Understanding Is Important

Understanding Is Important by Mrs. Marty Mann, Executive Director, National Council on Alcoholism, New York via Silkworth

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I think we can get hung up on this lying bit, and I think, furthermore, that
it affects the attitude of the person who is trying to help. And if it affects
the attitude of the person who is trying to help, it affects the attitude of
the person who is to be helped. This is another thing that we are apt to
forget, and that I think is crucial in counseling. You know that most of us
spend 90% of our time reacting to other people. Oh, we do a certain amount of
initiation, a certain amount of acting which is entirely our own and bears no
relation to other people, but a great deal of our time we are reacting to
other people. Stop and think about it, and you will see what I mean. This is
also true of the alcoholic, who after all is a human, remember. He is a member
of the human race, even if he doesn’t think he is, and even if some people in
the human race don’t think that he is or don’t think he ought to be anyway.
And he will react to everything that you say and do.

Your job, when you are counseling, is to see that his reactions are positive
and constructive, that you do not frighten him to death, that you do not talk
down to him from the mountaintop. And I think it is particularly hard for the
clergyman. Remember that in everybody’s mind, and certainly in our country,
which is supposed to be a Godly country (we do have “In God we Trust” on all
our coins, you know; it is a motto of these United States), the clergyman is
somebody up there. The clergyman is the man of God; the clergyman is special;
the clergyman is holy; the clergyman is good. And here is this individual who
usually feels less than the dirt beneath anybody’s feet. Filled with
self-misgiving, self-hate, self-fear, he is going to the symbol of good and
God. He expects to be talked down to from the mountaintop. He expects this
person really to feel too good to want him around and, all too often, that is
just what the clergyman feels.

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Understanding is Important

Now the alcoholic is waiting for this; so even the tiniest tinge of preaching
down from a mountain top to this poor little man down in the abyss is
magnified in that individual’s reactions into a real barrier that he can not
overcome. He can’t give, he can’t talk, he can’t feel free, he can’t let
himself be helped.

I am not saying, although I do think this plays a part, that it is necessary
to be an alcoholic to have the right attitude towards another alcoholic, but
it sure helps. The person who has been through it knows perfectly well he is
not up on a mountain top, and can reassure the alcoholic pretty quickly that
he was right down in that abyss too. And he knows just what it feels like, and
he got just as dirty, and he can do it in a way that is believed, believed
here in the heart, not just up here in the head.

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