How can you connect more with good things in your life? How can you practice and train your mind to take a break from negative thoughts, fears and worries, and instead focus on nice experiences, pleasant feelings and people who bring you joy?
Do you recognize some of the following statements?
- You are afraid of feeling too well, too happy.
- When you feel bad and have problems, you think, “That’s just the way my life is”.
- When you feel bad, you identify with and tell yourself that your life is full of pain and problems.
Do you know that these thoughts are defense mechanisms? What do you think they are protecting you against?
As an adult child of alcoholics (link: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200702/toxic-brew), some of your feelings and thoughts can be described as the effects of having an alcoholic parent. You developed them as a response to dysfunctional family roles. Link: Read more about family roles and exercises to identify which role you may belong to in “Raised in a Bottle”. These feelings and thoughts are NOT who you are as a person. They are learned coping mechanisms, which can be unlearned, and instead replaced with confidence and recovery.
In this blog post, I will explain the background and reasons for these thoughts and feelings. I will also give you tools and specific exercises, so you can practice and train yourself to look at the world differently and build more self-esteem.
Most people just want to live good lives and be happy. When you experience yourself being sadder than the average person and you are afraid of experiencing joy when something good happens, I want you to know what lies below. I also want you to know what you can actively do to avoid living your entire life without being able to look forward to anything nice or pleasant. It is important for you to know that as the son or daughter of an alcoholic, you needed to protect yourself against disappointments and neglect.
In other words, I want you to know that you can live your life and be able to look forward to good and pleasant things in the future.
A Childhood Full of Disappointments
Having had an alcoholic father or an alcoholic mother, it might have been helpful for you not to expect good things to come to you. You became afraid of being too excited, because the pain of being let down again and again was too much. As a child of an alcoholic you very likely experienced countless cancellations, disappointments and perhaps drama and violence on Christmas Eve or your birthday. In order to avoid being too disappointed, you needed to develop a defense mechanism. You needed to develop thick skin. Since your alcoholic parents did not change, all you could do to protect yourself was not getting too excited and not look forward to presents or promises.
Adult Life Can Bring Joy and Happiness
You are no longer that child. You are no longer a codependent child of an alcoholic. You can actively do things to feel better. And you can actively work on the courage to actually expect good things to happen to you.
The way out of the negative pattern is to acknowledge that you are not a person with a negative destiny who always will have a difficult life. You are not doomed. You grew up in a family with alcohol abuse, and that is why you were often let down, neglected and treated badly.
I want you to know that you deserve to be happy. You deserve to make your dreams come true. And you have agency and the ability to change and to practice seeing good things, seeing yourself as a person full of good qualities.
Practice Looking Forward and Expecting Good Things
Start consciously dreaming about things you would like to happen. You might even be able to visualize that they have already happened. Perhaps you would like to travel, change jobs, meet someone special. Focus on your wishes and goals.
Your mind will become stronger when you start allowing yourself to dream and think more positively. You are not protecting yourself when you refuse to expect good things to happen. On the contrary, you rob yourself of feeling joy while looking forward to a particular gathering with friends or a delicious meal. Start looking forward to nice occasions. Start planning events and time with people you appreciate and start looking forward to them.
For a month, every night before you go to bed, I suggest you list three things you are grateful and thankful for having experienced during the day. Think about the situation, the people and the surroundings. Try to consciously think about how it has been an important and positive experience. By doing this, you move your focus away from looking for mistakes and catastrophic thoughts. Instead, you are training your mind and memory to collect good and pleasant memories. An added benefit is that you can look at the list in the morning when you wake up – and perhaps begin looking forward to more wonderful experiences during the coming day.
Strengthen Your Mind, Practice Holding On to Good Memories
Hold on to good experiences. Talk about them. Hang pictures and photos of good times around your home where you will see them frequently. Remind yourself about the good times, and try to hold on to the feelings as long as you can. Remind yourself of your accomplishments. Of all the good things you have done with friends. By doing this, you are training your mind to focus on the good and positive things in your life. It will make it easier for you to get the better of your old negative expectations. Perhaps you can look upon it as a workout. Just like lifting weights helps you build muscle, by training your thoughts and thinking about good experiences, you are building mental strength and resilience.
Smile during the day. Smile, when you look yourself in the mirror. Smile at people you feel like smiling at, even if you do not know them. Smile, when you get up in the morning. The physical act of smiling helps you out of your state of alert. It releases hormones that help you relax.
Alcohol abuse creates dysfunctional families, many of which have been caught in negative, sorrowful and meaningless situations. There is a lot to cry over and grieve. When I suggest you smile, I do not want you to be dishonest to yourself or your feelings. If you feel a lot of grief and frustration due to your alcoholic parents then make sure you have room to feel those feelings.
This exercise is about kicking the habit of being stuck in problems, depression, melancholy and sadness, especially when they are things you cannot do anything about anyway. You are an adult now and you have the freedom to break free of unhealthy patterns caused by your alcoholic family. One way to break free is in relation to gloomy moods and atmosphere.
Exercise: Write 10 Positive Words That Describe You
Try to pick at least 10 words from the list below. Perhaps you feel some of them do not match you, but try anyway. Write them down on a piece of paper.
Beautiful, lovely, wonderful, coveted (?), irreplaceable, funny, fantastic, hot, exciting, interesting, imaginative, responsible, mature, capacious (?, rummelig), reliable, disciplined, cheerful, positive, dedicated, strong, warm, reasonable, humorous, intelligent, mild, open for embrace (favnende?), inspires confidence, attentive, loving, friendly, magnificent, splendid, energetic, charming, faithful, gorgeous, glorious, steady, good, spell-binding, authentic, generous, charismatic, loyal, attractive, accommodating, wise, brave, patient, decisive, active, sweet, sensitive, unique, clear, thorough, constructive, serious, smart, fancy, competent, deliberate, full of ideas, creative, sensual, determined, playful, alive, expressive, musical, social, great fun, festive, happy, open, confident, giving, conscientious, full of heart, interested, present, fun to be with, well-functioning, healthy, understanding, decent, faithful, empathetic, assertive, just, forward-looking, effective, ready, real, honest, full of talent, warm, humorous, quick-witted, bright, fast, special, popular, well-liked, natural, enthusiastic, adventurous, innovative, delightful, entertaining, humble, conscious, cool, radiant, inventive, brilliant, supportive, considerate, sympathetic, well-groomed, pleasant, inspiring, well-read, experienced, forgiving, witty, successful, wining, lucky, firm, steadfast, tolerant, persistent, clever, capable, pretty, shapely, professional, dignified, irresistible, acknowledging, full of good human qualities, remarkable, notable, important, courteous, well-behaved, special, valuable, liberated, strong-willed, strong-minded, admirable, impressive, breathtaking, goal-oriented, purposeful…
- Say these words to yourself as often as you can.
- Place the words somewhere you will see them throughout the day.
This way you can train your mind to be more open to joyful events and happiness. Read the words as frequently as you can.
Make an effort and find what makes YOU happy, what gives YOU joy.
Nourish it and learn to look after it. Well-being is a skill and just like all skills it takes practice to master it.