Helpful Recovery Exercises for Improved Mental Health

Life can often feel full of confusion. Confusion about what to think, feel, and do. Confusion about where to turn for help. Confusion about what the future will throw at us next.

Life can often feel full of confusion. Confusion about what to think, feel, and do. Confusion about where to turn for help. Confusion about what the future will throw at us next. However, by talking about the things that are bothering us we can learn to feel better without the use of drugs, alcohol, sex, or any other type of self-injurious addictive activity. Talking about what you really feel makes up the first, second, and third steps of recovery. The below recovery exercises can help you better understand the crucial role trust plays in your relationships and behaviors.

Recovery Exercise 3.1: In Whom Do You Trust?

The objective is to consider the role of trust in one’s life as well as well as the people who are, and are not, trusted.

Trust is the one and the same time belief, feeling, and ability. People come to trust other people as a result of relying on them, and seeing that this reliance had predicted and consistent payoffs. From early on in life, some children learn the hard lesson that they connote rely on their caregivers. Compounding this tragedy is the fact their ability to trust other people both in childhood and later in life may be severely affected.

How would you characterize the level of trust you place in other people? List the people you trust the most and discuss thy you trust them. List the people and kinds of people you trust least and discuss why you don't trust them. What early childhood experiences do you think contributed to your present ability to trust others, as eel as your choice of who you trust?

Recovery Exercise 3.2: Relationships – Then and Now

The objective is to consider how early relationships with caregivers may influence current relationships with peers and lovers.

Early, dysfunctional relationships with caregivers and siblings may have lasting effects in terms of one’s ability to bond with friends or make lasting and loving attachments with others. What are some of your earliest memories relevant to your relationship with your caregivers?

What are some of the primary “events” in your relationship with your caregivers that led you to the relationship you have with them today (or if deceased, the relationship you had prior to their death)? How do you think aspects of this relationship might be affecting you today in terms of both your ability to make lasting friendships and your ability to enter into a loving and lasting attachment with another person?

Recovery Exercise 3.3: Declarations of Financial Independence

The objective is to consider the role of money in one’s life and the extent to which desire for it has been served in adaptive or maladaptive ways.

Independent living requires funds sufficient to maintain independence. There are many obvious and hidden costs related to common expenditures such as food, clothing, shelter, telephone, and recreational expenses. While many people, for example, adolescents, desire to be financially independent, they do not yet have the means to do so. Some people have the means for achieving independence, or have actually achieved it in the past but have somehow self-destructed along the way. In either case the likely result is criminal or other maladaptive behavior as a means of earning enough money to assert their financial independence.

What role does money, or lack of it, play in your own life? In what ways, legally as all as illegally, have you earned money in the past? How do you think you learned to use money the way that you use it? In what ways in the past would you describe your money-related behavior as maladaptive? How do you earn money? Are you proud of how you earn money? Why or why not?

Describe the satisfaction you experienced as a result of purchasing or owning physical possessions. What kind of things did you spend the most money on? What kind of things did you not spend enough on? In what ways do you hope that your money earning and spending behaviors will be more adaptive in the future? How do you anticipate you spending habits will change as your behavior becomes more adaptive?

Recovery Exercise 3.4: Part of Me

The objective is to get in touch with the sane, rational, and adaptive part or side of you that knows what is right.

There was a man Samuel who had a mental conflict with an irrational side of him that knew it was out of control, and a saner, more rational side striving to adaptively change what was happening. Many people report some similar phenomena in terms of a mental conflict between adaptive and maladaptive forces.

Draw a picture of the irrational side of yourself. Use as much creative energy as you can. Allow your imagination to roam free. When you have done this, write a brief, twenty-five-word description of your “dark” side. Next, draw a picture of your rational side. Be as creative and energized as you can be. Avoid being judgmental. When you have completed your drawing, describe in twenty-five words your “bright” side. How are your two drawings different from one another? How are they similar?

Recovery Exercise 3.5: Untwisting the Twister

The objective is to halt a maladaptive swirl of thoughts and beliefs.

In this article the term borderline twister will be used to describe a particular variety of maladaptive thinking. The borderline twister begins with the thought like, “I want to be accepted by you, but I can't accept myself” and it spins into “I hate you for liking me because I hate me, but I blame you for how I feel” and ends with “I reject you, but please don't reject me.”

Look at yourself in the mirror and make eye contact for as long as you can tolerate it. Then take out a picture of someone who cares about you. Look at that picture for a few minutes and try to imagine how that person feels about you. Now, compare and write about how you felt looking at yourself in the mirror and how you felt about looking at that person who cares about you. In what ways are those feelings similar and in what ways are they different.

Recovery Exercise 3.6: Getting with the Program

The objective is to feel comfortable considering some form of a treatment program.

For Samuel, even the word program was scary. He entered one treatment program and followed a coping strategy of pretending to be a “good boy.” When he eventually attempted to escape from that program that is, have more liberty and control of his own life- the consequence was confinement in a setting in which he actually had less liberty and control of his life. His life circumstances only really began to improve once he “got with the program.”

What are your resistances to entering a treatment program that may prepare you to better cope with all you are dealing with? What forces are operating in your life that might prompt you to pretend to be “good,” rather than making an earnest effort to improve? What rewards do you see for yourself at the successful completion of treatment program?

These recovery exercises are adapted from the book The Angry Heart written by Dr. Joseph Santoro and Dr. Ronald Cohen. Dr. Joseph Santoro is one of the founding members of Blue Sky Behavioral Health. Blue Sky offers individualized outpatient as well as residential treatment programs for mental health disorders such as borderline personality disorder. Our supportive and licensed clinical staff can make a major difference in your life. Learn how to live life well by contacting our facility today. Call (888) 822-7348 or visit us online at

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