Lots of attention has been paid to the physical factors that influence
addiction such as tolerance and withdrawal effects. Far less attention
has been devoted to understanding the psychological influences that
get people stuck. Here is a discussion of some of the most common factors
that can keep people stuck in addictive behavior.
Disturbing, confusing, troubling events occur to everyone in the
course of living, even those who have had relatively protected lives.
Let’s think of a traumatic event as one whose memory continues
to be troubling even though the event is long finished. Just recalling
the event triggers painful emotions that affect thinking and behavior.
Life begins to go off track and the person is stuck in pain and despair.
Addictive behavior often begins as the solution to the hurt. When the
painful memories are neutralized by effective psychological treatment,
energy is released that automatically fuels positive behavior change.
The human mind, because it is protective, will remember all the
details of a disturbing event and be on the alert for any detail that
looks similar. The problem is that what is noticed as similar is
perceived as the same. This explains why the firecracker outside
causes the decorated Army combat veteran to dive behind the couch
shaking with fear. Even though this similar-same confusion operates
on a subconscious level it can be corrected with effective treatment.
Painful emotions are often the legacy of traumatic experiences.
Anger, grief, fear and guilt consume huge amounts of energy and
drain a person of enthusiasm and motivation. These emotions are
almost always worse than useless and contribute in a major way
to stuckness. Although many people may not realize it, painful
emotions can be eliminated rapidly with effective treatment.
How we think about who we really are is a big deal. A negative
identity almost always contributes to unwanted behavior. Traumatic
events often lead to a distorted and negative perceived identity,
the person’s takeaway being ‘I’m just a worthless piece of crap’ or
something similar. When behavior is confused with identity positive
change becomes difficult or even impossible. Even experiences
intended to be therapeutic can cause harmful distortions in perceived
identity. For example, the time honored requirement to own the
behavior and state ‘I am an addict’can have disastrous unintended
consequences. The key phrase is of course ‘I am’. Identity is usually
perceived as unchanging and permanent. So if one ‘is’ something,
how does one not be it? Confusing identity with behavior is a huge
contributor to being stuck.
Many addicts get stuck in some area of life. The human mind, especially
the more primitive subconscious mind, doesn’t deal well with negation.
It’s sort of like asking your server in a restaurant to not bring you
chicken. It’s a good start but needs to be followed with what you do want.
Speaking and thinking only in negation keeps people stuck.
The only animal on the planet that attaches meaning to events is the
human animal. We’re really good at it and we do it all the time. When
the meaning is positive there’s usually no problem. But when the
meaning is negative it can be a big problem that causes even more
painful emotion. The meaning the human mind attaches to events is,
of course, a major source of false beliefs.