Feeling Too Little and Addictions

In the previous blog I illustrated some of the symptoms following complex trauma, including  feeling too little, the topic of today’s blog. Today I discuss the role of addictions in helping people to survive or numb out emotional pain, and offer some ideas on how to support the healing of addictions.

Firstly, healing addictions requires a lot more than just stopping the habit or pattern. The work of healing addictions includes a developmental/behaviour component to be healed, for example the “Puer Aeternis” (eternal youth) first described by Jung over a hundred years ago, which from a structural dissociation perspective would include the “collapse” and “flight” fantasy self- state.

Mills and Teason (2019) report that a history of trauma is almost universal among people with addictions using AOD services. Some theories suggest that self- medication of trauma symptoms like anxiety may play a role in the development of addictions. Other theories suggest that addictions are part of the magical thinking and “flight” of the younger parts of trauma survivors, helping them to escape unbearable pressure or emotions. Another idea (generated by observations within my work) is that sometimes the addictive habit or pattern is an unconscious attempt by a younger part to find an idealised “attachment” figure, (the addiction for example to cigarettes or alcohol) perhaps offering an alternative or fantasy “friend” to relate to, where they can have a special relationship, gain significance, or just find solace from everyday life. Some of these ideas are contained in the Puer Aeternis character pattern described over a hundred years ago by Carl Jung.

So if the addiction offers the fantasy escape from pain and suffering, it stands to reason that people with addictions will need to add other supports and skills to replace the “escape hatch” of the addictive substance or behaviour. We cannot expect people to give up substances and habits which they believe are vital for their survival. Addictions may be the best method the person has for surviving at first! Janina Fisher illustrates why additional “scaffolding” is needed below.

The worst part of addictions are that in the long term they damage the relationships that could powerfully help to heal trauma symptoms, cause health problems and shorten life expectancy. Worse, over time the addiction can become a “substitute relationship” while real relationships are sidelined, making the person increasingly cut-off and lonely.

 

Whatever the reason for the addiction, recovery from addiction and feeling too little takes time and work. Simply stopping the addictive pattern eg via willpower is not enough, although its a start. Significantly, work is needed around the trauma and the individual factors that hold the addiction in place, as well as building more supports and skills. This work is best done with a therapist or group that is well trained in contemporary trauma theory as well as addictions. You can also contact organisations like Odyssey for more information.

 

Changing Patterns and Habits

Neuroplasticity can help solve a lot of problems, but it can also create problems! Some patterns or habits of thinking, feeling or responding can start off as helpful but because of  stress and neuroplasticity become rigid, harder to change, or simply less helpful over time. Patterns or habits such as overworking, avoiding certain things, irritability, or always putting the needs of others before your own can become “set in stone”. Because these patterns have happened thousands of times, they may feel like “this is the truth “or “this is who I am”.

 

But all patterns and habits are neuroplastic and so can be softened, changed, or even eliminated if that is what we want. To modify any habit, we need commitment, but with persistence we will ultimately be successful!

Let’s start by identifying some common mental patterns and habits that may start off innocently but take on a life of their own and cause problems:

Common mental habits or patterns:

  • worry or rumination
  • problem solving orientation, including problems that haven’t occurred yet
  • wishing things were different
  • idealising others or yourself
  • needing to control how others see you
  • rigid or black and white dogmatic thinking
  • unexamined beliefs eg
    • believing things because you were told them as a child (introjects)
    • believing things because you wanted them to be true (magical thinking)
    • believing things because someone you liked or looked up to believed it
  • catastrophizing
  • automatic advice giving
  • allowing the mind to be busy all the time
  • avoidance eg spending excessive time in a fantasy world or day dreaming
  • harsh self-attack or self-criticism
  • perfectionism
  • fuzzy or magical thinking instead of clear thinking when faced with problems
  • justifying or defending habits that aren’t good for you!
  • other mental patterns or habits not listed above, that in some way cause pain, stuckness or distress to yourself or others.

Reflections:

Looking at the list of mental patterns, do any stand out for you?

What sort of commitment or small steps would it take to soften or change this pattern?

How long would you have to persist with new patterns for them to become established?

I would love to hear from you if you are trying to change habits or patterns now.