Addiction is a common issue within society, and when discussed usually refers to alcohol or drug addiction, gambling addiction or even addiction to food or sex. Addictive behaviours often wreck people’s lives financially and/or socially, and the cost to the economy due to addiction is in the billions.
But have we ever considered that these so-called addictions are actually just management tools to a much greater addiction?
In other words, is it possible that the real addiction is our addiction to emotions?
Emotions give us stimulation of some kind, whether it be increasing our nervous system activity through excitement, or flooding our body with dopamine in the case of happiness. The status quo tells us that emotions are a normal part of human life, that they are healthy, that they foster survival, and that they even represent intelligence. But is this really true?
Whilst many see an emotional life as a normal part of the human experience, have we really examined whether this way of life truly works?
What if our unhealthy behaviours, addictions or otherwise, are fueled by emotions? If this were to be the case then it would follow that if we do not address what is emotionally going on we will always be merely attempting to manage our behaviour but not really getting to the root issue that is driving it all.
In other words, if for a moment we consider the possibility that our need for emotions is a disharmonious way to live, which creates a tension, it would then follow that we would need management tools to manage this disharmony. For many people alcohol or drugs are the management tools of choice and are used to either take the edge off or completely numb the emotional unrest felt. But is this way of living truly working?
Often when we consider an emotion-free life we equate it with a lack of colour, a boringness, a lack of meaning, but what if this is because we have never looked past the smokescreen that emotions cloud us with?
Is it possible that there is a distinction here to make between emotions and feelings? We can feel – deeply – what is going on in life without living in the emotional reaction to it. And what if living in such a way could be a deep contentedness and steadiness, a truly loving way of being which is incongruent with the up and down nature of an emotional way of life. When we look closely even the ‘good’ or ‘desirable’ emotions have their drawbacks – excitement cannot be sustained, pleasure (as well understood by the drug or sex addict) is also not sustainable. Even happiness appears to be something that is fleeting, an emotion that seems to evoke a drive to want more and more of it. This results in an endless 'happiness pursuit'– driven by images of what it might one day look like when we one day get there.
Generally speaking we don’t like feeling miserable, sad or angry and hence what if part of the drive and pursuit of happiness is to escape these more unpleasant emotions? But what if when we 'trade up the chain' and achieve seemingly 'higher' emotional states (happiness, excitement and pleasure) – we are merely experiencing more refined versions of the same 'addictive substance' – emotions that might give temporary relief, but are just as unsustainable (and therefore ultimately unsatisfying) in the long term?
What if we seek relief in so called 'higher emotional states' when potentially there is a deeper quality innate within us that we can connect to? Perhaps this emotional roller-coaster way of life is ultimately unfulfilling and so we seek behaviours to avoid feeling the deep misery that this way of life brings?
These are deep questions to consider given our rising rates of illness and disease, the alcohol and drug abuse, the domestic violence, the divorce rates, anxiety, depression…to name but a few.
Let’s take the following for example…
If a person ceases taking drugs but has not fully addressed the emotional dilemma that led to the drug use in the first place, they will simply replace their drug behaviour with another behaviour. For some they may become ‘fitness addicts’, those who thrash it out at the gym or go running for long periods of a time. Whilst physical exercise is a healthier activity than drug use on one level, has anything really changed emotionally? As in, what if they are now just addicted to exercise which gives them the same relief from the emotional unrest they continue to experience in their life?
And further to consider…
What if our societal attitude towards emotions is essentially no different to our attitude towards alcohol? In other words, ‘moderation is fine as long as you don’t overdo it’. And yet alcohol is a scientifically proven poison to our human body and so how is it possible that a moderate amount of poison is ok? At what point will we mature enough as a society to admit that we need alcohol because of the emotionally disharmonious way we choose to live? That perhaps something happens before we feel the urge to drink alcohol, which comes from feeling a sense of disconnection and unease inside? Whilst emotions may give us a ‘sense of aliveness’, what if they are no different to sugar and hence essentially provide us with quick thrills or experiences that are ultimately unsustainable? Whereas true contentment remains constant and steady and does not go up or down.
Until we are prepared to address our underlying addiction to emotions, we will never eradicate the addictive behaviours we see in society. Although we may all want the addictive behaviours to stop, (such as alcohol and drug abuse, food addictions etc.), perhaps we need to first admit that we essentially ‘get off’ on emotions in some way, and that this way of living inevitably leads to the unwanted addictive behaviours playing out as a result.
More will be written in an upcoming series of articles on this topic. If you would like to read more be sure to subscribe to receive email updates.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.