Friday, November 15, 2013

The Addiction Behind the Addiction

Meredith is working to better manage her eating and her temper. But she has learned she's much more likely to lapse in one of those areas when she feels discouraged.

It may sound odd to characterize discouragement as an addiction. But it is very seductive. And certain things in her life can trigger her to relapse. She starts thinking in ways that wouldn't make much sense to her at other times when she's in her right mind. And then she behaves in ways that don't serve her well. For Meredith, discouragement might as well be an addiction. I think of it as "the addiction behind her other addictions."

The other day she was trying to organize a nice family dinner. Her fifteen year old daughter didn't come to the table until she'd been called four times. Then she rolled her eyes when Meredith asked her to pray. Then the two younger kids were being noisy and rambunctious.

She's been working with me to slow her reactions down, so she texted me later that night:

Declare the Thought: "So much for a nice dinner. Look at the state of your family. As hard as you try, you're not measuring up. God certainly doesn't approve of you."

Face the Feeling: Sad. Shame that I don't have things more together. I feel lonely and out in the cold spiritually."

Notice What's Now: "Tight in my gut. Table still a mess from dinner. Younger kids playing quietly on the iPad in the family room."

Do What's You: "I walked over and sat by the kids and watched the movie they were into. My little Pony. Asked them about it. Claire was excited to explain the personalities of a couple of the horses."

Typically, an addict will first work on their surface addiction using these steps. For Meredith this was back when she was giving in regularly to the urges to overeat or yell. For you it might be the urge to view porn, to overspend, or to drink.

Over time, however, just like Meredith, you'll then start to see other, more subtle emotional patterns or "addictions" that help set the stage for your "acting out" behaviors and overt addictions. As you track the process and put it into words, you'll notice that some thoughts and feelings keep showing up in the vicinity of your worst temptations!

How convenient: you can use the exact same 4-step sequence on those subtler underlying patterns of self-defeating thinking and feeling.

It's like recognizing the landmarks further upstream so that we can drag our boat onto the bank long before we get to the most dangerous waterfall.

Just as these four steps help us push the pause button so that we don't act out, they can help push the pause button before our emotions take too strong a hold. They often provide just enough space for us to see our inner reaction for what it is and not let it drive an outer reaction.

Later, we'll be so glad we had that four-step pause button and took the opportunity to push it.


  1. Thanks Mark, this post is for me today!

  2. Thanks Kari! These are the patterns we all get caught up in, aren't they?