Emotional Sobriety

Recovering from substance addiction—without becoming addicted to spirituality.

Cult of Personality

Moving from Self-Rejection to Self-Acceptance.

We all have different parts of ourselves, different aspects to our personalities, different roles we play in different parts of our lives. Archetypes are a good way of identifying some of our various sub-personalities and include:

Mother, Father, Child, Hero, Damsel in Distress, Trickster, Mentor, Martyr, Competent, Addict, Worker, Healer, Vixen, Virgin … the list can go on and on. 

We sometimes think that in order to succeed or fit in, we need to play only one part, while we hide or discard the rest. This sets up a tricky paradigm, where trying to be loved or acknowledged is inherently tied to disowning aspects of ourselves. I came across this quote by Henri J.M. Nouwen recently and it embodies the subtle ways in which we inevitably reject parts of ourselves by trying to adopt or project a strictly “healthy” or “successful” persona:

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

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In Recovering Spirituality, I have written that integrating the fullness of the human condition into one’s spiritual practice is what leads to emotional sobriety. Relating this to the specifics of addiction and recovery, I wrote:

"The results from my research confirmed over and over that recovery is about embracing the truth of who we are. It begins with the recognition that one is an alcoholic. Owning one’s disease of addiction needs to be folded in before further recovery can commence. In this process, the alcoholic can come to know the difference between being an active addict or a sober one. This example points to the intrinsic benefit of integration in that it enables consciousness, which enables choice. Choosing recovery means that one can be an alcoholic and also be sober in mind, body, and spirit.

            Compartmentalizing is the opposite of integration. This is where one might think that admitting they have the disease of alcoholism would define them as a whole. Compartmentalizing is like putting the blinders on, where you can’t see the truth and choices that are around you, but only what you perceive to be right in front of you. This type of thinking keeps one’s experiences relatively limited because there is an inability to see the big picture. I have always loved the following quote as a reminder of the inherent value of the big picture: “The brightest stars are in the darkest sky.” We can only see the stars if we widen our vision and perception from the small points of darkness that we are usually drawn towards. We can additionally interpret this quote to mean that in owning one’s darkness; he can finally see the fiery gems that have been there all along. Imperfections are intrinsically valuable and can be one’s greatest teacher in that they fuel growth and development. Compartmentalizing keeps one focused on the problem, while integration opens one up to vast possibilities."

I hope that you will own both your darkness and your fiery gems today. The contrast makes you a rich, dynamic, and whole person. Owning your whole self brings you into the now and into the reality of your life because you aren’t fighting with the truth of who you are and your circumstances. It enables connection with others because we all relate to the human condition and you aren’t working so hard to manage what you want people to see. We are all a “little of this and a little of that” and one aspect will never define us entirely. Let the sub-personalities co-exist, let them have a conversation, this doesn’t make you crazy, it actually makes you sane.  I love this quote by Thom Rutledge:


I look forward to hearing your personal experiences of integration and how you have benefited from self-acceptance (particularly accepting the stuff you never imagined you would) in the comments section.


Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice.

Follow her on Facebook for daily inspiration on achieving emotional sobriety. Watch her short videos or visit her website at www.IngridMathieu.com

Copyright by Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., 2013. All rights reserved. Any excerpts reproduced from this article should include links to the original on Psychology Today.

Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., specializes in the intersection of spirituality and addiction. Her book, Recovering Spirituality, centers on the problem of using spirituality to avoid real recovery. more...

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