Recovery: Changing the Patterns of Your Behavior

 By: Marilyn L. Davis
“If we experience any failures or setbacks, we do not forget them because they offend our self-esteem. Instead, we reflect on them deeply, trying to figure out what went wrong and discerned whether there are any patterns to our mistakes.” Robert Greene

Patterns of Behaviors

When any behavior becomes the normal response or reaction to life or the typical way you respond or react to life, the behaviors become a pattern of behavior. Behaviors in active addiction do not necessarily change just because an individual quits using drugs or alcohol. They are usually more extreme in our addiction, however, these same self-defeating behaviors are how people react to life in recovery as well.
However, not all of your patterns are necessarily self-defeating.  For instance, if each time someone does something nice for you and you acknowledge this with a, “Thank you”, that pattern of being courteous is one you should keep.

What Are The Possible Origins Of These Patterns?

  1. Childhood roles
  2. Manipulation Methods
  3. Self-defeating Reactions to Life Situations
  4. Fear

1. Childhood Rolesfrom addict 2 advocate

Typically, these are the labels and descriptors for family of origin roles:
  • Hero or Good Child: assumes responsibility for the family
  • Scapegoat or the Problem Child: Identified as the cause of all the family’s problems
  • Caretaker: Sacrifices personal needs for the benefit of the family
  • Clown: Tries to break the tensions in the family with jokes or comical behaviors
  • Lost Child: the unseen, invisible child that is self-sufficient even when they do not have answers or age appropriate skills
While the pattern for a Hero or Good Child might be to take the responsibility for their actions and feel superior for cleaning up the messes, the Scapegoat may just become defensive if criticized for something, even legitimate criticism, reacting to unresolved slights and punishments from childhood. 
Knowing which of these childhood roles you played may help you see the patterns in your recovery and break them. 

2. Manipulation Methods

Nearly all addicts and alcoholics have learned to manipulate others for their self-serving reasons. If the money went to buy drugs or alcohol, the person might need to go a family member or friend and give them a sob story to get the money to pay rent, which in turn sets up the pattern of being financially irresponsible and relying on others to cover their basic needs.
Someone else may have used tears to gain sympathy from others, expecting people to rescue them, or to drop a subject, such as their use, so that they do not have to hear negative things about their behaviors.
If crying gets people to drop a subject, the pattern of crying to avoid pain works to deflect anything this person perceives as criticism, even when it’s constructive criticism from peers in recovery.

3. Self-defeating Reactions to Life Situations

from addict 2 advocateEach situation in life gives an individual an opportunity to react positively or negatively.  In active addiction, negative patterns develop such as:
  • Poor Attitude
  • Angry outbursts
  • Sulking
  • Defying
  • Being Argumentative
  • Resisting  
Carrying these into your recovery will mean that you will not get as much help from a treatment provider, sponsor/accountability partner or peers in recovery. 
If you think about this logically, why would they spend time working with someone who demonstrates these patterns of behavior? 

Would you want to spend time trying to help someone who deflected all of your suggestions? Would you want to offer advice on how to do something if the person argued about the benefits of the suggestion even before they tried it?

While we may understand their reluctance to follow directions and suggestions from strangers, the fact remains that they need help, and people who have made changes in their lives do have some concrete suggestions and experiences to offer. 

For many people, it is overcoming their fears that can help them move forward. Therefore, approaching people from the perspective of how you overcame your fears and learned to accept help from strangers might be a beneficial. 

4. Fears

from addict 2 advocate
Newly recovering people often have fears about:
  • Success and failure
  • Appearing inadequate
  • Feeling less than others
  • Being incompetent
  • Who they can trust
These concerns can produce behaviors that range from not asking for help, falsely believing that to ask would be a sign of weakness and therefore confirm their fears and impressions of themselves, to arrogantly presenting so that others do not realize the person has the fears.
In recovery, all of these self-defeating reactions will create more problems.  It is better to voice the fears to a treatment provider, sponsor/accountability partner or friend and ask how best to acknowledge the feeling and break the patterns associated with internal concerns. Each person coming into recovery will have fears. It’s a common theme in conversations, and most people willingly share their experiences with the fears and what they did to resolve them.
Besides this common feeling, the solutions for the problems are common as well.
It is reassuring to get several people giving the same suggestion as it reinforces the solution, and makes it easier for us to trust their advice. 

Review Your Patterns in Typical Life Situations

Most of the major life concerns fall into these ten categories. Do you sabotage these goals with self-defeating patterns? 

  1. When you start noticing the patterns, decide if you like your usual results.  If you do, then there is no reason to change the pattern.  
  2. If it is the correct thing to say, “Thank you,” then continue with this pattern. 
  3. If, however, you discover that you do not like the typical outcomes, begin to change the behaviors. 

Reviewing Patterns for Different Outcomes 

It is not usually a good idea to do just do an opposite action or behavior.
It might be different, but it may not be the correct reaction or behavior, either. 
For instance, take the Reactions to Life Situations examples and look at the opposite:
  1. Angry outbursts –not saying anything; running the risk of your emotions building up inside
  2. Sulking – falsely acting pleased at a life situation – until resentments set in
  3. Defying – agreeing and doing something – dishonest if you have legitimate reservations about the request
  4. Being Argumentative – not voicing your opinion – missing opportunity for a civilized discussion of differences
  5. Resisting  – Accepting without having any of your concerns addressed – leading to another type of resentment  

As you can see, the opposite reaction will create other problems. In trying to find solutions for your self-defeating patterns, a more balanced approach is generally better.  

Different and Balanced Behaviors

from addict 2 advocate
Assessing your patterns lets you see where modifying or changing the self-defeating behaviors will probably get different and often better results.

Learn about admirable qualities, spiritual principles, and positive aspects; these will certainly be different responses than most addicts and alcoholics were capable of in their addiction, and might just help you break your patterns of self-defeating behaviors.  


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