Written By:Amber Hollingsworth,LPC
People that do bad/hurtful things often feel like they are the victim. They start out feeling hurt in some way, and that hurt eventually turns into resentment. These hurt feelings transform into justification for their own bad behavior. It’s a defense mechanism that people use to block out feelings of shame and/or guilt.
We all do this to some degree. It’s like a reflex, and it can happen before you even realize it.
This defense mechanism gets on hyper overdrive when a person is in active addiction or alcoholism. They’re engaging in so many behaviors that don’t fit with their value system (lying, hiding, stealing, missing important family events or deadlines, failing school, poor work performance, etc…). As a defense mechanism against shame/guilt, they will focus on some “unfairness” in their life.
Here’s some common topics I hear in my practice:
They feel like their mom or wife is a perfectionist with unrealistic expectations.
They feel like they work harder than anyone else and are underappreciated.
They feel unfairly picked on by someone else.
They might be stuck in a grief process
They could have had a traumatic event in their past.
They feel stuck in a life situation that they hate.
They feel like other people have it better than they do.
These things may be true to some degree. It’s not that the person is just making up the situation. It’s more like they use the situation to justify their own bad choices. As long as they can focus on these “injustices,” THEY WILL NOT focus on their own wrongdoing.
This is a major reason why we use a family model to treat addiction. If you live with a person struggling with a Substance Use Disorder, then you likely feel hurt and angry yourself. You might use that hurt and anger to justify nagging, criticizing, snooping, complaining, yelling, being passive aggressive, etc… When you do this, the other person feels like they are being treated unfairly. They use that hurt feeling to justify more drinking, using, stealing, hiding, lying, etc…
AROUND AND AROUND WE GO!
To effectively treat addiction, you have to help everyone break out of this cycle. That’s where Hope For Families comes in!
A great Christmas movie that illustrates this phenomenon is “Fred Clause.” It’s pretty hilarious and if you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. An even more extreme example would be “Bad Santa.” This movie also illustrates how when we keep being nice to a person who is behaving badly, they eventually start softening and their behavior begins to change. This is because they don’t have anyone else to blame so they start having to look inside. People will see their wrongdoing faster if you show genuine, love, concern, and empathy. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but it works! It doesn’t happen immediately but it will create a longer lasting change than punishments, criticism, threats, nagging, or ultimatums.