If you are struggling with certain aspects of your life and have found an unhealthy way to feel better, you may have a behavioural addiction. We are all aware of common ways to self-soothe – the glass of wine, or two, after a busy day or a shopping trip when we can’t quite afford it. But sometimes these strategies can start to take control and even if they help in the moment, we regret doing them afterwards.
If the tactics you adopt to help you feel better become more damaging over time you wonder why you are still using them. The truth is you have become addicted and you may need support and help to recover. The behaviour you choose may escalate over time as you search for greater relief and the impact on your life increases.
Eventually we find ourselves on the addiction cycle which is very difficult to get off.
Do you recognise this pattern in your life?
Trigger – something upsets us, an event, an opportunity, a bodily sensation, emotion, or thought process.
Preparation – this can take a while or start very quickly after the trigger. We start to plan how to make ourselves feel better. You know what will work and you need to set the scene for you to act. At this stage, you will convince yourself it is ok to act in a way that you know is bad for you but you need it anyway.
Acting out – you do the thing you know is bad for you and that you will regret afterwards. During the behaviour, you may find relief or you may want to stop it and feel the welcome relief afterwards.
Regret – here it is, that familiar feeling of regret – “why did I do that again?” The consequences of your actions may range from a hangover to financial hardship or even damage to relationships and your own wellbeing. The regret phase could be an “oops” moment or a prolonged feeling of shame and self-loathing.
Reconstitution – you vow never to do it again to yourself or you start to repair the damage that has been caused.
Dormant – here you are silently waiting for the next trigger. You may even think you will never act out again, but until the underlying issues are resolved you will remain on the cycle until the next time.
And so round we go on the addiction cycle. Gambling, overeating, risky sex, watching pornography and compulsive shopping or collecting are just some of the behaviours we can get caught in. But if we want to stop and can’t – then there is a problem.
Whatever way you choose to relieve emotional pain, be aware that you may have become addicted to that behaviour. You won’t need to be formally diagnosed, if you think it’s a problem – it is. So be aware of how you manage your emotions and the patterns you are following. If you recognise the addiction cycle in your own behaviour be mindful that it will continue and will probably get worse without help from yourself or a counsellor specialising in behavioural addictions.