Competence: Instrumental, Emotional, and How That Affects Your Alcohol Abuse.

Most of us, not just those who misuse alcohol, suffer from faulty ideas when it comes to concepts like maturity, intimacy, dependence, competence and other factors which affect our various relationships.

As examples of common misconceptions we offer the following:

  • Maturity is a matter of age;
  • Intimacy refers to sex;
  • Dependence is always negative;
  • Competent is something you either are, or aren’t.

Dispelling these myths will help to clear away some of the erroneous thinking that keeps us confused about what’s actually going on in our lives and relationships.

First, age does not automatically confer maturity. Most women “mature” very little between 18 and 50; most men stay pretty much the same from 20-60. Depressing but true when you consider that “normal” means that people live fairly conscientiously when life is going well, but scurry back to the conformity of their peer group when times get tough.

The way this can play out is that many precociously mature women, and a few men, marry older spouses thinking that this will allow for the emotionally intimate relationships we are capable of. But since age confers nothing automatically, we are disappointed and continue to be as isolated, and frustrated, as ever.

Moving along to the Intimacy=Sex conundrum, while sex can be a facet of intimacy, it is just that, a facet. And the capacity for intimacy comes first.
That, of course, raises the question, what does the “capacity for intimacy” mean?

Simply put, but hardly simple, “intimacy” requires two equally independent individuals. Intimacy, the revealing of one’s self to another, is a risky business. Accepting that risk means knowing that you can handle the pain of rejection without being destroyed, emotionally or otherwise.

When one has matured to the point of being able to take those risks, the rewards are significant: a decrease in loneliness, isolation, fear, and boredom along with a commensurate ability to live a life which is uniquely your own.

Moving right along to the “dependency” question, it is important to note that this isn’t a single issue but two separate ones.

The first, and more common misconception, is the assumption that our relationships are basically parasitic with one person being the host and the other the sycophant. This may indeed be true, and the roles may reverse depending on the circumstances. In the 1950s, in subdivisions and on television, the role reversal/balance could be simply stated as “he” controlled the finances and “she” controlled the sex.

That was 60 years ago, but the vestiges linger despite some progress in “gender equality,” sexual liberation, and other social changes.

Some individuals, – including most of our clients – are capable of “interdependent” relationships. Which brings us back to maturity and the requirement that actual intimacy – emotional, psychological, and physical – requires two equally independent individuals who are able to alternate roles as needed or desired, and appreciating that.

With this as a rather lengthy preamble, let’s take a look at Competency in the continuation below.

Competency: Instrumental & Emotional

I’ll start with a quick look at “Instrumental Competence” which is, basically, your ability to take care of yourself physically. Can you manage to cover all of your basic day-t0-day needs? Can you manage your home, finances, and obligations? Can you cook a meal for yourself and friends/family? Can you handle the laundry, cleaning, and maintain the car. Can you find your way around without your car telling you where to go?

Instrumental competence is important because if you can’t maintain yourself, then you will need to become dependent on others and that will doom intimacy since you won’t be able to afford to take the necessary risks. Tough to reveal yourself if it may cost you your home, financial security, livelihood, or other necessities that you secure from others.

Knowing, on the other hand, that you can take care of yourself, means you can extend yourself, and reveal yourself, to others, knowing you will survive rejection should that be the result.

The rewards, for assuming the risks, are that you will be far more likely to sort out the people who are capable of, and responsive to, developing secure, mutually intimate relationships with you. That’s also known as a considerably reduced quotient of loneliness, boredom, isolation, anxiety, and (surprise, surprise) alcohol abuse.

Having arrived at the benefits of being, or becoming, an actual mature adult – and the vast majority of our clients, callers, and readers fit the category – the remaining question is, why do some people mature while others don’t?

There are many factors which influence emotional and psychological development but the most important come down to four:

  • You need to be smart – not a genius – but smart enough to develop complex coping skills and to develop a tolerance for the ambiguity inherent in life;
  • You need to be sensitive. Insensitive people have no motivation to mature, nor any need or capacity for genuine intimacy;
  • Growing up, you need to have had problems you were required to handle on your own. Free range children do far better in life than those with “helicopter parents” for precisely this reason. Why grow up if mommy and daddy fix everything?
  • Finally, you initial reaction to unforeseen occurrences needs to be fear rather than anger. Anger based people learn to use aggression as their only coping mechanism and, again, never grow up.

Want your alcohol problems to subside? Let us help you figure out where you fit, or misfit, and how to turn these traits to your advantage instead of self-destruction.

While this may already be more than you ever wanted to know, or think about, for those of you who are gluttons for information about yourselves, an expanded description of “Ego Development” and Dr. Jane Loevinger’s model and measure, can be found on our website at “The Sentence Completion Test”.

And, as always, you can always e-mail or call to discuss specifics surrounding your particular situation and how this all may apply.