Let me begin by stating that we all have the so-called “addictive personality”. This label isn’t reserved for the weak or unmotivated or broken. The addictive personality is, in fact, the the human condition.
I think it’s obvious: each one of us resorts to some kind of coping behavior when life is too stressful and we feel overwhelmed. Some of these coping behaviors involve legal or illegal substance abuse, but not all do. Because some are more obvious and readily cause social and financial ruin, they are labeled “addictions”; however, each one of us has a chosen coping behavior or behavior that matters dearly to us and a harmful dependence can develop to any of these behaviors.
The fundamental similarity among all of them is the aim to avoid painful emotions. No one is immune to painful emotions such as fear, loneliness, sadness, guilt, jealousy, boredom, inadequacy, etc. The coping behaviors that allow us to avoid overwhelming emotions tend to fall into three categories:
- Consumption – e.g., food, media, and shopping
- Numbing out – e.g. drugs or alcohol, distracting activities such as TV, over-training, and gaming
- Lashing out – focusing blame and anger on others, either overtly (aggression) or internally (being resentful and passive-aggressive); with regard to ourselves, this also includes negative self-talk which contributes to self-loathing
There is nothing shameful about using these strategies – it’s just something that human beings do! However, if we are not mindful about when and how we use them, we risk developing addictions that deteriorate our health.
The general advice if you want to become aware of your personal coping behaviors is to take note of what you reach for as you move throughout your day, especially when you encounter stressful situations. Write down your emotion and action when something doesn’t go quite according to plan, or when the boss unjustly singles you out for blame, or when a loved one lets you down. By recording these stressors and behaviors, you’ll develop the self-awareness you need to recognize unhealthy patterns and eventually begin substituting healthy behaviors for any unhealthy coping ones.
Five Signs that your Coping Behavior is Becoming a Problem
How do you know if the coping behavior is unhealthy? Here are a few ways to evaluate your habits:
- You have the thought that you want to stop or cut back. If you find yourself saying, “I need to take a break from drinking alcohol,” then that’s a sign that alcohol may be becoming a problem for you.
- You resort to a coping behavior even if it has terrible relationship consequences later. For example, you lash out at a loved one, gradually and irreparably deteriorating the trust & security with your partner.
- You resort to a coping behavior even if it has terrible financial consequences later. For example, you indulge in shopping instead of paying your rent or bills.
- You feel the need to do your coping behavior in private. For example, if you’re coping with stress by bingeing on junk food at home instead of going for a nice meal with friends or treating yourself alone at a restaurant, chances are that you feel shame about stress and coping. Shame indicates that it’s time to choose a healthy way to start developing self-love and acceptance.
- Other people have told you that your behavior is out-of-control or that they are worried for your health. Be aware of the words of your friends and family who have your best interests at heart.
Breathing for Mindfulness of Coping Behaviours
Breathing is an accessible avenue of access to self-awareness and to hit the mental “reset” button without using other coping behaviors. All it takes is a repetition of cycles of breath. A beginner can start with a simple practice that involves mental self-talk, described below:
- As you breathe in, think: “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.” Pause
- As you breathe out, think: “Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” Pause
Try breathing for a few minutes between the impulse to use a coping behavior and engaging in that behavior. Set a timer or count 10-20 breaths. Become curious about the stress-emotion-thought-behavior process that is going on inside of you. You might like to check-in with each body part to notice if you’re holding tension, too.
By delaying gratification, you’ll develop your self-awareness and impulse control. You may also benefit from understanding which areas of your body hold tension and begin to ease it.
Critical Thinking Questions:
- Do you agree that everyone has an addictive personality?
- Do you have behaviors that you resort to in times of stress?
- Do you think that people who suffer from addictions are generally to blame for their situation? If yes, why do you think they chose addictions? If not, why isn’t it their fault?
- Do you agree that all coping behaviors fall into the three categories of consumption, numbing out, and lashing out?