I believe we live in an addictive society. I define addiction as anything that distracts us from our true thoughts, feelings – our true selves. One can be addicted to just about anything. Most of us think of substance addiction – alcohol, smoking, drugs (prescription or illegal), caffeine. There are also process addictions, which can include eating/food, exercise, working, gambling, shopping, video games, television, Internet, money/debt, perfection/accomplishment, cutting oneself, or my personal favorite, controlling other people (or at least attempting to).
The way I see it, the substance or process that serves as the centerpiece of the addiction is not the problem. It is actually the only solution that a person has found to the real problem. The substance or process makes us feel good – at least in the short term – and even when it no longer feels good, we can’t stop because it has become a compulsion.
But what is the real problem? The underlying cause for all addiction is the avoidance of our true selves. So many of us learn to avoid, push down, negate, or otherwise suppress our feelings. We learn, in myriad ways, that how we feel is wrong, inaccurate, not wanted, unacceptable. And this message causes us to turn on ourselves – to think we must be bad, shameful, and unworthy individuals. We internalize self-negation – in some of us it even become self-hatred. Our first addiction is to self-hatred. All other addictions are distractions from this original problem.
In denying our feelings, we lose an important guide to our true selves. Feelings tell us what is right and good for us and what is wrong. As I wrote about in my series on integrity, feelings tell us when we are saying or doing something that is in alignment with our inner values. Feeling good is an indication that we’ve chosen the way of our integrity. Feeling bad cues us to look at some disconnect between our values and the way we have behaved.
Why we learn to avoid ourselves is a story for another day. This post also does not address dealing with the substance or process addiction, which in my experience must be faced as well before work on the underlying cause can be fully effective.
My focus here is on how we can begin to address the core issue of self-avoidance, self-negation, and self-hatred. I have detailed some of these suggestions in other posts, and will continue to expand on these ideas in future writings:
1. Recognize if you have suppressed our emotions and take action to address them. In my life, I’ve used several methods to do this. I have worked with a therapist to dig up, re-experience, and let go old pent-up feelings from my childhood. I’ve also spent intensive time writing and working with old resentments against family, friends, and institutions, to understand my patterns and again let them go. This post on self-hatred might help you determine if you suffer from the “condition.”
2. Look at the prerequisites for change – do you have them? From childhood, I have had a commitment to truth that has gotten me in trouble more than once. However, it has been an essential characteristic for facing my own strengths and weaknesses. I have written about the prerequisites for my change in my post on “The Power to Love Yourself – POWAH,” which stands for Personal Responsibility, Open-mindedness, Willingness, Awareness, and Honesty.
3. Be kind to yourself. If you suffer from self-hate, you tend to beat yourself up. Shifting to self-kindness takes effort and practice. I had to learn how treat myself as well as I would a good friend. Here’s how I did (and still do) that.
4. Take care of yourself first, before taking care of others. Oh, this is a hard one. Our society teaches us to be there for others first. That it is selfish to put oneself first. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve learned that only in making sure my needs are met can I be emotionally available to help others. Both giver and receiver benefit more when the giver is fully present and comfortable with him/herself.
5. Detach from others’ thoughts, feelings, behaviors. As the oldest in my family, I took on far more responsibility than was appropriate. It went as far as thinking I could cure the unhappiness of other family members. I thought I had the power, and that when they still weren’t happy, I was a failure. I have since learned, through many painful experiences, that I am responsible only for my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and other adults are responsible for theirs. In fact, when I try to “help” them by taking over their responsibilities, I am actually harming them by taking away their dignity and their ability to be accountable for themselves.
6. Work on integrity. This is a constant work in progress for me. I am learning more and more to “trust my gut” when I have choices and decisions to make. I balance others needs against my own, and then make choices that feel good based on my internal values.
It’s intense work for sure, and may seem hard. For me, however, I have found it much harder to stay in a place of self-loathing. I was willing to face more acute and shorter-lasting pain than to continue in the dull, pounding, never-ending suffering I lived in.