The excitement and prospect of winning get you in, but what if the costs of a compulsion are ruining your life? Image courtesy of Mister GC at freedigitalphotos.net
Many people place themselves in the boat of having “an addictive personality” or “compulsive tendencies”. I know I myself have personal weaknesses of sorts.
Feeling dependent upon a substance, activity or person can range from being quite mild, to severe, affecting most aspects of a person’s existence.
In a personal battle with a tendency to compulsively overeat at times, I reflected upon the contingencies of what has kept this problem alive for me. By doing so, I was able to ponder alternative pathways that I could lead myself mentally through to aid in combatting this issue.
I thought I would share a step-by-step questionnaire that could possibly be self-administered. The function of this is to provide self-awareness behind the reasons fuelling our particular addiction or compulsion, and then, with this in consciousness, alternative behaviours that could fulfil the underlying purpose the addiction provides for a particular individual.
I hope what I mean by “purpose” will become clearer during this article.
STEP ONE Ask yourself what are the positive things that your addiction gives you that reinforces continual participation in the behaviour – both short-term, and long-term.
For example, a compulsive gambler may list the short-term positives as being the excitement at the prospect of winning money, as well as a kind of process addiction where the lights and noises are intoxicatingly stimulating. The long-term positives may be nothing at all, when the gambler realises the losses long-term far outweigh the winnings.
STEP TWO. Ask yourself what are the negative repercussions you have suffered, both in the short and in the long-term because of your addiction. Using the same example, the compulsive gambler may list short-term loss of money (with many negatives flowing from that, such as difficulty paying the bills). There may be a degree of loss of self-esteem, as the gambler berates themselves for a compulsion they feel magnetically drawn to, but realised they did not stop. There may be family conflicts resulting from financial difficulties long-term.
STEP THREE. Ask yourself whether it’s the positives or the negatives of the compulsive or addictive behaviour that are greater in number. In the case of our gambler, it is self-evident that the negatives outweigh the positives.
STEP FOUR. If the negatives outweigh the positives, can you say in a sentence why you continue the behaviour – that is, what is it about the reinforcing aspects of it that draws you back, time and again. To use another example, an alcoholic may say “I feel so stressed when I come home, that I just drink. I can’t handle all the work pressure, and it makes me feel so good, and I tell myself people will forgive harsh things I say when I’m drunk.”
STEP FIVE. Step four provides a general insight into what perpetuates the continuation of the problem. Step five gets more specific: what are your triggers for drinking/gambling etc?
For the gambler it might be pay day, feeling blue, passing the casino or pokies.
STEP SIX. How can you avoid these triggers setting off the addiction/compulsion?
For example, on pay day, the gambler may decide to go to elsewhere but not near the casino, if they are depressed, what are other things that provide you with a feeling closest to what you would get if you gambled?
An addiction cannot just be got rid of…there is a void that is wanting to be filled such as loneliness, or a feeling that is being sought to be alleviated, such as anxiety in the drinker.. To deal effectively with the compulsion then, alternative ways need to be sought to %%replace what FUNCTION the addiction fulfilled for the individual.
To give some specific examples, on pay day the gambler may find excitement in choosing to spend money on something purposeful that is interesting to that person. For example, a new outfit. The browsing on and trying on of clothes may mimic the excitement of the process addiction in a positive way. The alcoholic who drinks may need to practice mindfulness or ask their partner for a massage or deal with the root cause such as executive stress which may even incur the need for career reconsideration.
1. The addiction needs to be seen as predominately causing negative outcomes, even if short term positives are more salient.
2. Specific positives and negatives of the behaviour need to be identified so that a self-awareness of what it actually is that is reinforcing to the person can be identified. Even for the same compulsion, a person may have a different combination of what encourages and deters their behaviour.
3. Triggers need to be monitored so they can be strategically avoided.
4. Alternative behaviours that provide as close as possible to the positive feelings, thoughts or sensations need to be sought. This is so the underlying voids and uncomfortable feelings that perpetuate the behaviour may be mollified.
I hope this was helpful! The process is one that I have found provided me with helpful insights about some behaviours I’d like to stop and replace with more positive ones.
Finally, don’t just do this once. It took many years to build this need or compulsion. Your mindset in turn will need time and your patience to turn around.