It’s common to interpret life in certain ways that actually aren’t that healthy. For instance, let’s say you’re walking down the street and someone is walking toward you in the opposite direction. Suddenly, as they are passing you, you notice that this person is looking at you and has a snarled look on their face.

Of course, it’s easy to think that there’s something about you that caused the snarled, mean look. You might begin to look at your clothes – did you dress okay today? Or maybe you smell yourself – maybe you forgot to put on deodorant this morning? You question yourself again and again because you’ve got to be the reason for this stranger’s off putting look.

However, the truth is there are all sorts of reasons behind the look on that stranger’s face – all of which you won’t ever know. Perhaps that person just got out of a bad argument with a spouse. Maybe that person just learned that someone is stealing their money. Maybe that person had an uncomfortable thought just as they were passing you and the result was a snarled look on their face.

The point is that it’s common to create certain meaning out of experiences that simply aren’t true. And for those who tend to be sensitive to the behaviors of others, it’s easy to create meaning that’s harmful to ourselves, which can in turn lead to drinking, drug use, and relapse. Our thought patterns can create unnecessary meaning that can be harmful.

Types of thought patterns that lead to creating harmful meaning in our lives include:

  • –Self-Flawed – I am inadequate, unworthy, or unlovable.
  • –Helplessness – There is nothing that I can do to change my life.
  • –Pessimistic – Life is chaotic, stressful, and miserable.
  • –Catastrophic – Something terrible is going to happen; I need to expect the worst.
  • –Resistant –Life is a battle; I must fight to have what I want, resist what I don’t want, and hang onto what I have.
  • –Victim – Other people and events are to blame for my life.
  • –Telescopic – I forever feel like a failure because I ignore my successes and focus on what is flawed.
  • –Co-Dependent – I need another to make me whole; I do not let others close to me or they might not like me.
  • –Resentful – I will never forgive others for what they’ve done to me.
  • –All or Nothing – I am either the best or the worst at things and there is no in between.
  • –Perfectionist – Everything must be perfect for me to be happy; nothing I do is ever good enough.
  • –People Pleasing – If I can get others to like me, I’ll feel better about who I am.
  • –Wishful – I wish I could have other things because the things that I do have are not of any value.
  • –Serious – Playing and having fun is a waste of time because life is too full of problems.
  • –Externalized – Happiness and satisfaction can be found outside of myself. Therefore changing the external world will help how I feel inside.


When these thought patterns affect how we derive meaning from experiences and when the meaning we create is harmful, it’s time to reevaluate our thought patterns. In recovery, a therapist or drug counselor can facilitate this type of change.

If you’re struggling with thought patterns, consider working with a mental health professional to change and replace them with positive patterns that healthy and life-affirming.

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