By: Marilyn L. Davis


Isolated Incidents 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 act, the actions become a ‘pattern of behavior.’ In our active addiction, we created many patterns:

  1. Manipulation to get our drugs
  2. Blaming others for our mistakes
  3. Distorting circumstances to get a better response from others

Unfortunately, some behaviors that we used in our active addiction do not necessarily change just because we stop using substances. Click To Tweet 


Keep Some Patterns


These negative patterns were probably more extreme in our addiction; however, these same self-defeating behaviors are how people react to life in recovery, too. However, not all of your patterns are necessarily self-defeating. If you say, “Thank you,” when someone does something nice for you, that’s a good pattern of being courteous. You should keep that one!

If you are:

  1. Compassionate
  2. Honest
  3. Willing
  4. Forgiving
  5. Operating from Spiritual Principles

Then you have a lot of patterns that you need to keep and practice. 


What Are The Possible Origins Of These Patterns?


When you take the time to look for the root of a pattern, the answers often make sense. Knowing how long, often, and when we use a pattern, helps us change the pattern.

These are only four possible origins for patterns of self-defeating behaviors. However, it’s a great start to finding which ones create problems for you. It’s always up to us to find our answers. 


1. Childhood Roles


Typically, these are the labels and descriptors for the family of origin roles:

While the pattern for a Hero or Good Child might be to take responsibility for their actions and feel superior for cleaning up the messes, the Scapegoat may just become defensive if criticized for something, reacting to unresolved slights and punishments from childhood. Knowing which childhood roles you played may help you see the patterns in your recovery and break them.


2. Manipulation


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 to a family member or friend and give them a sob story to get the money to pay rent. This manipulation 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 the subject, such as their use, so they do not have to hear negative things about their behaviors. 

Suppose crying gets people to drop the subject. In that case, 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 allows an individual to react positively or negatively. In active addiction, negative patterns develop such as:

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 behavior patterns? 

Would you want to spend time trying to help someone who deflected all of your suggestions? Would you like to offer advice on how to do something if the person argued about the benefits of the idea 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 tips and experiences to offer. 


4. Fears


For many people, it is overcoming the 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 is afraid.

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 will share their experiences with their fears and what they did to resolve them. Besides this familiar feeling, the solutions to 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 to trust their advice. 


Review Your Patterns in Typical Life Situations

Most of the significant 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 expected results. If you do, then there is no reason to change the pattern. 
  2. However, if you discover that you do not like the typical outcomes, begin to change the behaviors. 

It is not a good idea to just do an opposite action or behavior. While it is a different approach, it isn't always the best approach. Click To Tweet

For instance, take the patterns of reactions to life situations 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 with a life situation – until resentments set in
  3. Defyingagreeing and doing something – dishonest if you have legitimate reservations about the request
  4. Being Argumentative – not voicing your opinion – missing an 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 But Balanced Patterns


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 undoubtedly be different responses than most addicts and alcoholics were capable of in their addiction and might help you break your patterns of self-defeating behaviors. 




Marilyn L. Davis is the Editor-in-Chief at From Addict 2 Advocate and Two Drops of Ink. She is also the author of Finding North: A Journey from Addict to Advocate and Memories into Memoir: The Mindsets and Mechanics Workbook, available at Amazon, Books A Million, Indie Books, and Barnes and Noble. 


Your Turn to Help Someone


Noticed Negative Patterns of Behavior? Then Make Changes marilyn l davis from addict 2 advocate

How something is said is just as important as what is said. How you write about addiction and recovery can touch someone in ways my words can’t. So consider a guest post today and help someone who is struggling. Thanks. 




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