Stink think

The folks in AA have a term to describe the denial-ridden thought process of alcoholics:

Stinking thinking.

Examples include,

It’s not a problem, I can stop whenever I like.  Or Hey, it’s only one beer.  Or It’s your fault I drink so much.  Or Everyone’s against me. Or Who gives a shit?  And so on.

Control addicts have their own version of stinking thinking.  It takes various forms, but behind them all is a dangerous (and often unconscious) assumption:

If I just try again, or harder, or longer, or differently,

I can make things turn out the way I want them to.

Yeah.  Right.

When stink think crops up in session I usually recommend an antidote I call the three questions:

What am I trying to control here?

Have I had any luck controlling it before?

If not, what can I do instead?*

*(I.e., which of the three healthy alternatives to control — surrender, responsiblity or intimacy — would help me in this situation?)

Taken together, and answered honestly, these questions amount to a free, convenient, and surprisingly reliable bullshit detector.

Like alcoholics, control addicts take a while to notice their own stinking thinking, and even longer to interrupt it.

But those who ask the three questions regularly can speed the process of unstinking their thinking.

 *For more on the alcoholic version of stinking thinking, see Stinking thinking: When negative thinking becomes harmful at

3 responses to “Stink think

  • d00fus

    Steve, this post bears repeating. You’re familiar with my story. I divorced and moved across the country and am trying to adjust here. I was feeling strong, but am now sad and miss my ex (who was not treating me well for a long time). I am now again embroiled in thinking, “If I just try again, or harder, or longer, or differently, I can make things turn out the way I want them to.” Intellectually, I know this is not possible, right, or healthy. You write about “listening to our feelings,” but aren’t my feelings of missing the ex and our unhealthy relationship thwarting my attempts to a build a better life? Thank you! Hope you’re having a good holiday season.

    • Steve Hauptman

      Listen harder, d00fus. Are you really missing your ex and that relationship, or are you just lonely?

      There’s a defense called particularization (see here: in which we confuse a particular way of meeting a need with the need itself. I’m guessing you have a legitimate need here — for company or attention or affection or sex — but remain attached to an outdated way of meeting it. Not unusual in people who’ve escaped unhealthy relationships which (a) forced them to shrink their support system or (b) reduced their self-esteem to the point where they’ve lost confidence in their ability to connect with and receive nurturing from other people.

      I’m also guessing that when you develop an adequate support system and/or a healthy significant other you’ll stop missing the relationship that made you unhappy enough to end it.

      What do you think?

  • d00fus

    I think you’re 100% right. I have several ducks to line up (taking a big licensure exam soon etc.) before I can start dating. Instead of working, I am sometimes focused on various problems I anticipate about dating. I can see that’s counterproductive. I just turned 30 and I panic about [clearly irrational things]: (1) all the “good ones” being “taken”; (2) what my failed relationship says about me; (3) declining fertility; (4) how finding the right chemistry will be “impossible.” These things are all beyond my control. I can’t predict life and I do have to live with the risk of not having what I want (like everyone else on earth). This is all easy to figure out and accept when I am in a good mood. Not so much when I am alone and depressed (e.g. this week when something bad happened at work).

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