I have come to see a connection between self-hate and addiction. I have come to understand that negative self-talk is the same as eating junk food. We know it is bad for us, but we keep doing it. Why? There has to be a payoff for any behavior we do, otherwise we wouldn’t keep doing it.
Children who misbehave do so because it gets them attention. Any attention is better than no attention. If the parents say nothing when they do something right, but yell when they do something wrong, the child will persist in the misbehavior. This seems paradoxical. You’d think the child would want to not get yelled at, but really the goal is attention. Getting negative attention is still getting attention.
There are plenty of us whose parents yelled at us all the time when we were growing up. Some of us were constantly taught that we were bad, wrong, or stupid. Some of our parents drilled into us how imperfect they thought we were. The bad part is that we often learn these lessons well. Even with our parents not around, we will often tell ourselves the same things. We may even hit ourselves or curse at ourselves the same way our parents did when they thought we made a mistake.
This self-abuse is the same as a person who constantly binges on junk food. Our bodies crave fats and salt and sugar, even though it is bad for us. We will overeat at a buffet and feel miserable, yet we will do it again and again. Why? We know we should eat better (and less) food in general, but we don’t? Why?
It is the same thing as negative attention seeking. We get a payoff. We like the feeling we get from overeating and from eating unhealthy food. We like feeling like we are bad, like we are rebels. We are rebelling against good by being bad. We are showing that we are individuals, doing our own thing, even though it is harming us.
In order to heal, we have to retrain ourselves to get pleasure from good things. Nobody gets excited about broccoli or going to the gym. The payoff is harder to notice. But after a while you begin to notice that your thoughts are clearer. Your clothes fit better. Your knees don’t hurt. You can walk further without getting out of breath. These are pretty good payoffs, but we don’t see them right away. Because it is so slow, it is hard to keep up with good habits.
Negative self-talk is an addiction the same way that overeating and drugs are. And it is healed the same way. We humans need habits. Instead of going on autopilot and living with bad habits running your life, make a point to fill up your time with good habits. Seek positive choices and do them. Leave yourself reminders because you’ll forget. (That is a normal trick of the bad-habit brain.) Sometimes our minds are like small children that just want attention. Just like with children, ignore the bad and praise the good.