ACCOMMODATION AND ADDICTION:
Typically, accommodation is considered a good thing. It is usually associated with being polite, caring, and respectful of someone else’s wants, wishes, or needs. We are often praised for being selfless or kind when we accommodate someone else’s preferences. This praise feels good, thus, reinforces and encourages us to continue with our accommodative ways. However, I will make the argument that, while this way of being has positive qualities, if taken to an extreme, it is not ultimately beneficial to ourselves. Let’s look at an example of how this could play out.
I want you to imagine that you are hosting a dinner party and one of your guests is lactose-intolerant. As such, there can’t be any dishes with dairy. Although you love cheese, you recognize that it is only one night, and you can live without it for a meal. Not so bad, right? Your guest will be appreciative, and you’ll feel good about yourself for accommodating your their dietary restriction. Everybody goes home happy.
Well, let’s imagine that this guest starts coming over for dinner several times a week. Although you like them quite a bit, you notice that it is starting to feel like there’s no room for your preferences. You want something with cheese but also don’t want your guest to be hungry or ill. As such, you continue making dishes without dairy. Your guest may still be appreciative, but you begin to resent them. What started as a considerate gesture has grown and changed, such that you are no longer able to eat the dinner you want to.
Although this is a somewhat silly example, it highlights the dynamic of what’s called “pathological accommodation.” Pathological accommodation is when an individual regularly prioritizes others’ preferences above their own to gain admiration, affection, and praise. It is not about accommodating others once or twice; it is a compulsion. Typically, people who pathologically accommodate are well-liked, which reinforces the accommodative tendencies. However, like with all things, it is not that simple.
People who pathologically accommodate also feel helpless. They have their own urges, needs, and feelings that they don’t know how to relate to. They have spent so much time prioritizing others’ needs that they don’t know what to do with their own. As such, they may turn towards behaviors that enable them to connect with these feelings in a “safe” way, free of the burden of accommodation. Two relatively common behaviors for pathological accommodators are isolating and using alcohol and/or drugs.
With isolation, the individual can sit in their own experience without feeling any pressure to respond to someone else’s needs. With substance use, the individual attempts to escape those painful feelings of loneliness. Further, the act of drinking or using drugs creates a sense of autonomy or control to make decisions over one’s own life.
While I am in no way arguing that accommodating others’ is necessarily a bad thing, I encourage you to reflect on the frequency and nature of your accommodations. Eating dairy-free for a meal here and there is fine. But every day? I don’t think so. We all need cheese every now and then.
By Jonathan Fricke, MA