When Habits Become Addictions
Each and every one of us needs to feel good, free, powerful and happy. That desire is built into us as human beings. But if we can’t get that from inside ourselves – from living into our possibilities and growing into our true potential – then we need to find it somewhere else. So we look outside of ourselves for something to make us feel better. This isn’t wrong; it’s just human nature.
So what makes us feel good? It depends on the person. Perhaps we get that good feeling when we take a drink, eat some sweets or junk food, or go shopping. Or we get a rush inside from video games, movies, concerts or porn. It might come when we work overtime and somebody praises us for it. Or when someone attractive flirts with us, so we get involved with them. Any one of these might ‘fill the gap’ we feel inside, so we do it more often.
Then again, maybe our discomfort, disappointment or pain inside is more serious, so we turn to something stronger to take it away. A happy hour most afternoons. A prescription painkiller that gets used in ever-increasing amounts. An ‘illicit’ drug of choice to make us feel uplifted or high. Or maybe we spend more and more money on clothes, shoes, electronics, gambling or trips, anything to take our mind off how we really feel inside. “It’s just for now. I can control it,” we say to ourselves. And maybe it is.
But for many of us, our ‘muscles of choice’ have been severely weakened over the years. We’ve given away our power so often that now “feeling better” is the top priority, and what’s “best for us” comes in second. As a result, stopping the behaviour that gives us those temporary good feelings doesn’t seem so easy any more. So little by little, we do it more, and more.
For a time, our behaviour is serving us. It’s giving us those good feelings we want and need. But at some point we start to feel differently about it. Maybe we’re doing it so much that we don’t like the consequences, or we’re feeling bad because we seem to be losing control. So a part of us no longer wants it. Yet we do it again anyway, because we still want those good feelings it gives us. After that, we feel worse and tell ourselves to stop. But craving those good feelings, we do it again. And the cycle continues.
Somewhere along the way, we begin shaming or beating ourselves up for our behaviour. “Why do I keep doing this to myself? There must be something wrong with me!” And we think that if we could just shame, punish, force or control ourselves enough, we will stop. But as I’ve said, that thinking actually has the opposite effect. It makes us feel worse. Now we really need a way out of our discomfort, so we do our habit even more. And our struggle continues.
Giving It Energy
At this point we’re giving a lot of mental and emotional energy to our habit – both positive, because we want it, and negative, because we don’t. But either way we’re giving it more power. The more we think about doing it or not doing it, the more we want to do it.
We’re also reinforcing our inner belief that something is wrong with us. We feel guilty about doing our behaviour, but powerless to change. Our ‘bad habits’ now seem to have control over us. And little by little, this ‘locks in’ the problem’ even deeper.
Even if we are somehow able to change our habit at this stage and replace it with something ‘better or less damaging,’ the cycle will continue. Why? Because it’s not the behaviour that’s causing the problem. It’s our feelings of shame, fear and guilt, and our belief that we are powerless, that are driving the process. So we will continue to need some kind of habit, substance or behaviour to block those feelings and make ourselves feel better, however temporarily.
And that’s when our ‘unwanted habit’ becomes an addiction. We have actually turned it into that by our obsessive and negative thinking.
Is there some habit or behaviour that keeps coming to mind as you’re reading this? Don’t make yourself guilty for it. Just ask yourself if it might be something you want to change...