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: a pattern of repetitive, strong negative emotion in a person’s life is an emotional addiction, essentially a chemical addiction to the corresponding stress hormones – which is as strong as addiction to alcohol, nicotine and drugs. The only difference is that these addictions are created by our internal emotional states rather than by external substances introduced to the body.
Based on these findings, I have figured out that by extension – we can become addicted to suffering and struggle – which are life situations evoking whole clusters of negative emotions that our body is craving. No, I’m not kidding.
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.
How on earth, you ask, a person can become addicted to an emotion, let alone to suffering and struggle which are not emotional states per se. Let me explain. You see – emotions are chemistry. And suffering and struggle are the states of being running on a cluster of negative emotions such as worry, fear, frustration, anxiety, anger, pain, depression, self-deprecating 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 either conscious or subconscious. 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 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 a 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 people crave those horror movies and want to be scared thoughtless during the Halloween?…
So how an addiction to struggle and suffering is formed? If you often experience and fuel negative emotions such as worry, fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, judgment, criticism, self-deprecating and victimhood – in time, they will not only create individual dependencies on their own specific chemistry – but will often create an addiction cluster, a pursuit for and addiction to a particular state of being which will support a continuous and generous release of ALL those chemical mixes in one go.
You see, the universe is very efficient. It packs as many lessons as it can into every challenging situation, and creates emotional clusters as life experiences to help us out.
You might know a person who seems to be always angry and frustrated for no apparent reason. They will break a tree branch, step on a flower, kick the dog and slam the door – just because they feel like it. and they will always look for a fight, for a situation or confrontation that will help them unleash those stress hormones this time for a reason – to have their anger justified.
You might know someone who is addicted to worry and stress. They will always anticipate the worst possible outcome of a situation, and will think and talk about it at length to produce those stress hormones. You give them the good news and they will painstakingly deconstruct it to find what bad is lurking in there which could prolong their misery.
What we are really looking for is not a fight or bad news – but a fix of those stress hormones our body is craving, like a drug. So if your unconscious mind has figured out that the state of mind we call suffering or struggle is a cluster of all those negative emotions whose chemistry you crave – it will guide you to create life situations that will evoke those emotional states so that you can get your fix. Makes sense?
If uncontrolled, those emotional addictions can put you in a downward spiral like a vortex attracting all the bad stuff or challenges or conflicts one after another after another – until you get an “overdose”, literally, and your physical and mental health will suffer. This by the way, often a wake up call – just like with an overdose of conventional drugs.
What is going on – you ask – what is happening to me??
Can these emotional addictions be stopped? The answer is - Yes. The rehab process is very simple and yet difficult to follow as it requires consistency over time (which is a weak spot for many of us). There is no magic bullet, and the key ingredients are self-awareness, commitment, repetition and time.
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 having a negative thought – STOP.
4. Replace it immediately with an opposite positive thought – consciously. Don’t analyse, don’t doubt whether it will work or not – just do it.
5. 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'.
It may take days, weeks or months to break the old habit and create new synaptic connections in your brain – so persist. The result is worth it. The key here is the increased self-awareness and self-observation – be aware what you are feeling and why. Shut down your automatic drive (unconscious reactions) and use the manual clutch (conscious response) in your daily journey of discovery through the winding roads of life.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 and Daily meditation will also help.
And if you’d like to have professional support in going through this process, please contact me.
Now I need to insert here a big qualifier – negative emotions are part of life and so this is not about supressing and rejecting negative emotions such as frustration, anger, impatience, judgment, anxiety or even getting depressed once in a while. There is nothing wrong with them - 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 master key here is to process them quickly and dissipate their chemistry in the body, before they become a craving-driven habit.
So for example, when you get frustrated or angry about something – stop, acknowledge your anger, take a deep breath and put it in perspective – of your life, of the other person or persons involved, or the situation. Is it really worth to stress out about this insignificant event? Life moves on, the world will not end. You can take a different approach.
Since thoughts generate emotions, the key here is to catch and change the negative thought before it creates a corresponding cascade of stress hormones in your body and dismantle it like in the example I just gave you. Yes, you need to be quick, which comes with practice, so be patient, knowing that this process will soon develop into a new healthy habit, and your addiction to suffering and struggle will be gone.
Now – Would you like to hear some really good news? I said earlier on that there is no magic bullet to break an emotional addiction. Well...in fact, there is.
In the quantum field in which we all exist, the observer affects what they are observing by the sheer act of observation. The moment you start watching your habitual emotions, they start loosing their power by resonating with your intention and the magic of freedom now truly begins. So, isn’t it enough to simply observe your emotional addiction and it will go away? Well, yes and no, it depends - is the real quantum answer. It might work for some yet not for others and there are many different variables and contributing factors. So let’s focus on what has been proven to work in this space from the scientific point of view rather than leaving it to chance - and reprogram your mind and body at the physiological and neurological levels. The observer effect will still support your conscious efforts. You know what they say – the universe is looking after those who are looking after themselves.
I will give you a powerful mantra that will help you dissolve the need for any emotional addictions which are always the echoes of your past. Say this to yourself several times a day, reflect and meditate on it, let this sink into your being until you feel it viscerally, down to your bones and in every cell in your body:
My past has served its purpose. It is time to let go.