We have all had bouts with stubbornness at one point or another. Each of us has had moments, or even entire days, when we were told to do something that we did not want to do. On several occasions, we have also been told not to do something that we did want to do. Usually, this happens as a child. But the second we hear that the cookies in the cookie jar are off-limits, we can’t resist the urge to dip our hand in as soon as our families have vacated the kitchen. For some of us, this habit does not die down in adulthood. In fact, for the addicts and their families, it may actually grow to become much, much worse.
Stubbornness stands in the way of our recovery, whether we are recovering from our own addiction or that of someone we love. Whether struggling with alcoholism, addiction, or even codependency, we must learn to let go of our stubborn behavior if we are ever to make a proper attempt at recovery. Below, we will discuss a bit about how stubbornness feeds into addiction from both sides of the coin, as well as the best ways in which to deal with it.
How Stubbornness Feeds Addiction
The cookie jar example above is one of the best ways to describe the general mindset of the addict or alcoholic. Those who are prone to addiction are often arrested in their emotional development, and in many ways we are not unlike the small child who simply wants a cookie. This is worsened by the fact that we are often in a state of deep denial regarding the extent of our condition, and it is difficult for us to admit that what we are doing is bad for us. In our minds, all we want is something that will bring us a little bit of happiness. Why should anyone wish to stand in the way of that?
If this does not sound like childish thinking, then try looking at it from another point of view. When the child is told that the cookie is not to be eaten, does he or she stop to think about why they aren’t supposed to eat it? Perhaps it is for an upcoming function, and their refusal to abide by their parents’ wishes will ensure that there are not enough to go around. Selfish and stubborn thinking does not allow for this consideration of others, however, and the child will eventually decide to do what they want. This may not always be the case, but it has certainly been the case in many instances.
This is because the child is generally stuck on one of the lower rungs in Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg believed that those who are not morally developed may occasionally do the right thing, but that they will only do so to avoid punishment rather than out of consideration for others. In much the same fashion, the addict or alcoholic may refrain from drinking or abusing drugs when they fear getting caught, but they will leap at the opportunity when it prevents itself. They do not stop to think about whether this decision may have a negative impact on their friends, families, lovers, jobs, or sometimes even themselves.
A blog by fellow treatment center Ocean Breeze Recovery refers to this sort of obstinate behavior as “the Brat.” And when stubbornness takes hold of us, we are nothing if not bratty. We are the kings and queens of babies. Our stubbornness feeds our addiction primarily because we want it to. And when we want something, we often have a way of getting it. We cannot be told “no.” If anything, the need to hide our addictions will only make them worse. Because then we must seize every opportunity to drink or abuse drugs, and our addictions will begin to control our lives in a way unlike any we have experienced before.
The Addict’s Stubborn Behavior
It was not by sheer coincidence that we used the phrase “kings and queens of babies” above, for “King Baby” is actually a term well-known to the psychology community. There are many definitions for the term. An article by Psychology Today refers to it as “the role that compels us to laugh when we need to cry, and dictates that we make others laugh as a way of distracting them and ourselves from the emotional work at hand.” In this instance, our stubbornness has taken the form of denial, requiring us to stubbornly shut out our emotions by simply replacing them with the feelings we would prefer to focus upon. However, the King Baby role entails many other behaviors as well.
Think of the last time you really wanted a drink, but were required to abstain for one reason or another. Perhaps your circumstances had already become such that you were required to drink in secret, and someone who did not approve of your drinking seemed to be hovering around at all times. How did you act toward this person? Were you forgiving of their presence, and understanding of the fact that they simply wanted what was best for you? Or did you act in a sullen, rude manner toward them, as if their sheer existence was an inconvenience to you? In most cases, the addict or alcoholic will take the latter approach.
Addicts and alcoholics also have a tendency to exhibit stubbornness when they have gotten precisely what they wanted, but not in the way we wanted. Perhaps we asked a favor of a friend, and they asked us to do something for them in return. It is difficult for us to understand why others should expect from us what we expect from them. Our failure to follow the golden rule and treat others as we wish to be treated is among our greatest character defects. We may be good people at heart, but our actions may often suggest otherwise. This is especially true when stubbornness governs our behaviors.
This tendency to be rude toward those who are closest to us when they do not give us what we want will often leave us in a state of mild depression. We are aware that we are behaving in a manner of which we ourselves do not approve. Yet for some reason, we seem unable to turn it off. This is especially true when our stubbornness is geared toward the acquisition of drugs and alcohol. It is also quite true when responsibility stands in the way of our ability to drink and use drugs when and where we want.
While our stubbornness may affect our mood in a negative manner, the same is true of the reverse. As reported by the Los Angeles Times in 2013, two JAMA Psychiatry studies have shown that those who drink for the purpose of self-medicating and improving their mood are three times more likely to exhibit particularly stubborn forms of alcoholism and addiction than those who drink or abuse drugs for other reasons. In short, our stubbornness is born from our other defects, be they mental or emotional. We do not know how to be happy, but drugs and alcohol allow us to fake it. Heaven help those who stand in our way.
The Family’s Stubborn Behavior
Stubbornness as exhibited by the family of the addict or alcoholic is somewhat more complicated, in the sense that it may be exhibited in a number of ways. Some, however, are far more damaging than others. The first manner in which the family of the addict or alcoholic may display their stubbornness is, believe it or not, by allowing the addict or alcoholic in question to continue along their self-destructive path. The family may use any number of excuses in order to justify this behavior, and they will often stick to these excuses for quite some time after the addict has either begun their path toward recovery or even abandoned the family due to their own stubborn refusal to quit drinking. Clinical psychologist Julie Roe, writing for Charisma Magazine, states:
One common hindrance to the healing process is the codependent’s stubborn defense of his dysfunctional family-of-origin. Often a codependent will pretend things “weren’t that bad” and find looking inward very painful. I often hear, “My parents did the best they could.”
Though that may be true, it is necessary for the codependent to see that suppression of a painful past has resulted in his present problems. If he wants to complete the grieving process and receive the healing he so desperately needs, he has to get out of denial.
The denial mentioned by Roe is in many ways similar to that of the alcoholic mentioned above. It serves as an excuse to put aside negative feelings in favor of more preferable ones, but these feelings are born of self-deception and will not engage any real sort of emotional healing. In order for the family to truly heal, they must confront what has been bothering them. Not necessarily the addict themselves (this is unfortunately not always possible), but the way that the addict has hurt them. They must come to a point of acceptance, realizing that things were not as they wanted them to be and that they deserved better than what they got. In some circumstances, such as those in which the addict or alcoholic is deceased, this can be difficult. But it is far better for the family to accept that they were mistreated than to allow their stubbornness to keep them in denial.
Of course, there are some who will go too far to the other extreme. The Big Book of AA has two chapters, To Wives and The Family Afterward, which note that it is important for the family to understand patience. Addiction and alcoholism may be hard on the family, but they are hard on the addict and alcoholic as well. As such, it is important to note that there is a difference between stubbornness and merely setting boundaries. It is good to set boundaries, and to hold the addict or alcoholic responsible for their own actions if they step outside the line; however, these boundaries must be reasonable. Too much stubbornness may allow some to think that the addict or alcoholic owes them everything, and that any minor transgression on their part is worthy of punishment. This mentality may drive them right back to their substance of choice. If the family can learn to keep a firm hand—yet still a gentle one—then they will have truly learned to overcome stubbornness and help the addict in their midst to begin the healing process.
Doing Away with Stubbornness
Stubbornness is much like denial, in the sense that it must be recognized before it can be regulated. This will take a great deal of self-reflection, as we must learn the specific cause of our stubborn behavior. We have explored these causes above, but you must get to the root of your own stubbornness if you are ever to overcome it. The problem may be that you simply want things a certain way, that you are grappling with unhappiness and do not want to face it head-on, or simply that you would prefer not to listen to the opinions of others. Whatever the cause, you will have to discover it for yourself.
This may take some counseling. If the problem extends to the entire family, then seeking out a licensed family therapist would be the most logical choice. However, great strides may be taken with the help of individual counseling as well. Any licensed professional will help you get to the root cause of your stubbornness, and will also teach you how to deal more amicably with those around you. These skills are important for both the addict and the codependent, as both are accustomed to denying others’ opinions in different ways. Counselors can teach us how to build a stronger rapport with others, as well as how to increase our listening skills and express ourselves in a way that does not come off as rude or dismissive.
Humility is at the heart of these pursuits. In order to overcome our stubbornness, we must accept that our view of things is not always fully accurate. We have the right to be wrong from time to time, but we also have a responsibility to admit to ourselves and to others when this has been the case. For many of us, learning the value of humility can be one of the greatest roadblocks to overcoming our stubbornness. But it is vital. Both the addict and the codependent must learn to see their faults if they are ever to truly recover from their emotional and spiritual condition. With enough willingness, we can get there eventually.
Stubbornness can impact the value of our lives in a very negative fashion, distancing us from those we love the most. We must learn to overcome this major fault, or else we may never become the people we want to be. Just remember that acceptance is the answer. Listen to others every once in a while, and try to take your own moral inventory rather than that of everyone else. If you can follow these basic guidelines, then the rest should come with time.