Recovering from benzodiazepine (benzo) withdrawal is a journey that requires immense strength and resilience. One of the most challenging aspects of this process is managing the emotional and psychological turbulence accompanying it. Some of this emotional struggle stems from worrying about what others think or say about us. We worry if our friends and family understand what we are going through. We worry if they think we are simply attention-seeking or have gone crazy. We worry if our doctors or therapists will be understanding or if they will gaslight us, a term used to describe when someone manipulates you into questioning your reality. Will our employer be compassionate or think we are lazy? These types of concerns can exacerbate anxiety, hinder your progress, and negatively impact your overall well-being. Learning to let go of others’ opinions is not just a helpful skill during benzo withdrawal; it is a crucial step towards reclaiming your life and achieving long-term happiness. One of the most beneficial things I learned in A.A. was that what others think of me is none of my business! What people think of you is a reflection of them, not you. 

Understanding Connect V.S. Protect

Our autonomic nervous system has two opposite states: connect and protect. The connect state is our default state generated by the parasympathetic ventral vagal response. It is an outward focus, allowing us to think, feel, and do life and love-affirming things. We can connect positively with the world around us and ourselves. In the connect state, our thoughts and feelings are positive. The protect state is an inward focus, concerned with our protection. It is a sympathetic fight, flight, or parasympathetic dorsal vagal freeze. In the protect state, our thoughts and feelings will be negative.

In benzo withdrawal, our nervous system is most often in the protect state due to the down regulation of GABA receptors. Our thoughts and feelings are mostly negative, so we are more easily upset by others’ opinions. But it is essential to know that all human nervous systems shift into the protect state when we feel judged or evaluated—it is a normal reaction.

Understanding the Impact of External Opinions

Humans are social beings, and seeking validation and acceptance from others is natural. However, during benzo withdrawal, this need for approval can become particularly problematic. You might already be feeling vulnerable, anxious, and overwhelmed by the symptoms of withdrawal. (Neediness in benzo withdrawal is a symptom of benzo withdrawal!) Adding the pressure of worrying about others’ judgments can increase withdrawal symptoms, adding to our suffering.

External opinions can come from various sources: family, friends, colleagues, health care professionals, or strangers. They might question your decision to taper off benzos, express doubts about your tapering process, or misunderstand the severity of your condition. It is common for others to suggest that we go back on our benzo (or don’t get off it) or take another medication the doctor says can help. Or they may not understand benzo withdrawal and say, ‘You’re just seeking attention’ or ‘Of course you can go to work, you don’t look sick ‘. These types of reactions can trigger self-doubt, shame, and guilt, further complicating your recovery process. It’s essential to recognize that these opinions are often based on misinformation, lack of understanding, or other’s own fears and insecurities.

The Power of Self-Compassion 

Cultivating self-compassion is one of the first steps towards not caring about what others think. Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend in distress. It means acknowledging your struggles without judgment and recognizing that your experiences are part of the broader human experience. This self-compassion can be a comforting companion on your healing journey from benzo withdrawal.

Start by practicing self-compassionate self-talk. Instead of saying, ‘I’m weak for feeling this way, ‘say, ‘It’s okay to struggle, and it’s OK to ask for help. ‘ Replace negative, self-critical thoughts with affirmations of your strength and resilience.  You are not alone in this journey, and you deserve patience and kindness from yourself.

The Power of Pause

If a remark from someone triggers you, give yourself a moment to pause. Breathe. Remind yourself that their opinion is about their ideas and beliefs and not a reflection on who you are. Pausing gives us time to work with our nervous system. Remember, when judged, all peoples’ nervous system shifts into the protect state. Your reaction may be more quick or intense because of your dysregulated nervous system, but it is still a normal reaction.

When we pause and let the negative emotions pass through us, we can, when more in control say, “When you say (or tell me) …. I feel ….” For example, “When you tell me you think I am attention seeking, I feel angry and sad.” Make sure you don’t judge them, or their nervous system will shift into the protect state and they will focus on defending themselves, not on what you want them to understand. For example, do not say, “When you’re a jerk, I feel angry and sad.”

What’s True For You?

To break free from the influence of others’ opinions, you need to think about what’s true for you. This means prioritizing your values, goals, and well-being over external validation. Ask yourself what matters to you. What do you want to do after benzo withdrawal? What are your long-term goals and aspirations?

By clarifying your values and aligning your actions with them, you can develop a stronger sense of self and purpose. This internal compass will guide you through the ups and downs of withdrawal and help you stay committed to your recovery, regardless of what others might think or say.

Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is a vital skill in managing external opinions. Boundaries protect your emotional and mental well-being and create a safe space for your recovery. Communicate your needs and limits clearly to those around you. Let them know you are focusing on your health and recovery and need their support and understanding, not their judgment or unsolicited advice. Setting boundaries can empower you and put you in control of your recovery journey.

It’s okay to distance yourself from people who are consistently negative or unsupportive. Surround yourself with individuals who respect your journey and offer genuine encouragement. Seek support groups or online communities where you can share your experiences with others who understand what you are going through. Feel free to join the Benzo Withdrawal Healing Academy to learn about benzo withdrawal and how to move forward into your highest and best potential.

Embracing Vulnerability

Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness, but it is, in fact, a source of strength and courage. Embracing vulnerability means accepting your imperfections and being honest about your struggles. It means acknowledging that you are human and that it is okay to have moments of weakness.

When you embrace vulnerability, you free yourself from the need to maintain a façade of perfection. You become more authentic and open to genuine connections with others. This authenticity can be incredibly liberating and help you build a supportive network of people who appreciate you for who you are, not for who you think you should be.

Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a powerful tool for managing the stress and anxiety associated with benzo withdrawal. It involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, you can develop a greater awareness of your thoughts and feelings and learn to observe them without getting caught up in them.

When you notice yourself worrying about others’ opinions, take a moment to pause and breathe. Acknowledge the thought without judgment and gently bring your focus back to the present moment. This practice can help you break the cycle of rumination and reduce the power of external opinions over you.

Building Resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It is a crucial quality to cultivate during benzo withdrawal. Building resilience involves developing coping strategies and finding ways to stay motivated and hopeful, even when facing challenges.

One effective way to build resilience is to practice gratitude. Take time each day to reflect on what you are grateful for, no matter how small. Gratitude can shift your focus away from what others think and help you appreciate the positive aspects of your life and recovery.

Conclusion

Learning to not care about what people think or say about you is a journey of self-discovery and empowerment. It involves cultivating self-compassion, setting boundaries, embracing vulnerability, practicing mindfulness, and building resilience. By letting go of others’ opinions, you can focus on your values and goals, create a supportive environment, and navigate the challenges of benzo withdrawal with greater confidence and strength. Remember, your recovery is your own; you deserve to prioritize your well-being above all else.

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