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Do Not Allow Grandiosity to Sabotage Your Recovery from Addiction


self-reflectionOne of the great benefits of building a life away from alcohol or drug abuse is an improvement in self-esteem. This means not being willing to settle for anything less than the happiness you deserve. You begin to value yourself more highly, and this empowers you to do the things necessary for creating a better life.  Improved self-esteem is an important goal in sobriety; however, one thing you will want to avoid is grandiosity.

What is Grandiosity?

Those behaving in a grandiose manner may claim to have high self-esteem, but it is usually the opposite. In fact, grandiosity is a sign of delusional thinking, making it a common symptom in mental illness – it is referred to as ‘delusions of grandeur’. If you have high self-esteem, it means that you have developed the ability to honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, understanding that you are as worthy of the good things in life as everyone else. Grandiosity means individuals having developed an unrealistic sense of how important they are, including behaviour such as:

  • believing that it is possible to do anything and be anything – the grandiose person may literally believe that he or she can move mountains
  • feeling superior to others
  • being willing to engage in dangerous activities due to a feeling of invincibility
  • feeling special
  • believing in a unique connection with God (this can be a sign of schizophrenia) or some other higher force
  • believing they have supernatural powers.

Those becoming grandiose in recovery do not usually exhibit the extreme version of this way of thinking. It is usually more of a sense of being ‘a cut above’ everyone else. Recovering alcoholics often joke about their ability to be ‘lying in the gutter but still looking down on everyone else’.

Grandiosity and Low Self-Esteem

Grandiosity can be a type of coping mechanism for those having low self-esteem. It usually occurs subconsciously, but the person tries to hide the fact that he or she feels inferior by pretending to be superior. Individuals with low self-esteem can feel very vulnerable when it comes to showing their weakness to the world, so acting in a grandiose fashion can appear to offer some protection. The reality is that this is not a very effective coping strategy at all because it means living a lie. It also means that the individual has to suffer the negative effects of their grandiose behaviour.

Grandiosity and the Addictive Personality

One of the reasons those who abuse alcohol or drugs are likely to develop grandiosity is because of the addictive personality. This set of character traits includes things like low self-esteem, a subjective feeling of dealing with an excessive amount of stress, and feelings of vulnerability. Grandiosity is such a common feature of those caught up in substance abuse that it might be considered a characteristic of the addictive personality as well.

Dangers of Grandiosity in Recovery

Grandiosity is detrimental behaviour for anyone, but it is particularly dangerous for those trying to recover from addiction. This is because:

  • it makes it very hard to learn anything new because those who feel superior don’t want to listen to others
  • it is an unappealing character trait so it can be hard for individuals who behave this way to develop close friendships
  • it usually means that people take their recovery for granted
  • it means that the person is blind to their own character flaws and these will continue to cause problems
  • it prevents the development of emotional sobriety and this is where the real happiness in recovery comes from
  • it can be used as a justification for relapse – individuals that overestimate their own importance are more likely to drink again out of anger with the intention of ‘I’ll show them’
  • it means continuing to live a lie in recovery
  • it can lead to anger and resentment when the individual does not feel as if he or she is being treated special enough.

How to Avoid Grandiosity in Recovery

The reason it can be so hard to deal with grandiosity in recovery is that many are unaware that this is how they are behaving. This is why it is so important for newly sober people to pay attention to their behaviour, and to gauge how others react to them. One of the benefits of joining a group like Alcoholics Anonymous is that it can mean having a sponsor who will be able to provide feedback on behaviour. A therapist or counsellor might also be able to help the person develop insight into this negative coping strategy. There are also things that those in early sobriety can do to avoid becoming grandiose, such as:

  • developing humility and understanding that this is a sign of strength and not weakness
  • challenging thoughts that come up about being superior to other people
  • spending time with inspirational people in recovery who are also humble
  • keeping a daily journal and reflecting on behaviour during the day
  • mindfulness medication can help develop more insight into behaviour
  • cognitive-based therapy can allow the development of effective coping strategies so there is less temptation to turn to less effective ones like grandiosity
  • asking people you trust for feedback on your behaviour – it is important that you feel strong enough to deal with any criticism before doing this
  • a recovering programme like the 12-steps can help individuals develop humility but it doesn’t happen overnight
  • developing some self-compassion so there is less need to protect the ego.

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