Addictive Personality, The Iceberg Part Three
The Addictive Personality in itself is a myth – there really is no such thing.However, personality traits that spring from abandonment, shame, and contempt can set a person up for multiple addictions – not to mention chronic depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and so on.
The Role of Pain
The role of pain in our life is to motivate us to do something different – Pain lets us know that what we are doing is not working by signaling that we are moving further away from happiness. We don’t like pain! When we encounter it we are compelled to seek comfort and relief. Growing up with all of this woundedness is painful… So where do we find comfort and relief?
Addictive Personality Trait #1 – We cannot generate any good feelings on the inside because we can’t even go there – it’s too painful – we must remain externally focused. So, our only choice is to look to things outside of ourselves for comfort and relief. Since we are all “wired” a little differently, we will find one or two things that “really do it” for us. Some of us are wired for alcohol or other drugs… others for excessive working, spending, drama, risk-taking, sexing, gambling, eating… and still others for addictive relationships. (See diagram below)
Some of the wiring comes from genetics…but some of it comes from the neural networks that were “burned into our neurology” during our childhood years. Dad showed us an example of a man, mom showed us how women are, together they showed us how men and women get along with each other… their role-modeling is imprinted on networks in our mind.
When we find the object or event that “really does it for us” then we attach to it on an emotional level because we love what it does for us… It provides us with a very powerful, instantaneous, but short-lived feeling. Soon we begin to trust the object or event because it does what it is supposed to do – make us feel better – very quickly, very powerfully, in a way no one and nothing else can do – every single time we ask it to.
Addictive Personality Trait #2 – Love and trust are the main ingredients for a primary relationship. So, we attach to the object or event on an emotional level. This emotional attachment signals the beginning of a serious problem because we are not supposed to have primary relationships with objects and events.
Definition of Addiction
Craig Nakken, author of The Addictive Personality defines addiction as – A pathological relationship with an object or event that produces the desired mood swing. There are many definitions of addiction – I like his definition the best. However, I’ve taken the liberty of modifying it just a bit…
My definition of addiction is:
- An unhealthy primary relationship with an object or event that produces the desired mood swing.
I make this distinction for a couple of reasons – First of all, “pathological” seems to produce more stigma than “unhealthy” – even though they mean the same thing. Secondly, “primary” highlights why the relationship is unhealthy … Our primary relationships are supposed to be with people – not objects or events. By the way – anything that causes damage to you, your loved ones, or your life is unhealthy for you.
Addictive Personality Trait #3 – Most people don’t realize and will, in fact, initially deny that they have such a strong emotional attachment to their addiction of choice.
In treatment groups and individual sessions, I’ve asked my clients the following question, almost always with the same results – “What is the most important relationship in your life?” They invariably respond with “my wife… my kids… my mom… my boyfriend or girlfriend” – I always shake my head and say “wrong answer”. They initially get a little indignant that I would be so bold as to assume that I know what’s more important to them than they do themselves.
But if we have established that they have an unhealthy, love-and-trust relationship with spending, drinking, drugging, working, gambling, comfort eating, nicotine, video games, the Internet, love, sex, chocolate, etc. all I have to do is ask: “When was the last time you lied to your mom about it… broke a promise to your kids about it…broke up with a girlfriend over it…etc.”
There is rarely an argument – pretty good evidence of where the priorities are. I then remind them – “Maybe in your heart, they are most important to you… but in your life, the reality is that the addiction rules.” The comfort we achieve through this relationship with an object or event is an illusion. Remember, the woundedness we must relieve in order to be happy is emotional in nature… Therefore, we need emotional comfort and relief.
It’s all Chemical Dependency
Addictive Personality Trait #4 – The “comfort and relief” we achieve through the use of our object or event of choice is not emotional – but physiological or physical in nature. In other words, we learned to mask our emotional pain with “medicine”, whether it’s alcohol, sugar, pot, adrenaline, testosterone, drugs, etc. in this sense – it’s all chemical dependency…
Work, gambling, sex, and other intense activities cause the release of internal “feel good drugs” manufactured by our own body…such as adrenaline and endorphins. Candy and sugar cause a temporary high. Then insulin spikes as the body responds to balance out the blood sugar causing a “crash”, making more sugar necessary.
Addictive Personality Trait #5 – Any time we have a feeling we don’t like – if we medicate it rather than listen to it, understand it, and respond to it – This just pushes the feeling back down inside to accumulate with the pain that is already there. Using a chemical to medicate our emotional pain is tantamount to masking a serious back injury with painkillers while we go on working… We keep doing more and more damage without realizing it because our “warning system” (pain) was taken out of the way.
Addictive Personality Trait #6 – Despite serious negative consequences we continue to do things to increase our shame, guilt, contempt, and remorse. We prove it over and over again that “we can’t do anything right”… and the abandonment, shame and contempt networks grow stronger and more entrenched. This is when the “solution” causes more of the problem – (See diagram below)
Addictive Personality Trait #7 – we eventually abandon our money, our families, our cars, our pride, our careers, our dreams, our goals, ourselves, etc… As our pain increases, so does our need for “comfort and relief”. The problem then causes a need for more of the “solution” – See diagram below.
Addictive Personality Trait #8 – Some addictions take their time in getting us there…other addictions move more rapidly…but we usually end up in the same place – hitting bottom.
This happens when we have accumulated so much pain and woundedness that there is not enough “comfort and relief” to offset it anymore… The “solution” that used to work instantly now only barely works… This is when we are using just to feel normal.
The good news is that hitting bottom allows us to see reality… as dismal as it is… and prepares us to reach out for help.