Everyone knows that you can’t drink away guilt, drug away grief or ‘sex away’ low self-esteem, yet many of us try to anyway. Addictions and compulsions mask the pain that’s necessary for emotional growth.
BY MARY COOK — How does a personal trainer help transform a flabby body into a hard, sculpted one? By repeating “Go for the burn!” “No pain, no gain!” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” and other mantras.
The same goes for turning a troubled mind into a serene one. The only way out of the pain is through it.
Compulsions produce negative energy, either due to their intrinsic nature, as with drug abuse, or due to the harmful consequences of their excessive repetition or use, as in sex or food addiction. The greater our compulsions, the more negative energy we have in our minds and bodies.
The more we focus on our cravings, the more needy and less grateful we feel. As we over-indulge our senses we become increasingly reliant on external satisfaction, which ultimately fails. What would work better: developing our internal resources to foster resilience, healing, comfort and understanding.
The default toddler way
Feelings that typically trigger vulnerability to compulsions are the same feelings that result from the compulsive actions. These feelings, which include anger, anxiety, fear, jealousy, sadness and shame, create an ongoing cycle of emotional pain.
Even when we become consciously aware of our negativity, the physical and psychological habits of compulsions are hard to break. They typically result from traumatic experiences, usually in childhood, a time when we learned to avoid pain because we lacked the tools to heal it. Without healing, we carry these past experiences and our feelings and thoughts about them into the present and create ongoing life scenarios from them.
Compulsions mean well. They attempt to make us feel better by binding our anxiety and redirecting our focus to something pleasurable. Unfortunately, compulsions are temporary distractions at best. The pain remains, and we fail to mature in the areas affected by it. This is why compulsions have a dependent, childlike character, and defy adult reasoning and common sense.
When we have no understanding or role models for addressing inner pain, we project our pain onto other people and outside experiences. We see the outside world as chaotic, crazy and conflicted rather than seeing where the mess really resides — inside ourselves. By assigning blame outwardly, we create an illusion of health for ourselves. The greater negative focus we have on people and life, the more of our own sickness and ignorance we deny.
We also try to avoid pain by keeping busy. When our behavior, emotions or thoughts are overactive we momentarily eclipse pain but also lose faith, serenity and trust in the process.
Because compulsions keep our dominant focus external, we pay insufficient attention to internal states (except for those that reinforce the compulsions). So we lack understanding and problem solving skills for the areas where we need them most.
Viewing any problem and solution as external, we have a fight-or-flight response to anything that reminds us of inner pain. We seek positive gratification of what we were denied.
The grown-up way
And yet life is meant to redirect us back to the places needing healing, as well as forward to where we can evolve. By avoiding, fighting and coveting we resist growing. Resistance keeps us in the problem, and the problem expands and intensifies.
Pain in life is inescapable. Avoiding it is a futile and frustrating goal. We are meant to experience negative emotions, realize that they are temporary and learn from them. Examining ourselves and our lives in response to pain can lead us to greater humility, sensitivity, assertiveness, gratitude, understanding and integrity.
Compulsions get in the way of our self-awareness of ourselves as spiritual beings. Our soul knows that we are whole. Compulsive cravings arise from fearing that we lack what it takes, internally or externally, to achieve satisfaction or fulfillment.
We cannot find true peace and pleasure in projections. They are only temporary illusions that disable our evolution. It is only when we embrace ourselves fully that we can experience the personal growth that leads to happiness and health. We must see flaws and feel our pain — every human being has them — before we can improve and transform them.
Mary Cook is the author of Grace Lost and Found: From Addictions and Compulsions to Satisfaction and Serenity. She has 34 years of clinical practice and 29 years of university teaching experience and is available for counseling, guided meditation, speaking engagements and in-service training. Contact her by email and visit her website. Read Mary’s previous articles for Soul’s Code, Eyes wide shut: The anatomy of addiction and How one addiction leads to another.
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