Previously, I've addressed the topic of stress/anxiety and the pull to avoid dealing with our underlying fear and other emotions. It doesn't matter what the fear, anger, or sadness is about, they are just physical sensations. And how freaked are we when uncomfortable emotions arise? How does that feel in our bodies? Antsy! "I've got to get rid of this feeling right now." So what do we do when we need to escape that agitation that invades our minds and bodies? The answer is we seek and take refuge in our addictions.
There are further details about how break addictions in the Action Chapter of my book Attitude Reconstruction. And as an important note, I treat changing bad attitudes like overcoming addictions. Acting out our destructive attitudes, whether it's being sarcastic, worrying, or getting down on ourselves, all indicate unexpressed emotions are currently being triggered and begging to be transformed. So if you're so inclined you can apply the same strategy to change any destructive habit.
What is an Addiction?
Picking our fingernails, eating a quart of ice cream at a single sitting, or mandatory daily vigorous exercise. Frequent prescription drug or alcohol use. Addictions are a reliance on any substance or activity that masks our emotions and provides an immediate but temporary dose of pleasure and distraction.
Many of us have addictions to substances and activities that are under the radar. All are equally hard to give up. It’s easy to point fingers at the poor souls struggling with shoplifting, facebook-ing, gambling, eating, or drinking. But check out the chart below. What do you do?
We seek pleasure and avoid pain. There’s nothing wrong with that. But who’s in charge? It or you? Can you stop at any time?
Many potentially addictive behaviors and substances are benign and enjoyable as long as they remain recreational activities. But once we’re excessively devoted to them, and they become our number-one priority (so that we cancel all social plans to stay in to play computer games) we’ve graduated into the addiction zone.
We’re addicted when we can’t stop doing that ‘something’ for any length of time without becoming agitated. And it is our go-to avoidance response when upset or stressed.
The 3 Steps to Getting the Upper Hand over Addictions
1. Get out the big guns and prepare for battle.
You didn't get here overnight, and it's going to take some field combat to finally prevail and reclaim what is yours. You'll have to be strong and focused, otherwise your sneaky friend will come up behind and lure you into its grip.
The war against your addictions requires perseverance, because at those critical choice points, every fiber of our being will push us towards the familiar tool used to pacify us and distract us from our fear. These impulses can arise 30 - 50 times a day or more.
So we'll need to get comfortable with experiencing our emotions. If we think about them as pure energy running through our physical bodies, then it's easier to dispel them by doing what's natural. Think about what a baby does when he's hurt or sad. He cries. When she's feeling angry, she throws a temper tantrum. And when he's scared he shivers and shakes. We'll need to find constructive ways to drain our emotions without destroying anything of value.
2. Do your prep work.
Because we certainly aren't thinking clearly when the urge hits, planning ahead and selecting different strategies (depending on our social situation) will help us make a different choice when the impulse arises. Know that change is made up of a series of defeats and victories. You will need a short-term plan - what you'll do today or the next time the impulse rises -- and a long-term plan to map out the near future. Then you'll be able to keep resisting the old until the enemy finally surrenders.
Whether it's to stop perpetually checking your phone or eating chocolate, good preparation is key. That means take the time to print and then fill out the worksheet. Write your plan out because at those moments of choice fear will play mind games with you.
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Changing Old Habits
Jude Bijou, ma, mft
1. Identify the addiction.
2. Define your goal.
3. Translate your goal into small, doable steps.
* Pinpoint specifically what triggers your addiction and when.
* Decide specifically what you will do instead at those moments. It's good to have several options. Alternatives must be constructive, doable, and easy.
4. Do your prep work.
* Select helpful Truths. Pick what will remind you of the higher reality and repeat it throughout your day and when the urge hits.
* Anticipate possible scenarios. What will you do at the party? What will you do late at night?
* Pick suitable rewards for accomplishments.
* Track your progress. Make your own chart to record your behavior.
* Line up support and accountability. Find a buddy and check in with them daily at first, or several times a day.
5. “Gulp and leap.” Don't forget to deal with any emotions that arise.
* Praise yourself plenty for each little victory. Don't dwell on the relapses. Get up, re-evaluate your plan, and begin again. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Start by getting clear on your goal as this will be your beacon to guide you over turbulent waters. Some options could be:
I want to see my grandchildren grow up.
I want to live a long healthy life.
I want to stop feeling so guilty and down on myself.
I want to feel calm and relaxed.
Next, list possible constructive, easy-to-do alternative behaviors you can do instead. Your new action must be simple, doable, calming, and powerful enough to absorb your attention when the energy and impulse is heading for demolition.
If you have addiction to sugar, using sugar-free gum, diet soda, and cigarettes to replace the habit isn’t going to cut it because they also compromise your health and well-being.
It’s no secret that many people succeed in getting off drugs or alcohol only to grab onto another addictive substance or activity, such as coffee or exercise. That’s because they haven’t adequately dealt with what led to the addiction in the first place. Unexpressed emotions! Selecting another excessive behavior, such as biking at full speed for several hours, renting and watching half a dozen movies, or shopping “until you drop” isn’t constructive in the long run either. It’s not helping you to honor yourself nor deal with your emotions honestly.
You’ve got to find some effective replacements that will battle that deep craving for sugar. Shivering, stomping, or crying is the best substitute. An effective constructive substitute shifts the agitated fear physiology of your emotional state and brings you back into being fully in the present situation.
When the urge to indulge presents itself. Here's a mini list of alternative activities. Pick 2 or 3 that resonate or create your own.
* Emote. Shiver and shake when feeling anxious or stressed. Cry if you really honor your sadness. Pound. Stomp. Yell. Push against a wall, but don't hurt yourself or anything of value. The key is to continue emoting constructively until your energy dissipates.
* Vigorously combatting the voice of the impulses that justify why this time is the exception by repeating a Truth or group of Truths until it wins out.
This isn't good for me.
I'm just feeling an emotion and if I deal with it, the urge will stop.
I can handle this situation.
I’m doing this because I want to feel better.
The goal is more important than the moment.
I’m breaking this habit now.
I don’t like what this is doing to my life.
Feeling these emotions won’t kill me.
I can do this.
Actions have consequences.
Remember your goal.
* Do a physical activity that takes you out of the situation and redirects your focus until the emotion and impulse dissipate. Go for a five or ten minute walk and repeat your Truths. Do a set of jumping jacks. Climb a flight or two of stairs. Put on some music and dance. Play with your pet. Take 10 full deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Dispassionately observe the physical urge until it goes away. Call a supportive friend.
While doing your alternative activity don't dwell on how good it would feel to have it, or pissed you are that you can't it. Vigorously repeat your goal or your truths as you do something different.
3. Activate your plan. Just do it!
Figure out if you are going to enlist the support of a friend and check in about your progress. Or fill out your tracking system. As I say, Gulp and leap!" "Just do it!" Pick out a start time and get ready to make a stand. And if you fail one time, just review your plan, making any necessary adjustments and begin again and again and again. And please, praise yourself for every little victory.
Remember your addictions are diverting you from the uncomfortable physical sensations associated with emotions ... fear, sadness, and anger. Most important to success is that you get good at crying, shivering and quivering, and releasing anger constructively. It's important that nothing of value is damaged.
Throughout your day and at moments when the urge to indulge is strong, it's helpful to remember your goal and remember that unexpressed emotions are lurking, begging to be dealt with constructively.
A SHORT SUMMARY ABOUT HOW TO OVERCOME YOUR ADDICTIONS
* IDENTIFY WHAT CONSTRUCTIVE SUBSTITUTE YOU WILL DO WHEN THE IMPULSE ARISES.
* THEN JUST START: GULP AND LEAP, VIGOROUSLY COMBATTING THE OLD WITH THE NEW, FACING YOUR EMOTIONS, AND PRAISING YOURSELF FOR EVERY LITTLE VICTORY.
©2018 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.
Book by this Author
Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
With practical tools, real-life examples, and everyday solutions for thirty-three destructive attitudes, Attitude Reconstruction can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with love, peace, and joy.
About the Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/
* Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace
* Watch video: Shiver to Express Fear Constructively (with Jude Bijou)