Addiction has many faces and is much more than just repetitive using of drugs. There are many aspects surrounding the addictive individual and one of those is personality. Personality problems are an often ignored and misunderstood aspect of addiction recovery. What are personality problems? They may be simply defined as a problem in the way one interacts with people. For people with a ‘maladaptive personality’ or a personality that is not able to adapt to the environment. For such people, willpower alone is not enough to change their basic personality.
Let us compare chemical dependency and personality disorders. In chemical dependency, the causes usually vary from drug and alcohol use, changes in brain chemistry and function to heredity. However personality problems may be triggered off by stress, threatened or real losses, childhood issues, family imbalance, changes in brain chemistry and function and heredity too.
We are surrounded by a variety of personality types- shy, balanced, extrovert and many more. Each personality type is characterized by a few traits. For example to shy personality may have traits of introversion, self-centredness, isolation. To an extent these are present in everyone. But when does a trait become ‘maladaptive’? When it leads to chronic distress with friends and/or family, work or in other areas of life. Some maladaptive personality traits are – maladaptive self- centredness, maladaptive anger management, over separation and over attachment, negative thinking (depressive thinking) and so on.
The problem in personality problems lies in distorted thinking. Following are some examples of distorted thinking:
Black or white thinking: Since you’re a recovering addict you can’t take any medication because all medications are drugs.
Overgeneralizing: I made one mistake and now I can’t do anything right
Catastrophising: The doctor has called me and I probably have cancer
Jumping to conclusions: She didn’t look at me when I waved at her from across the street so she hates me.
How do we deal with personality problems in the purview of addiction? In addiction counseling, therapists focus on helping the individuals identify and work through their feelings of shame. Using the AA slogan “silence is the enemy of recovery” one needs to reach out to others and talk about the shame.
Counseling for personality problems often focuses on thoughts, feelings and interpersonal skills. The first step is to acknowledge that there is a personality problem. This is akin to breaking through denial in chemical dependency. Then self-centred thinking, shame reactions need to be changed along with evaluating a need for taking medication.
Although change is slow and not always easy, it is a rewarding endeavor that will enhance the quality of your recovery. Remember, one day at a time!
Therapist, Hope Trust