Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism. ~ Carl Jung
Addiction is something most of us have had to deal with one way or another. You can be addicted to drugs, sweets, emotions, sex, work, video games, working out, and the list continues. An addiction is always a means to feel comfortable. For some this can be a minor inconvenience, whereas for others it becomes a destructive pattern. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re totally out of control. It doesn’t serve you in living the life that you want. In this post I will explain the psychology behind addiction, and how to deal with it.
Pleasure and pain
When it comes to regulating behavior, our subconscious likes to avoid pain, while indulging in pleasurable experiences. This is functional when it saves you from harm, but our subconscious only acts upon feelings without any further investigation of context. What I’m trying to say is that pain is not always best avoided. In fact, I believe that facing your personal discomfort is one of the quickest ways to get clarity about what’s truly important to you.
However, the subconscious wants instant relief, and since pleasure is always of a temporary nature, it will need more and more of those pleasures to distract from discomfort. This is essentially how any addiction starts. The means can be very different, but the function is similar. However, pain is also temporary. But when we don’t give ourselves the chance to deal with that pain in a wholesome fashion, then our avoiding behavior becomes a subconscious pattern over which we start to lose control.
So instead of thinking in fight and flight mechanisms, allow yourself to just feel instead. Experience the sensation without acting upon it, and without judging it. The more you can relax into your feelings of discomfort, the less dominant those feelings become, and the less you feel compelled to react to them. Connect to the source of your discomfort within yourself, and you’ll gain a mental clarity that is necessary to make the kind of decisions that truly serve you.
In practice, that means drawing your attention inwards the moment you feel an urge to indulge into your addiction. Some people like a more rational approach, in which you think more in terms of practicality and usefulness, but the downside of thinking your way out is that you can also think your way into unwanted behavior. I can attest to this, because I’ve tried to deal with my own addiction of marijuana in that way, and it never really worked. When you shift to pure awareness, you have a much more powerful tool.
Discipline is overrated
A lot of people go wrong by thinking that overcoming a bad habit is all about discipline, resulting in feelings of guilt when they fail to pull through. This only strengthens the vicious circle, because whatever you resist persists. Dealing with addiction is not about being hard on yourself, but about practicing compassion and forgiveness. When you adopt an attitude of allowing your feelings to be there, without reacting to them, then you’ve made good progress.
Discipline is something we can use to overcome a brief moment of weakness, but that kind of willpower is not enough to rely on to live a life that’s satisfying. When you’re forcing yourself through life with willpower and discipline, then you’ll probably not enjoy any of it. Discipline is what you use to go to the gym on that rainy day when you’re not in the mood (provided that going to the gym is something you like doing in general); by the time you’re there you’ve already created enough momentum to continue without having to force yourself.
So mindfulness is more important than discipline. It’s absolutely insane to force yourself through something without even knowing if that’s something you really want to do deep inside. A lot of people make that mistake though, and burn themselves out over time. So if you’re having difficulty dealing with an addiction, then practice being forgiving, dispassionate, and unreactive, rather than being hard, judgmental, and unloving towards yourself.
Use your power
When we fight ourselves, life becomes a struggle. A peaceful warrior is one who embraces his opposition, turning it into a helpful companion. It means that the key to victory lies in perception. A problem cannot be solved on the same level of awareness in which it was created. In concrete terms this means reflecting, accepting, and forgiving. Our feelings of discomfort originates from our inner being that’s trying to send us a message. It wants your attention! The more you avoid this inner confrontation, the stronger these messages, and your addictions as a form of retreating behavior, become.
The power of your awareness will eventually dissolve your feelings of discomfort, because you’re addressing your deepest urges. In a state of being connected, it’s much easier to make decisions that serve you, and get into your flow. You will see that your addictions will cease to exist, because you no longer need them to feel comfortable. Because you have addressed your inner calling, and acted upon that calling, you will feel good about yourself, while attracting more of that goodness into your life.
Being very health conscious nowadays, it might be difficult to imagine that I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes each day. I had tried quitting a couple of times, but discipline only worked temporarily. At that time I was getting more involved with martial arts, and I wanted to become good at it. I followed my inner calling, and quitting smoking didn’t take any effort at all. So take some time to reflect on what truly motivates you and gets your juices going, and use that to transform your life.
One last thing I would like to go over is how some people replace one addiction with another. I once met a guy who was proud of himself quitting being an alcoholic, but now he smoked marijuana every day. So I asked him if the state of his addiction was very different now, which it obviously wasn’t. A difficult conversation followed, because I kind of ruined his fantasy, albeit with my best intentions.
Some people are more prone to addictions than others. This may be caused by genes, environment, personality, or the constellations of stars, but the bottom line is that we’re just dealt with the cards as they are, so it’s foolish to blame the game now that you’re in it. Besides, every weakness can be transformed into strength, and in your struggle lays the seed of your salvation. The important thing is to stay honest. You can only be honest if you’re connected, and you can only be connected if you bring your attention inwards.
Addiction is always a means to feel comfortable. It’s a compulsive and destructive way of gaining short pleasures with the function of masking discomfort. But by simply observing this inner pain dispassionately, it becomes less dominant. In that process of inner connection we gain clarity, which we need to make decisions that are aligned with our deepest desires. Be accepting and forgiving, instead of harsh and judgmental. You have the opportunity to use your addiction as a source of transformation. Just be careful not to replace one addiction with another.
Have you ever suffered from addictions? What did you do to deal with them? Comment below!