Wanting what someone else has might be construed as a form of envy. The connotation of greed or insecurity doesn’t sit well with most people, and ultimately feels less than virtuous. This is not what we’re talking about when it comes to this phrase and a life of recovery.
When we use the concept of wanting what someone else has, it can be used to describe the positive defense mechanism of identification. This is a method by which we cope with anxiety through seeking the positive traits of someone who has worked through a similar anxiety, and trying to incorporate those traits into ourselves. It represents a sort of bonding with another and appreciates that one is capable of change for the better.
For those new to recovery, one common piece of advice is for that person to identify someone who is also in recovery and holds something admirable. This might be a stable family life, a strong career, or a sense of self-esteem. The person who is trying to recover could easily feel lost, confused or afraid. In some ways, looking for a person with whom to admire can function as a grounding or anchoring technique. This can build hope and comfort.
An example of identification in society involves someone joining a new school, whether this being a high school or college. What is one way in which the person might join the group? They could buy a University sweatshirt and go to the football game. They might learn some of the school history. They could sign up to attend a film screening and discussion. All of this involves a means of identification. Now, the student is not alone, rather becoming part of the group. Anxiety is softened through this process.
Other examples of identification include moving to a new city and visiting the famous restaurants, joining a faith community and participating in the traditions, or working on a new job site and buying the same tools you see your colleagues using. Each example involves anxiety from the transition and a way to work through that anxiety effectively through joining in.
This same skill of identification takes place for anyone using a peer support process, such as Alcoholic’s Anonymous, in recovery. There are cultural references demonstrated at an AA meeting. A new person could learn the background to better relate to the story. There are common phrases and lingo spoken by many participants. Sharing similar phrasing can help a new person feel like they belong.
One of the most powerful actions anyone can take to build a stronger recovery is to work with a sponsor. How would you choose the right sponsor for you? Principles of identification are almost always at work during this process. We seek out people who make us feel known and carry traits we’d like to see in ourselves. This is often where the concept of wanting what someone else has can be useful.
Change and recovery are anxious processes. How do people cope? Using the principle of identification can make a big difference. By paying attention to the traits in others you would like to see within yourself, you may find a sense of relief and hope that you’re working towards something meaningful. Other people have traveled along the path of recovery. If you take a look at their trail-map, maybe you could reach the same destination.