The Difference Between an Obsession and an Addiction

parentAn obsession and an addiction can look the same but the root is very different.  For instance, you gamble every week spending approximately $10 on lottery tickets; gambling in this example is your behavior that can be obsessive, addictive or both.  The obsessive part of your behavior is gambling at the same store, on the same day, with the same numbers and if it is not done in this manner then you cannot win.  It does not matter if there is evidence of past wins; it only matters that things be done a certain way.  The addictive part of your behavior is dreaming of how the money will be spent, what will be bought, and who will benefit from the winnings.  The dreaming is active and an entire day can be spent just thinking about the possibilities.

Obsessive Behavior.  When you obsess, ritualistic routines are part of your everyday life.  Perhaps you comb your hair the same way you did as a teenager, you recheck all of the doors at night even though you have been told it is already locked, you replay the same conversation over and over again just trying to figure it out, you wash your hands after anyone touches them, you clean with bleach because that is the only way to get things truly clean, you straighten things up and like things in neat rows, or you count the number of beeps on your car door lock before believing it is locked.  All of these behaviors have roots in fear.  Fear that if you don’t follow your routine you will get a headache, fear that if you don’t recheck things the house will burn down, fear that you will miss something important if you can’t figure out the conversation, fear that you might get infected and die, fear that if things aren’t clean someone might think badly about you, fear that if things aren’t straight your whole life will be out-of-order, or fear that if you don’t hear a certain number you will lose the car.  Fear, either real or imagined, leads to obsessive behavior.

Addictive Behavior.  When you are addicted, you never feel satisfied unless using the substance.  Perhaps you drink alcohol to relax, take prescription drugs to numb the pain, shop for clothing to feel better about how you look, gamble to earn quick easy money, exercise to get the adrenaline high, look at porn to feel desirable, smoke to unwind, watch soap operas to feel romantic, play video games to feel successful or eat sugar to get energy.  All of these behaviors have roots in escaping from an undesirable place to a desirable place and in fantasy living.  Fantasizing about a life with less stress, fantasizing about a life without pain, fantasizing about a body that you want, fantasizing about having lots of money, fantasizing about feeling high all the time, fantasizing about being desirable, fantasizing about less anxiety, fantasizing about a romantic relationship, fantasizing about being the best or fantasizing about limitless energy.  Your fantasy life, either from real experiences or imagined, leads to addictive behavior.

Combination.  Putting obsessive and addictive behavior together can intensify both the desire to avoid fear and the desire to escape.  While you may clean with bleach because you fear that someone might think you are dirty, you can also become addicted to the smell of bleach and fantasize about living dirt free.  Or you can fantasize about being the best video game player and insist that you can’t be successful at video games until you reach a certain level three times.  This is precisely why it is hard to recover from obsessive and addictive behavior because they can be co-mingled rather easily.  The key is separating out the behaviors and tracing them back to the root of the problem in order to stop doing the undesirable behavior.

It takes time and energy to do this process and even in recovery of an addiction or obsession, new addictions or obsessions often emerge to take the place of old ones.  By recognizing what is obsessive and what is addictive however, you can go back to each individual root and address the underlying problem.  While it is a hard personal journey, it is well worth the time and effort.

 

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

How Fear Fuels Obsession

Fear Obsession CycleHave you ever felt as though you were doing everything you could yet no matter how hard you tried things got worse and worse?  Are you caught in a trap that leaves you feeling helpless, frustrated and discouraged?  Do you find that your behavior which is careful and cautious to you is perceived by others as obsessive and often repels others instead of drawing them closer?  Certain emotions such as fear can add fuel to an obsessive cycle that you leaves you feeling trapped and out of control.

It all starts with a painful event such as abuse by a relative, abandonment by a friend or rejection from a job.  Each of these events can spark fear directed at another person for their part in the event or directed at you for failure in handling the event properly.  This feeling of fear is uncomfortable so you counteract it with a desire to over control yourself, others or your environment.  So you turn to the obsession of your choice: cleaning, checking, washing, excessive order, repeating the same conversation, repetitive thoughts, hoarding, perfectionism, reassurance seeking, rituals or counting.  Other people in your life don’t like your obsession so they in turn withdraw from you.  You are now confused by their response as you were just trying to avoid the fearful or anxious feelings.  This in turn results in another painful event such as a fight, more distance in relationships or further loss.

Acknowledge.  The first step to stopping the crazy cycle is acknowledging that you are repeating the same behavior over and over.  You can’t change what you won’t acknowledge.  So admit it.  You are doing the crazy cycle.  This is not the time to blame others for the reason you are doing the crazy cycle; this is the time to accept responsibility for your own crazy behavior.  Everyone is responsible for their own behavior.  This maybe a new concept to you as our culture is quick to blame others, parents, churches, organizations, companies, governments, and even nations for bad behavior.  But this is not constructive thinking, it is destructive thinking.  You are responsible for your own behavior.

Stop at Fear.  There is nothing wrong with feeling fearful.  The Bible acknowledges that you will be fearful but you don’t have to control the fear by becoming controlling.  Whether you are acting scared, anxious or fearful or avoiding those feelings by being controlling, fear is still controlling your behavior.  It is OK to be fearful when you are hurt, when someone hurts you, or when someone hurts someone else.  Just don’t take it to the next step and become controlling; rather deal with the fear by confronting how you feel and taking responsibility for the actions that follow.  Just saying the words, “I am fearful or anxious but I’m going to act responsibly” can restore that out of control feeling to feeling more controlled.

Know Your Obsession.  What is your obsession of choice?  More than likely you have more than one obsessive behavior.  Not all of the obsessive behaviors are listed so taking an inventory of your go-to obsessions is extremely helpful.  Many times you will go directly from the painful event and skip right past the fearful emotion to the obsessive behavior because you have developed a conditioned response similar to Pavlov’s dogs.  In Pavlov’s experiment, he trained dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell by first giving food along with ringing the bell.  Before long, he only needed to ring the bell for the dogs to salivate.  You have done the same thing with your obsession.  You no longer need to feel fear to justify the obsessive behavior; rather you go straight from the painful event to the obsession.  If you know your obsessive behaviors, you can trace backwards to the fear anytime you feel the desire to become controlling and stop it from going any further.

You can take responsibility for your own behavior and stop the crazy cycle from destroying your life.  You do not have to be a victim to your obsessions or continue to allow painful events determine how you will respond.  Remember, if you make a mistake along the way and slip backwards, it is never too late to turn around no matter what others around you say.  Who you are is NOT defined by your mistakes.  Who you are is defined by your character which can be shaped by your mistakes only if you let it.

 

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.