Comparison affirms “terminal uniqueness”
“Terminal uniqueness” is a phrase commonly used in 12-Step circles to describe a particular type of resistance to recovery. Many people feel the principles of recovery may apply to others but not to them. Often, they enter a treatment situation, look around and think, “These people are addicts but I’ve only been drinking because of special circumstances. Therefore, I don’t need to do what these other people need to do.” However, everyone who develops a substance use disorder does so as a result of his or her own special circumstances. It’s true that everyone is different and therefore you can look around and justifiably think, “I’m not like everyone here.” However, in important ways, you’re very much like the other people in treatment. Using comparisons to distance yourself from that fact is just an excuse to avoid engaging in treatment and that will only slow your recovery.
Comparison leads to negative emotions
Comparing yourself to others usually leads to negative emotions and even depression and anxiety. There have been quite a few studies on the effects of social comparison. One study found that people who reported making more frequent social comparisons were also more likely to feel envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness. They were also more likely to lie, blame others, and have unmet cravings. These feelings are not conducive to recovery and, in fact, they are typical of active addiction.
The habit of comparing yourself to others may even lead to depression and anxiety. Many of the studies of the relationship between social media and mental health have identified comparison as the mechanism by which overindulgence in social media leads to poor mental health outcomes. One study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that participants who limited their social media use to just 30 minutes a day for three weeks reported reduced feelings of depression and loneliness compared to participants who continued to use social media at their normal rate. The researchers attributed this difference to the comparisons social media tends to facilitate. One study found that participants who were asked to compare themselves to others felt worse even when they felt they compared favorably.Depression and anxiety are common co-occurring disorders with addiction and finding ways to manage these conditions is essential to success in recovery. Breaking the habit of comparing yourself to others is one way to feel better.
Comparisons are always misleading
Not only do comparisons make you unhappy but they make you unhappy for no good reason. That’s because comparisons in addiction recovery are completely meaningless. No two people enter treatment under the same circumstances. One person may have a long history of addiction and relapse while another is entering treatment after a short period of intense substance use. One person might have a supportive family who is willing to participate in treatment and another doesn’t. You only have so much control over the circumstances of your treatment and recovery. In addition to that, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Everyone finds some aspects of recovery easier than others. Just because one person excels in one aspect of recovery doesn’t necessarily mean her recovery is going well or that yours is going badly. Finally, you only know what others want you to know. Someone might seem to be doing great but feel awful inside. We’re often fooled by appearances.
Comparisons undermine unity
Having a strong sober network is one of the most important aspects of recovery. This is a group of people who give you a sense of connection because you all know what it’s like to struggle with addiction. They support you in tough times and help keep you accountable. Your sober network typically comprises people you meet during treatment and mutual-aid meetings so feeling like you’re competing with these people is usually counterproductive. Addiction recovery is a positive-sum game, which means that you all achieve more when you cooperate rather than compete. When one member of the group succeeds, it’s better for everyone. Constantly making comparisons and competing with other members of your sober network only undermines your mutual support.
What to do instead
If you want to track your progress in recovery, there better ways than comparing yourself to others. One is to simply try to make each day better than the last. Since recovery is often up and down, especially early on, you won’t always succeed but at least it’s a fair comparison. Another way to gauge your progress is to articulate your values and recovery goals and incorporate them into your recovery plan. It’s a good idea when working with a therapist to set out some benchmarks for what you would like to accomplish. That way you can get some idea whether you’re making progress in treatment or if maybe you need to try a different approach. These kinds of goals or benchmarks will help you track your progress over longer periods and make sure you’re improving the areas of life that mean the most to you.
If you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Hired Power and our team of dynamic, experienced recovery professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. We offer many services, including helping you choose the best treatment program and transitional services, including interventions, sober monitoring, and personal recovery assistants. Call us today for information on our recovery services: 800.910.9299.