The collective view of addiction is evolving, and it’s about time!

Researchers have only recently begun to acknowledge that addiction is not limited to external substances. They are finally finding that people can also be addicted to behaviours and internal processes just as much as they can alcohol and drugs. The standard definition of addiction is slowly expanding. Today more and more people realise it includes all the of things we continue doing even though they bring negativity, pain, and suffering into our lives.

When I speak about what I do, I often see people rolling their eyes at mentions of lesser-acknowledged addictions. Especially to things like sex, pornography, shopping, caffeine, perfectionism, and technology.

“Is that really a thing?” is a typical response. Usually followed by a flash of shame and an admission of their own struggles with such things.

Substance and process addictions are just surface expressions of deeper issues. Most people think that if the addictive behaviour is stopped, that’s the end of the problem. This is a bit like thinking a fire is extinguished by wafting away the smoke! Stopping the behaviour is just the first step that makes a recovery from addiction possible. Once the behaviour stops, there’s a chance to get in touch with the addictions we don’t know we have, and that is where the real work begins!

Victim Thinking –

A lot of us don’t realise our addiction to victim thinking because it is so normal to doubt, compare, resent, judge, complain, and criticise. Everyone around us does it, so why not us? These patterns of negative thinking come from a victim mindset. Victimhood is an excruciating place to be, but it is also very seductive. Every time we engage in negative thinking, we discharge a little of our discontent, or we whip up some anger and righteousness that brings a false sense of empowerment. This helps us escape the pain of feeling like a victim while at the same time, re-enforcing the mindset. Over time, being a victim becomes our identity and lens through which we see the world. Although this is a painful place to be, many people get a sense of being special here. Being a victim allows them to avoid responsibility and get the attention they long for. They become more interested in sustaining their victim identity than the empowerment that comes through taking responsibility for themselves.

When people see this pattern operating within themselves, they often try to make a big jump away from it. “I am not a victim!” is a common self-declaration. While this is well intended, most of the time it’s a dressed-up denial statement that skips some essential steps. The first step in letting go of the victim identity is the honest acknowledgement of the parts of ourselves that have been victimised. We don’t let go of the victim identity by denying the events of our lives that gave rise to it. We let go by acknowledging them thoroughly, taking responsibility, and stepping into the power of who we are in this moment.

Healing may be needed.

People may need bringing to account.

Boundaries may be necessary.

We may need to cut certain people out of our lives.

None of these is possible without that first honest acknowledgement of the parts of ourselves that have been victimised.

Emotional immaturity –

Emotional immaturity comes in many flavours. To keep it simple, I would define emotional immaturity as a lack of awareness of how we feel, and an inability to maintain presence and control in moments of being emotionally triggered. Many of us are not even aware of what our triggers are, so anything can set us off. Traffic jams, or an unexpected bill, our partner saying ‘the wrong thing’ can set us off into emotional reactivity, if we lack awareness of our internal processes. Of course, it’s never about the trigger itself. Our emotions are often layered deeper than our conscious experience. What appears to be anxiety on the surface, may have its roots in shame and worthlessness. Sadness and depression often have anger laying beneath them. Frustration (anger with a mental narrative) is often protecting us from our more deep-seated fears of rejection and abandonment.

Emotional immaturity is often rationalised as sensitivity. Emotionally immature people will often say that they are extremely sensitive to another person’s energy. Rather than taking responsibility for their issues, they package them as a special gift or intuitive psychic ability. Close friends and family often have the feeling of ‘walking on eggshells’ around such people, as they know how easy it is to set them off. If you have struggled with addiction, the chances are that you are emotionally immature. If you find yourself unable to be present with severe emotional states without reaching for alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, sugar, or porn, then that’s probably a sign. It may not be your fault! This pattern came into your life for many reasons, some of which were events and circumstances you didn’t choose. If you have read this far, perhaps you are ready to start changing what you can. Emotional immaturity may seem like a strong and judgemental label. The events that created it may have been outside your control. However, it can be held as a conscious acknowledgement of a pattern that needs addressing, without self-loathing, shaming, or negative judgement. This can be the first step towards positive change.

Procrastination –

I, like many others, have spent a lot of time procrastinating. Procrastination is generally thought of as time wasting or laziness. As I see it, procrastination extends beyond those things, into anything we do as a means of putting off doing what we really want. This includes all manner of chores, obligations, and well-intentioned diversions. It is important to take care of duties and responsibilities and to help others. It is also important that such things are not used for the age-old excuse of not having enough time. The truth that none of us wants to acknowledge is the one that lays behind our justification that we don’t have time. We do have time! We just choose not to, because it’s easier that way!

It’s easier to get busy for busyness sake, without being really productive. Anyone can do that! The ‘to do’ list is never empty, and more items are being added all the time. It’s easy to prioritise the ‘to do’ list, over what really matters, and keep postponing what is most essential. That’s the more comfortable option. Many people postpone writing their book and creating their art until they retire. Only to find other means of delaying once retirement comes around. It’s hard to get productive and actually create something. It’s a struggle that some of the best writers, artists, and musicians face most days. The difference is, they don’t let resistance stop them! For many of us would-be creatives, there may be an unhelpful mental narrative! “

What I create may not work… what then?”

“What if no one likes my writing?”

“What if I fail at my attempts to create art?”

This is where so many of us miss the point. The joy of creation is in the process itself. To paraphrase the words of scripture: We are entitled to the pleasure of participating in the creative process, but not the fruits!

Just get busy enjoying the creation process itself. Anything else is a bonus!

Other-Esteem –

Other-Esteem is the opposite of Self-Esteem. Good healthy self-esteem is what we have when we are genuinely happy with who we are in the world. We may not have everything we want, but there is also a deep knowing that who we are cannot be defined by possessions or achievements. On a deeper level, there is the innate understanding. An understanding that everything we have could be taken from us, and we would still exist on a core of value, meaning, and purpose. When we have healthy self-esteem, we can rely on our own resources to deal with life’s challenges. There may still be pain and even suffering, but our inner strength guides us in navigating at such times. People with healthy self-esteem don’t reference how they are doing in life to how they feel, or the difficulties they are facing. Instead, they stay sustained by the knowledge that they are on a journey, and that life’s tests and challenges are a part of the journey that reminds them of what their lives stand for.

People with other-esteem reference how they are doing in life to how they feel. If they are feeling down, they seek approval and confirmation from others to feel ok. Instead of connecting with their own authentic inner guidance system, they try to sustain their self-worth through the way others see them. If you don’t know what I am talking about, go check Instagram. See the contortions people are going through to maintain a sense of their own value through what others see. Most of us, if we take an honest look, will find subtle patterns of other-esteem playing out. Here’s a simple way to test yourself. Think for a moment of the impact you may experience if the most important and influential people in your life were to voice their disapproval of your way of doing things.

After reading this you may be thinking that the patterns I have mentioned are just the insecurities that are part of the struggle of being human. In a way, they are! They are also a reflection of the collective mindset of humanity, which is generally motivated by the avoidance of discomfort. What discomfort is being avoided in these patterns varies for each individual. Whatever form it takes, it is always a reflection of a deeply broken relationship with ourselves and the world. Addictive behaviour is a symptom of this relationship.

In the recovery community, there is a lot of talk about trauma being the underlying cause of addiction. It is excellent that trauma’s role in addiction is being acknowledged, this has needed to happen for a long time! However, for many who are suffering in the addiction cycle, the leap from where they are is too great! The shift required to bring themselves to a place of being able to deal with their trauma is a colossal impasse. Many people fear what might happen if they look under that rock. Maybe all manner of chaos could be unleashed, and this would make things worse!

It is essential that we get to the roots of addiction, that we heal our broken relationship with ourselves and the world, and resolve our traumas to the degree we are able. At the same time, we must move at a self-honouring pace. There is an evident and apparent middle territory between addictive behaviour and trauma that needs to be addressed. I hope that this article has helped to shine some light upon some of this middle territory, and the importance of addressing all of the levels that fuel addiction’s unrelenting compulsive charge. It doesn’t really matter which level we work on. It is not better or more advanced to work on the level of childhood traumas than it is to address one’s negative thinking. Both are valuable steps that must be repeated many times on the recovery path.