What is a “Higher Power”
Folks familiar with any of the 12 step-based “recovery” programs have heard the term “higher power.” And the term can mean different things to different people. Higher power respecters don’t have to believe in God, per se. Nor do they have to believe in any god-like personage. They simply recognize that some things bigger (and greater) than themselves exist. And that’s where narcissistic individuals run into big trouble.
Narcissists simply can’t conceive of a power greater than themselves. Oh, they might give “lip-service” to the notion. But in their hearts, they just know nothing or no one matters more than they do. They believe in their superiority. And they possess a misguided sense of personal power. So, their very character presents a challenge for traditional “recovery” programs.
Narcissists and Substances
Narcissists look at substance use in a characteristically troubling way. They just know they get away with what others might hesitate to do. And they don’t sense the same risk others face. They trust themselves implicitly. After all, they’re “special” – above the common throng. And therein lies the problem. They’ll delve unhesitatingly into risky territory and before you know it, they get hooked. And when they do get hooked, their pride won’t let them admit it. Moreover, their resistance only increases when someone tries to coerce them into “getting help.”
The Importance of a Higher Power in “Recovery”
The concept of a higher power is central to the process of addiction recovery. And because narcissists have such a problem with this notion, they often do poorly in programs employing the 12-step model. They can’t accept powerlessness, so they can’t easily embrace the critical first step. And they can’t even conceive of a “higher power,” so they have great difficulty coming to believe in one. Most importantly, the whole notion of subordinating their life and will is abhorrent. But doing so goes to the very heart of the crucial third step.
No one makes a major life course-correction without submitting to a higher power or operating principle. We all like doing things the way we prefer. And it can be humiliating to admit when our ways have simply stopped working. To change, we have to recognize something greater outside ourselves. And then we have to be of a mind to turn ourselves over to that higher power or authority. Letting principle take us over – letting it truly govern us, defines genuine “recovery.” It’s salvation from our worst enemy – ourselves.
Higher Power Work in Therapy
I deal a lot in “higher power” issues with the narcissists I treat. Yes, I said I treat narcissists. And yes, I’m aware there a lot of folks who say they’re untreatable. True, some have pathology that exceeds our ability to treat effectively by any means. And that largely depends on what kind and degree of narcissism is present. (See also: Two Main Varieties of Narcissists.) But the bigger problem usually lies in they type of treatment they receive. Few clinicians know how to, let alone are willing to, confront directly the narcissist’s egomaniacal thinking and behavior.
I’ll have more on narcissism and treatment next week.
Character Matters will air live at 7 pm (EDT) Sunday June 30, 2017. So, call-in at (718) 717-8296 or (501) 258-8326 to share some thoughts or ask a question.