Choosing Happiness Over Codependency
In 2013 the world lost psychiatrist William Glasser, M.D., who spent the better part of a long career teaching people that their happiness depends upon the reality they seek and the choices they make. His work focused on many areas besides treatments for addiction or alcoholism, but his words can help us at a time when we are trying to reconnect with the addicts in our lives without continuing any codependent or enabling behaviors.
Dr. Glasser’s theories promoted the idea that people hold responsibility for making positive choices in their own lives. Not everybody agreed with Dr. Glasser’s ideas; for one thing, he eschewed classifying his patients according to universally accepted symptoms of mental disorders.
Dr. Glasser did not deal specifically with alcoholics or drug addicts, but he often applied his theories to successful treatments for addiction or substance abuse disorders. His Reality Theory held that people had five basic needs: The first is survival, which in our culture equates to the money necessary for clothing, food and shelter. The second is the importance of feeling love for someone and being loved by other people, which makes a person feel like part of a group. The third need is power, which we acquire through our jobs or through the amount of influence that we hold over others. The fourth need is freedom, which we realize through independence and the ability to make our own decisions. Last we have a need for fun, because at the end of the day all work and no play do make Jack a very dull boy.
Glasser’s Choice Therapy involved those same five needs as posited within our own creation of a Quality World, or outlook, for ourselves. He based our ability to choose happiness on his Ten Axioms of Choice Therapy:
- We can only control our own behavior.
- We cannot give anything to another person except information.
- All of a person’s psychological problems boil down to relationships.
- The relationship that causes a problem is a current one.
- Our past experiences have brought us to today, so we must move forward with plans to continue satisfying our needs.
- We must create a vision of a Quality World and strive to achieve it.
- Everything we do amounts to behavior.
- Total Behavior comprises acting, thinking, feeling, and physiology.
- We can proactively control our acting and thinking, but we can only control indirectly our feelings and our day-to-day physiologic well-being.
- All Total Behavior is identified by verbs and named by the part that is most recognizable.
Dr. Glasser believed there were two categories of unhappy people. In his 1998 book, Choice Therapy, he indicated that there is one type of unhappy person who will work to find his way back to happiness, which, in Dr. Glasser’s world, meant a good relationship with another person. The other type of unhappy person had stopped seeking happiness and, while he might look for pleasure, he would not know how to find a happy relationship.
Specifically with regard to alcoholics and drug addicts, Dr. Glasser believed that they fell into the second category of unhappy people. They had stopped looking for good relationships with other people in their lives. These people could only enjoy the short bursts of pleasure provided by drug or alcohol use. He felt they could benefit if people showed them the way back, the way to once again achieve positive, happy relationships with other people. He believed that 12-step groups succeeded in re-establishing that connection in about half of the people who turned to them for help.
While professionals still argue today over Dr. Glasser’s theories—for example, almost 50 percent of addicts exhibit some kind of emotional disorder, which Dr. Glasser did not believe in—the theories can provide us a beacon as we work to help the addicts in our lives.
Remember that you cannot change anybody except yourself. You cannot change the addict, but you can be there for him as he finds his way back to the person he wants to be.