognitive distortions are a universal phenomenon and that it is a natural part of the recovering self. Having acceptance in these areas and kindness in turn for these difficult emotions will ease recovery far more than if one is ignorant about these things.

The Solace Difference

At Solace Asia, we guide you on a journey of self-discovery. Through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), interpersonal group therapy, and community living, you or your loved one will engage in a supportive environment where cognitive distortions are addressed and worked through. You will gain insight into practical tools that can be utilized beyond our rehabilitation facility. Our goal is not merely returning as the same person who entered, but fostering personal transformation, which hinges on shifting from critical to constructive thinking. In essence, it's about embracing life to the fullest!

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