Pride may be one of the biggest barrier to addiction recovery.

Posted Feb 07, 2020

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

As a psychotherapist who works in the addiction field, denial is often cited as one of the biggest reasons for not getting help. While I agree denial is a huge barrier to recovery, it doesn't quite encapsulate the condition which keeps someone in denial.

To truly get to the heart of the issue, we need to explore how pride or ego (in contemporary parlance) infects each and every one of us, but especially those suffering from addiction. The pride I'm describing is not the healthy version where one can be proud of a job well done or one's accomplishments. Instead, the pride that can seep into the soul in a harmful way. In addiction work, pride makes itself known when one proclaims, "I can do this on my own," "I don't need help," or "I don't need God."  

So why do people who suffer from addiction have this mindset if they come into counseling desiring to get better and vowing to do anything it takes to recover? Part of the reason is that they can be stiff-necked, stubborn, and strong-willed people who don't want to end their addiction.

Their own stubbornness can blind them and keep them in denial. But underneath their denial is the true culprit of pride. The pride of believing they are set apart from others. They are unique and special and can recover without the help of others. If they believe in God, they don't need to surrender to God because they think they can be their own masters of their lives.  

Pride is also hard to detect within ourselves because we can mask it with a number of other emotions like shame, fear, helplessness, depression, and so on. Keep in mind I'm not saying those who suffer from the aforementioned issues suffer from pride but that those who do have an issue with pride can be blind to it because their emotional issues may often be cited as the reason for their faltering.  

In practical terms, a prideful person with addiction may see a therapist (it's a good start) but refuse to open their vulnerability to others of the same ilk. When I suggest to someone with problematic alcohol issues to attend either a group therapy session with others struggling with alcohol or to visit an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, pride showcases itself in defensiveness or disdain for those who need others for support.  

Another example includes those who also suffer from shame since shame and addiction often are interconnected. In this case, the prideful person may unwittingly conflate the two terms and tell me, "I can't share this with anyone because I'm too ashamed." And while that may be true during the initial phases of recovery, over the long term if a client continues to use this excuse, you can be sure pride has reared its ugly head. This is because on a subconscious level what they're really communicating to myself and others is, "I can't share this with anyone because I'm too good for them." 

The antidote to pride is humility. When people suffering from addiction finally reach an emotional or spiritual breakthrough where they can acknowledge their need for community, there is a possibility for true and lasting change. Humility in addiction recovery is a bit paradoxical. When one finally comes to terms with their inability to manage their life and their powerlessness to do so do they finally find peace and can be viewed as taking responsibility for doing so.

In the same vein, humility is no longer seen as a mark of weakness but rather an indication of one's strength. 

“The attainment of greater humility is the foundation principle of each of A.A.’s Twelve Steps. For without some degree of humility, no alcoholic can stay sober at all.” (A.A. Twelve and Twelve, 70)