Reverse addiction – The role it plays in the addiction cycle

Reverse addiction – The role it plays in the addiction cycle

In this article you are going to learn about the way addiction develops in a person. How it always starts in the form of ‘reverse’ or ‘mirrored’ addiction. And why some people stay in the reverse position, whilst others develop into addicts. And why we all have the potential to ‘flip’ from one to the other. Why is this important to know? Let me answer this big question straight away. The reason this is so important is that once you understand the nature of your affliction and the reason why we sometimes ‘flip’ from one extreme to the other you will have the beginnings of a method of self management. Imagine being able to manage yourself better when your partner is in early recovery! When you are in early recovery! When things challenge you and you notice yourself behaving very differently from normal. This will help you whether you consider yourself to be an addict or a reverse addict because you will have a coherent picture to work with. And won’t that make a change!

We all start as reverse addicts

Once again the main difficulty in grasping this idea is our ability to get away from the medical model. In a ‘disease model’ you would, of course, be one thing or the other. You may have been to meetings or attended therapy and been told you are an addict, or you are co-dependent. Once you move on from this way of looking at things you will be free to understand yourself  as having the ‘potential’ to be both. Think of how you are as more of a reaction to who you are with. If your are with a self centred so called ‘narcissistic‘ person you will have more of a tendency to flip to the reverse side of your behaviour and attitudes. Whereas if you are with a more compliant, vulnerable person you may have more of a tendency to flip to the addict side. More on this later, for now let’s look at the assertion itself and the way you can benefit from this understanding.

To understand the reasoning behind this assertion we have to look at the general effect of dysfunction in the family, especially on the children. Whatever type of dysfunction there is in the family it has the same general effect on the children, it places them in a position of responsibility they are not ready to deal with. It has the effect of pushing or dragging the child into the adult arena. Often the sense of responsibility is produced by the parent not taking responsibility for something. Having seen this lack the child then gets the idea that they have to do something about this. If the adult is not producing a meal for the children, the oldest child may take it upon themselves to make it. If the adult is not awake when it is time for the childrens school then they will take it upon themselves to dress and prepare the other kids. More seriously, if the adult is abusing the chldren physically they will take it upon themselves to protect their siblings. This is also true of drunken behaviour and drugged behaviour. As well as experiencing this dysfunction as their ‘normal’ they will make every effort to maintain normality within the family.

At the same time let’s not forget that children tend to blame themselves rather than their parents for things going wrong. It’s just too threatening for a young child to believe that there is something seriously wrong with their parents! So it must be their fault. This belief can transfer all the way into adult life causing many to not include their parents dysfunction in their efforts to make sense of their past. 

“Whenever there is dysfunction in the family it has the same general effect on the children”

Let’s also remember that the children cannot leave, they must find ways of surviving their childhood. So the first step toward reverse addiction for our young developing child is to become aware of things going wrong in the family and to attempt to take responsibility for fixing them. As I said, this is true for the whole spectrum of dysfunction. All the way from mild personality traits in the parents, all the way up to serious abuse. Okay, so now let’s look at the effects of this situation on the child. What follows are a few of the serious legacies for the child as they grow up.


Okay, so if all that’s true, what is the effect of this premature responsibility? There are several effects, the first is something that lots of people take into their adult lives with them. This is the effect of ‘pretending’ to be an adult. As a young child when this dysfunction occurs they do not have the maturity or experience to deal with this new found responsibility, but they have seen adults and the way they look and act. So, later on, their adult life often involves lots of imitation rather than genuine maturity. This often shows up in professional life, particularly positions of responsibility such as management roles. It is the idea that the job requires a strong ‘role playing performance’ as well as the idea that this is done separately from the family and social life of the person that invites this form of ‘imitation’. It will tend to show up whenever you are given any responsibility over others. In some cases it can form such a strong part of your behaviour (especially if you spend a lot of time at work) that you can actually mistake it for who you really are!

But it’s not you! It is a form of imitation based upon your need to take responsibility as a child. It is often the basis of ‘workaholism’ and certain forms of OCD behaviour. There is a lot of coaching now on how to be more genuine and vulnerable at work. If you can use these principles you will find ways of bringing the ‘imitated self’ back into proportion.  


The next effect is anxiety. The child has no experience to cope with this level of responsibility. So it always includes massive amounts of anxiety. This level of anxiety is experienced as normal when lived with over many years. So don’t expect it to be obvious to you when starting your recovery. Like a lot of us you may have to spend time raising your sensitivity to your feelings over time. Like all of these effects the impact on you is greater because you are at a stage of life where your brain is still developing and so your reactions are not sophisticated, they do not include much life experience and so you don’t question the anxiety or its origins. You just live with it and survive it. 

Imagine being given a job that you didn’t apply for, with no interview, job description, induction or training. Now add that people you care about could be seriously harmed if you don’t get it right! Now make yourself seven or eight years old. I think you are getting the picture.

Lack of self care

The next effect is the overbalancing towards care for others and away from self care. This is both the start of reverse addiction and the reason why we start with reverse addiction. Therefore lack of self care is one of the main components of all forms of addiction and one of the best ways of identifying it in yourself. Again this behaviour is ‘normalised’ as, under pressure to take responsibility for others, the reverse addict thinks less and less about themselves.

This overbalanced sense of responsibility can become a full time job very early on in life. As the child grows into an adult they often develop a belief that it is somehow wrong to look after themselves, or to consider themselves before others at any time, or in any way. These beliefs and practices have the dual effect of developing a tendency towards low self worth, along with an attraction for people who are on the opposite end of that spectrum, that’s right, addicts! It is part of the relational dynamics that you can’t put yourself first whilst putting someone else first. In a healthy balanced individual who you put first is an ongoing dynamic self determined choice, but in the addict it is fixed and one of the ways we understand losing the power of choice.


This idea of vulnerability is another of the main effects of dysfunction in the family. When someone brought up this way becomes an adult, who do you think they are going to be attracted to? That’s correct. Someone who is overbalanced in the opposite direction. Someone who thinks about themselves and concerns themselves only with what they want. Someone in this position, brought up this way, is going to be attracted to selfish people. Are you recognising yourself yet? This is what you have become vulnerable to.

If you have been involved in one of these unhealthy relationships you will remember that they start out looking and feeling just perfect. Why is this? It’s because, like healthy relationships, both parties are getting exactly what they want. The problem is that, unlike healthy realtionships, the participants do not want healthy things! So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict! So the addict, who because of their ‘narcissistic tendency’ is often the ‘life and soul’ of the party now has someone who will treat them as ‘special and different’. Which is what they desperately hope they are. The reverse addict now has someone they can hide behind and take care of, which is what they have been trained to do.


“So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict!”


“So what is it they both want? For the relationship to be centred on the addict!”


The problems come later when the addicts needs, along with their often disastrous decisions, leads to the breakdown of this perfect arrangement. The reverse addict gets sick of having to provide for them, lie for them, pay for them and look after them. The addict gets angry and threatened by this partner who is now reneging on the deal! They are no longer treating them as special and different! They are criticising! They have become cold! At this point the relationship often breaks up but both parties tend to hook up with partners of a similar backgrounds once again. It is only after recovery begins that the attraction cycle changes. 

Why aren’t we all reverse addicts then?

Good question! There is a very good reason why some of us refuse to stay in this position. It is to do with the type of brain we have. Some of us have a weakness for alcohol or other mood or state changing drugs. If we have this vulnerability then the effect of taking them brings on a sense of complete freedom from this overblown and inappropriate weight of responsibility. This magical effect is not something everyone experiences but those that do find what appears to be the perfect solution to this burden of worrying about everyone else. They find something that effectively swaps their concern for everyone for a concern only for themselves! How does this work?

Often around the age of twelve to fifteen a number of things happen to the child. The first thing is that they grow up a bit. This offers them a broader view of their experience and, as a result, they are motivated to change things. Secondly they often discover alcohol or drugs. Depending on the type of brain they have this will often help them to experience the unburdening of responsibility that was always out of proportion. In other words they will often feel ‘normal’. But to them this may feel miraculous since they have no other way of achaiving this normal state.

At this point the addict has escaped into selfishness and has found a way to unburden themselves, they have ‘flipped’. There are also fringe benefits to the fliiping, such as the removal of the anxiety that goes with the position of reverse addict. The feeling that they are special and different will often develop at this time. They will often promise themselves that they will never return to the pitiful state of anxious worry now that they have found their answer. They have effectively swapped a world of concern for everyone into a world of concern for themslves, much simpler!

Addiction and reverse addiction as potentials – not illnesses

One of the many advantages of working with this model is that we are liberated from the constraints of the medical model. If we approach the addiction issue from a medical perspective we are diagnosed and, as a result, labelled. From that position it doesn’t make sense to think of someone ‘flipping’ from one condition to another. After all, we have been diagnosed! We have all the symptoms! It makes sense! Of course it does, and I am not arguing that these things do not exist, or that they do not make sense. I am simply saying that it can be more useful to think of them as potentials rather than illnesses. It’s a different perspective that allows for the idea of flipping. This diagram helps explain the three positions in the form of a gauge. Think of this gauge as an indicator of concern, with the perfect balanced position in the middle and the extreme positions of selfishness left and selflessness on the right.  

In this first graphic the needle is set to the addict position. In other words you can see that it is over balanced towards the ‘self’ or ‘selfish’ side. What this means is that the person is currently exhibiting ‘self-centred’ attitudes which will often lead to conflict with others. Especially those in a more balanced position.

In this second graphic the needle is set to the ‘reverse’ addict position. It shows the needle pointing way over to the extreme left. This means that the person is currently exhibiting extreme ‘other centred’ behaviour and attitudes. This position when maintained in a relationship over time can lead to serious self harm as the person rarely considers themselves as needing care.

In the final graphic the needle is pointing straight upwards. This indicates the balanced position that we are all heading for. You can see that the needle pointing  upwards indicates balance. This is a balance between care for self and care for others. Notice that in order for both of the two previous extremes to come into the balanced positions they have to go in opposite directions from each other.

The addict is basically driven by the idea

“everything will work out if I get what I want”

Although this is a very simple drawing, it offers us a useful picture of the way extremes work as well as the way the needle can point in different directions as ‘potentials’. Let me offer you a simple picture of the two philosophies The addict is basically driven by the idea “everything will work out if I get what I want”. The reverse addict is driven by the idea that “everything will work out if everybody else gets what they want”.

The reverse addict is driven by the idea that

“everything will work out if everybody else gets what they want”

Flipping – what does this look like?

As I have pointed out previously, no one starts out this way. Everyone starts out balanced, like in the final graphic above. Through dysfunctional experience they are pushed to the extreme position of reverse addict by the constant repetition of this dysfunction. They are later, often around the early teenage years (and if they have the vulnerability) flipped to the addict potential. Otherwise they remain in the reverse position with all the vulnerability that that brings.

If they have flipped to the addict side there follows two main forms of flipping that can occur as time passes. The first is more gentle and can take place whilst the addict lifestyle is still active. To understand this we must develop the systemic view and move away from the medical model. This is because the systemic approach views things relationally and this form of flipping depends upon the relationship we are in. My experience was fairly typical and I experienced this form of flipping many times. As long as I was at home with my Wife (who was always in the ‘reverse’ position) I acted very selfishly and stayed in the addict or selfish position. Occasionally I would be around people who were more selfish in their outlook and I would notice myself becoming very worried about their welfare and start to look after them! As soon as I returned home I would ‘flip’ straight back into selfish mode. This confused me for years!

The second, and more serious, form of flipping takes place in early recovery. This is something I have seen in all authentic recoveries and cannot be avoided. But it can be understood and managed. Every client I work with gets the same warning from me. I tell them that at some point they will start to become ‘too well’ for their families. I warn them to watch out for this because it always happens, and it must be managed like any other part of their recovery. 

I tell them that at some point they will start to become ‘too well’ for their families

When families drop off their loved one at the Rehab gates they often say things like “we just want our son back” or something along those lines. What they usually don’t understand is that recovery from addiction is not like a medical recovery. It does not restore people to what they were before, it transforms people into who they really are! This is quite a different animal. Families discover this later when their loved one not only stops drinking or using drugs, but continues to develop into someone they do not recognise! It is when this recovery begins to challenge the way the family has been operating for years that this can become a problem. And it is at this point that the family often try to ‘reign in’ the recovery by saying things like “why don’t you just have a drink at weekends”? Remember, the addict has been making the family look good for years! If you are in early recovery, watch out for this yourself.

Effects of early recovery on the family

So, let’s track our newly recovered addict, they are doing well and staying ‘clean’. Their partner, who has been looking after them for years sees the improvement and something strange starts to happen. They start to develop selfish thoughts and behaviour! This is the beginning of their flip from the reverse side. Remember. It’s a potential, both sides have both potentials! This type of phenomenon is well known in other forms of mental health recoveries, it’s almost like the family sees this improvement as permission to have their own crisis. For instance, it’s not that uncommon for one family members recovery to instigate anothers decent into addiction! This is another one of the common effects on the family system of one member of the family recovering! 

Another effect on the family is connected with the way we ‘train’ people to know who we are. Training is an important factor in human relationships and is strongly connected with the idea of security. Security is naturally very important to us and one of the ways we help ourselves feel secure is to believe that we know those around us well. So when someone begins the transformational process of recovery it can threaten peoples security which can have all sorts of effects, including the one mentioned above. Someone in the reverse position who is not yet ready to begin their own recovery will often bring forms of pressure to bear on the recovering addict to not change too much! So I always include this in my work with addicted people. I ask them to remember what a shock it might be to their family to have to see this new person who they do not know!

But what about the addict? In early recovery through various forms of guilt, shame and other motivations, they often start to flip into more of the reverse side, learning to empathise with and consider others. As mentioned above this can take more extreme forms when the partner of the addict actually develops their own addiction and the recovered addict goes into reverse to look after them! This is not as uncommon as you might think.

Achieving balance – which way is up?

Revisiting the simple diagram above might help you understand the way you need to develop. Look at the two unbalanced positions and ask yourself this. In what direction must each go in order to recover? In order to reach a more balanced place each must go in the opposite direction to the other. This is one reason why I call them reversed or mirrored. They are mirrors of each other and this is why they are so opposite in outlook.

Do you notice something about these positions? You may have noticed that in order to become more balanced and recovered, the addict must become LESS selfish, be more concerned with others. To do this they must develop understanding of and practice things like humility and honesty, vulnerability and authenticity. All very good and it looks great. People tend to congratulate and support addicts recovery. But what about the reverse addict? To recover and shift towards the balanced position they must become MORE selfish! They must think less about others and more about themselves. This does not look so good and can make recovery from the reverse position just as complicated and difficult as the addicts. I often say to families and couples that they will do much better once they accept that everyone in the family has to recover together, and that the non-addicted family members can sometimes have the harder time developing that recovery. It takes a lot of experience and understanding to congratulate someone for becoming more selfish!

In Conclusion

So where does all this leave us? Place yourself in this story and ask yourself what needs to happen next. If you are an addict in early recovery, look out for the flipping towards the reverse position. Just like other issues you escaped with drugs and alcohol this issue is not resolved because you stopped using drugs, but needs to be addressed as part of your recovery. Understand that you escaped into selfishness! But what you escaped from now needs to be dealt with properly, because it has not gone away, you simply aneathasised yourself against it. So commit to your recovery and resolve these issues permanently with sound recovery principles and personal growth, not by some unhealthy practices but with genuine recovery.

If you are a reverse addict, maybe in a relationship with an addict in early recovery, maybe still smarting from the way the last relationship ended? Place yourself in this story and ask yourself “what needs to happen now”? Understand that you need a recovery every bit as much as your addicted partners do. If they are in early recovery, look out for your own flipping towards the selfish side and modify your behaviour so as to include genuine recovery principles. Understand that your boundaries need to firm up and that you may have a natural attraction to people who manipulate and use others. Don’t be fooled any longer by the idea that the nicer you are to people the more you will attract caring people towards you. Being overly giving and helpful does not attract nice people, it attracts people who are manipulative and abusive. So head for balance in your helpfulness and your caring.

If you identify with any of these positions and want to know more please email me for further information

The observer position

The observer position

The ‘observer’ position 

I want to say something more about one of the key points in this approach. In order to understand, develop and practice my method you must first develop your understanding of what I call the ‘observer position’. Things like a raised awareness of your parts and what triggers them. How and when they were constructed. As well as being able to communicate with them in a way that is ‘age appropriate’ are all things that depend on a good understanding and working knowledge of this ‘observer’ position.  

Did you ever say to yourself “why am I doing this” as you began yet another disastrous course of action? Somehow able to see how bad this is going to be and yet seemingly unable to stop yourself? If you have always thought of yourself as one thing doesn’t this double view seem strange? Who was talking to who at these moments? These questions are very difficult to answer from a traditional perspective. Actually, what you were doing was likely to be ‘observing’ yourself in a triggered moment. So what do we mean by this? And how can it help us to develop our recovery?

Defining the observer – your ‘core’ self 

The first thing to make sure of is that you have an idea of what this ‘real’ or ‘core self’ is. Who is it that is doing the observing? The first challenging idea to get hold of is that everyone, no matter how damaged, abused, has a core or real self. No matter how much of a checkered past you have, there is a core part of you that is unaffected by circumstance. That does not carry the flaws that you may have identified yourself with. If this is the first time you have read about these ideas then this will probably come as a shock to you so just take a minute to digest this. It means that every time you said something to yourself like “I’m such a liar” or “I’m a hopeless addict” or “I’m a waste of time” you were actually talking about a part of you, not the real you. 

The filter 

Your ‘core’ or ‘real’ self is your consciousness, your mind. Because it’s the part of you that makes sense of everything, you could think of it as the filter through which everything must pass. A translating point that makes meaning from everything you experience. You are doing it now as you read this. It is your consciousness in an un-triggered state. I want to promise you that if you could find a way to maintain this state even through difficult moments, you would never drink, use drugs or act out addictively again. Just allow yourself to imagine this now, remaining in your core state and making good decisions, improving relationships, and making progress in your chosen field. Unlike traditional forms of treatment that diagnose you and attempt to make you change and be less like you, this approach is asking you to be more like you!

Parts and self

So if that is your true self then any feeling, thinking belief or attitude you experience is what we call a ‘part’ of you. That counts for anything that differs from your calm clear confident self. So how do we distinguish between you and your parts? I want you to keep this very simple. Think of the space above your eyes as ‘the front room’. This is your mind, where you live, where your consciousness resides. Imagine another room at the back of your head. This is where the part of your brain that reacts to threat lives. So we have a simple picture of two rooms that are communicating with each other. These rooms will eventually develop a better relationship as you practice. 

The front room is generally running your life, making decisions and deciding the next course of action, for the most part. The back room is watching out for threats constantly and reacts like lightning when it sees one. These times are what we call triggered moments or episodes. The best way to think of this is that your mind (front room) is running your life, it is doing so on licence from your brain! This licence can be revoked in a fraction of a second if your brain (the back room) identifies a threat.

Protection is normal

There are two issues we have to understand before we can use this idea effectively. The first one is that the idea of your brain protecting you this way is perfectly normal. You’ve probably heard of fight and flight? So it’s not a mental illness. Okay, but the second thing is that life teaches us that certain things are threatening when they never were or are no longer. Things like these are kept in the back room where there is no timeline, and so they remain fresh as the day they happened, even though you may have forgotten all about them in the front room. This can be a big problem for anyone vulnerable to addiction. So the point is that there are times when a very basic part of your brain is running your life, not you.

Taking on board the idea that at these times it was not your core self running your life but was actually your brain trying to protect you from threat is a big deal. Understanding that you have an untainted core, a part of you that is not just a bit calmer, but is pure calm. Not just a bit clearer but is pure clarity. Of course the way you have been viewing yourself in a more traditional negative view fits right into the medical model and has probably had you reading lots of books, doing lots of exercises and maybe taking some pills. Once you start to practice working on the relationship between your parts and your core self you probably won’t be needing those things any more. No need to work on ‘changing’ yourself any more, now you can learn to access what you already have. Changing yourself is a bit like asking a tiger to change to spots instead of stripes! 

The state is where we start

All your parts are consistent. This is an important idea when you consider that you will be coming up against many years of training from the medical model that told you that you were very inconsistent. Of course this is a rational conclusion when you think of yourself as one thing. I want you to think of this recovery approach as swapping one inconsistent self with a set of consistent selves. Each of your parts is extremely consistent. They tend to turn up in the same way and for the same reasons. The difference is that the core self is the ‘untriggered’ part. The ‘you’ that is present when no triggering is happening. In order to know your parts better you need to understand the core ‘state’ of your adult self. This state is described in various ways by different religions, philosophies and therapists but, many years of neuroscience research has identified eight words which characterize and encompass the qualities of the core self. These are the ‘resources’ of the adult self. The good news is that you already have them! You need to learn them and, by understanding them better, you will be able to identify when they are not present.  


The resources 

Here are the eight words we use to understand our adult states resources. 

Calm Clear Curious Creative Confident

Courageous Connected Compassionate.

When you are in your adult state you will be able to identify with all of these words. Try first making a list of all eight words and ask yourself if you can identify with all of them in your current state. Notice any that seem to be absent. Now write another list alongside the first. This list should be how it feels when the resources are missing, their opposite if you like. So Calm becomes ‘panicky’ etc. It might look something like this;

Panic Confused Dogmatic Flat

Unconfident Frightened Disconnected Cold

Here is a table that makes these opposites clear.

Certain, Dogmatic or having a strong agenda
Flat or feeling you have no options
Unconfident, nervous or anxious
Frightened, maybe a feeling you must stay safe
Disconnected from people and life
Cold or having no feeling for others


Think of these opposites as the default position (on the left) and the way you often feel (on the right) when you are triggered by something and your brain takes over. So any time you find yourself losing any of these resources because of how someone has spoken to you or dealt with you, or even if you have had a thought yourself that has changed your state, you should assume that you are no longer in your adult state. The thought or observation that you are no longer in your ‘real state’ is made from the observer position.  

If you have found yourself saying things like “I’m hopeless and unreliable” or “I’m too angry to hold down a job” then this practice can help you massively. Since these flaws are not part of your adult self you can learn, as part of your practice, not to ‘act out’ of them but to observe them. The first thing to realise when you start practicing is that your core state is not something to achieve, it’s your default position! This is another massive shift from the traditional approaches. You have probably thought of recovery as something that is almost impossible to achieve, wrong! Something you have to fight for, wrong! Think of your core state as something that happens when the other states ‘step back’ and trust you more.

The practice

The simple way to understand the aims of the ‘observer position’ is to think of ‘re-triggering’ the adult. So when circumstances trigger your brain to protect you, your practice is to get your core self back in the driving seat. This is done not by fighting or demanding things of yourself, but by negotiating with your brain, asking it to trust you more. Think of your core state as a state of trust between the two rooms. When you decided what you wanted for breakfast this morning your brain ‘trusted’ you to make that decision. So triggering is a lack of trust, a way your brain protects you because it does not trust you to stay safe in this particular circumstance.

 Try this experiment now. Think about the last time (or the next time) you experienced this triggered state. Run it as a movie in your head or, if this is too triggering, run it as a movie on a clear space on the wall opposite you. As you watch this movie of yourself in an agitated state, notice how calm the part of you that is doing the observing! Even when you are triggered into an extreme state you can often observe from your ‘core’ state of calm confidence. It is from this position that you can start the negotiations.

 If you feel anything other than calm when you observe your parts behaviour then put the brakes on the negotiation. This is because, occasionally one part can observe (and judge) the other. These are called ‘polarised’ parts and usually take an opposite (and judgemental) position on the part that is triggered. The main thing to notice is always your ‘state’. Itis your calm confident courageous state that tells you that there is a good blend of adult. If you are feeling anything else then assume it’s a part and step back another level and observe the two of them interacting. Once you get the calm centre you can begin the negotiations.

The Family Car 

Think of yourself driving a car. In the car are several others (your parts). You could consider these parts as your ‘inner family’. Your brain is looking a long way down the road and sometimes sees a problem. Saying to itself “if we carry on down this road we are going to be in danger”. Removing you from the driving seat one of the parts takes over and turns down another road (to be safe). This road could involve activities such as drugs or alcohol, gambling or any other form of addiction or dependence. The part does not see the difficulty with this, only that it has protected you from the threat of the road you were on. This is because your parts are younger (sometimes much younger) than you are now. Think about it, if your part is eight years of age then you can only expect the kind of solution an an eight year old would come out with. Your parts do not have your experience, your maturity or your wisdom. Often they do not share your beliefs or your attitudes. Thinking about the age of your part will often give you an idea of how to engage with it. But however you try to engage, always avoid fighting!

Negotiate never demand

If you fight for possession of the steering wheel you will probably lose. Remember your brain thinks it is protecting your life! It’s not going to stop doing that. So your practice is to aim for a negotiated settlement. Always try your best to avoid any fighting or demanding when triggered. Even if you were to win the steering wheel back for a little while it is likely that your brain will eventually overpower you. Trust is the result of a negotiated settlement. Once your brain trusts you with something, it will trust you forever! So this is the best approach for two reasons, the first I have already mentioned, which is that you will probably lose. The second reason is because it is the appropriate approach when someone is trying to help you! It’s a good idea to think about the age of your part before attempting to negotiate. This is because parenting works best of its age appropriate. If you get the sense that your part is a toddler then parent in the way that seems appropriate for that age. If your part seems more like a teenage then negotiation is the way forwards.

Taking responsibility for yourself 

Western culture has for years taught us to expect that a ‘special someone’ is going to be our primary ‘caregiver’. We are encouraged that when we find them they will effectively manage our flaws and vulnerabilities. Of course this idea can also lead us to believing that we are supposed to do that for someone else. This leads to all sorts of problems with our boundaries and, like any other stored belief, will not change until we change it.

Developing the observer position, as well as the practices that follow from it, will encourage you to become your own primary caretaker. The Captain of your ship, the driver in your car. Whether you think of yourself as a Captain with a crew, or a car driver with a family, you will benefit from the practice of ‘observing’ your parts from the core position.

The number one commitment : Learn from everything!

The number one commitment : Learn from everything!

So you want to recover from addiction? You want to lose that dependency? What is your number one commitment? Say no to drugs? Come home at a reasonable time? be more honest? I say that your number one commitment in recovery is to learn from everything!

This post follows on from the idea that we can get caught in a trap of success and failure. I now want to talk more about what the solution looks like. Learn from everything!

Traditional treatment methods

New York State Inebriate Asylum

Residential Treatment Centres go back to the 1860’s when the first asylums were founded based on the size of the problem in America at the time.

The Keeley Cure

From around 1880 the ‘Keely cure’ as it was know was not only popular enough at the time to become huge (over 200 Centres were founded across America and Europe) but, with it’s emphasis on time (31 days) and fresh air and exercise, this approach largely formed the basis of Treatment Centres ever since.

How do treatment Centres work?

Before launching into a critique of treatment Centres, let me first say that, for the right person at the right time, they can and do work. Later in this piece you can read some of my experiences of working for, in and with some centres and what was achieved. My main difficulty with them is that in my experience only around 20% of those wanting help achieved recovery. This would mean that rehab is not the most appropriate treatment for 80% of people who go there!

There are lots of treatment Centres offering treatment for alcoholism and addiction generally. The approaches are varied in length and approach but the idea that they are based on is the same (I am discounting methods that include medical approaches offering a ‘cure’ such as Ibogaine, and only include talking therapy approaches here).

The approach is generally based on two things, both of which are questionable. namely, stress reduction and theory. I will explain both briefly.

Stress Reduction

Staying too safe

Essentially, this is the idea that people who become addicted are not coping with the stress of their situation and need to be removed from it in order to really concentrate all their efforts on their recovery.

The problem with this is that most addiction is based on avoiding problems and difficulties. So when someone arrives at rehab they not only have a tendency to put their feet up (since there is no stress any more) but what is worse they now have a sense that they are doing much better than they really are (they often report that they “don’t even feel like using”). And since they are officially ‘in treatment’, they assume this must be the ‘treatment working’. How wrong so many of them are!


Theories of recovery

The theoretical approach is again varied and based on different therapeutic approaches etc. The confidence in it helping is based on the idea that the patient can use good information to help themselves. Well as the saying goes ‘it’s dynamite on paper’. But when you realise that the basis of most approaches to addiction is the the addict is ‘powerless’ over their addiction, it makes less sense.

Now I’m not saying theory isn’t a good thing. Coherence and theory are part of every approach. My approach uses theory but it’s theory that is immediately applied in ‘real life’. The problem I have with residential treatment is that it’s all theory! It has to be because the patient has been removed from real life! You will realise the difference between theory and practice when you get home and try to practice it. By then it’s often too late. But there’s always the option of going back to rehab? If you have the money.

The problem with these traditional approaches

Using the ideas mentioned above traditional treatment sets up and promotes an internal conflict that most people lose or are forever struggling with. The two extremes of denial or fighting are both very difficult and unnecessary as there is a much better and stress free method. That of developing a better relationship with yourself.

Think about it. How much are you going to do for someone you don’t like? If addiction is an inappropriate relationship then relationships are where your recovery can develop. And the first relationship you should start with is the one with yourself.

I don’t want to say too much about this. For more detail see my post on this subject “the trap of success and failure”.

My experience of this trap

I wanted to say some things about my own personal experience of being caught in this trap and how I learned to avoid it and help others to do the same. Let me assure you, you can do the same.

When I was struggling with dependence on drugs and alcohol I was a young man with ideas that plague many of us. Like I would only be acceptable if I was a success. The word ‘success’ means different things to different people but for me it was sporting success.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to blame others for all of this. The money that sporting success brings would allow me to live a life separated from most people which, at that time was very desirable to me. I didn’t like people and I wanted to be separate. I didn’t realise that I was being slowly attracted into a dead world.

The problem with trying to change

Like a lot of people I didn’t like myself and knew that I needed to change. There are no end of books selling this idea that you can change and you have the power to do so. And there are no end of people making a lot of money from people who are failing to do so.

The basic psychological approach is to develop various methods that will promote change in the individual. Largely they promote the trap I write about in the link above. But I was no different and I knew no better than anyone else. So I tried, and tried, and tried! The more I tried the worse I felt when I failed. The more I failed, the harder I tried the next time. On and on it went, as I got worse and worse.

Art to the rescue!

I love films. Especially films that speak to me of human struggle that I can identify with. One evening I was watching a film about a person who was suffering from ‘multiple personality disorder’. I can’t remember much about the film but there was a ‘break through’ moment for the main character when she returned from her ‘session’ with the psychiatrist and, entering her bedroom, saw her ‘younger self’. Just a child, and very sad looking, for a moment she did not know what to do with this ‘younger self’. Finally she sat down beside her and put her arm around the youngster.

Her break through turned out to be my break through. A healing relationship with myself began when I found an old photo of myself. In the photo I was about ten years old. I reassured my young ‘self’, saying that he ‘had no chance’. And that it wasn’t his fault. I saw for the first time that he had only done his best.

For the first time in my life I was basing my progress on something other than conflict and the demand for change. For the first time in my life I had avoided the two extremes of denial and conflict. Without realising it, I had begun to grow through the power of a healing relationship with myself.

My developing recovery

As my recovery developed over the years, I did what I could in local AA groups. For twenty years I helped to run a group and supported new people in that group. At that point I trained as a counsellor.

I was asked to supervise some of the workers at a treatment Centre and was inspired to work with them. Before long I was running them, developing treatment programs and training counselors. Just like my experience in AA I saw what worked and what didn’t. Which attitudes worked well and which didn’t.

What I learned from running Rehabs

I worked in the field for over ten years. Again I won’t dwell on this period but let me tell you some of the main things I learned from all this.

  The most difficult phone calls I used to take were from friends partners and relatives of the clients. Often these callers had spent their life savings on sending their loved ones to treatment. In some cases several times.

The main theme of these calls was usually “how are they doing”. But my main memory of them was learning about the way that, with the best of intentions, they were often making things more difficult.

I also saw that, although their loved one was obviously the one that needed the ‘help’ that they were suffering and struggling just as much in their life struggle. But the difference was that they were getting no help!

Later, or in some cases sooner, following treatment, they would be reunited with their partner or child. But because they had not been party to any development or growth often what the client had learned about the ‘theory’ of recovery got overpowered by the emerging of old patterns of relating to each other. Resulting in another ‘failure’.

Avoid extremes!

In places like the AA fellowship I was told that it didn’t matter what others said or what they understood. You could ‘get well’ in spite of all of this. I also learned that it was a ‘family illness’ and that no man is an island. All true! But didn’t they seem to contradict each other?

As extremes they may seem to. But they work together once you understand that the difficulties and the solutions belong in the area of relationships! You have been attracted into a dead world! Your recovery starts when you decide to come back into the world of the living!

Ask yourself how you could improve your relationships today. Just a little bit. How could you be a little more honest with people? Who could you be a little more authentic with? What relationships are asking too much of you? Which ones do you need to do more in? Could you be a little more vulnerable in your important relationships?

Growth means learning from everything!

So, what does this mean for you and your recovery? Some people recover and never return to their habit. Other recoveries include lapses. Don’t be like the rehabs and throw away the most valuable learning you have. If things go wrong. As they do for everyone, Ask yourself what you can learn from the experience. I have a technique which can help you with this. It’s called the recovery box.

Stop worrying about success and failure and how good your recovery looks like to other people. Stop stressing about how long it’s taking and make a commitment to learning from everything! Whatever happened you can’t change it now. So learn from it. Squeeze every last drop of learning out of it.

When you commit to this approach you will become unstoppable and your recovery becomes inevitable. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

The Core principles of growth 4 – Self Management

The Core principles of growth 4 – Self Management

4 – Self management

My work in this field took a huge leap forwards when I took on board the complex nature of being a human being! I often remind my clients that when we say ‘I’ we are using a complex statement! So the core principle here is something like ‘you are always working with what is between your ears’! To start using our daily experiences and challenges to grow into our recovery we need to understand what is happening during difficult moments and the relationship between our brain and our mind.

SELF MANAGEMENTowning your own colours

So I want you to consider the idea of differences. Internal differences. Can you accept or even consider the idea that there are parts of you that do not see things the same way you do? That do not have the same beliefs that you do?

There is no more difficult moment for my clients than when they are recounting some ‘crazy’ thing they did or said. Describing it as something they are ashamed of or how it was ‘just not like me’ can be one of the most challenging things for people in early recovery. But once they understand the way their brain works when threatened they have a coherent method to work with.

Before my clients enter treatment their options are limited. They can either attempt to fight these compulsions (conflict) or attempt to deny their existence (fragment). Only when they enter treatment and understand why these things are happening can they accept themselves (harmonise). Let’s take these options one at a time so you can check out if this is what you have been doing.


When we take the fighting option we are led into conflict, but it’s okay because it’s conflict for a good reason, right? There are so many articles and books about how to win and how to be strong and how to fight that you may think of it as an obvious thing to do. So you try to banish the negative thoughts or to aggressively replace them with ‘positive affirmations’.

Sound like you? Let me ask you something, did it work? The fact that you are reading this is pretty good evidence that it didn’t. Let me tell you something. If you want these inner negative voices to get stronger, keep exercising them. It’s your resistance to them that is making them stronger. You need to harmonise not argue.

But these books are talking about our relationships with others not ourselves. Then we might think it works for the relationship with our self just the same. You see I fully agree that conflict and it’s resolution is the key to personal growth (on the outside). Please click this link for my take on this. But our relationship with ourselves needs a different approach.

So in relationships with other people difficulties are good. The problem is that things are very different on the inside. When it comes to yourself conflict is not the way forwards. I always remind my clients that “Your mind runs your life…. on licence from your brain”. So when you are dealing with a part you are dealing with a child. But a child that is much stronger than you! Overpowering it is not an option!

Our brain protects us

Now this understanding doesn’t mean that we should just allow all kinds of hateful and demeaning language to go on in our heads. It doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to control ourselves in challenging situations. It means that we should understand that we have parts of us that are trying to protect us and do not necessarily think the same way that we do about things. For instance you as an adult may genuinely want to stop drinking but a younger self does not!

You see there is a very good reason why the mind and brain relate in this way. The brain is much better at helping you survive genuine danger! It is faster and more ruthless in it’s decision making. And it does not waste time philosophising or meditating, being mindful or even things like hunger or desire. It makes the decision that you are in danger and simply shuts your mind down and takes over, at lightning speed! Once the danger is passed, you are given your licence back and can start making decisions again.

Once we get the idea that we have younger parts, and that these parts do not have the same maturity wisdom or experience that we do we can start to approach these things from a more effective angle.


Whilst it’s true that nothing works for everybody, we can also say that everything seems to work for a while! Even the worst ideas can appear good in the short term. Denial fits into this category because it would be everybody’s short term pick. Just pretend it didn’t happen! Just convince yourself it isn’t true! For as long as it works it’s the perfect solution since there’s no effort, no cost and no time wasting on solutions. If you have felt the effects of long term denial then you know what I’m talking about. For this article I want to show you the damaging effects of fragmentation.

Denial in addiction is like trying to pretend that an embarrassing relative actually does not belong in your family. As long as you are convincing yourself and others that you don’t know this person you don’t have to feel the shame of what they do. But you are tearing yourself apart.

The start of integration

I help my clients to be grateful for what the ‘part’ is trying to do. I help them to understand that when they were very young they had limited knowledge of how to handle a dangerous situation and so they could not expect much in the way of growth. These were what I call survival strategies and their only aim is to keep you breathing! My clients learn that they are no longer in a war zone and so the survival strategies are no longer appropriate. What they need now are flourishing strategies!

So you will take a very different approach once you acknowledge the part of you that is trying to help you and to start to work with it. I call this ‘integration’. Here are three things we say about our ‘parts’

1 They are created by trauma

2 They are triggered by threat

3 They are always trying to help you survive


So why is it they screw things up with what they have me saying or doing? “I behave like a madman sometimes”. “I say I’ll never do it again and then there I am, at it again”. These are very typical things to hear in my line of work. Let’s apply this new understanding of our ‘parts’ to these stories and see what happens.

Inner harmony begins to be created once you assume that anything you do that is out of proportion with the situation is being decided by a ‘part’. In other words you start from the assumption that your ‘adult’ is not only able to handle things in a measured and grounded way but that your adult will always make the best decisions based on the circumstances. Inner harmonising develops when you accept the three things above and work with your younger part to deal with whatever your brain is perceiving as a threat.

When someone is introduced to these ideas they can be a little difficult to take in. When someone is struggling to take it in I ask them which football team they support. I tell them that I support another team and ask them if it seems crazy to have two different opinions in the room? Of course there is no problem and so I go on to ask if we can still talk and get on? Again no problem.

Sometimes I ask them if they always believed what they now believe. “If we went back in time to when you were ten, would you have the same beliefs or understanding you have now”? Of course they would not, and this helps them to make sense of what is going on between their ears.

Understanding your parts

Your ‘parts’ screw things up because when your brain perceives a strong enough threat your mind is ‘shut down’ and a much younger part of you is pushed out there to deal with whatever is going wrong. Imagine a six year old having to come up with a solution to your ‘grown up problems’. Here are three things I want you to know about the way your younger parts think

1 It is always about now (they don’t think about the future)

2 It is always naive (they do not think about the health consequences or any other consequences)

3 It is always radical (If one adult proves untrustworthy, don’t trust any of em)

Look for these things in your ‘triggered states’.

Integrating your ‘parts’ is part of your recovery journey

In a process I call ‘self-parenting’ or ‘self-management’ you will learn not to fight with your parts who are only trying to help. Nor will you deny your role in things when a part takes over. Rather you will learn to parent yourself as part of your growth into recovery. I go into more detail in the links to podcasts below but I will say a little about how this is done here.

The actual trauma that created this particular ‘part’ may not be known to you or be very obvious to you. Remember that trauma is how something affects you, not something we can measure by the size of any particular event. But even if you can’t remember anything it can still help to have a picture of yourself at a certain age (photos work well). A nickname can also help since the first move towards integration is to develop a little separation (ironic I know).

Now ask yourself “when things got hard for me at that age, what could I have really done with from my parents but didn’t get”? This gives you a starting point for self parenting. When feeling ‘triggered’ by anything you can now apply this parenting from your adult self and integration of your ‘part’ begins.

I will leave a link to a three episode series I’ve done on ‘inner child work’ that will go into more detail on this approach.

Finally, if you are interested in learning more about this approach or running a group based on these ideas, please watch the video below

The Core principles of growth 4 – Self Management

The Core principles of growth 3 – Growth

You can grow anywhere

So one of the main principles of growth is…… growth? I know, it seems a silly thing to include. But the importance of this demands that it gets its own section. Let me first extract the principle here so that we have a context for the rest of this section.

The only way to authentic recovery is to outgrow your difficulties

This then reflects back to the whole process. Where it also becomes a part of the process is when we look at the day to day attitude we have towards our life and experiences. You will not be able to say that you have accepted growth as a basic principle until you stop seeing your daily experience as problems you need to solve and start seeing it as lessons you need to learn!

Have you been trying to recover and clean up your act without accepting that you need to grow? Every time you do that you are in conflict with yourself (or should I say parts of yourself that do not want to stop. You are having to manipulate others into changing to suit you. And let’s not forget that you are having to work with the resources you started with.

Growth builds resources so you get more as you go. Now I’m not looking at you when I say this but, there are lots of people that pay for a gym membership and then don’t go! What does this mean? It means that, on some level at least they believe that just paying will do it. Just wanting it will do it. Just agreeing to it will do it. Of course none of this works but it is revealing how many people must struggle with these sort of ideas.

It’s the same with your recovery. Recovery is the healthy consequences of growth. Addiction is the unhealthy consequences of not growing.

Psalm 40 – Being lifted up

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings”. The King James version includes the ‘horrible pit’ and so I included it even though the language is a bit obscure for the modern reader. The NIV says 

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

What ‘horrible pit’ is the psalmist referring to? Clearly this is not a physical place and ‘miry’ refers to the type of prison the Romans had in Athens and in Rome where there was just one hole at the top but you could never get out because of the clay and mud. You could never get a foothold to climb and so you were trapped in a place where you could make no progress.

You must be ‘lifted up’ in order to make progress. That means firstly that you need help from outside yourself. Through Gods word and his ways. The power that resides in his eternal truth. Put more simply, you grow when you face the difficulties of doing things the right way.

But first you must acknowledge your problem. Until you ‘Cry out in your distress’ you don’t enter that relationship where you can be helped. As long as you maintain that everything is alright you will never accept radical solutions. These only look possible from a position of extreme circumstances.

Growth is permanent

As long as you are feeding your habit whether it is substance or behaviour you are running to stay still. It will become increasingly hard to maintain this position and keep this ‘groundhog day’ going. It takes a lot of energy to stay where you are! You are now learning from this that the ‘static view’ of things flies in the face of reality. Your natural place is to grow and develop.

Growth is not temporary. Anything that has created genuine growth will benefit you for the rest of your days. You will not shrink back to how you were. In every situation and issue we bring all that we are to the moment. Growth is all about being able to bring more to the table when facing responsibilities and challenges. It’s cumulative in that you are not only using your growth resources but you are also creating more growth as part of the process.

Your world may look interesting and exciting, but if it doesn’t have living relationships in it, it actually looks like this.

The attraction of the dead world

I spoke about in the last episode on isolation about the ‘dead world’. There is another reason why this world attracts people who are suffering. It’s not just about the lack of scrutiny and accountability that makes it attractive. The dead world also attracts you because it doesn’t move! One of the main shifts I made when I started to study the ‘systemic approach’ was the challenging idea that the world is in a state of ‘flux’. That means that everything is going somewhere, all the time!

It made me think about my world view, which was definitely a ‘static’ one. I viewed the world as full of static objects that basically stayed wherever they were put until someone or something moved them. In my training I was connected up with the very challenging idea that the natural state of the world was change! This basically blew my mind and it took some getting used to. Ask yourself now, which is your world view closer to? Static or changing?

How this changes everything

Once I believe that change is the natural order of things I have to deal with two big ideas. Number one, I have to allow change in others and accept that brings challenges to me. The first of which is to become sensitive to those changes. Number two, I have to accept that I have been putting a lot of energy in staying the same! Staying the same may feel safer and more secure but remember that you are going against the natural order of things. this can be exhausting and for a while gave you a sense that you were doing something. Ultimately you are running to stay still.

The consequences of staying the same

Once you were in the groove, now you’re stuck in a rut

You are probably right in the middle of facing these consequences right now. So you know what they are already. But here’s a recap just so we can be clear. There are health consequences, relationship consequences, family consequences, financial consequences and career consequences.

as the addiction and dependence on unhealthy survival strategies continues, the consequences get worse. there is a strong connection between attitudes and physiology. You develop illnesses and health problems. These can get very serious and life threatening.

recovery generally begins in an active sense when the ‘cure becomes worse than the disease’. Don’t forget that what now may seem like a problem started off as a solution! You did it because it felt better! Like any unhealthy strategy, the consequences grow and grow until… yes, the moment when you realise that it’s no longer worth it. It’s time to stop. Are you at that stage?

By staying in the same place you are getting into a habit of reacting the same way to things. Denying, avoiding, procrastinating, stealing, lying, arguing. All these things become reinforced over time as they become your only option. When ponds become stagnant the problems are obvious. It’s the same with you. Ask yourself now. Is there still a good reason to be ultra safe? To never change and grow? Is the war still on?

The war is over – be grateful that you are still alive

Finally surrendered forty years after the war was over

Years after the Second World War was over Japanese soldiers were still being discovered on remote islands. They had lived for years thinking that they were in a war that had finished decades ago. Are you thinking you are still in a war that is actually over?

The need to become stagnant was a ‘survival strategy’. If the war is over then it’s time to develop ‘flourishing strategies’. In order to do this you need to realise that what you did was necessary. You may have developed these strategies as a result of being abused or mistreated. Having to live in a home with mental illnesses or addiction. Mistreatment. Children cannot leave like adults and so you had to survive. You used your child’s resources and came up with a plan that got you through. It worked! You survived. Now you need to acknowledge that the war is over.

Honour your child self for helping you to survive. Be grateful that it worked. Appreciate what you have done for yourself. One of the first challenges i recovery is developing this better attitude towards yourself. You have been taught that you are not worth caring for and you look back on your past with self loathing because of what has happened. You must find some appreciation for what you have done for yourself.

Survival strategies work best in times of crisis, times of war. When survival would be a result! They come from a time in your life when they were completely appropriate. You must ask yourself now, are they still?

Here is the big problem with survival strategies. They do not bring any growth. As long as you are still breathing at the end of the day they have worked. It’s as simple as that. Ask yourself now how would you feel if someone did not appreciate you when you saved their life? When all they asked of you was to survive and when you were 100% successful, they resented you! If the war is over then swap those survival strategies for flourishing strategies. Choose life!

Flourishing strategies

Here are a few pointers towards the flourishing strategies. Remember that you should go at your own pace. I always recommend 5% growth aims for my clients. Don’t set yourself up to fail by rushing into something you are not ready for.

1 Communication – When you don’t say what you want and don’t ask for what you need, you are saying that you are not worth anything. Try improving your communication by getting a little closer to what you want to say. Here is an exercise you can try.

2 Authenticity – I often say to my clients “you need to go home and let them know who you really are”. When you think you will be rejected or that you are not worth anything you will not show yourself. Again, making small shifts works best. Here is a blog on the subject. 

3 Vulnerability – If you have been hurt or abused in the past then you will not show any vulnerability. I couldn’t be wrong for thirty years because I ‘knew’ what would happen to me if I was. it would be used against me. Again, a survival strategy. Rather than attacking people or starting another argument, try saying where someone has hurt you or how it feels when someone says ‘those things’ to you. Here is an article on the subject of relationships affected by addiction.

Hope that helps and thanks for taking the time to read this. The final episode in this series will be the fourth one and it will be on self management.

The Core principles of growth 4 – Self Management

The Core principles of growth 2 – Isolation

Isolation is one of the big four issues

So this post is on isolation but the principle could be called ‘relating’. This is the second in this series on the core principles of growth into recovery from addiction. I want to continue to remind you that these are ideas that will produce personal growth and development. As such they will be useful to everyone who tries them.

That’s why when I train people to run a ‘Building Recovery’ group I always remind them that they are to be participants in the course, not just teachers. So let’s take a look now at why I want you to think of isolation as one of the if not the main enemy to growth and recovery.


Let’s start with a definition before we go on to talk about why isolation is so bad. The definition of isolation is ‘keeping apart’. Cambridge Dictionary. Notice how close this is to a definition of ‘holy’ which is to be ‘set apart’. Never confuse these two! Remember that the Bible tells us that even Satan appears as an ‘Angel of light’. 2 Cor 11/14. Bad things often appear as good things and good things are often lost for fear of doing a bad thing!

Separation is not isolation. We are to be separate but not isolated! Seeking solace in quiet times, going on retreats and meditation breaks is not isolating. What’s the difference I hear you ask. Well Separating is a thing but isolating isn’t!

Isolation is not a thing

Be careful when you think about something. You see when you think about something you make it a thing. Did you ever think about a problem and get all worried and anxious but then found out it wasn’t anything? Well you made nothing into something for a while didn’t you? Isolating is like that. You can be tempted to think about ‘isolating’ because it seems like this is the problem you need to solve. Once you turn it into something you have been distracted away from what is effective because isolation is more like the absence of something.

Isolation is not a cause it’s an effect. Isolation is what happens when we stop relating to living things. It happens when we stop talking about what’s real. It’s what happens when we stop being honest and when we stop being authentic. Choosing to be alone is not isolating.

Why is isolation so common?

So if isolation is the consequence of withdrawing from the world of living things. The first question becomes “why is it so popular”? I mean if it’s so bad for you, why are we all doing it? To answer this question we need to look again at it’s opposite. Not why are we doing this but what is so hard about the alternative.

One of hardest thing you do is to be involved in the living world. Ask yourself now. How involved are you with living things? When you think about this, don’t be fooled by things like how busy you are or how many meetings or events you attend. Not even how much charity work you are doing! Think about your close relationships. How authentic are you in those relationships?

If your answers disappointed you, I want you to think about why and how you have developed this situation. What makes the dead world so attractive? Here is a list that is not comprehensive but will give you a few things to think about changing and to help you to be understanding and empathetic as to why you have got to this stage. This list is relevant to most situations whether you are talking about alcohol, work or any other dead thing.

It’s easy – It’s safe – It’s less challenging – It’s consistent – It doesn’t answer back – It’s always where we left it.

You may be surprised at the amount of things I am including in the ‘dead world’. It’s much easier to say what is in the living world, people! Whatever spiritual beliefs you have you will probably recognise that people are the most alive thing we have. So, in essence they are the opposite of the list above. They are not easy. Often not safe. They are challenging, often inconsistent, they answer back and they do not stay where we thought we left them!

When we look at the difference between these lists it’s pretty easy to see why most of us are choosing the dead over the living. But there are consequences!

Why is isolation so bad for us?

Isolation is something we always knew was bad. I have worked in addiction treatment centres for years and we always cited it as something to avoid. Neuroscience is now showing us that it’s even worse than we thought. Don’t take my word for it, go and do your own research. Any short view of the internet will tell you that the science is consistent on this question. If I were coaching you into recovery I would want you to be interested in discussing the following short list.

We need outside influences

Firstly let’s take a look at your thinking. What would you say about it. Is it good? I know that you have to mainly rely on yourself to get through life but how are you at solving problems, critically analysing situations etc? Well, here’s the problem. Whatever issues there may be with your thinking, they are multiplied when there are no outside influences.

When you don’t share your problems. Don’t let people in. Don’t engage in open ended conversations or let people know what you are thinking. Every time a thought goes around your head any flaws in your thinking are multiplied. Engaging in the living world and improving your relationships is the best way to iron out any flaws in your thinking.

You may have all sorts of problems with doing what I am asking. Trust issues can be huge when it comes to other human beings. Vulnerability can also be a big issue. Don’t think you have to do all this straight away! I always ask my clients to think of these things as aims.

Dead things don’t change us

I don’t care how much you love your work, your heroin or your gambling. The biggest problem you have here is that relationships with these things do not change you. Think about it. You are being made worse from both directions! Not only are you needing to change and withdrawing from the things that change you. You are also getting more involved with the things that keep you the same!

You will have noticed a tendency to stagnate in your life through your addiction. The ‘Groundhog day’ experience is common in addiction. The more you become involved (enter a ‘bonded relationship) with dead things the more stuck you will be. No matter how rich you get or how safe you feel.

Modern forms of isolation

New forms of developing relationships with dead things are emerging all the time. They are becoming more and more disturbing as you might imagine.  At one time we thought of isolation as people who were uncommunicative. Distant spouses and people who were always at work. Loved ones who were always high on some drug or other. More recently we would be talking about people who were forever online gambling or gaming.

Today we would add people who are always on their phones and tablets. Social media (or antisocial media as I like to call it) is quickly becoming a huge problem. As things like FOMO (fear of missing out) and greater ranges of news feeds are available.  Internet addiction or IUD as it’s sometimes called is a fairly new phenomenon. However given the short amount of time these things have been available the rate at which it is growing is becoming a real concern. And even more concerning might be our reaction to it with attitudes like “some people are not ready for the technology”.

Sex toys are becoming more life like. A new generation of robot sex dolls are about to hit the market this year. As they become cheaper they will be common place in our lives before long. Sex therapists are saying that some people will be vulnerable to ‘falling in love’ with them. Forgive me if this just got a little bit too disturbing for you but this is where we are now and best to know that. Catering for and encouraging all manner of perversions, and drawing in the vulnerable through these manufactured dolls.

The Simple Solution

So this article has been about one of the founding principles of growth and recovery from addiction. Isolation, or, more specifically avoiding it, is one of the most important principles and the solution is simple but challenging. Make it an aim to move further into the living world. Do a little bit every day. Ask your self “is what I am doing now part of the living world or the dead world”?

Please do not try and change too quickly! I always suggest 5% to my clients. Imagine a set of controls for all your relationships. One for honesty, one for authenticity. One for how quick you are to apologise. Another for assertiveness.

Try asking yourself in any given situation “If I turned up this slider 5%, what would that look like here”?

Thanks for taking the time to read this. See you on the next one.