Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why We Drank: Old Wounds

While doing more thinking about the roots of addiction, I naturally did some research as well.  One of the factors most commonly discussed is unresolved childhood issues.  Certainly there's a strong correlation between abusive childhoods and addiction; that much is well established.  However, there's no really good therapy for resolving unresolved issues from childhood and adolescence.  Some say one thing helped and some say another thing helped, but those people are usually reporting from a time immediately after the therapy.  There's a noticeable shortage of people saying that they used a given therapy ten years ago and have been more content ever since.

I do believe that some of us are wired differently from others in this respect.  Some people seem to recover naturally, and they often don't understand those of us who don't.  They offer advice like "let it go" and "the past is past" without understanding that it just doesn't work that way for some.  It doesn't "go" despite our active attempts to drive it away, and our lives are not the past.

So -- we are all of our ages at once?  That reminds me of the paradigm of the inner child.

While reading about these therapies, I noticed that many of them are about loving our inner child.  We imagine cuddling our infant selves, whispering how we're so glad they're here and how we accept and love them exactly as they are, that they are unique and special and irreplaceable.

I tried this a couple of times, and found it to be just as silly and pointless as it sounded.  I can't help thinking that taking this seriously sounds like a recipe for narcissism.

"Expects to be recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments."
"Expects constant attention, admiration and positive reinforcement from others."

Hmm.  Narcissism is a popular diagnosis these days.  Maybe it's just the latest diagnostic fad, but is it possible that the massive self-acceptance and self-praise which became popular in the mid-80s led to an actual increase in narcissism?  I think it might be.

I was one of many who were struck by an article pointing out that our accomplishments are much more important than simply existing.  Slapping on generically positive labels like "nice" doesn't actually make us better people.

Reading the comments on that article is time-consuming but instructive.  Those who took it to heart in 2012 found themselves with better and happier lives in 2013.  Those who disagreed with it . . . no news.  Not a single person reported that self-esteem enhancement, sans accomplishment, resulted in a better life.

This is really just common sense.  We all know, in our heart of hearts, that chanting "I am unique and special" a thousand times has less impact than one single other person saying, "Wow, you are really something special."  So how do we get them to say it?  It's pointless to expect to be "recognized as superior and special, without superior accomplishments" a la narcissism.  We have to do something which merits hearing it.

Your father shamed you, your mother belittled you, your schoolmates bullied you.  So did mine.  I'm not going to tell you to "let it go," because we both know that doesn't work.  I am going to tell you that I, at least, feel a stronger sense of self-worth when I'm doing something to increase my worth than when I offer imaginary comfort to my wounded past self.  Increasing my fluency in Spanish is better therapy than trying to convince myself that I am lovable no matter what.

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