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Instincts, Desires and Ego Defenses | 12-Step Philosophy

I recently became fully aware of certain unconscious motivations that have been directing, to a degree, some of my behaviour. At a conscious level I was trying to help someone early in recovery and still believe that this motive was genuine, but underlying these efforts I was also being driven by powerful natural instincts and desires for connection and intimacy.

In the book, Alcoholics Anonymous (aka, Big Book), our basic instincts are identified as our needs for emotional and material security, social approval and acceptance (self-esteem), and the need for sexual relations. These are the natural instincts and desires that drive human behaviour and insure our survival as a species.

However, our needs in relation to our basic nature can be excessive and distorted by childhood developmental difficulties, trauma, neglect, and abuse. Unmet needs and desires can direct us unconsciously, and sadly, unethically at times. When our behaviour is unethical or against our conditioned values, we operate unconscious psychological “defenses” in order to protect our self-concept or ego.

We operate defense mechanisms such as repression, denial, and rationalization to protect ourselves from the anxiety, shame, and guilt that accompany our more unacceptable motives for behaviour.

Defense mechanisms are associated with Freud’s model of personality structure, which consists of the id, ego, and superego. The id represents are unconscious instincts and desires and is unconcerned with morality. The superego is concerned with social rules and morals, and informs our conscience or “moral compass”, and is largely unconscious in its workings. The ego is the rational, pragmatic part of our personality and operates on both a conscious and unconscious level. The ego balances the demands of the id and superego in the practical context of reality.

When the ego feels threatened or overwhelmed by the conflict between the unmet desires of the id, and a very critical superego for example, it employs psychological defenses in order to cope with these powerful forces.

In my experience the process of addiction, in all its expressions, enables our instinctual desires and unmet needs to become uninhibited by impairing the ego’s rational choice and decision making ability, and censoring our superego. The result was moral corruption in my case and severe damage to an already diminished self-esteem. The more punishing an individual’s superego is (the critical parent within the Transactional Analysis (TA) model), the greater the sense of shame and guilt one feels coming out of our addictive and hedonistic behaviour.

The structure of the human brain is another way of understanding our conscious and unconscious processes. The brain stem (reptilian brain) and limbic system (emotional brain) are responsible for our instinctual and emotional responses and operate at an unconscious level. The neo-cortex is our reasoning and decision making brain and where our conscious activity takes place. Contrary to popular belief, most of our behaviour is directed unconsciously by the instinctual and emotional centres of our brain. Brain science suggests that our conscious cortex just tends to rationalise and justify our unconscious desires and motivations.

Conscious Awareness Through Personal Inventory

An important aspect of 12-Step recovery for me is the emphasis upon taking a moral inventory and sharing it honestly with another person who understands the process. Step Ten is the regular practice of this self-reflective inventory.

I recently found myself in a situation which I felt to be unethical and largely of my own making. I was emotionally troubled by my relationship to another person and felt compelled to take a moral inventory of my feelings and actions. In doing so, I began to see mixed motives in my behaviour, but failed to fully understand how my actions were partly self-serving and dishonest.

I decided to share my thoughts and feelings about the situation with another person in recovery who knows me quite well. In talking through my actions and feelings, and more importantly receiving very honest feedback, I began to fully see through my defenses of repression, denial, and rationalisation. I can now see that I was consciously focused upon an acceptable motive in my relationship to another (which was genuine), while to some extent unconsciously using the opportunity to meet my needs for connection and intimacy. This greater awareness brought with it feelings of shame and guilt, and the realization that my behaviour could have caused harm to a vulnerable human being. Fortunately, I’ve been able to correct the situation and be more honest in the relationship.

I think it’s important to be honest with, compassionate, and accepting of myself in relation to my natural needs for connection and intimacy with others, and not collaborate with my very critical superego in this respect. My needs for emotional security were not adequately met while growing up, and I’m aware of my tendency to feel ashamed of them as an adult, finding it now very difficult to get my needs met through intimate relationships. I’m realizing the importance of being honest and vulnerable in relation to my emotional needs and that it’s ok to try to get them met.

However, in saying this, I must always be respectful of others’ boundaries and vulnerabilities, and not attempt to get my legitimate needs met at the expense of another. I want to choose love over fear in how I relate to myself and other people.

Taking a fearless and balanced moral inventory in respect of my instincts, needs, and motivations helps me see through my ego defenses, hopefully guiding me to a loving connection with myself and others. I need help though from trusted friends to provide me with honest feedback, as my powerful unconscious drives and ego defenses are always attempting to run the show.

I’ve also learnt that it’s important to challenge my overly critical superego and the anxiety that it creates. My sense of shame can cause me to deny my natural needs and desires for connection and intimacy, resulting in a sense of isolation and disconnection, familiar to those of us who’ve suffered from the loneliness and spiritual bankruptcy of our addiction.

Author: Steve K.

Steve K has been a member of AA for the past 26 years and lives in Cheshire, which is in the N. West region of England. He would describe himself as an agnostic, although open to spirituality.Steve is currently involved in group facilitation work for a local addiction recovery project, writes for his blog 12stepphilosophy and regularly keeps fit through hill walking and running. He has self-published a book entitled “The 12 Step Philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous: An Interpretation by Steve K.

Rehabs are a Good Option | Beau Mann

Everyone who has been addicted to alcohol, cigarettes or drugs would know how difficult it is to begin the recovery. Some addictions have terrible withdrawal symptoms.  Most of the times it’s not possible to quit these on your own; therefore, help from the side is a necessity in such cases. It’s very easy to make up your mind to quit your addiction, but very difficult to keep going on. Many addicts fall back into their addiction very easily at the first chance they get. One way to fight addiction is to get into a rehab. These rehabilitation centers are made for addicts to recover and let go of their addictions. Rehabs provide advantages that an addict wouldn’t get at home.

Rehabs help the addicts go cold turkey on their addiction

One of the most difficult problems that an addict faces is fighting his or her addiction and, then, not going back toit by combating the withdrawal symptoms. Going cold turkey isn’t easy when the addict has to deal with all kinds of withdrawal symptoms like pain, headache, nausea, and even fever. However, in rehab, once an addict chooses to go cold turkey, he or she would have all the medical and counseling supervision needed to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. The medical supervisors available at most rehabs will offer detox that helps to combat the symptoms. The counselors will help the patient to get through this extremely difficult stage. These options are not available without entering a rehab, and this is one of the reasons why many addicts go back to their preferred form of addiction despite wanting to quit.

Rehabs keep the patients busy

Very often, people get into addiction to kill time and relax. As the saying says, “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.” When the person is not occupied with tasks, it’s more difficult not to think about the addiction after quitting. They tend to go back right after quitting in order to pass the time. The advantage of being in a rehab during this period of time is that rehabs are structured in a way that they do not provide any free time for the patients, but keep them busy, so that they can get their mind of their addictions. Since the patients are busy, they don’t tend to think about their addiction that often and, thus, don’t are at a lesser risk of relapsing.

Rehabs provide round the clock support for the patients

During the first few weeks of quitting an addiction, patients feel like relapsing at the smallest of behest. They tend to feel depressed and craving the substance that used to make them feel euphoric or relaxed. At these stages, a good support system is a necessity, and it can determine whether the patient relapses again or not.

Patients won’t have their choice of addiction

It’s really easy to get back to addiction when the patient has an easy access. When the substance is easily available, during the times when the patients are going through withdrawal or stress, they can easily go and get the substance causing them to relapse. But when an addict has entered a rehab, there is no chance of a patient getting any kind of substance. Many addicts replace one type of addiction with another after quitting. This is also not possible in a rehab because the patient is under constant supervision.

So if someone is looking to get rid of an addiction that is affecting his or her personal life, family life, finances, and health, and he or she is unable to quit it by his or her own efforts, then a trip to the rehab is an excellent idea to get rid of the addiction and get his or her life back in order.