Addiction includes engaging in any behaviour that becomes compulsive and interferes with the individual’s responsibilities such as work, relationships, health and etc. Addiction can be to drugs and alcohol or sex, gambling, shopping or etc.
People with addictive behaviours feel the need to take action in order to deal with some difficult underlying feelings. These feelings can be often unconscious and individuals may find it hard to pinpoint why they engage in some addictive behaviour. Addiction is a defence mechanism protecting the individual against difficult feelings of helplessness, being out of control, low self esteem, anxiety and etc. Addiction gives the person the illusion of having control over their feelings of uselessness and powerlessness. It gives the temporary feelings of acceptance and self confidence but these feelings are not lasting.
Addiction and existence of a false self:
Perhaps the idea of false self (refer to my blog about false self) may help us to understand why an individual engages in addictive behaviours in order to self-regulate his frustrating feelings.
It does go back to early days of life. With a reliable and trusting mother, the infant, the child, adolescent and later the adult is able to get in touch with his real self and live a lively life, having to choose his destiny and not feel fated to just survive life. The adult with true self being able to be himself without any fear or anxiety of not being accepted is able to find his potentials, feeling real and alive. He would be able to ‘trust’ the world and people around him, knowing that they would all, the same as his own family, facilitate him reaching his goals and potentials. They will know what they want and feel strong about their desires.
However, if things don’t go well in those early or adolescent years, having a parent or parents who are not trusting, unreliable, using their child for their own needs (once again refer to my blog about false self) then the child and later as adult is not able to choose his destiny as he wants. He becomes trapped into the world of demands and commands. With an underlying feeling of anxiety and fear of losing the caregiver, the child loses his true and real self and adapts to the parents’ needs and demands. He feels empty and is fated to live a life that he hasn’t chosen. He feels frustrated, angry and desperate, having to just move on in life as he doesn’t know any other way.
This is where addiction comes in. Desperately looking for something that is soothing and always there whenever the individuals wants it (reflecting a need for a parent who is always there and reliable when he is in need) he takes refuge in any addiction, something ready at hand, to just relieve himself from those underlying horrible feelings of helplessness, anxiety and etc. In this he feels in complete control of his feelings although this wouldn’t last.
Although the addicted individual unconsciously or at times consciously yearn for a connection, a part of him keeps him away from any real connection with the other as he is scared of feelings of being disappointed and his trust once again broken. This fearful part of him, forcefully, pulls him towards his only seemingly reliable relationship, the drug, alcohol, gambling and etc. giving the individual a feeling of omnipotence, that he does not need anyone, he can do it himself. This will result in feeling of isolation, emptiness and depression.
Therapy’s challenge of the addictive behaviour:
A therapeutic relationship with a therapist who repeatedly challenges the individual behaviour of omnipotence, and helping him to get in touch with his difficult underlying feelings will eventually give way to replacing the unhealthy addictive relationship with a healthy humanely relationship and will help the individual find other ways of managing difficult emotions.