Gabor Maté on Addiction, change & relationship with someone who is addicted

‘To live with an addict of any kind is frustrating, emotionally painful and often infuriating. Family, friends and spouse may feel they are dealing with a double personality: one sane and lovable, the other devious and uncaring. They believe the first is real and hope the second will go away. In truth, the second is the shadow side of the first and will no sooner leave than will a shadow abandon the object whose shape it traces on the ground – not unless the light comes from a different angle.

While it is natural for the loved ones of an addict to wish to reform him, it cannot be done. The counterwill-driven resistance to any sense of coercion will sabotage even the most well-meant endeavour by one human being to change another. There are many other factors, too, including the powerful underlying emotional currents and brain physiology from which addiction springs in the first place. The person attached to his addiction will respond to an attempt to separate him from his habit as a lover would to someone who disparages his beloved: with hostility. Any attempts to shame him will also trigger rage. Until the person is willing to take on the task of self-mastery, no one else will induce him to do so. “There are no techniques that will motivate people to make them autonomous,” psychologist Edward Deci has written. “Motivation must come from within, not from techniques. It comes from their deciding they are ready to take responsibility for managing themselves. “

Contrary to popular misconception, confrontational “tough love” interventions are likely to fail. A 1999 study compared confrontation with a method employing a nurturing attitude by the family. “More than twice as many families succeeded in getting their loved ones into treatment (64 percent) with a gentle approach than with standard intervention (30 percent). But no reality shows push the less dramatic method, and it is difficult to find clinicians who use it,” science and health journalist Maia Szalawitz commented in the New York Times.

Family, friends and partners of adults sometimes have only one reasonable decision in front of them: either to choose to be with the addict as she is or to choose not to be with her. No-one is obliged to put up with unreliability, dishonesty and emotional withdrawal – the ways of the addict. Unconditional acceptance of another person doesn’t mean staying with them under all circumstances, at no matter what cost to oneself; that duty belongs only to the parents of the young child. Acceptance in the context of adult-to-adult relationships may mean simply acknowledging that the other is the way he or she is, not judging them and not corroding one’s own soul with resentment that they are not different. Acceptance does not mean saintly self-sacrifice or tolerating an eternity of broken promises and hurtful eruptions of frustration and rage. Sometimes a person remains with an addicted partner for fear of the guilt they might experience otherwise. A therapist once said to me, “When it comes to a choice between feeling guilt or resentment, choose the guilt every time.” It is wisdom I have passed on to many others since. If refusal to take on responsibility for another person’s behaviour burdens you with guilt, while consenting to it leaves you eaten by resentment, opt for the guilt. Resentment is soul suicide.

Leaving the addict or staying in the relationship is a choice no person can make for anyone else, but to stay with him while resenting him, mentally rejecting him and punishing him emotionally, or even just subtly trying to manipulate him into “reform” is always the worst course. The belief that anyone “should” be any different then he or she is is toxic to oneself, to the other and to the relationship.’

From ‘In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts’ by Gabor Maté

Beautifully written and accurate to our experience at this service.

Gabor picks up some of the fundamentals of a person-centred perspective:-

‘The counterwill-driven resistance to any sense of coercion will sabotage even the most well-meant endeavour by one human being to change another…Any attempts to shame him will also trigger rage.’

Coercion, blame and shaming in relationship are not helpful and do not work – they threaten self structure, trigger closing, defensiveness and rigidity. This is the same whether the method is overt, or more subtle and indirect (what tends to be called manipulation).

“There are no techniques that will motivate people to make them autonomous,” psychologist Edward Deci has written. “Motivation must come from within, not from techniques. It comes from their deciding they are ready to take responsibility for managing themselves.”

Person-centred therapy is not about techniques; it is about providing the relational context  – by means of loving presence, authenticity and empathy – in which this motivation, this whole-being ‘decision’ will be most readily able to arise, through the person’s own inherent tendency to actualize…. Carl Roger’s seven stages of personality change.

The research data comparing ‘tough love’ with nurturing is interesting (and predictable), as is its mainstream unacceptability/invisibility. Our social structures do not embody any real understanding of what gives rise to personality change, or the importance of nurture and relational connection. Sadly the ‘treatment’ available is often – although thankfully not always – founded on the culturally prevalent foundations of coercion, judgment, blame and shame.

This excerpt is also helpful in terms of what acceptance is, and our power/responsibility in toxic relationship – some fundamental points here:-

‘Unconditional acceptance of another person doesn’t mean staying with them under all circumstances, at no matter what cost to oneself….Acceptance in the context of adult-to-adult relationships may mean simply acknowledging that the other is the way he or she is, not judging them and not corroding one’s own soul with resentment that they are not different.’

and:-

‘If refusal to take on responsibility for another person’s behaviour burdens you with guilt, while consenting to it leaves you eaten by resentment, opt for the guilt. Resentment is soul suicide.’

and:-

‘…to stay with [a person].. while resenting him, mentally rejecting him and punishing him emotionally, or even just subtly trying to manipulate him into “reform” is always the worst course. The belief that anyone “should” be any different then he or she is is toxic to oneself, to the other and to the relationship.’

Here’s the book link – a really helpful exploration of compulsive behaviour and the accompanying emotional/physiological landscapes:-

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Realm-Hungry-Ghosts-Gabor-Mate/dp/0676977413/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444127666&sr=1-1&keywords=gabor+mate+in+the+realm+of+hungry+ghosts

Gratitude to Gabor Maté.

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994

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This entry was posted in acceptance, accountability, actualizing tendency, anger, blaming, communication, compulsive behaviour, consent, core conditions, cultural questions, dependence, Disconnection, emotions, encounter, ethics, family systems, Gabor Mate, guilt, loss, person centred, power and powerlessness, relationship, research evidence, sadness & pain, self concept, shadow, shaming, transformation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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