A well-functioning family, community or society needs to have a balance between self-interested behavior, and altruistic or service behavior. If every member of a group pays attention only to his or her own immediate needs, life becomes very difficult quickly. For instance, a hunter-gatherer group that could effectively cooperate to hunt large animals would have more food, and be safer, than a group that had each member attempting to hunt alone. Solitary hunters are simply not as effective as a well-coordinated team of hunters.
Balancing individual and community needs
It is assumed in most Western societies that individuals will naturally “look out for number one.” In some non-Western societies there may be more emphasis on helping others over taking care of oneself. Perhaps the influence of capitalism has promoted an excessive focus on self-interest in Western societies. Whatever the reason, in Western societies we often need to remind ourselves of the advantages of cooperation, and that our individual success will not be very satisfying if the larger community we live in is not doing well. What each individual needs to cultivate could be called enlightened self-interest, or cooperative competition, or sensible altruism. Whatever it is called, groups composed of members who balance individual and group needs function better.
As someone develops addictive behavior the balance between self-interest and helping others gets lost. Individuals whose addictive behavior is substantial enough to need addiction treatment, or even alcohol and drug rehab, are often in significant distress. That distress is often what drives them to enter treatment. That distress also keeps them very self-focused.
The individual with substantial addiction problems is likely to be not a very helpful member of a family, community or society. In fact this individual has probably become a drain on the resources of others. It is an important part of the process of addiction recovery to get back (or create for the first time) an appropriate balance between satisfying individual and community needs. Achieving that balance can take some time to develop. Here are some ways to get started:
Consider the people who are most important to you. What is on their minds right now? What is important to them at the moment? How do they feel about these matters? Do you feel you understand these individuals better, as a result of considering their point of view?
Also with the people who are most important to you, what small favors might you be able to do for them, perhaps regularly? How much satisfaction do you experience in doing these favors? Does this satisfaction lead you to think differently about yourself?
In the wider world, look for opportunities to do “random acts of kindness.” How much satisfaction do you experience by doing these acts?
The path from self-centeredness to being an active member of family, community and society, and doing one’s fair share (or even more), can be a long one. However, as you achieve a better balance between attempting to satisfy (or even reduce) your own needs, in favor of also considering others, you will experience a substantial improvement in your sense of connection to others, self-worth, and life satisfaction.