By Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Many people are aware of the fact that addictions are used to avoid pain, and most of us are aware of the common addictions: food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, TV, spending, work, sex, rage and so on. Most people, however, are not aware of the more subtle addictions, the addictions that are often so covert and pervasive that they are as invisible to us as the air we breathe. Yet these addictions may be impacting us negatively as much as the more overt addictions.
Take Sam, for example. Sam is the kind of person who ends up doing everything, both at home and at work. Sam works much harder in his retail business than either of his two partners, and often feels overwhelmed by the amount of work he has to do. On weekends, he ends up doing a lot of work around the house, even though he has two strong teenagers who could be helping out. Even when others offer to help, Sam turns them down. Sam is devoted to being a "nice guy and caretaking others - doing for others what they need to be doing for themselves. On a deeper level, he is always trying to control how others perceive him. He wants them to see him as a caring person and often feels victimized when others do not give him the approval he seeks. Then, when others react to his attempts to control how they feel about him with irritation or withdrawal, Sam is angry that they are not approving of him. When he is really upset, he will get drunk. He will often obsessively ruminate about how unjust his wife is or his partners are. If his wife wants to explore their problems, Sam goes into defending, explaining and resisting, stating that she is just trying to control him. When nothing else works, Sam will withdraw.
There are many addictions going on here. The more overt ones are work, anger and drinking. Sam is also addicted to approval, to controlling how others see him through caretaking, to being a victim and blaming others for his misery, to obsessive thinking (ruminating), to defending, explaining, resisting, and withdrawing. All of these addictions serve the same purpose as the more overt addictions. They are all attempts to have control over getting love/approval and avoiding pain.
You might want to honestly look inside and see what some of your covert addictions are. Are you addicted to blaming others for your unhappy feelings? Do you use anger or tears to attempt to make others responsible for you? Are you addicted to illness as a way to avoid personal responsibility for yourself? Do you constantly give yourself up in an attempt to control how others feel about you? Are you more focused on trying to control others feelings about you than you are in taking loving care of yourself? How much of your thinking time is spent in daydreaming about what you want to say to others or how you wish life was instead of actually taking loving action for yourself? Do you get obsessive in your thinking about what you will say or do in a particular situation? How often do you explain and defend yourself rather than open to learning? How often do you get angry or withdraw to avoid dealing with yourself? How much time do you spend analyzing and figuring out yourself and others as a way to have control?
Any behavior other than taking loving, responsible care of yourself and being open to learning with yourself and others is addictive. All addictive behaviors are attempts to control rather than learn. Our intent to control or to learn actually governs all our behavior, and is the basis of the powerful Inner Bonding process that gradually heals addictive behavior.