Stinking Thinking

So on Wednesday, I was co-facilitating a group and we posed a story to the clients. I won’t bother to tell you the whole thing because it’s really not the point, but the goal of the exercise was to get the clients to think about choice when they are confined to a story that doesn’t present a whole lot of appealing options. It was basically an exercise in the philosophy of independent thinking.

Well, two of the clients keenly realized there was a loophole to the story. After they shared their loophole, I reflected back what they had done as “addictive thinking,” mainly citing the notorious nature of addicts to manipulate a situation to the benefit of themselves and no one else. When I did this, one of the clients basically said, “You labeled my addictive thinking, but how would you know? You’ve never had an addiction, you don’t think like an addict!”

In counseling, especially in addictions, it’s often very important to an addict to have someone who truly understands them. I’ve had clients outright ask me in the first session if I’ve ever used drugs or been addicted. We’re trained to handle the question in a variety of ways, but I tend to approach it depending on the vibe I get from the client. The core issue is that we all want to feel understood, I usually just approach the session from that point of view.

So, I replied back to the client with my most honest answer: “Of course I have addictive thinking! Just because I don’t have an addiction, doesn’t mean I don’t think addictively.”

I went on to explain that we all think in ways that support addiction. It’s often called, “Stinking Thinking” in the addictions treatment world. Basically, it’s the types of thought processes that get us all in trouble and land us in hot water. A lot of variables go into why I haven’t developed an addiction and some have – mainly a fancy combination of nature and nurture – but at the end of the day, I can relate to my clients. I’ve been there.

Then my wheels started spinning and I thought you all might be curious what we deem “addictive thinking” or “stinking thinking” in the field. We give out a packet to all of the clients when they enter treatment and when I read this article, I definitely saw some old thinking patterns – and even ones that boil up now and again – in there. I feel that with knowledge of myself and how I think about my world, I gain a greater ability to influence the outcome. I hope maybe some of what I share helps you influence your outcome.

Lip Service

Lip service is the mouthing of insincere statements. It’s telling other people what they want to hear. it’s superficial compliance – a sham to make ourselves look good.

We all use lip service. We say we’ll go to that friend’s birthday party, when really we know we probably won’t because we have tentative plans with someone we’d rather hang out with. We tell our friends we’ll come visit them when they move, but we never do. We say we’ll call our grandmother because it is the right thing to do, but we just never get around to it. We say things because we want them to be true.

Lip service is the verbal equivalent of wishful thinking. We want it to be true, so we feel if we speak it into existence, it might end up being true. Hopefully we will be a good friend and show up at that birthday party. Hopefully we will take a summer trip to Alaska to see our friends. Hopefully we will call our grandmother when we have some spare time on Sundays.


Grandiosity is the flip side of low self-esteem. it is characterized by an overinflated sense of self, and those of us who suffer from it possess and embarrassingly unrealistic sense of our importance, talents, and abilities. We behave as if we are immune to the ordinary laws of the universe that govern mere mortals. We think of ourselves as well… different.

Grandiosity is driving drunk/buzzed and thinking we are fine and we aren’t at risk because we’ve never been caught before, we’re great when we drive drunk, our friends do it all the time, et cetera, et cetera. Grandiosity is when we consistently show up late for things and expect people to not be bothered. Grandiosity is thinking that if I tell my partner I’ll go to counseling, the relationship will magically heal itself. Grandiosity was me thinking I could learn to play the drums in a year with all of my other extracurricular commitments. I’m waiting until August to start.

Corner Cutting

Corner cutting is insidious. Our first cheats seem small and innocent, certainly no cause for concern. We always have a good explanation for our deviation. The hallmark of corner cutting is excuse making.

I immediately think of a healthy diet in this situation. When I was doing LiveFit, I wanted to adhere to carb cycling and eating right and watching my calories and blah, blah, blah. I would have a cookie on Friday and tell myself, “No worries! It’s just a cookie! Plus, it was free.” Then on Saturday, I’d have extra sour cream on my Chipotle burrito bowl. Then on Sunday, I would just eat whatever the hell I wanted because, oh well, I had already blown my diet and I’ll just start over on Monday.

Corner cutting is having that one last cigarette. It’s cutting our workout 10 minutes short because we skipped breakfast and we’re good for the day. Corner cutting is saying we were late because of traffic when really we were late because we woke up 15 minutes late and still wanted to do our hair. We’re not sharing the whole picture and “playing the tape though,” which is another term we use when working in addictions. We have to zoom out and see what one cut will do to the whole frame.

We all corner cut every day and that’s OK. Corner cutting is a part of the human condition. The point is that we should be aware of it and we should avoid letting it become an excuse to say, “Oh well!” and just eat the entire wheel of cheese in our refrigerator. Maybe, that’s the difference between my stinking thinking and an addict’s. I have an extra helping of french fries and stop and they eat the whole buffet.


The hallmark of defiance is immaturity. In many ways, we are like big babies. We want to be the center of attention and we want to have all of our needs met immediately. We become angry and resentful when people don’t act the way we wish. We start to blame them for all of our problems and we expend an enormous amount of energy trying to get them to change, to act right, to make us happy.

I’m sure most of you can guess that defiance is very common in intimate relationships. We meet our partners and then we decide we don’t like something about them. Once we decide that, we tell them. When they don’t change, we get angry and we think, “Doesn’t this person love me? Don’t they care what I think about them?” and we begin to victimize ourselves. We begin to feel that what we want obviously isn’t important. We do this when we walk into a busy restaurant on a Friday night and get upset that we weren’t seated within 15 minutes. We do this when we expect special privilege because our best friend’s cousin’s ex-fianceĆ© is a bartender and we expect a cheaper drink. We do it all the time.

So yeah, those are the main tenets of “stinking thinking”. We all have thoughts that get a little smelly, our job is to just put them in a bag and make sure they don’t stink too much. Right?

Author: Jennifer Bingaman Mazur

I like writing about what I think about what I think. I also like writing about what other people think and what I think about that. Yes? Yes.

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