A debate among the medical and mental health community is the discussion of an alcoholic personality. Whether you believe in this concept or not, there are certain characteristics and traits that are commonly found among alcoholics.
One of these traits would be grandiosity, or a nonnormative superiority complex. There is a variety of characteristics or symptoms for grandiose thinking, however there is an overarching belief that this pattern of thinking is unhealthy. It is usually not perceived well by others as well.
Another thing to note is that many individuals who struggle with grandiose thinking patterns, also have a history of struggling with their self-esteem. This too is a common difficulty among alcoholics that can be harmful to a person’s recovery if left unaddressed.
Let’s start from the beginning, and look at what exactly grandiose thinking is.
Grandiosity is a term commonly used in the Mental Health field. As with many things, there are of course large definitions to the term that we could discuss, however that may just be more confusing than beneficial.
To keep things simple, a person who is viewed as grandiose, will often view themselves as better than others. They may feel that they can only be understood by others who are also superior.
As an outsider, we would view a grandiose person negatively, and often as full of themselves. We would be able to see that their own expectations of themselves are unrealistic as we would be able to see their limitations. It would be impossible and draining to try and address grandiose thinking patterns when you see them.
For some, grandiosity can be a symptom of a larger concern as this can easily be tied to delusional thinking. Grandiose actions and thoughts could fall anywhere from slightly problematic to extreme. This can be a symptom for a larger mental health concern.
Grandiosity can be found in mental health disorders, such as Narcissistic personality disorder or an active manic state for Bipolar Disorder.
Grandiosity and Alcohol Addiction?
Now that we have a base line understanding of what grandiosity is, take a look at how grandiose thinking can be present among alcoholics and those in active recovery.
Some of the symptoms or traits listed above could be present in the alcoholic before they begin drinking. Many believe that having these grandiose beliefs of oneself can actually contribute to the development of alcoholism. A potential risk factor if you will.
If a person has a feeling of invincibility, they will likely have thoughts similar to “that won’t happen to me”. These thoughts could arise if they are cautioned against heavy or problematic alcohol use.
The thought that it won’t happen to them will then enable their drinking patterns which could lead them down the path of addiction. It is likely that they would continue to be unreceptive to feedback and concern from others.
These traits can also feed into a person’s denial of their drinking problems. Denial is a common stage of alcoholism, and will vary from person to person. Should a person have grandiose thinking, they may be in denial for a bit longer than others.
Individuals who struggle with grandiose thinking often struggle with their own self esteem. Their poor self-esteem is actually the driving force of the grandiose thinking with the intention of feeling better about themselves.
Low self-esteem is a common consequence of drinking and alcohol addiction. When in active addiction, a person is consumed by their drinking and all other responsibilities fall to the side. As a result, a person may lose their job, damage personal relationships, enter into legal difficulties and financial concerns as well as experience poor health.
All of these consequences, and more, can further damage a person’s self-esteem.
Grandiosity and Recovery
As mentioned above, grandiosity can impact a person in active addiction in a few different ways. It can be in the way they view others and the world around them as well as their self-esteem.
Self-esteem is a common struggle among alcoholics in active addiction as well as in recovery. How does someone work on improving their self-esteem? This can be challenging for anyone, let alone a person working on that and trying to balance a healthy recovery.
There is no simple answer about how to improve your self-esteem.
A good starting point would be to do “esteem able acts” and work towards having integrity. Doing the next right thing is a simple way to think of integrity. An example could be picking up garbage that someone left behind. Not doing this for praise, but doing it because you feel it should be done.
Low self-esteem is commonly associated with feelings of guilt and shame that can be traced back to active addiction. These two emotions can be difficult to work through, however the 12 Steps in the Alcoholics Anonymous program is one approach that would address them.
Regret is a toxic emotion because it has us living in the past and wishing we can “un-do” something, which is an unrealistic hope and/or thought. As a result, we sit in the negativity rather than accepting the behavior, and learning from it.
Many experience that self-esteem changes come over time. Having some distance from the time in your life when you made poor choices, and knowing that you have made steps in the right direction can be powerful. Especially when you start to see changes come with your difficulties.
For example, relationships can be mended and/or improved, finances can be rebuilt, positions at work can be improved and the presence of negative thinking can decrease.
We talk to ourselves more than anyone else does throughout our day. As a result, we tend to feel similarly to what we think. If I think that I make poor choices, and am not going anywhere positive, I am more likely to believe these thoughts and have a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The healthier option would be to recognize the negative thought when it occurs and begin to challenge it. Many find that the use of positive affirmations and journaling can be beneficial as well.
Now the tips above can be helpful for working to improve a negative self-esteem. So what about working to address grandiose thinking in recovery?
As with self-esteem, this is not an easy task. It takes time, effort and work. One suggestion would be to get a sponsor who is not afraid to call you out when you are being grandiose.
If grandiosity is something that a person has been experiencing for some time, chances are that it occurs naturally compared to being done deliberately. So how do we work on something we don’t know that we are doing?
We start by being open to feedback from others. This will be difficult for someone who struggles with grandiose thinking, however is crucial. Thankfully, challenges experienced in addiction and recovery, such as grandiose thinking, are not too uncommon so it is likely that you are able to find someone who can relate to your experience.
Being open and receptive to feedback from others can help you be more aware of when the grandiose thinking occurs so that you can actively challenge the thoughts as they arise. Some individuals may find that engaging in therapy may assist in this.
Why is it Important to Address Grandiose Thinking in Recovery?
The answer to this is simple. Grandiose thinking and poor self-esteem were likely present in active addiction, which means that if they continue in recovery, it would be easy to slip back into active addiction. Unfortunately, there are alcoholics who have undergone treatment but still exhibit grandiosity.
Most individuals would agree that the symptoms and traits mentioned above for grandiose thinking are unhealthy. When in recovery, a goal should be to decrease unhealthy behaviors and traits.
Of course, this is not as simple and easy as it may sound. For some, their grandiose thinking may be connected to a bigger mental health concern such as Bipolar Disorder or a Personality Disorder.
If this is the case, then it may be necessary to seek professional help from a trained mental health professional. Approaches used may utilize medication and talk therapy.
Either way, it is possible to make healthy changes. This article may make it sound simple, but the truth is that alcohol recovery is hard work. Some days are better than others, and at some points it may feel as though good days are few and far between.
Know that this is OKAY, and that everyone’s journey is different. There is a reason why the phrase “One day at a time” has stuck around so long in the recovery world.
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