Futures Recovery

DBT Decoded: Willingness vs. Willfulness

When examining the DBT concept of Willingness versus Willfulness, we see how Dialectical Behavior Therapy once again presents us with a pair of opposite forces at play within the mind. Remember that the central concept of dialectical thinking is that we often hold opposing viewpoints simultaneously – and the presence of these thoughts holds potential for conflict. The key to well-being is to acknowledge their presence and the potential for struggle – but to choose to “dance, not wrestle” with them. So, are you willing or willful? Willingness is our ability to go with the flow – to practice radical acceptance with our situation and what life hands us – and to be an active participant. Ask any behavioral health professional and they’ll tell you what a pleasure it is to work with a client who is willing. In fact, often times the first goal of treatment is to help someone see that there’s hope, because without hope, why try? Why would anyone be willing to do something if the result is certain to be failure? Of course, the reason to be willing is that we don’t know what the future holds, though we do know that success is only available for those who try.

The universe rewards willingness! Willfulness is the opposite. Acting willfully is trying to bend the universe to your wants and needs, regardless of what’s possible. In active substance abuse, the individual may practice willfulness by continuing to act irresponsibly and waiting for the world to change in order to meet his or her needs. Being willful is to thumb your nose at radical acceptance – taking a position that you need not accept what is – and thinking you can will your way through a universe that revolves around you. Acting willfully is something that we’ve all done at some time in our life. Young children act willfully when they disobey their parents’ instructions and do simply what they want to do – right or wrong. Parenting can be incredibly frustrating when one struggles to learn that there are times when you cannot change the will of a child; you can only change your method of interaction. When you ask someone who’s been successful in their recovery from alcohol and/or drug addiction about how they did it, you’ll often hear a response like, “I was ready.”

When you’re ready, you’re adopting a position of willingness. When you’re not, that’s your stubborn willfulness saying, “I’ll continue to act irresponsibly and it will turn out okay nonetheless.” The willing individual is an open-minded participant of life. The willful person is unreasonable and chooses to sit on the sidelines instead. As we consider the mindset of willingness versus willfulness, we can see how many good opportunities exist for those who are willing and how many opportunities are missed by those who act willfully.

What can we do to cultivate willingness, when our nature toward something makes us feel willful? We can follow the golden rule – to change something, we must first acknowledge it. Next time you feel stuck, ask yourself, “Am I acting willfully? Am I choosing to ignore the facts and staying attached to what I want?” Once we observe such a mindset, we can make the conscious choice to get unstuck, to do what we intuitively know to be a wiser choice, – and go for it! Sometimes it’s a matter of taking a chance, accepting that life is filled with the unknown, and that life requires risk in exchange for reward. For some people, the thought that gets them unstuck is becoming comfortable with discomfort (and doing it anyway). Others motivate themselves by physically taking an action that lines up with willingness, with the understanding that where the body leads, the mind will follow. Whatever it takes, choose willingness and enjoy being an active participant in this wonderful adventure known as life.

The compassionate and highly trained, Futures Recovery Healthcare team strives to provide education, support, and behavioral therapies in conjunction with medications at the proper times in order to promote a successful recovery from a substance abuse disorder. Call today to learn about our specialized and effective treatment programs.