NEGATIVE BENEFITS of Damaging Patterns (Part 1)


I’d rather be miserable than face that pain!

PREVIOUS: “They did the best they could”

REVIEW posts:The Introject’ // Our WIC

Negative Benefits (NB) is a new concept for many people. A web search found nothing about this important idea.  When clients are asked what they get out of continuing a harmful behavior or thought pattern, they usually say “I don’t get anything out of it – it’s just what I know, a habit”.  They’re indignant that they’re even asked.  They only hear the word ‘benefit’ & can’t imagine that anything self-destructive can have a reward!

• Familiarity & habit are not the only reasons destructive patterns persist. The deeper truth is that we DO get something from hanging on to those old ways of acting & thinking – they’re a form of protection (defense mechanisms) against facing childhood issues that feel too terrifying to deal with.  So, yes, they provide us with Negative Benefits. In reality the ‘protection’ they seem to provide comes at a high price – in grief, in more abandonment, shame self-hate, loneliness, ill-health, bad relationships, depression, lost opportunities…. yet we protect them with our lives, literally, until we do enough FoO work to not need them – as much.

Negative Benefits
➼ Our defensive patterns are an attempt at getting wished-for outcomes which:
• we never got as kids, SO still want, need, demand – no matter what!wishes
• we’re not allowed to have free & clear, so can’t get in a healthy way
Some wished-for, but disallowed, needs & wants: TO be loved for who we are – unconditionally, to get lots of attention, to be respected, to be desired, to have positive companionship (not be alone), to be comforted when in pain, to express intelligence & creativity, to feel safe, to relax, to be heard….

GOAL of N.B. – Sneakily trying to get around our self-hate & the PP in whatever creatively twisted way we can concoct, RATHER than doing the long, hard work of cleaning out the damage.  Unfortunately, we just dig the abandonment hole deeper.
• What we do instead is choose or fall into lifestyles which actually PREVENT us from gathering positive benefits, no matter how much we may want them.  In place of the real thing, we keep finding complicated, abusive ways to OBEY the Toxic Rules we grew up with (which we hate but are afraid to let go of) – all by ourselves & through continued interactions with our unhealthy family &/or with other abusive people who are family substitutes.
SO – to understand what Negative Benefits (NB) are, we have to start with:

Defense Mechanisms
These are unconscious psychological strategies our minds develop to protect us from having to dealdefenses with painful traumatic realities we can’t handle.  They are also used to maintain our self-image – a mental picture of ourselves that we can live with, in the face of inner conflicts between what we think we are & what we wish we were.

• Everyone needs defenses to manage. However, when we experience long-term stress as children our defenses become rigid armor & walls, which are hard to penetrate & hard to dissolve. They are expressed in the form of Character Defects – self-defeating behavior patterns which can be seen as forms of Self-hate, SUCH AS:
abusive behavior, being controlling, closed-mindedness, co-dependence, dishonesty, isolation, negative thinking / pessimism, narcissism, perfectionism, prejudice,  resentment, rationalizing, selfishness, self-justification, self-pity…

• These patterns sustain our denial by protecting against accumulated old pain
Emotional: abandonment terror, deadly loneliness, murderous rage, profound hopelessness, terrible longing for the impossible….
Mental: a deep-level KNOWING that they weren’t there for us, tortured & neglected us, which the WIC interprets as potential death….
So, no matter how self-destructive or lala a defensive pattern is – we will do almost anything to hold on to it – even in Recovery – because:
a. the WIC is in charge of our inner life, until we develop the “UNIT”, the Healthy & Loving Inner Parent to replace the PP ‘bad voice’

b. AND, the kid is beyond-convinced that our defenses are not as life-threateningly dangerous as what’s underneath, hidden in our unconscious.
• The patterns ‘protect’ us from facing what we consider unbearable knowledge & terrifying emotions from the past, as well as dealing realistically with the present. They represent Freud’s ‘Repetition Compulsion’, which is so evident in the lives of most ACoAs.   Yes, the pain we accumulated from childhood is bad, but not dealing with it cripples or kills us in so many ways.

➼ In the simplest terms, the main reasons we hang on to the old ways with both fists, as if it were a life-preserver is:trauma
1. because our brain has been programmed from birth & those grooves (neural pathways) are very deep. It takes LOTS of knowledge, repetition, perseverance & patience to make new, stable grooves
2. because the WIC believes it needs the psychological negative benefits to survive – so it will take a lot of time & effort to form the new UNIT which can take over the reins from the kid & bad parent

NEXT: Negative Benefits (Part 2)


7 thoughts on “NEGATIVE BENEFITS of Damaging Patterns (Part 1)

  1. Hey Donna…. wow, this is great. There is a ton in your post. Let me pick out one paragraph that really jumpped out at me…

    “What we do instead is choose or fall into lifestyles which actually PREVENT us from gathering positive benefits, no matter how much we may want them. In place of the real thing, we keep finding complicated, abusive ways to OBEY the Toxic Rules we grew up with (which we hate but are afraid to let go of) – all by ourselves & through continued interactions with our unhealthy family &/or with other abusive people who are family substitutes.”

    This describes beautifully the self-imprisonment I so often see. Gladly, less and less in my self. But sadly, all the time in those still suffering.

    Take relationships for instance… meaning dating, spousal, whatever one may wish to call it. How many women continually choose self-serving men to be with who are never the type who will give them the love and nurturing they really want? (Guys do this too with their choice of women). I see this all the time with women in early recovery in 12 step programs.

    Yet some twist in their thinking and the loyalty to their upbringing, not matter how dsyfunctional, keeps them hooking up with partners who treat them like crap, just like Dad or someone else did. Or they have a flavour for the bad-boy and continue to hope to uncover the sweet teddy-bear inside. Which in reality isn’t there or at best, isn’t accessible because bad-boy is wrapped up in his dysfunctions and hasnt surfaced yet.

    I see many women dress, act, and hang out in places and ways that would turn off guys who may be willing or able to treat them better. But they keep drawing to them guys who don’t. Then are constantly hurt and let down but can’t see (or won’t see) that they are fishing in the wrong pond.

    Its kinda like trying to get out of debt by spending more. That convaluded and that self-destructive.

    Wow we can be twisted!

    It is a rare privilige to be on a pathway of recovery from all of this. And your long list of prerequisites makes sense given how twisted we are in our problems.



  2. Thanks, Chaz. I certainly know what you mean about how women dress & act – seductively – & look for the bad boys. I was one of them. One reason for this presentation comes from a background of incest, as well as other kinds of abuse & neglect. If we feel unworthy we need to find something to bargain with, & we know what men ‘want’. In my first yrs in al-anon I noted who I was most attracted to – they were the most charming, the most intelligent and the most damaged! So I made a rule – for a while : “If I like him, he’s no good for me”. Eventually my ‘picker’ did get better. 🙂

  3. Thanks Donna. I presumed that there must be something significant behind the behaviours I observed in the AA rooms with women and how they treat themselves in relationships. I am not meaning to judge, I just find it bewildering as it seems so self-destructive.

    I was close to a very sad situation where this fabulous young lady just burst out of the gates in her recovery and sobriety, then hooked up with one of the local sober banditos, only to end up pregnant then abandoned by him. He was a sober bad-boy but not mature enough to handle the realities of parenthood and a mature, loving relationship.

    Sadly, the whole thing ended up in tragedy and she eventually lost custody of their child due to a catastrophic relapse.
    It was one of the saddest things because she had been seemingly doing so well.

    I have contended many times in AA meetings that “the quality of our relationships is often a very good indicator of the quality of our recovery”. I think in AA, this is probably not taken as seriously as in Al-Anon. Given that Al-Anon is more a program of recovery centred around issues of how the Al-Anon expresses their sickness in how they relate to the alcoholic and others.

    In AA however, in my experience, relationships more often fade to the background in contrast to the individual alcoholic who frankly, absolutely needs to focus on self at the outset in order to have a chance at sobriety and recovery. Unfortunately, in my observations, many recovering alcoholics remain foucsed on self and their alcoholism and as a result, focus more on their sponsees and others in the program than they do their own spouses and family members.

    This behaviour I believe is expressed in the high number of AA’s going through divorces or in lousy, loveless, relationships.

    I may be completely wrong, perhaps I am just surprised at how many peope who are doing so well in so many parts of their lives, fail at love-relationships.

    And certainly, going back to our original topic of discussion here, I am staggered at how many women seem to put themselves in such bad circumstances by hooking up with the wrong men. And they seem to use AA as their dating service and venue for attention.

    We are such complex beings.



  4. Yes – every AA-er needs Al-anon & to do FoO work (fam-of-origin) – but most are not ready to do that for the first 5, even 10 yrs! We know addicts have huge amounts of self-hate. Women are more likely to turn it on themselves. And the men? They are more likely to externalize their rage at their families – on to damaged women – even when they’re not drinking. But we see the reverse too – non-alcoholic men in al-anon who are with active addicts & get abused.

    More than any other, love relationships are reproductions of our experiences with our parents. We have an ‘Imago’ in our brain as a template for how to conduct intimate relationships. This is universal. If it was bad, we try to fix it & make it turn out better – this time – as if the original abuse were our fault (self-hate grandiosity) BUT we pick the same kinds of people to play out the Repetition Compulsion – so failure is inevitable!

  5. Wow Donna, thats huge.

    I suppose what gets to me about this is a few things…

    1. It breaks my heart to see people (women in this case) snagged from the jaws of death of addiction only to then take their sober selves into new infernos of disasterous relationships.

    2. I regard “trolling” (looking to hook up) at meetings to be an outside issue that taints the quality of an AA meeting. Women who show up dressed provocatively are taking something from the meeting. Yet, this should not be any worse than any other symptom or manifestation of ill-health that we sicko alcoholics show up with in the rooms. I showed up with a huge ego and denial that I was the same kind of down and out drunk that so many others were. I put on the “up and out” image in how I presented myself and peppered my sharing with hints of the fact that I was a success in other areas of my life. So in this respect I do not have the right to be judgemental (or any other respect for that matter). I suppose I am just alergizing in recognizing their version of my own behaviour. (thanks for hearing some 4th step from me here).

    I suppose though, just as I was in God’s hands and he brought me through much of this attitude, so can and will he with others who will let him.

    Man am I glad I am not God. He has way more grace and is far less hypocritical than I am!



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