Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's Fun to Be in the I-O-OH-P (Not): The Dictionary of Self-Loathing

Of all the faux profound psychological games one is forced to play in either group or individual therapy, the one I hate most is the Positive / Negative game.

The idea is to write down. on one side of the paper, all the negative messages you've received about yourself from family, peers or other outside sources since your earliest days of childhood, and then to write down, on the other side of the paper, counter-balancing positive messages to tell yourself.

This is the second time we've had to play this sort of self-loathing game in the Eye-Oh!-Pee. The first time it just depressed and humiliated me. The second time, last night, resulted in one of those moments where if there had been a loaded gun in the room I would surely have turned it on myself, pulled the trigger, and blown my brains out in front of the whole class.

By the time I was done with the exercise, I had a list of negative messages as long as your arm -- but nothing at all in the positive category. There simply is nothing. It's no good putting on s smiley face and just Making Shit Up. 

Of course we were then expected to read our lists to the whole damn class. Of course. You can't express anything privately in these sessions. My head was downturned and I would not meet anyone's eyes, so I was called upon last. I said, "I don't have any positives." The instructor said, "Well, start with the negatives and maybe we can help you with the positives." I said, "I'd rather not." Seriously, who wants to read out a litany one one's flaws and failures when that is all you have? 

Next we were told to pick one of our positives and write it out in big letters. I did mine in block letters with shading. I wrote:


The instructor saw this and said, "Doug, if you're really stuck you can use one of the messages on the blackboard." 

I had read the positive messages on the blackboard earlier. It was all Complete Bullshit like "I am a Caring Person."

Well, no, honestly, I'm not. I mumbled something to the effect of, "I don't believe it," and went right on shading my Nothing and my Zero. 

The instructor said, "Doug, I'm concerned. . . " and before I could even think "Bully for you" B____ chimed in from across the table. B_____ is a big, loudmouthed junkie who is just the sort of person who used to push me around on the playground when I was in school, but he leapt in with, "Yah, I'm concerned, too; you're a good man an' --"

I guess my expression told him to put a sock in it. I wanted to tell him, "What do you know? You don't know me from shit."

I was down for the rest of the evening, right up until bedtime. I didn't sleep well. I guess that it's remarkable that I wasn't tempted to take a drink, not that any stores were open where I could have bought the stuff. But I have to wonder if some of these social worker/instructors really know what they are doing sometimes. Do they know what cans of worms they are opening? Do they know that they are playing with fire?

-- Freder.


  1. Yes, they do know what they are doing. There's an expression in the recovery community that says, "Alcoholics are egomaniacs with low self-esteem." That used to really piss me off when I heard that, but it's pretty accurate. Our egos are the reason for our stubbornness in accepting what is. Our low self esteem often comes from the reasons we drank in the first place. "Big, loudmouthed junkie" has something nicer to say about you than you do. Sometimes the most unlikely people are there to tell us the way it is. Why not borrow his "positive" until you can find some yourself?

  2. I might flip that game over: what are the negatives you tell about yourself, and what are the positives other folks tell you about yourself? You will find the latter to be quite along list, I believe. My own contributions would include: [A] A good, loyal, staunch friend and ally; [B] A talented and creative mind; [C] A warm, soft, and sentimental heart (which can be easily bruised); [D] A worldview that is intelligent, well-read, and well-watched (what IS the term for those who know their film & TV?); [E] A willingness to experiment/adventure that has been too long suppressed, but now has the opportunity to be revived. Those are just the ones off the top of my head; given more time, I'd add to the list, and others would add to what I'd add, as well. Play the game this way and I believe you'll see you're too hard on yourself (as are we all, I suspect, but brother, you're leading the race!). ... I've been right up against it these past two weeks (guess who has to be at work at 8AM Sunday?), but I'll be calling as soon as things start to settle down (sometime next week, I hope!). Remember Don McGregor's sign-offs (emphasis mine): "Be kind to each other, BE KIND TO YOURSELF -- and hang in there!"


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