By Joseph Smullen, LCSW-S:
As described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), a substance abuse or behavioral addiction involves the problematic pattern of use that results in a constellation of pathological cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms. That is, an individual continues to compulsively overuse a substance or engage in an action that interferes with their lives with regards to thinking, emoting, relating-connecting, recreating, working, or physically being. Moreover, the addiction typically includes urges to engage in the behavior, tolerance (a need for more of it to be ok), and withdrawal (symptoms resulting from the absence of the addiction). The DSM-5 includes ten classes of substance addictions and one behavioral addiction, gambling.
The intention of this blog post is not to argue a case for a more widespread inclusion of behavioral or psychological addictions in the sense of a disorder. Rather, it is to highlight the parallels of diagnosable addictions with our own covert “addictions”—the things we continue to feel compelled to do despite the ongoing consequences. Below are three “addictions” seen in my clinical practice with suggestions for a counter-response plan.
- The “Demanding” Addiction
Originating from Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), irrational demands that we place on ourselves, others, and life are an excellent source for abundant misery. In my experience the “demandingness” problem has a tendency to generate more demands for one to be “ok” and further complicates the issues. Below is an example for each category:
I demand that I operate with competence and confidence in all that I do for me to be ok, or else, I will berate myself with negative criticism and give up on.
I demand that my partner completely agree with me and approve of my actions without question for me to be ok, and if they don’t, I will launch a counterattack on them and point out their flaws.
I demand that life go as expected and without suffering for me to be ok, and if it doesn’t, then I will make more demands and expectations only to be further let down.
A. Practice acceptance
B. Get better at diminishing the power of your thoughts and emotions, shifting attentional focus, and decreasing urgency to react with Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
C. Practice preferential thinking which entails changing the “I must/should” to “I’d like to”
D. Incorporate a steady dose of gratitude in your life
E. Set realistic goals and enjoy brain-based rewards when you achieve them
- The Being “Right” Addiction
A danger to most relationships, the idea of “being right” becomes so coveted in the mind of a threatened person that the rules for healthy communication are readily dismissed and forgotten. That is, people will hold onto their “rightness” and in the course of defending their position often engage in ad-hominen (attack the arguer not their point) and strawman (misrepresent the argument) tactics. Under pressure to self-protect people succumb to a negative self-serving bias, overgeneralizations, disqualifying the positive, use rigid thinking, and lose any creative capacity for diplomacy in the relationship. An addiction to being “right” can significantly impair your interpersonal relationships and effectiveness. Borrowing from a speaker I once heard, “you can always be right, but you will be alone.”
In my experience, I have observed that many of my clients develop an addiction to being “right” that is enacted when they experience a threat to their psychological needs or a perceived vulnerability to their worth as a person. For example, when one’s need for competence is threatened, they may defensively lash out or passively sulk as if another’s vantage point somehow makes them inept and is an accurate measuring stick for their value. This strategy becomes an automated reaction to situations and difficult for the user to separate their thinking, feelings, and actions from “who I am.” Withdrawal of the “being right” addiction often results in a psychological “no man’s land” and relapse is common.
A. Let go of being right and hold on to the relationship
B. Try on perspective taking, empathy, and emotional translation with your partner, friend, or colleague.
C. Own up to your tendency to react with being “right” when you feel threatened and save you from yourself by realizing that you don’t have to think, act, and emote this way
D. Practice compassion, forgiveness, and generosity
E. Harvest purpose in your life rather than pain
- The “People Pleasing” Addiction
The “people pleasing” addiction is not to be confused with the healthy pro-social use of altruism, compassion, charity, love, kindness, and generosity. And while researchers and philosophers argue about whether any act can be truly altruistic, the focus of this addiction is born out of the perceived need for external validation and results in self-rejection. Those under the grip of this compulsion are not doing so for altruistic purposes, rather their motivation is often to manage their fears, overcompensate for inadequacies, and prevent the pain of rejection. Yet, paradoxically their strategy guarantees a self-rejection and the subsequent pain through a diminished view of the self. The “people pleasing” addiction incorporates poor boundaries and prevents healthy relationships.
A. Learn to survive a “no” through emotional exposure training
B. Learn that others will also survive your “no”
C. Realize every human that ever existed is somewhat like you—flawed. Get better at noticing other’s shortcomings.
D. Increase awareness of how early experiences potentially shaped these behaviors.
E. Practice setting consistent and healthy physical, emotional, cognitive, sexual, and spiritual boundaries.
If you would like more personalized help, please call Believe Behavioral Health today at 361-894-8734 to schedule an appointment.
Joseph Smullen, LCSW-S is a psychotherapist with Believe Behavioral Health