Addictions such as gambling, drug-taking, drinking, shopping or sex can cause us and our family significant harm. Even the act of self-harm can be described as an addiction. We may have bouts of abstinence or try to control our urges for a while but find ourselves going back to our coping mechanism of choice. And that is all an addiction is, a coping mechanism, an emotional escape.
There are emotional wounds that need to be healed and limiting beliefs that need to be cleared to really succeed in giving up our addiction. It is the reason most people set themselves a goal and find time and time again that they fail. The reason one often finds this goal setting strategy unsuccessful is because the beliefs have not changed and the emotional disturbances have not been healed.
It is important to recognise that our emotional distress can be categorised into three parts; core wounds of shame, betrayal and abandonment. The beliefs we create over the course of our timeline stem from our experiences.
If there is a history of bullying, the core wound of shame may cut deep. The beliefs produced by these traumatic events are a formulation of negative cognitions that can lead to addiction. In the case of bullying the negative criteria maybe “I’m not good enough” or “I’m defective”. The overwhelming sense of shame creates an urge to not feel this way and self-harm maybe one option to dissociate from the emotional pain.
Likewise, abandonment as a core wound could also contribute to a sense of not being important and not being loved. The urge to get sexual attention or love in some way may create permission thoughts that “I feel very loved” when I sleep with a lot of people. The source of addiction provides comfort but then gradually becomes a habit as the neuropathways in the brain start to thicken in response to this faulty reward system. The habit becomes an autopilot response which for the sex-addict means they may be looking for sexual intimacy every-time they go out on a Friday night.
Usually though there are at least a couple of beliefs feeding the behaviour. For a binge-drinker it could be “It’s Friday night”, “I’ve worked hard, I deserve it” or “I am shy and need Dutch courage.” There are too many good associations with the addiction to stop for any length of time.
When my addicted clients come to see me, we identify the beliefs and negative cognitions and process them with EMDR. EMDR allows the client to change those distorted beliefs by processing the traumatic events, build neuropathways based on the bad associations and create new adaptive beliefs instead.
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