ADDICTIONS: DO YOU HAVE ONE?
Busy, Busy Busy…the most common addiction….
Addictions of all sorts may be ruining intimacy in your relationship. This month we are going to be talking about the subject of these unhealthy but common behaviors. Now before you read this and say, “This doesn’t apply to me,” consider the most prevalent addiction I encounter in my work as a therapist….busyness. We often keep ourselves too busy to process anything and we use activity as a way of soothing and avoiding the pain that would break through and come to our awareness if we slowed down or had a moment of quiet.
Let me define addictions in a way you may not have heard before. Addictions are anything that we turn to over and over to meet a legitimate need in an unhealthy way. MOST OFTEN THE NEED IS FOR RELIEF OR DISTRASCTION FROM SOMETHING PAINFUL. Don’t miss the words; legitimate needs. Living in a broken world means we all will suffer and need relief. The question is, “How do we get relief?” Do we most often seek a spouse, friends or family member and seek relief by processing our pain with a person or do we turn to non-relational ways of getting our needs met? Addictions always meet needs in non-relational ways (with one exception) and we will talk about that at the bottom of the list. Let’s look at some of the favorites and what purpose they may serve.
Addictions get rid of some painful feeling we don’t want. We might think of them as unhealthy stress relievers. Perhaps we feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, bored, trapped, etc. We turn to one of the following things to get rid of these bad feelings.
1. Keeping busy: Using activity and over-extending ourselves to keep pain out of awareness.
2. Work: Using work to avoid problems at home, or putting great effort toward success to keep from feeling insecure or inadequate. Workaholics have families that suffer from their absence.
3. Perfectionism: Were you expecting this to show up in a list of addictions? Perfectionism is about controlling your world to avoid any feeling of failure, inadequacy or criticism. A perfectionist sooths by creating order.
4. Alcohol, drugs, including misuse of prescription medications. These substances can soothe or enliven depending on whether the substance is a stimulant or a depressant. Substances help one escape, mood alter and relieve anxiety, depression, shame, insecurity of any painful feeling.
5. Sex: Using sex as an escape and mood altering activity. Most often includes pornography addiction. This is also an adrenalin based addiction that enlivens and distracts.
6. Computer Relationships: This is the woman’s version of a sex addiction. Women are looking for romance, understanding, communication etc, and the email/phone relationship can be just as addicting as a pornography addiction. The computer has somewhat replaced “Romance Novel” and I have worked with several woman that used these books as a total escape, neglecting kids and responsibilities to go off into this fantasy world.
7. Gambling: This is an adrenalin based addiction that is distracting and mood lifting. It promises but does not always deliver instant gratification, a quick fix and the illusion of powerful control.
8. Food and eating: Often when we overeat food becomes the soothing mommy and relieves some unpleasant feeling. Anorexia is also a food addiction requiring the absence of eating and the control this requires gives an illusion of power and control for other areas of life that cannot be controlled. Perfectionism is often a related issue for the anorexic.
9. Shopping: Provides distraction, instant gratification, control (I can have what I want when I want it). Often a shopper fees deprived in some way, usually emotionally.
10. Stealing: Also and adrenalin based activity that provides distraction and instant gratification.
11. Computer: Games, chat rooms, face book. Gives the user distractions and takes them into a fantasy world on some level. Even face book is an illusion of many friends and yet does not require personal contact fact to face.
12. Exercise: This is obviously a great activity we should all be doing. It becomes addictive when it is compulsive, extreme and cannot be missed.
13. Relationships: This is the only addiction that is relational in that people are used as the source of distracting and enlivening. When one relationship is problematic instead of dealing with those problems, a new relationship is pursued. The feeling of “intense love” is the cure for everything. These folks are in love with a fantasy of love that is not based in reality. They have a high need for attention and affirmation; a bolstering up of an insecure core. The key feature is a total preoccupation with the relationship to the point that it interferes with other important relationships and responsibilities. There is a level of obsession that is unhealthy..
14. Affairs: This is a relationship addiction that includes secrecy and sex. I have worked with men and woman who are addicted to affairs. If you have had two or more affairs this is probably your addiction. Boredom and problems in a primary relationship provide the justification to seek happiness elsewhere. The adrenalin rush of secrecy is highly enlivening, distracting and proves to the addict that he or she must not be the problem since this other person find them so amazing.
Wow! That is quite a list. And I know the list is not exhaustive. Next week we will look at the nature of compulsions and how they play into addictions. Then we will spend the last two weeks on solutions.