Finding a meaningful purpose in life and bonding with other people helps those in treatment for substance abuse ward off depression, a new study shows.
Recovering addicts who both feel connected to their spiritual sides and form mature relationships with others enjoy more positive moods during recovery work, says “Attachment Style, Spirituality, and Depressive Symptoms Among Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment,” a study led by Florida Atlantic University’s School of Social Work.1
Previous studies2,3 have shown that people who feel in touch with their spirituality tend to be happier, but Florida Atlantic University’s paper was the first to document how forming healthy interpersonal attachments can cement and enrich clients’ spiritual journeys in treatment.
About Attachment Styles
Human beings’ attachment styles are based on how they view themselves and others in relationships. These can be healthy or unhealthy patterns, and are fairly entrenched. Our particular ways of treating and understanding other people are usually formed in childhood, when we learned specific ways of relating to our caregivers and peers. We chose our responses based on what would protect us from harm and help us survive at the time.
For someone with deeper problems, it isn’t easy to change the behaviors they learned as a child once they reach adulthood. For example, if a child grew up in a home where his emotional needs were regularly neglected, parents were often absent, or caregivers constantly made false promises, that child would most likely develop an insecure attachment style. From a young age, this person might feel that he couldn’t trust anyone and would be loath to ever let others meet his needs, even if it is sensible and safe to do so as an adult.
Recovering addicts who both feel connected to their spiritual sides and form mature relationships with others enjoy more positive moods during recovery work.
In the course of addiction, these old safety mechanisms can have a strong hold on a person’s mentality. Living in a world of chaos and uncertainty can tempt people to use their familiar ways of coping, and addicts often develop unhealthy, codependent relationships fraught with anxiety, tantrums and rescuing behavior. Addicts may push limits to test their partner’s love or commitment, then feel perversely satisfied when they are let down on impossible tasks. It just reconfirms what they always thought as a child—that they can’t trust anyone.
While it is understandable that people have learned unhealthy ways of running relationships in order to cope with childhood difficulties, hanging onto these insecure attachment styles as adults can prevent them from being happy and free.
Mature adult bonding involves finding the ideal balance between trusting, needing, taking and giving, and ensuring all of these elements are free from fears, tests or selfish concerns. Secure connections are something everyone needs and desires—we need people who are kind, understanding and empathetic to encourage our efforts and help us self-actualize.
One of the most wonderful things about treatment centers where healing is done collaboratively is that patients often identify with each other’s stories, are able to see others falling into the holes they themselves may have fallen into, learn to develop deep empathy for others, and model good relationships shown by staff and other patients.
Treatment centers also help patients learn how to set realistic boundaries, affording them a sensible level of protection while still allowing them to come out of their comfort zones and see the beauty of the world outside of addiction.
When you let go of the damaging ways you relate to others, you are much freer to be who you really are. You no longer need to use other people for playing mind games, scoring points, setting up traps and tests, or trying to validate yourself through people-pleasing.
When you let go of the damaging ways you relate to others, you are much freer to be who you really are.
Instead, your relationships become important for more high-minded, healthy reasons of support and shared humanity. These new, secure relationships will allow you to be kind and comforting to others for their own sake and to generously support others’ ideas and missions without expecting anything back.
You become free to think, talk and act, for once, for the pure joy of it and from the kindest, most well-meaning place in your heart. Your self-esteem and value will come from always acting with integrity and allowing yourself to be who you really are, which can only lead to more happiness as an individual.
Removing the faulty programming around your relationships and attachments can help you hone in on what is truly important in your life. As you break old patterns bit by bit, you are left with the authentic truth of yourself underneath all that unhelpful learned behavior.
Part of the power of a transformative recovery program is bringing people together and helping them trust one another in a mature, adult way. When old, unhelpful patterns have been stripped away, a glorious space remains where people can connect on a secure, authentic level.
As anyone who has experienced a long, dark night of the soul can attest, exploring spiritual issues on your own can be daunting. There are so many questions about who you are and how you fit into the world. But exploring your thoughts and letting your dreams and aspirations unfold in a safe space where everyone encourages you is a marvelous experience.
Having a trusted cohort to support you while you explore what matters to you is a beautiful way of reaching out to your own enlightening truth and also allows your peers the chance to awaken their own sense of inner truth, purpose and joy.
When people in treatment feel comfortable expressing their deepest feelings and desires among a trustworthy group, spiritual development can flourish. The result can be more than just a protection against depression or low moods; it can lead to inspiration, enlightenment and pure joy.
1. Diaz, Horton, and Malloy. Attachment Style, Spirituality, and Depressive Symptoms Among Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment, Journal of Social Service Research, Vol. 40, Issue 3, pages 313-24.
Written By Beth Burgess