Understanding Relapse: Shoulds Wipe Us Out and Sabotage Recovery
An excerpt from 12 More Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery
by Allen Berger, PhD., Hazelden Publishing
Stop Shoulding on Yourself
One easy way to identify a toxic attitude or belief is that a should is always embedded in the concept. Shoulds wipe us out; they sabotage recovery because they’re disconnected from reality. They are foreign ideas that are not born from our own experience and wisdom; they’re someone’s else idea of who or what we are supposed to be. They’re often ideas that we have swallowed whole from the authorities in our lives and have dedicated our life to actualize. This is why members of AA are encouraged to let go of their old ideas, or the result will be nil. The psychological mechanism operating here is introjection, which refers to the unconscious adoption of other people’s ideas or beliefs. A should is an introjected concept—a concept that we’ve internalized to please our parents, to fit in with our peers, or to live up to cultural expectations.
Here’s an analogy: adopting an introjection is like swallowing a walnut whole, without breaking the shell. The walnut cannot be digested because it’s encased in this hard shell. If we broke the walnut open, then we might be able to digest the meat inside. Or we might discover that the meat is rotten and won’t be nutritious. We need to break all these “walnut shoulds” open to see if they possess something of value to ourselves.
Because we are driven to belong, to feel accepted and to be loved, we often go to any lengths to achieve emotional and existential security. We lose our true self and dedicate our lives to becoming someone we think we should be—someone else’s idea of the ideal person, rather than the true self that emerges from our core.
Any belief, attitude, or behavior that acts against the realization of our true self is toxic and therefore destructive to our recovery. On the other hand, a belief, attitude, or behavior that supports the realization of our true self and potential will nurture our recovery self and our well-being. So let’s now turn our attention to beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that are useful when we relapse.
Really, Allen! What is true self? As we grow, we are molded by parents, culture, etc to fit into our immediate surroundings of people and social principles. What we become as a result of that process is, typically, our true self, as we may know little else; however, as we get older we may discover that we are uncomfortable in that mold of attitudes and behaviors So then we deviate somewhat to find our own path that may divert a little or a lot from others’ expectations. Adapting to the forces around us is the way to survive in an otherwise threatening society. SUD persons are famous for their “stinking thinking” and ultimately need to change. If that state of mind is their true self and they wish to stick to that, they will remain in big trouble. If “should” implies that one “must” conform to the expectations of others, then I agree with you; I don’t like the word “should” either. But someone who has a desire to recover will need to accept the guidelines of others to break out of his/her chemical dependence. Once they manage a a decent (undefined) degree of recovery. then they can be in a better position to determine what their “true self” is. A person in recovery (also undefined) needs to change. If that doesn’t happen, there is little chance of determining what is one’s true self.