Going it alone in recovery can be a hard path to travel. This is why many of those who give up alcohol and drugs will seek companionship on their journey – this may come from membership of a fellowship or from family and friends. There is no doubt that other people can be a help in life but problems arise if the individual becomes too dependent on the help of others. It can reach a stage where people feel incapable of making decisions without being told what to do.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is quoted about learned helplessness:
“Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter.”
Learned helplessness refers to a situation where people feel completely powerless to change their situation in life. This feeling of ineptness means that the individual feels like a passive victim, and the world can appear as a threatening place where they have no control. The individual turns to other people for guidance but can end up becoming overly dependent on them.
Those individuals who have developed learned helplessness can struggle to find happiness in life. It can be particularly dangers for people recovering from an addiction to have this mindset because:
* It may mean that they feel helpless to stop themselves from relapsing back to alcohol or drug use. They will then blame other people or their luck for this return to the self destructive behavior.
* If the person does not believe that they have much control over their future they may fail to put enough effort into their future. The individual is only likely to get back out of life what they put into it.
* They are likely to find work unsatisfying because they need to be constantly supervised and told what to do. Employers may find them difficult to manage because they never show any initiative.
* Learned helplessness means that people feel helpless to perform tasks which they could in reality easily manage. They have learned to become incompetent at these tasks.
* This type of mindset frequently leads people into symptoms of depression.
* Such individuals can have poor parenting skills because they don’t even feel confident enough to manage their own life.
* They will struggle to develop deep friendships.
* When people have developed learned helplessness they feel comforted by handing over responsibility for their problems to other people. This is an ineffective strategy that only leads to further suffering.
The signs that an individual has become overly dependent on other people include:
* The person believes that other people have a duty to help them. They may even expect these other people to drop everything when such help is deemed required.
* They easily give up on trying to solve their problems alone.
* The individual has low expectations for themselves but high expectations for other people. If other people fail to live up to these high expectations it will lead to feelings of being let down.
* Over dependence means that the person feels unwilling to take responsibility for their own life. This is reflected in the fact that they keep trying to move this responsibility over to other people.
* The individual makes decisions based on what other people think and not on what they actually want in life.
* The person may feel almost incapable of making a decision without first consulting other people. Even simple decisions such as which clothes to wear can become a big deal.
* When people are overly dependent on other people they will shift the blame when things go wrong. Rather than taking responsibility for their own choices they will blame other people for offering bad advice.
* Other people will tend to view this individual as too needy. This can be an unattractive personal characteristic and may mean that the person has trouble forming meaningful relationships.
* The person who is too dependent on other people will usually become uncomfortable if they have to spend time alone. This may mean that they have an almost constant need to be surrounded by other people.
* The over dependence on other people will usually mean that the individual will easily make enemies. This is because people will fall from grace when they do not live up to the expected high standards.
* This individual is also likely to move from reliance on one person to reliance on another person. This can mean that they enjoy no lasting friendships.
* They will have a tendency to act passively in situations where action is required.
Closely related to over dependence on other people is codependence. This is another method whereby an individual attempts to find peace with themselves through other people. In this case they are trying to live their life through the other person, and they will put the needs of this other ahead of their own. An example of this behavior would be the person who falls into a relationship with an addict, and then devotes their life to cleaning up this person’s mess. The co-dependent person might not be addicted to alcohol or drugs, but they can become addicted to the chaos of substance abuse. This person is willing to put up with being treated badly because it is the only way they can get beyond their own feeling of inadequacy.
The opposite extreme of become overly dependent on other people is excessive independence. This is where the individual believes that they don’t need anyone’s help for anything, and they don’t feel the need to learn from the experiences of other people. The dangers of excessive independence include:
* It can lead to terminal uniqueness where the individual does not believe that the laws that apply to other people do not apply to them. This type of thinking is often used by people who engage in unhealthy behaviors – for example, the cigarette smoker may believe that they will never suffer health consequences because they are different from other people.
* Learning from the mistakes of other people can help the individual avoid a great deal of wasted time and suffering. The insistence of continuously reinventing the wheel is an illogical approach to life.
* This type of behavior can alienate other people. Friends and family will usually offer their help as a sign of affection, and it can hurt them when such offers are rebuffed.
* It leads to arrogance and ignorance. It is difficult for the individual to learn anything because they think they already have all the answers, and that nobody else has anything to teach them.
* Even the most successful entrepreneurs will not go it alone. The reason why they are so successful is that they are able to recognize their own deficiencies and will choose the right people who can make up for these deficiencies.
* Excessive independence can be particularly dangerous for people who are trying to recovery from an addiction. The refusal to make the best use of available resources may mean that he person is more likely to relapse.
Excessive independence can be just as dangerous as over dependency on other people so the goal is to find the middle ground.
In order to break away from over reliance on other people it is suggested that the individual:
* One of the most common reasons for why people become overly independent on others is that they have low self esteem. The person can increase their feelings of self worth by first achieving small goals before moving onto more ambitious ones.
* The individual needs to honestly assess if they have become overly dependent on other people. If people do not see a problem they are unlikely to try to fix it.
* When becoming less dependent on other people it is important to do this tactfully. Other people can feel hurt if they are directly told that their help is not needed.
* The individual should break the habit of automatically running to other people when they have a problem. Instead they should first see if they can come up with a solution without help.
* In order for people to break away from over dependence they will need to appreciate the need for this. This means developing a firm understanding of the dangers associated with over dependence.
* The individual needs to be careful not to go to the other extreme of excessive independence. There will be many situations where the help of other people will be invaluable.
* It is highly recommended that people devote some time to helping other people. This will help ensure that they are not always focused on their own problems.
* Techniques such as [mindfulness meditation] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness) can help the individual become more competent with dealing with their difficulties.