Dependency, Addiction and Compulsion
Several posts ago, we discussed the attachment styles that we develop as a result of the early nurturing process. Ideally, by the time we’re four years old, we emerge from toddlerhood with a solid sense of who we are, an appreciation that others are different than we are, and that we’re all okay. For many of us, however, early life falls short of what we need to thrive, and instead of solidity, we emerge from toddlerhood with varying levels of uncertainty and emptiness about ourselves, others, and the world.
By the time people come to my office, they have been trying to fill their emptiness for decades in a variety of ways, such as becoming dependent on a relationship, a substance, a process, an activity, etc., to soothe the cognitive and emotional dissonance inside. Unable to regulate and soothe their internal upheaval in healthy ways, they seek momentary pleasure to assuage the internal ache.
Soothing the Ache
Pornography and other sexually compulsive behaviors are on a sharp incline as a way to manage internal turmoil, and a record number of relationships are being shattered by it. The pain that sexual acting out introduces to a relationship is excruciating for couples. Sadly, the high that pornography can bring is so intoxicating to the brain that some are willing to sacrifice their families and their own well-being for it.
Alcoholism is another mood altering substance that can divide relationships. So are illegal drugs. Legal ones, too, for that matter. I know someone who spent an inheritance of several hundred thousand dollars on prescription meds purchased on the street after he lost his license to practice medicine.
These are some of the more obvious addictions, compulsions and dependencies that diminish closeness and cooperation, creating conflict between couples. Not-so-obvious ones include an excessive/obsessive relationship with religion, education, one’s spouse or children, work, gambling, spectator sports, exercise, food, shopping, love, approval, image, church, volunteerism, TV, gaming or anything that we use to avoid the pain of yesterday and today.
How Do You Soothe?
Can you name the things you hide behind so as to not have to face, feel and deal with unresolved losses and longings you brought with you into your partnership? And can you identify how your compulsive need to avoid internal pain diminishes the relationship you could be having with your partner? Or do you have ways of self-soothing that support the connection of your intimate relationship?
The good news is that, people and relationships can heal from old wounds, often with the help of competent professionals. You and your relationships can live free of the need for numbing pain, which would then leave your relationships more peaceful.
We’ll start discussing how to do that tomorrow.