What if addiction contains a message?
Figuring out the intricacies of our psychology can feel exhausting. Sometimes it seems easier to think of things in nice, simple terms – black and white thinking, rather than the complexities of different shades of grey. When it comes to our behaviour we are often encouraged by society towards constant self-improvement in these easy terms; to keep our 'good' behaviours and throw out the 'bad'.
This attitude seems to be especially pronounced when it comes to behaviours that we have less conscious control over, and which therefore, can feel more destructive and threatening - such as compulsions and addictions.
Addictive behaviours are often approached morally by our society. Drugs are seen as 'bad' and so addiction is also seen as falling into the category of 'bad' and therefore needs to be eliminated, stopped and thrown out... We don't need to understand things that are labelled morally 'bad' we just need to get rid of them. Seems simple, right?
If only it were that easy! Like a game of psychological whack-a-mole, often we find in attempting to 'squash' our addictive behaviours that they pop up unannounced (and just as charged with destructive force) in other areas of our life. These energies find other avenues to express themselves, sometimes in a more distorted fashion. The question to ask ourselves then is why this happens, and what is the message that our unconscious is trying to communicate to us through our addictions?
Symptoms such as addiction can be a link to an unexpressed voice from our unconscious. If we continue to squash this voice down without exploring it, without decoding what it means, without honouring it, can we really be surprised if it begins to shout at inappropriate times? Something is being unacknowledged, something is being ignored in our conscious world and this is what has caused this unconscious message to come to the surface as an addiction in the first place. By squashing the behaviour without deciphering it we will be repeating the same pattern which gave birth to it in the first place.
This is not to say that using therapeutic techniques in helping to reduce the symptoms is not important too, but too often we get drawn into elimination without exploration. Like trying to put a plaster over an ever moving wound, all this leads to is a frustrating chase with some short term relief but without any real, long term benefit. By combining approaches which deal with the short term effects and long term exploration, we can deal with the immediate destructiveness of the addiction whilst finding and relieving the wound which gave birth to it in the first place.
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About Nicholas Opyrchal
Nicholas Opyrchal is a counsellor and psychotherapist (MBACP) based in London. Nick spent five years working for the Addiction Care and Support Agency and has a wide range of experience dealing in depth with addiction and other issues. He works from Barnet and Paddington.
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