By Sabrina Spotorno, LCSW-CASAC, therapist on the Monument platform

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Our relationship with alcohol isn’t so different from our relationship with people. It’s complex, unique, and always evolving. One sign of an unhealthy relationship to anything or anyone is when our personal needs become secondary to the needs of something or someone else. 

When a relationship that once brought us joy exhibits signs of abuse, heartache, and self-doubt, it’s safe to say it’s no longer serving us in the way that it needs to. Okay, so now what? When my patients describe unhealthy relationships with substances or people, I recommend they take steps towards what’s called psychological distancing. Here’s how. 

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Psychological Distancing 101 

Psychological Distancing is a concept in developmental psychology. It focuses on building self-awareness in order to establish a sense of autonomy from our surroundings and leave room for personal growth. 

While we are all in some way attached to the people, places, and things around us, it is how deeply attached we are that can alter our self-confidence and sense of self. We naturally possess a sense of what we need to live our fullest lives, but certain circumstances, relationships, and various forms of trauma can condition us to believe otherwise. The relationships we form to these people, experiences, and substances is what we call a narcissistic bond. Here’s how to break these bonds and get closer to our ideal selves

Create new adventures 

One of the most straightforward ways to break a narcissistic bond is to create new experiences. Go for that nature walk, enroll in a masterclass, watch a new TV series, join a new social group like the support groups we offer at Monument.

You don’t need to travel to all ends of the earth for adventure to unfold. 

Adventure can feel nonexistent in narcissistic relationships because what becomes your sole purpose is fueling the ego of the narcissist, or in the case of alcohol, dedicating all of your thoughts and time to drinking. It is as if there is one channel playing at all times. The good news is, you have the power to change it. Even the act of planning to do something outside of your routine can be healing. Engaging in new relationships, hobbies, and experiences outside of that unhealthy bond is an incredibly effective tool in creating necessary distance.  

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Understand your boundaries 

In narcissistic bonds, we’re conditioned to feel that we’re nothing without the person or substance we’re bonded to. In reality, boundaries and independence are a necessary part of any healthy relationship.

In the case of alcohol, creating boundaries often means examining your relationship with drinking, and building coping mechanisms to create the distance that’s right for you. I wrote this piece to help you better understand what amount of distance, whether that means moderation or sobriety, will empower you to live your fullest life. 

Therapy can be a really effective tool to build those coping mechanisms and create that distance. Therapy provides a platform to work on modifying self-destructive behaviors, obtaining healthier coping responses, building relapse prevention skills, establishing boundaries, improving communication skills, and increasing self-efficacy. If you’re interested in therapy, I encourage you to check out Monument’s personalized treatment options

In relationships with other people, you can also work out boundary setting with the support of a therapist. Monument also offers a free therapist-moderated support group about navigating relationship challenges while managing your drinking. 

And finally, it’s important to understand that sometimes boundaries aren’t enough. In relationships with narcissists, their suffering often plays out in a projection. They often see your emotions as weaknesses because that is how they view their own. And your emotions are valid and deserve to be recognized. Enter: accepting the end of unhealthy relationships. 

Radically accept things as they are -- not as we wish them to be

Sometimes, the reality is that there is no way to keep a person, place, or thing in our lives in a healthy way. Whether that means you explored moderating your drinking, and decide sobriety is best for you, or are in a relationship with another person that is stripping you of confidence and joy. Accepting that you need to end that relationship may initially feel like failure.  

It’s common to mistake acceptance with defeat. Acceptance isn’t throwing in the towel. So let’s look at the difference: The major distinction between acceptance and defeat is what brings you freedom. Acceptance gives back the freedom to move on from the narcissistic bond, and seek closure. You are able to respectfully back away from an unhealthy attachment and begin healing. I tell my patients to think of acceptance as an act of self-love.  

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Be aware of where you get validation

Regardless of where you are in your healing process, it can be hard to let go of the feeling that your character is built on others’ perceptions of you, and past behaviors. It’s crucial to be mindful of this. Otherwise, we risk filling any gaps of validation with substances. 

So, ask yourself, what do I genuinely appreciate about myself regardless of what anyone has to say? Even the people whose opinions matter the most to me? Answer this question, write it down, and say it out loud a few times a day. Eventually, with practice, you’ll become your default source of approval. You won’t need validation from others or seek relief from alcohol. The narcissistic bond will break and you’ll step into the empowered, liberated individual that you are. 

About Me: Sabrina Spotorno, LCSW, I am a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with an affinity for working with children, adolescents, individuals, and families. Graduating summa cum laude from Adelphi University, I had a generalist education with training in several modalities, including Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Narrative Therapy. With an integrative approach to ensure the most individualized treatment for my clients, I have worked to “meet clients where they are at.” I have had experience in several outpatient mental health clinics as well as on interdisciplinary teams. I value adapting with client’s changing needs. I have a passion for empowering clients to recognize their strengths amidst their life transitions to optimize their sense of efficacy and alignment of their actions with their beliefs and dreams.