Let’s face it: life is tough, especially these days. There are so many issues we must deal with, from loneliness during a global pandemic, to addictive behaviors, codependency, worrying about the future and dealing with negative emotions—the list seems endless. Thankfully, we can face whatever life throws our way, as I discuss in this week’s blog and podcast with therapist Amanda White. It is possible to unlearn addiction, to get to the root of negative behaviors like eating disorders and codependency, to stop the worry cycle, to face and deal with our emotions, and to heal our minds and lives. We don’t have to stay “stuck” in a bad place; we don’t have to be defined by what happens to us.
Let’s take addiction, for example. For many of us, addiction is quite scary; some say it is a disease, while others say there is no way to truly recover. Thankfully, more and more research is showing how addiction is not a hopeless illness. Amanda saw this is her own life; she overcame addiction and an eating disorder, and now teaches others that they too can take back control of their lives. The first step is to see addiction as a learned behavior or maladaptive coping skill. This is far more empowering than thinking “you have a disease and this is who you are”, because if you have learned to do something, you can unlearn to do it as well!
We start doing this when we get to the root of our addictions, which are often underpinned by guilt and shame. Guilt is response to an action; it is the understanding that “I made a mistake”. It can be useful or negative. It is useful if used in a way that makes us accountable and propels us to act. It is toxic when it keeps us stuck and creates a shame spiral. Shame makes you feel like “I am a mistake”. It directly attacks your worth as human being, robbing you of the ability to change. It does not motivate you or give you hope. It is often linked to trauma, and it makes it very hard to think or act clearly. To overcome this, we need to:
1. Understand the difference between guilt and shame.
Look at how you see and talk about yourself. Look at your thoughts and language; how are you describing yourself?
2. Think about how these emotions feel in your body.
Don’t run from the experience. Be okay with being a little uncomfortable and get in touch with your feelings. How do you react when you feel shame versus when you feel guilty?
Most people don’t know how to deal with their emotions, but we need to do learn how to do this. It is a very important and constructive process, allowing you to notice how your mind and body is responding to what you are dealing with and going through. It allows you to be curious and present with your feelings, asking yourself what they are telling you and why.
This is different to ruminating and overthinking, which involves judging your feelings and getting upset that you have these emotions. When you get upset and ruminate, you get stuck in how your emotions make you feel rather than getting to the root cause of why you feel.
3. Get curious.
“Catch” how you feel and respond, develop your self-awareness and question your thoughts. See where you can change or if you need to change, and choose to take a different action that aligns with what you want or where you want to be in life.
My app SWITCH may can be helpful during this process, as it is a great tool for helping you learn how to manage your mind, deal with the roots of your addiction, and overcome negative thought patterns and behaviors that impact your relationships through the mental process of reconceptualization (it is now on sale at 50% off for a 3-month subscription).
Of course, overcoming an addiction or eating disorder doesn’t happen overnight. We can get frustrated if we don’t see change immediately, but often we don’t see how the seeds are being planted in our mind and life, and how they will come together one day. It is also important to recognize that what works for one person may not work for someone else. We are all different and we will all have a different way of working through issues. It is good to [word missing here] different things—healing not about getting everything right the first time.
A good therapist or counselor can really help you see this in your own life, especially if you find yourself in a codependent relationship. Codependency can show up in all kinds of relationships: our partner, our parents or our friends. It occurs when we try to validate ourselves externally to make ourselves feel that things are okay, especially if we are dealing with addiction or abuse. In a codependent relationship, we essentially get our sense of worth from outside of ourselves because our personal life feels so toxic and out of control.
It is incredibly important to work through codependency with someone you trust, such as a therapist like Amanda, as it is easy to become dependent on the highs and lows of the relationship. If the person who has the addiction starts changing or healing, you can feel lost—you can get “addicted” to the perceived sense of control you had, and it will take you time to work through this.
But what if you are dealing with the opposite—loneliness? If you are lonely, recognize and get curious about it. Understand that there are different types of loneliness: intimate loneliness (a partner or family), social loneliness (family or friends) and communal loneliness (your job, religion and so on). Identify what kind of loneliness you are experiencing and get creative and curious about what you can do about it. This will look different for everyone, especially in the COVID-19 era. Think of ways you can still enjoy someone’s company, even if you can’t see them in person; go for “socially distanced” walks outside while wearing a mask, play board games online, cook a meal over Zoom, FaceTime or Skype, or talk to someone on the phone while walking the dog.
Don’t let yourself worry or ruminate about feeling lonely; make a plan! Planning involves concrete steps in response to an issue or possible issues, whereas worrying, although it can start as planning, ends up spiraling out of control in your mind; it essentially gets stuck in your head, causing all sorts of mental and physical distress.
For more information on addiction, toxic thinking, relationships and mental health, listen to my podcast with Amanda (episode #179) and check out her website. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
1:45 Why we need to talk about the overlap between addiction and eating disorders
2:48 How Amanda overcame her eating disorder
5:42 Addiction as a learned behavior
8:58 What it the recovery time for addiction?
10:44 What is codependency?
21:00 What is the difference between shame and guilt?
32:22 Dealing with loneliness
47:30 What is the difference between worrying and planning?
49:30 What is the difference between processing emotions and overthinking?
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