The Power of Self-fulfilling Prophecies

Old 09-01-2008, 06:06 PM
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The Power of Self-fulfilling Prophecies


Jeffrey A. Schaler, Department of Justice, Law and Society, American University, Washington DC

Presented at the 1995 Conference for Treaty 6 First Nations of Alberta entitled 'Alternative Approaches to Addictions and Destructive Habits', at Edmonton, Alberta, November 7, 1995.

Self-efficacy is people's confidence in their ability to achieve a specific goal in a specific situation...... Teaching that addiction is a disease creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: If people believe they are powerless they are likely to act in a powerless way. This article focuses on the importance of teaching people that they have the power to change their behaviors and the political environment they live in. We need to create a new self-fulfilling prophecy: If people believe they are powerful they become powerful.

The beliefs people have about (themselves and) addiction... have a powerful effect on their behavior. This relationship between belief and behaviour is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.....


It is important to clarify two terms: addiction and self-efficacy. The literal definition of addiction simply means someone likes to do something, moves toward something, someone, etc. it means we choose to say yes to something, to some experience or activity (Schaler, 1991). As Alexander and Schweighofer (1988) pointed out several years ago, addiction can be positive or negative, drug or non-drug related, and characterised by tolerance and withdrawal or no tolerance and withdrawal. A positive addiction enhances the values we hold dear. Through a positive addiction we pull our life together, creating meaning and purpose. Obviously, that sense of meaning and purpose varies from person to person. A negative addiction pulls our life apart. By engaging in a negative addiction we live in conflict with ourselves, which again bears on the sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.

One of the most powerful addictions we almost all experience at one time or another is of course love. Peele and Brodksy (1975) have written extensively about this. Love is a non-drug experience, and it is certainly characterised by physical symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal. As in a relationship characterised by love, many people use allegedly addictive drugs for long periods of time, choose to give up those drugs, and experience virtually no symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance, let alone irresistible cravings causing them to continue to use drugs at any expense.

Another important concept in contemporary psychology is self-efficacy. Technically, self-efficacy is people's confidence in their ability to achieve a specific goal in a specific situation. It refers to the capability people believe they possess to effect a specific behavior or to accomplish a certain level of performance. Self-efficacy is not the skills one has but rather one's judgment of what one can do with those skills (Bandura, 1977, 1986).

As Bob Dylan sang: 'You don't need a weather, man to know which way the wind blows'. You don't need psychologists to know that having confidence in your ability to achieve something for yourself has much to do with whether you will actually make the effort to succeed at something you set your mind to do. Whilst self-efficacy is a scientific concept, tested by psychologists in various settings, it is also common sense. When you believe you can do something, you are more likely to be successful at it. When you believe you cannot do something, you are more likely to be unsuccessful at it.
That sounds simple enough. We tend to do what we believe we can do. We tend not to do what we believe we cannot do. This thinking can be applied to the consumption of drugs and alcohol.

.........There is no force alien to oneself that is responsible for one's behaviour. Believing a disease makes people drink is illogical; it ignores empirical findings on self-efficacy. It goes against common sense. It also individualises and de-politicises the cultural context within which drug consumption occurs.


Today, the main beliefs of disease-model thinking are (Schater in press):

1. Most addicts don't know they have a problem and must be forced to recognise they are addicts.

2. Addicts cannot control themselves when they drink or take drugs.

3. The only solution to drug addiction and/or alcoholism is treatment.

4. Addiction is an all-or-nothing disease: A person cannot be a temporary drug addict with a mild drinking or drug problem.

5. The most important step in overcoming an addiction is to acknowledge that you are powerless and can't control it.

6. Physiology, not psychology, determines whether one drinker will become addicted to alcohol and another will not.

7. The fact that alcoholism runs in families means that it is a genetic disease.

8. People who are drug addicted can never outgrow addiction and are always in danger of relapsing.

It's important to understand that none of these beliefs has been proved scientifically. Not one of them. In fact, they are consistently proven false. Yet these beliefs dominate addiction-treatment programmes throughout the world. Now consider each of these beliefs within the common-sense context of self-efficacy principles. Believing in the above myths is likely to cause ... failure. In other words, teaching people in treatment for addiction problems that they 'don't know they have a problem' creates a problem for them. Teaching them that they cannot control themselves convinces them that they cannot control themselves. Teaching them to believe that treatment is the only solution to their problem convinces them that they cannot solve problems on their own. It reinforces dependency. Teaching them that addiction is all-or-nothing brainwashes them into believing they can never be anything other than sick. Teaching them that they are powerless enables them to act powerless. .....Teaching them that they are physically different from 'normal' people gives them permission to act irresponsibly when they consume too many drugs or too much alcohol, as does teaching them that alcoholism runs in families. Teaching them that they can never mature out of their addiction and are always in danger of relapsing makes them feel hopeless and helpless. Their behaviour is determined by their beliefs. There is nothing they can do about it! Infact, there is nothing they can ever do to change their behaviour except abstain and pray.

The common-sense concept of self-efficacy is consistent with the Navajo concept of 'hozho, the most important concept in traditional Navajo culture, which combines the concepts of beauty, goodness, order, harmony, and everything that is positive or ideal' (Carrese and Rhodes, 1995). Navajos say, ''think and speak in a positive way". This theme is encompassed by the Navajo phrases hoshooj i nitsihakees and hoshooj i saad. The literal translations are 'think in the Beauty Way' and 'talk in the Beauty Way'. The prominence of these themes reflects the Navajo view that thought and language have the power to shape reality and control events ... [they reflect] the Navajo view that health is maintained and restored through positive ritual language'. Providers should 'avoid thinking or speaking in a negative way'. This theme is approximated by the Navaj o phrase, 'Doo dj ini idah'. The literal translation is 'Don't talk that way!' (Carrese and Rhodes, 1995).

Reconsider eight beliefs integral to diseasemodel thinking, and reconsider treatment failure and even consider irresponsible drug use. From the self-efficacy, scientific and Navajo points of view, not only are disease-model beliefs inaccurate, they are destructive. The disease model creates more of the very problems it allegedly solves. In other words, (the eight) beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies.

What can we replace those beliefs with? How about the truth about addiction and recovery? How about ideas consistent with the self-efficacy, scientific... The following beliefs based on the free-will model of addiction meet those criteria:

1. The best way to overcome addiction is to rely on your own willpower.

2. People can stop relying on drugs or alcohol as they develop other ways to deal with life.

3. Addiction has more to do with the environments people live in than with the drugs they are addicted to.

4. People often outgrow drug and alcohol addiction.

5. People become addicted to drugs/alcohol when life is going badly for them.

6. ( People ) can find their own ways out of addiction, without outside help, given the opportunity.

7. Drug addiction is a way of life people rely on to cope with the world.

..... Those prophecies encourage people to recognise the will-power they have to control their life. As people come to believe they can develop other ways to deal with life instead of relying on drugs or alcohol, they gain confidence in their ability to determine their own destiny. As they come to believe addiction has more to do with the environments they live in than with the drugs they use, they may further realise they have the power to change those environments in order to help themselves. They may recognise they are the 'higher power'. And that, of course, is the most sacrilegious idea to disease modelists.

When people realise how many people outgrow drug and alcohol addiction, they realise their own addiction problems are solvable. ... When they recognise drug and alcohol addiction is a behaviour they choose to engage in when life is going badly, they are more likely to do something to improve their life. When people believe they can rely on themselves to overcome an addiction, they are more likely to mobilise the necessary inner strength to change their behaviour. When ( People ) believe they can find their own ways out of addiction, without outside help, given the opportunity, they are more likely to wake from their drug-induced despair and build a life they value more than a life of drugs alone. Most importantly when people believe drug addiction is mainly a way of life, a behaviour people engage in as a way to cope with the world-and not something they are hopelessly imprisoned in-they may be more inclined to make the necessary changes not only in their own world but in the world they live in. People can learn what's necessary to live a meaningful life and put that knowledge to positive effect.

Each of these beliefs results in a more positive and common-sense outlook consistent with scientific principles established through self-efficacy research .... We all create self-fulfilling prophecies for ourselves based on our beliefs. What people believe to be true about themselves dictates how they behave in the world.

Last edited by doorknob; 09-01-2008 at 06:30 PM.
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Old 09-11-2008, 08:54 PM
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I found this to be true because it happened to me. For years I thought I was a lost cause. All it took was one lady to say that I had it in me to change myself.
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Old 10-07-2008, 11:59 AM
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this is what i have been looking for since joining SR. Obviously I have been hanging out in the wrong forum. I subscribe to everything that article states!
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Old 10-07-2008, 12:25 PM
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A great article among many regarding self-efficacy.

Gandhi said it best....

If I have the belief that I can do it,
I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it
even if I may not have it at the beginning."
~ Mahatma Gandhi ~

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the course of action required to manage prospective situations.

Bandura 1995
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Old 10-07-2008, 03:48 PM
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well you know even though I don't agree with some of the much of it i do find true and helpful! So glad you shared it DK cause it really helps me to see so much that can help me to understand where I am and where I am going.

I think finding coping skills to deal with things that work better than alch/drugs is a supper supper great help in my being sober and responsible today. I really had to remember and believe again that I am a strong woman in order to stop drinking at everything!

Curious..what skills do you guys have that you have had to focus on as attributes to move beyond addiction? thx.
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Old 10-07-2008, 04:34 PM
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Not sure if I have any special skills, but I had to first believe that I was capable of moving past my addiction. I had lost sight of my life before alcohol, I knew that I had lived happily without it and I focused on that early on when my resolve seemed tenuous.

For me life without alcohol is normal...the insanity is behind me, the fear is gone and I feel repaired. I no longer see myself as sick and that goes along way in my book. This is not a "remission" but rather a clean slate. I believed I would get well and I have. Not the norm, but it works well for me.
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Old 10-07-2008, 04:45 PM
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yeah buggsy...been important to me to realize I am NOT sick. It's true I sometimes dont make the greatest decision (lol)...but thats just normal human being stuff!

Unfortunately, prior to the first time I got sober, I actually didn't have a past "happy" life to go by...but it sure was a help this time that I could remember a time when I was sober and happy.
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Old 10-07-2008, 05:03 PM
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It is important to realize so much of what happens to us in life and our reactions to them have little or nothing to do with our past addictions. Like you say so much is just part of being human.

I think "happy" can be a relative and subjective term. While I did suffer at the hands of others early in my life those wounds seemed to heal faster than the ones that were self-inflicted.

Happiness is ours to make kwim?
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Old 10-07-2008, 11:00 PM
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that's an involuble truth Bugs

sorry I meant involuble.

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