Attitudes may be about yourself, other people, God, institutions, or anything else. They are a critical part of the mental aspects of addiction and recovery. We think of attitudes as habits of thinking, believing, acting, and feeling. For example, if you habitually think of yourself in a negative way, such as, “I can never do anything right,” it shows an attitude you have about yourself.

Air Force experiment In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States Air Force conducted an ambitious social experiment in which every Air Force member attended three days of training in race relations. After all that effort and expense, they concluded that little or no change had occurred resulting from education alone.

However, during the same period they also made a simple change in the personnel manual. They inserted a statement that anyone who shows discrimination is unfit to supervise. This meant that you could be prejudiced, but you could not act prejudiced, if you wanted to be promoted. This demand for behavior change was credited with a significant change in attitudes in the Air Force. Within a few years, it became common to see minority and majority airmen choosing to socialize with each other.

Roots of attitudes Attitudes are usually established from your family and early childhood experiences. But recent experience changes attitudes more than we realize. If, as a child, you were taught that people from Barkeepia (a fictitious nationality) are inferior, that attitude may change dramatically if you work with several Barkeepians who are very intelligent, industrious, and kind.

Need to Change

Long-term recovery requires that we look at negative attitudes that need changing. Some examples we have observed are:

  • I have to do this myself (be in control).
  • I don’t deserve recovery.
  • I have to be perfect.
  • I shouldn’t bother anyone with my problems.

Treatment, meetings, sponsors, therapists, literature, and other influences can help you change your attitudes. Remember that the behavior change precedes the attitude change.

Character defects Your Fourth Step inventory is one way you can become aware of attitudes that need changing. The Big Book calls them character defects. Some people find it helpful to think of character defects as feelings that have become attitudes. For example, a person who has an attitude of self-pity (a self-pitying person) is different from one who occasionally feels self-pity.

Resistance, defiance A natural part of addiction is resistance and defiance toward change. But these mental aspects of the disease must change if the promises of recovery and the spiritual awakening are to take place.

Decision (Step Six) After writing your Fourth Step inventory and sharing it as Step Five, you can change your attitudes by a liberal use of Step Six.

New action (Step Seven) Step Seven then suggests that you change your behavior, with the help of your Higher Power or Program. This allows your attitudes to follow suit.

Attitudes, see also: Acceptance, Affirmations, Behavior, Beliefs, Character defects, Defenses, Dichotomous thinking, Fear, Grace, Gratitude, Honesty, Integrity & values, Openmindedness, Perfectionism, Prayer & meditation, Program, Self-image, Step Two, Step Three, Surrender, Trust, Willingness.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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