man covers his ears

5 Negative Compliments You May Receive in Recovery and How to Respond


Sober Recovery Expert Author

man covers his ears

Mark Twain once famously said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Such is the power behind a positive and sincere praise. That’s why when someone pays you a compliment with an unexpected razor edge, it can cut deep and stop you dead on your tracks. When backhanded compliments rile you up on the inside, the best course of action is to not sling the mud back or obsess about it to the point of risking relapse. Consider if there’s any truth to it first, make adjustments to your recovery program to work on what’s wrong and then move on. If it’s false, calmly tell the other person they’re mistaken and then dismiss it from your mind.

As you continue down the recovery road, know that negative compliments come with the territory as not everyone will fully understand your new path. Here are 5 negative compliments that may be thrown your way and how to handle each one of them with pride and finesse.

Regardless of how these backhanded compliments make you feel, flying off the handle because of them won’t help your situation.

1. “You’re doing a great job, so stop being so obsessive about recovery.”

It’s refreshing to hear old friends say you’re going overboard with your recovery regimen because it shows they’ve noted your progress. But this compliment also implies that you’ve already done enough and should either slow down or set your recovery aside. Perhaps they feel awkward around you and want things back to the way they used to be, so they insist that you take a drink with them, reschedule your therapy session or miss a few sobriety meetings. While you may be tempted to oblige because you don’t want to lose your friends, backtracking on your recovery, however slightly, is to risk returning to your old habit.

Instead, politely refuse to be swayed. The truth is, addiction recovery should be like an obsession and you need to stick with the plan. This includes abstaining from drugs or alcohol, attending meetings and therapy sessions, and generally living a healthy lifestyle. In no way should you consider hopscotching between addiction and sobriety just to suit other people’s convenience. If they still insist after you’ve told them “no,” you may end up having to choose between such friends and your full-fledged recovery, and it would best if you picked the latter.

2. “You’ve come this far, I don’t want to tempt you.”

Your parents, partner or concerned friends have likely witnessed your on-again off-again relationship with addiction. This time, to everyone’s delight, your off spell has lasted longer than usual. However, if they’re not sure that this time is for keeps, they may go to extreme ends to keep any temptation at bay. This is of course a well-intentioned decision on their part, but it can be maddening if it’s not what you’ve requested. They may shy away from drinking a drop of alcohol in your presence, or quickly take away any drinks handed to you at a party before you have a chance to refuse yourself. Again, they do all this because they respect your progress and don’t want to “tempt you.”

However, from your point of view, you trust yourself and would like to be able to refuse on your own behalf. When decisions are taken out of your hands in this way, you may not feel in control of your own recovery. The best way to handle the situation is to have a polite but firm chat with the people who care about you. Let them know how their actions make you feel and that you’d like to make independent decisions regarding your recovery.

3. “Either you’re good or you’re hiding it really well.”

You may come across some people who are impressed by your progress towards sobriety but may not be wholly convinced that it’s genuine. They may remember you as the person who, not long ago, would outdrink everyone else on the table or be willing to try the strongest substance available. Some may even imply you have an underhand motive to your recovery. Perhaps they think your eyeing a certain promotion and, as soon as you get it, you’re going to jump right back to your old habits. They may even place bets about it right in front of you. These types of comments are condescending and may put a dent on your confidence with your program. Rather than expressing your anger or frustration with them, take the high road. Tell them nonchalantly that you have nothing to hide and that they’re free to monitor your progress if they really want to.

4. “You’re not doing too badly.”

Having your long-term recovery efforts dismissed with this half compliment can be a bit discouraging. It makes your hard work seem closer to average than good. In fact, it’s an evasive comment that implies you’re not fully meeting the requirements for recovery.

Ask yourself what those requirements are and if you’re truly falling short of them. If so, then work on correcting your shortcomings to foolproof your program. If you know in your heart that you’re doing a lot better than “not bad,” then don’t push yourself to the limit just to gain a favorable impression. After all, you don’t want to end up burnt out and spiraling towards “not good” instead. Remember, when taking on new challenges, do as much as you’re comfortable with first and then go from there.

5. “Despite what others say, you inspire me.”

If someone tells you they believe in you no matter what others say, it may potentially breed unhealthy food for thought. It opens up questions regarding who these “others” are, how many there are and exactly what these people are saying behind your back. However, the best way to handle the situation is quite simple: don’t ask. What you hear might disappoint you to the point that it derails you from recovery.

If you’ve inspired at least one person, then that is uplifting in itself. Focus on that fact and remain confident of your endeavor. The most important thing is to keep believing in yourself and stay committed to progress. So, meet this loaded compliment with a simple “thank you” and put it in the back of your mind. For now, you’ve got work to do and someone just told you you’re doing great.

Regardless of how these backhanded compliments make you feel, flying off the handle because of them won’t help your situation. The other person may have come prepared for a fight or may even think you’re desperate for his or her approval. In lieu of feeling defensive or hunkered down, allow the strength and resilience you’ve acquired through recovery shine. Let other people’s negative criticism slide off you like water on a duck’s back. Now that you’re on your new path, it’s going to take a whole lot more than mere snide remarks to bog you down.

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