Don’t judge someone else’s experience based off of your own experience!

peaceworldHow often do you judge someone else’s experience based off of your own experience? I realized this so much so in an old 20/20 video I recently watched that had recovering alcoholics and researchers alike discussing the disease model of addiction. The disease model of addiction is not something new to this blog. In fact, I wrote a piece recently about how Obama now plans to cover mental illness the same way physical illnesses are. Either way, this video was actually quite informative, but the point of the article isn’t whether mental illness is or is not a disease. The message of this post is that no matter what side of an argument you are on, no one can talk you out of your feelings and you can’t talk someone out of their feelings.  Your experience does not negate someone else’s experience. Whatever the issue is that you may be in conflict over, you may be viewing the issue as two different things and not really be arguing on the same level.

Let me give you a specific example and then take it broad again. There were people arguing throughout the video about whether addiction is a disease or not. There were people saying how Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is not effective because they require abstinence. Some proponents for AA say that addiction is a disease and that once you have a drink then you’ll be addicted again. Then there were researchers saying how there are ways to control drinking and reduce harm even if addiction is still a disease. These researchers argued that you can cut down and you don’t have to necessarily completely abstain in the given moment – maybe you can just take a step towards avoiding drinking in harmful situations. The video even referenced treatment in the UK and how they teach controlled drinking habits.

The problem is that there is so much variability in any argument and both sides may not be referring to the same thing. No two people are alike and yet those in the video were discounting the other position. One person would argue that they were able to go back to just drinking one or two drinks once or twice a week while another person swore that AA was their savior and that if they had another drink they would become immediately addicted. The problem with these extremes is that both are right. Those could both be true for each individual. One way may be more effective for those with more severe alcohol-related problems, but not for others.

The point is that you being right does not make the other any more wrong. You discounting their position does not make your position stronger. Is it possible that something works better for some people than others? It could be that more severe addicts benefit more from abstinence. These more severely addicted individuals may have a biological vulnerability than those who are contextually addicted (i.e. many young adults in college who drink a lot but grow out of it later). The truth is that there doesn’t have to be one method of doing anything. You can be right and they can be right. This is a very dialectical way of thinking (see this post and this post for more info). Instead of taking the time trying to stand your ground, embrace the other position and say, “wow, I’m glad you found something that worked for you.” Don’t deny someone else’s experience based off of your experience. You are your own person. You have had your own set of experiences. You have your own DNA.

Let’s be clear though, this isn’t just about addiction. This is true for any situation. Just think about couples or friendships or familial relationships. We’re so quick to think that our way is the way that leads to success because that’s what worked for us. Have you taken the time to consider that maybe they have something else that works for them? It’s not to say that you can’t advise or guide, but you have to see things from their perspective. Don’t deny their feelings or experience because that wasn’t your experience. Their experience has nothing to do with you and your experience has nothing to do with them. Stand your ground. Speak your truth. See that both yours and the others position could be true on different levels.

So for this coming week, just take these ideas for a test run. Pause before telling someone to do something. Simply speak from your experience. Provide empathy, not judgment. Provide support, not condemnation. Provide compassion, not disapproval. See the effect on your relationships.

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Rubin Khoddam, Clinical Psychology PhD student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Addiction Connection, Blogs by Rubin

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7 replies


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