Often, when we think of addictions, we think of drastic, dire situations where someone is unable to control their desire to use drugs or alcohol. We may picture a person who is homeless, or living in squalor, or just downright miserable. Well, while those images may be real, the truth is-we all have a tendency toward addictive behavior.
I believe that everyone is addicted to something. We all have our own issues, and it is the way that we deal with them that generally creates these behaviors (or tendencies). It is within all of us to live resourceful lives, or, conversely, to live non-resourceful lives.
This is not to say that alcoholism and/or drug addiction is not a disease. What we are looking at is the common, yet unique way, we all have of dealing with life and applying coping mechanisms into our behaviors and then exhibiting dysfunctional habits.
When we are living our life experience, we have learned (usually in our formative years) how to feel safe. We learn what “safe” is; our interpretation of “safe”, that is. Meaning that through our perceptions, belief systems, values, etc., we determine for ourselves how it feels to “feel good”.
When we do not feel good, we desire to feel good. At this point, we try things (either things we remember learning-consciously or subconsciously) that will help us to feel good. Sometimes, we try things that we’ve never tried before, as well.
Now, if the action that we took makes us feel better or “good”, we have learned a way to feel “safe”. Internally, unconsciously, we begin to associate this action (or behavior) with feeling better. So, the next time that we do not feel safe, we take this action again.
Soon, it becomes a habit. And, as the habit is created, so the addiction is fed. And it grows and grows, seemingly on its own-until we are truly addicted to something.
As previously stated, addictions do not need to be reserved only for drugs and alcohol. Some people are addicted to: television, reading, walking, exercise, eating, smoking (guess there’s a drug in there), the internet, celebrities, relationships (not wanting to feel “alone”), driving, coffee (another drug?), etc.
Let’s say that you are feeling down and you take a long walk. After the long walk, you feel a lot better. So, the next time you feel down, you, once again, take a walk. And, again, you feel better. You unconsciously begin to associate easing yourself back into your comfort zone with walking.
Then, you decide (perhaps unconsciously) to beat the system and take the walk BEFORE you feel down. So, you start walking. Next thing you know, you have a pile of laundry, a sink full of dishes, and a messy house. But, you feel that you have done great things because you aren’t feeling down.
Yes, you are back in your comfort zone. And, you are not feeling down. However, the threshold in your life for whatever stress it was that created the feeling in the first place is still at the same level. If something were to happen to stop you from being able to walk, you would not be able to deal with that stress resourcefully.
Those thresholds that we have within us can be considered as boundaries of our comfort zone. When we are outside of that comfort zone, we feel uncomfortable. Unless you learn to stretch and expand your abilities, that threshold will remain the same.
Another point to consider when looking at these coping mechanisms or strategies is that of awareness. You are probably not even aware (or conscious) of what it is that you are doing when you are taking these actions that “relieve” the stress. You just know that you feel okay.
When you can become aware of what it is that you are doing, and WHY you are doing it, you can observe (internally) your internal representations and change them for the better. In other words, you can create a new reality for yourself and expand your comfort zone, thereby raising your threshold for stresses in your life.
The basis for this explanation lies in the tendency we all have to become unaware of what we are doing and, more importantly, what we are thinking. As you have gone through your life, you have learned belief systems, values, and certain coping strategies (that can be tied to “coping mechanisms”). These internal representations of your world and your life experience, determine, to a large degree, what is going on in your life.
So, for example, when you have learned a strategy that whenever you feel sad, you can take a long walk and feel “better”, you are implementing the coping mechanism. At this point, it is not harmful. It does become harmful when you rely on the mechanism or strategy to make you feel “better”. Then, you have to take a long walk to feel “better”-perhaps, you may even reach the point where you only feel happy when you take long walks.
Being aware, observing your thoughts and actions, and raising your thresholds will all help to alleviate the tendency to gravitate toward an addictive behavior or action.
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