Alanon and powerlessness


Alanon and powerlessness
A central pillar of Alanon is the belief that you are powerless, in Bottled up we don't believe that

One of the central pillars of Alanon is the belief that you are powerless over the drinker. For many who join Alanon this comes as a relief, as they are told – “you didn't cause it, can't cure it, and can't control it”. Anything that removes the guilt and shame that people living with an alcoholic feels is a good thing in our book.

In Alanon they suggest that you to detach with love from your drinker. Alanon also suggests that you look after yourself and make a life that is separate and non dependent on the drinker. Again these are good survival strategies and we welcome them. Indeed we would like to stress that we have a lot of respect for the Alanon fellowship and are thankful for the people that it has helped over the decades. We also spent a lot of time studying Alanon when we wrote and created Bottled Up.


So if we are in favour of Alanon’s program, is Bottled Up just a kind of Alanon group? The answer to that is no! While we like some of their program, the fellowship and support that they provide, we do however fundamentally disagree with the central tenet of powerlessness. We not only believe that you can influence your drinker but we show you how that may be achieved through the Bottled-up program.


So why would we disagree with powerlessness when Alanon supports it?

The concept of powerlessness is a double edged sword. On the up-side it allows the partner to get rid of the shame and guilt that they so often feel about the drinker and his problems. They often do feel that somehow they are to blame for it all and being told that they are powerless absolves them. However, being told that you are powerless also greatly limits what you do or attempt and, it has to be said, it flies in the face of all the principles of social psychology.

For example, we tend to act and behave in ways that are appropriate to where we are and who we are with. That is we would behave very differently at a funeral than we would at a wedding, at an office Xmas party to a business meeting. That is obvious, isn’t it? But why do we behave different in these contexts? Most of us will pick up our cues about how to behave from the context we are in (place, people, occasion) and act accordingly. As the context changes, so too does our behaviour.

Have you ever worked for a boss, or had a friend, that you wanted to do things for or wanted to please? Have you ever worked for a boss, or knew someone, that you really grudged doing things for? What was the difference between these people? Let me hazard a guess, it was their attitude towards you. It is much easier to do something for someone who you feel is supportive of you than for someone who you feel is not. Again this is another fundamental psychological principle!

Article contributed by
Advanced Member

Dr John McMahon & Lou Lewis


Dr John McMahon & Lou Lewis

Bottled Up

Location: Exeter, DEV, United Kingdom
Credentials: BS, PhD
Specialties: Addiction, Drug and Alcohol, Family Support
Website: Bottled Up
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