We may all be subject to addictive thinking, and often without even knowing it. Addictive Thinking, by Dr. Abraham Twerski, details the irrational nature of the addict and brings to light the emotional and psychological torment behind addiction.
Addictive thinking has three characteristics: denial, projection, and rationalization.
In denial, the addict is consciously unaware of their problem. Although the problem (drinking or smoking, for example) may seem obvious to another person, to the addict, it is not a problem, and they can quit whenever they want. They are deluding themselves into thinking they have control over the substance.
Projection is when an addict acts as if someone else has their own problems. For example, a husband reprimanding his wife for her drinking habits but ignoring his own alcoholic behavior. Addicts are fiercely resistant to change unless it occurs in someone else.
Rationalization is when we make up logical-sounding reasons to justify our own bad behavior. For example, thinking you earned a cigarette, or that since someone else smokes – a friend, a celebrity, a role model – that it’s okay. My favorite is when people say “I’d rather be happy in life and have a cigarette when I want to,” but if one’s happiness hinges on a Marlboro, this hints at a deeper dissatisfaction with one’s self and quality of life.
Part of the addict’s delusion is that he thinks his problems lead to chemical use, when in fact it is the chemicals that cause his problems. Furthermore, he does not decide to drink through a logical chain of thoughts; instead, he starts with the decision to drink and invents arguments to back it up.
Addictive thinking is caused by a need for immediate gratification, neglect for future consequences, and a poor ability to reason with oneself. But most of all, it is a byproduct of low self-esteem, which is exploited by three painful emotions:
Shame. Not being where you want in life makes you feel ashamed of your decisions or character. Guilt says “I made a mistake”; shame says “I am a mistake.” The latter feels hopeless, permanent, and craves escape, often through alcohol or other chemicals.
Anxiety. Addicts are typically loners. Though they seem anti-social, this is not the case – they are simply choosing isolation over anxiety and possible rejection. Humans are naturally wired to be social, and having a poor social network negatively impacts our health and happiness. Alcohol is a common solution for numbing this pain and making a socially anxious person feel normal.
Fear. Our mind is often our worst enemy. It will do almost anything to keep us in our current conditions, even if we don’t want to be there. It despises change and shackles us with irrational fears and apprehension. Alcohol and drugs offer a pleasant distraction from our nagging uncertainty or fear, and make us feel okay with avoiding it for another moment.
Chemicals aren’t the only method of escape; television, social media, and the internet are other means for distracting us from our problems. Many times we are unable to be alone with our own thoughts because an idle mind quickly turns toward its problems and concerns.
So to avoid confronting these painful realities, we turn on the television or scroll through Facebook while rationalizing that we were simply bored and need entertainment.
But our problems cannot be solved through avoidance – only through acknowledgement and confrontation.
That being said, it’s extremely difficult to realize and admit our own problems, but it’s very easy to see problems in others. It’s also easy to justify our negative habits to ourselves. That’s why most addicts need someone else to point out their problem and convince them to get help.
Recovery does not happen over night, and depending on the severity or nature of the disorder, various levels of therapy and treatment may be required.
But for the everyday addict – the ones like me who often browse Imgur or Facebook instead of reading – it helps to become more mindful of your problems.
Once you realize that your tendency to drink, smoke, or waste time is really an attempt to distract you from something painful, you can use your bad habit as an indicator to turn your attention inward and experience your thoughts and emotions as they happen.
Ask yourself what you’re hiding from, what you’re trying to avoid, or what you’re uncertain about.
It’s important to realize that it’s okay to admit personal fault or imperfection, because this is how you can unearth your problem, and only once you’ve admitted the problem can you devise a solution.
***To learn more about how to break your addiction, check out Addictive Thinking, by Abraham Twerski.***
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