The most profound "aha" moment in my research and work in the personal development space over the past decades was when my intuitive suspicion and a very scary thought were confirmed by science:
Suffering and struggle are emotional addictions as strong as addictions to alcohol, nicotine and drugs.
No, I'm not kidding. The only difference is that these addictions are created by our internal emotional states rather than by external substances introduced to the body.
So if you notice a pattern in your life of struggle and suffering from one issue to another with little respite in between -- I've got news for you: you've got an emotional addiction.
Emotion Is Chemistry
How on earth, you ask, a person can become addicted to suffering and struggle? These life conditions are the states of being running on a cluster of negative emotions such as worry, fear, anger, pain, depression, low self-esteem and victimhood. A typical example here is the "battered wife syndrome," where a woman is unable to leave an abusive relationship, and when she finally does -- with the help of police and social services -- soon after she finds another man who will continue the abuse. She will attract similar relationships one after another, as if subconsciously wanting to experience pain. The fact is -- she does. The question is: why?
Every emotion, either positive or negative, is a blend of chemicals (neurotransmitters and hormones) that our brain instantly produces in response to thoughts. This cocktail circulates throughout the body producing corresponding sensations that are felt at both the psychological and physical levels. The chemistry of emotion is very addictive, if repeated frequently over a long period of time -- just like the chemistry of nicotine, alcohol and drugs. This is most noticeable in the case of negative emotions, as they produce stress hormones that our body, in a twisted, self-destructive way, can easily start craving like a drug.
If you have a positive thought, it creates a positive emotion of joy, happiness, love, fun, fulfilment etc. It is uncommon to find people addicted to happiness, however. The best known addiction to the "feel-good" hormones (such as serotonin) comes from the post-effects of strenuous physical activity as all fitness-junkies can attest to, rather than frequent fun. Negative thoughts create negative emotions which produce potent stress chemistry flooding our system. And if you don't believe that fear is addictive -- why so many of us crave those horror movies?
How an Addiction Is Formed
If you often experience the emotional clusters of suffering and struggle (worry, fear, anger, depression, pain, low self-esteem and victimhood) -- that's what your body is addicted to, and will instruct your unconscious mind (via its own communication channels) to seek out or create the circumstances that will produce -- through those negative emotions -- its desired fix. If your unconscious mind has a program called 'struggle' or 'suffering' that fits the bill, it will ensure that this program will run continuously, if possible.
So this is your emotional addiction to suffering and struggle. You can also call it self-sabotage, as that's what it is.
The Rehab Process
Can it be stopped? Yes, it can. The rehab process is very simple and yet hard to follow as it requires consistency over time (which is a weak spot for many of us). Here is how the process works:
1.Acknowledge and accept that you do have an emotional addiction.
2.Make a firm and final decision to break it permanently, bring your life back to a normal, healthy state of being and free yourself from this unconscious habit.
3.Watch yourself like a hawk. Every thought, every emotion. The moment you catch yourself on negativity (any emotion that is in the suffering/struggle cluster) -- STOP. Replace it immediately with an opposite positive thought -- CONSCIOUSLY. Don't analyse, don't doubt whether it will work or not -- just DO IT.
4.Go through the change process diligently and consistently, with the positive outcome firmly in mind. Be prepared to feel a bit uncomfortable (that's part of the process) and do not give in to your mind chatter prompting you to 'stop this nonsense' and go back to your familiar behaviour, which 'makes you feel better, after all'.
5.It may take days, weeks or months to break the old habit and create new synaptic connections in your brain - so PERSIST. The reward is worth it.
6.Once the addiction is broken, remain vigilant and self-observant, catching any new negative thought and emotional pattern quickly before they form a new addiction. There is a number of simple yet powerful tools and techniques that you can use for the rest of your life to support yourself in this process (ask me).
Negative Emotions Are Part of Life
There is nothing wrong with feeling negative emotions such as frustration, anger, impatience, judgment, anxiety or even getting depressed once in a while. We are humans after all, and these emotions are part of the human experience, enriching it and teaching us something about ourselves and others. The key here is to process them quickly to remove their chemistry from the body, before they become a craving-driven habit.
Since thought generates emotions, the key here is to catch and change the negative thought before it creates a corresponding cascade of stress hormones in your body. Yes, you need to be quick, which comes with practice, so be patient, knowing that it will quickly develop into a new healthy habit, and your addiction to suffering and struggle will be gone.
By the way, the same addiction process applies to anger and negativity (externalised as pessimism, judgment and criticism). Do you know someone who seems to thrive on constant criticism of everything and everyone around? Be kind to them - they have an addiction.
To find out more about the strategies available to combat emotional addictions, please contact me directly through my website www.quantumliving.com.au.
This content originally appeared on Anna's blog
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