By: Marilyn L. Davis
Isolated Incident or a Pattern of Behaviors?
“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
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’. In our active addiction, we created many patterns:
- Manipulation to get our drugs
- Blaming others for our mistakes
- Distorting circumstances to get a better response from others
Behaviors that we used in our active addiction do not necessarily change just because we stop using substances. These patterns were probably 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?
These are only four possible origins for patterns of self-defeating behaviors. However, it’s a great start on finding which ones create problems for you. It’s always up to us to find our answers.
1. Childhood Roles
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.
The best reason to give up the manipulation? Because ultimately it can cost you relationships with people who get tired of being used.
3. A Negative Outlook on Life
Each 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
- Being Argumentative
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. When you’re working with others, approach their issues from the perspective of how you often thought or felt like they did, and how you learned to accept help from strangers. Then they realize that you worked through something and might view it more positively.
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 attempting to recover will have fears. It’s a common theme in conversations, and most people willingly share their experiences with their 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?
- 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.
- However, if 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. While it is a different approach, it isn’t always the best approach, either. For instance, take the Reactions to Life Situations examples and look at the opposite:
- Angry outbursts –not saying anything; running the risk of your emotions building up inside
- Sulking – falsely acting pleased at a life situation – until resentments set in
- Defying – agreeing and doing something – dishonest if you have legitimate reservations about the request
- Being Argumentative – not voicing your opinion – missing opportunity for a civilized discussion of differences
- 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
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.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart
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