Learning Addictive Patterns

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I was curious to know which topics you might want me to speak about in my next podcasts. My poll on Facebook resulted in different requests. One of your requests was anxiety. Another one was addictions.

The latter one is a much more complex topic. I might need to preface, that I am not an addiction councillor. One way in which I can speak to the topic of addiction is in how far it has touched me personally. Another way is to share my understanding of the origin of addictive behaviour. I grew up with a close family member who was an alcoholic and thus have experienced how destructive and challenging an addiction is for the entire family. I was also at one point in my life in a relationship with a man who had an alcohol problem, until I realized that we cannot help somebody who is not ready to change. I had to make the self-loving choice to get out of that relationship.

I believe it is important not to downplay addiction, no matter how socially acceptable the substance or activity somebody engages with in an addictive way is. I believe that as parents, grandparents and educators we can make a huge difference for the next generation if we understand how addictions begin. Making sure that children do not learn addictive patterns of behaviour is as important as teaching them their ABC’s or math skills. What can we do to address addictions? Let’s explore why addictive energy shows up.

We need to begin with a definition of addiction. Recognizing addiction can be quite intuitive and you might feel that you will recognize an addiction when you see it, but in order to discus the topic we need to come to an agreement as to what qualifies as an addiction. An addiction can be defined as “something to which we have a strong predilection for and have little control over our actions in relation to the desire” (Dr. Alexandra Katehakis). We may find that a lot of our time is spent either engaging in the addictive behaviour itself, or in preparation for the experience of it. Unlike other things which we enjoy a lot, an addiction can have a certain component of secrecy and also shame connected to it. This is especially true when the behaviour we are engaging in is at odds with our own personal value system. Denial might also be part of the addiction.

Most people think of drinking or taking drugs when they hear the term addiction. However, there is a long list of addictive behaviours we engage in. Just a few examples of those behaviours are addictive eating, depending on alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, taking drugs or medications, addiction to sex or pornography, engaging in workaholic behaviour, addictive exercising or working out, gambling, compulsive shopping and overspending, addictive consummation of TV, video games or other electronics, obsessive engagement in social media and much more.

Why do we interact in an addictive way with certain substances or activities? What is going on with these behaviours?

These are all short-term coping mechanisms to distract ourselves from unpleasant emotional states. We have been conditioned to respond to emotional pain, sadness, overwhelm, stress and other uncomfortable emotions by eating, drinking, smoking, or distracting ourselves with any of the other above mentioned activities. Even nervous habits like nail biting, lip biting or twirling hair are subconscious attempts to deal with unpleasant emotions. They have become our pacifiers.

Short-term, these activities might feel like they give us some relief, calm or comfort us, but we have not addressed the real problems by engaging in these behaviours. We have taken our emotions and pushed them down with food, alcohol, drugs and we have distracted ourselves from acknowledging and feeling them.

Every emotion gives us feedback about unmet needs or another situation which needs to be addressed. When we are, for example, experiencing sadness or grief, it’s because we are feeling a loss. We need to process that loss. If we are feeling anxiety or fear, we need to take action steps to explore this and achieve greater safety. If we are feeling that something is unfair, it is a call to “make fair” or forgive and let go. If we are feeling anger, we need to investigate what more vulnerable feelings are underneath anger and need to be addressed.

Instead, we ignore the messenger. We are doing what we have learned as children when we were comforted with a pacifier or with food. Our caregivers didn’t know that the soother to make us stop crying, or the cookie to sweeten the disappointment, or the tub of ice cream for the heartache, or the bag of chips to stuff the anger down would become our automatic go-to and our basis for any addictive behaviour.

When I was teaching elementary school, we had an interesting unit one year, an extension to the regular curriculum, which was proposed by an older colleague of mine. The unit, which we taught in the grade 3 classrooms, was around recognizing unpleasant emotions and developing different action strategies. The idea was for the students to learn that soothing with food, TV or electronic activities only led to the emotions temporarily going away, while seeking human contact and talking to a person of trust was soothing, but also helpful in regards to changing the emotional state or addressing the underlying need that wasn’t met.

Addictive behaviour is often established in early childhood. Human beings need other human beings for regulation. It is the job of the primary caregiver to be present as a secure anchor for the child and as an interactive regulator who soothes, comforts and supports in a gentle and loving manner so that a state of high sympathetic arousal (fight or flight) or parasympathetic responses (freeze response or dissociation) can be turned into feeling safe and secure. What happens instead, due to the fact that parents themselves have not learned to rely on human interaction but to rely on outside stimulants, is that they model addictive behaviour when they are emotionally aroused.

Only 54% of people in our society today have experienced and learned a secure attachment style. Parents can only do the best based on what they know and understand. Children who do not have conscious and emotionally present caregivers inevitably find strategies in order to survive and often carry these energy-relieving patterns into adulthood. The result of these childhood experiences is a dependency on external soothing often combined with distrust that others are willing and capable to meet their needs.

Does or did your toddler have a pacifier? Once they are two and a half or three years old, you will probably be advised that it is time to take this soother away. Be aware that with this common habit they have already made the first experience of an object to go to for comfort. Make sure you let your child make the decision of how and when to give the soother away. I heard a lovely story the other day of a mother explaining to her daughter that she is so big now and doesn’t need the soother anymore but that her younger cousin now needs it. She is allowing the daughter to decide without pressure when it is time to wrap the soother up as a gift and pass it on.

At the same time, the mother of course also needs to offer her presence, and the presence of the grandmother who looks after her daughter a lot, as human alternatives to the soother. When we expect our toddlers to get rid of their pacifiers when they are not securely attached, they will inevitably develop other habits of soothing. They need to learn that they can count on their caregivers. We might not personally be able to be there for them all the time but we can direct them to trustworthy and conscious adults who will support us. That way we can provide that secure anchor for them and teach them how to soothe through human contact rather than addictive substances or activities.

The particular addictive substance somebody is abusing is only the secondary problem. The primary underlying problem is that we learn addictive behaviour. Rather than judging others for their addictive behaviour, let’s take an honest look in the mirror and examine in which ways we also tend to reach for outside stimulants. In which ways are we comforting or distracting ourselves instead of facing challenging emotions and addressing our unmet needs? The best thing we can do to change the problem of addiction is to start with how we handle our own emotions. Let’s throw out our adult pacifiers, so that we can teach the next generation a healthier approach to handling our emotional states. After all, our emotions are like a friend who never lies to us.

 

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Angelika
905-286-9466
greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

Why Won’t You Apologize?

Listen to this blog as a podcast here, or read it below!

Sue is at the stove making dinner. As she turns to tell her children to get ready, she sees six-year-old Adam ripping a Barbie doll’s head off while his four-year-old sister stares at him with fear in her eyes. Adam is watching his sister and seems to take pleasure in her response. Sue is shocked and disgusted. Before she is aware of how she feels and why she was triggered into those feelings, she says to Adam. “You are horrible! That was just mean and malicious! How can you do such an awful thing? Don’t you care about your sister’s feelings at all? You need to apologize to your sister right now!” Adam feels deeply ashamed. He hears that there is something inherently wrong with him.

Twenty years later, Adam and his girlfriend Sarah are having a fight. Her choir had their first performance and he forgot. He stayed late at the office to work overtime and went out for a drink with his colleagues afterwards. His seat in the theatre stayed empty. Sarah is upset. “How could you forget? Don’t you care about my life and my feelings at all? You are horrible!” Adam’s shame is triggered again. He doesn’t say anything. When his girlfriend says, “you should apologize, but clearly you don’t care!” Adam gets defensive. What he doesn’t do is take responsibility for his mistake and apologize.

Apologies are almost impossible when we are stuck in a place of shame. Being able to say, “I am sorry” requires a solid foundation of self-worth. We need to feel that we are fundamentally lovable even if our behaviour in a situation has caused somebody else pain. Adam has learned that he is fundamentally flawed. Criticism and the anger of a loved one trigger self-loathing in him. He feels like he is six years again, being told that he is horrible. Only when we have a solid basis of self-esteem can we take responsibility for a mistake and for the effects our words or actions had on another person.

Sarah is hurt and continues to be upset. Adam feels not good enough and, in an attempt to stop the uncomfortable confrontation, he says, “I am sorry” in an irritated voice. His apology comes with the meta message that Sarah’s feelings are silly and annoying. He adds, “You could have reminded me again yesterday that the performance was tonight” and essentially blames her. A little later in the conversation he says, “I am sorry but you are overreacting. It’s not as if you had a solo performance!” Because of the deep shame he feels, he is unable to validate her feelings and take responsibility for his absence with an authentic and heart-felt apology.

What constitutes an effective and honest apology?

  1. It is never too late to apologize. If we apologize within the first minutes after an event, the repair is easier. As Stan Tatkin points out, when we can repair very quickly, the experience does not pass from short term memory into long term memory. On the other hand, if the repair does not occur quickly, the behaviour is regarded by the injured party as a “trait” and will be encoded in their memory as such.

However, Adam can still apologize when he has calmed down and has taken a moment to put himself in Sarah’s shoes. Going back to the conversation at a later point means a double apology is required; a heart-felt “I am really sorry, I wasn’t at your choir performance as I had promised” followed by, “I am sorry I felt too ashamed to apologize properly right away.”

  1. Apologizing requires listening and understanding. The willingness to sit with Sarah’s disappointment and validate her feelings is required from Adam. “You must have been so disappointed”, “I understand why you felt like I didn’t care”, “I am sorry you felt abandoned” and so on.

  1. Apologizing means taking responsibility for one’s part in a situation. Adam needs to look into Sarah’s eyes and show her through his body language, his tone and his words, that he is sorry for forgetting. An authentic “I know I really screwed up!” or something similar shows that he is not trying to pass the blame.
  2. The word “but” negates an apology. A true apology only focuses on our behaviour, without making excuses. Harriet Lerner in her book “Why Won’t You Apologize” reminds us to keep “but” and “if” out of our apologies. “I am sorry if I offended you” is for example also a non-apology, as it questions the validity of the other person’s feelings.

Just as there is an art to apologizing, there is also an art to receiving an apology. In accepting the apology, there is also no place for a “but” or a lecture. Sarah needs to receive Adam’s heart-felt apology with grace and openness. She needs to simply thank him for apologizing and save any further discussion, for example about Adam having been forgetful lately, for another time.

As parents, grandparents, and educators, who want to raise children who are ready to say sorry, we have to keep in mind that saying less is more. If a child apologizes, we need to accept the apology with a simple thank you instead of following with a whole lecture. We need to give them credit for being mature and responsible enough to offer a true apology. Making statements about the child’s character instead of their behaviour and lecturing them only causes further shame instead of a positive experience. A true heartfelt apology is not just a gift to the person we are apologizing to but it is also a gift to ourselves as it raises our self-worth when we are able to take responsibility and act in integrity. Let’s remember to make apologizing an experience of personal growth and increased self-esteem for the next generation.

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

Angelika

Relationship Coaching

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

A Sacred and Safe Space for Workshops

The word “sacred” means different things for different people. It is usually something that is regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, or a group of people, or an individual person. In different traditions, there are different places, objects or rituals which are considered “sacred”.

According to the encyclopaedia, “A sacred place is first of all a defined place, a space distinguished from other spaces”. To me it is a space created and upheld through intention and awareness to form an uplifting, safe, peaceful and spiritual area. Our intention to be respectful is key in creating and using a sacred space.

We might want to use certain rituals to honour the sacred space and to shift into a clear intention of what we want to feel and experience in the sacred space. This sacred space can be an area in your house which you set up with intention, perhaps as a meditative corner, possibly with an altar or other meaningful objects. Nature itself can be your sacred space and you might create a ritual around this. One of my best friends finds her daily meditation by going for a walk. This is her sacred and soul-nurturing ritual, her sacred time.

Part of focussing on the sacred is to set aside certain times and spaces as sacred, which means as something basically different than the everyday world we live in. When I offer a workshop, my intention is to provide a sacred and safe space for all the participants. With the upcoming Dream Workshop, I am more than ever focussing on the sacred as I have the immense pleasure to facilitate this class together with my friend Susan Webber, who is a spiritual artist and teacher.

Prior to this workshop, we have visited the space where we will be teaching and have performed a small ritual outside, asking permission from the ancestors to use the space. As a response, four—not just one but four—swarms of geese, which symbolize fertility, unity and intuition, flew over our heads. What a perfect symbol and encouragement for our workshop.

Did you know that geese never leave one of their own behind? Should a goose become injured during the flight to the south, another goose will leave the migrating flock to stay with the injured one. That sense of community is certainly what we would like to create with our workshops. We can have the experience that we are all one and can hold the space for each other during challenges times and experiences, or when we do our healing.

Geese are known as gifted navigators and instinctively know the way to warmer climates. They forge ahead, confident and brave, and thus are a symbol for courage and for trust in their team. Geese have intricate methods of communication. They smoothly take turns to fly at the front of the flock and communicate with each other about when and where to land. They keep each other safe. Taking this workshop is all about tuning into our intuition and listening to our more instinctive parts, like our inner child. It is also about safety in the group, and growing together as a spiritual family, in which healing and growth is possible.

During the workshop, we will use rituals to create a safe and sacred space. Susan will guide us through a smudging ceremony and a story ritual around the camp fire, and I will lead you through meditations. We will make sure that everybody feels safe to speak, explore and share.

Any personal healing work requires a safe space. This applies even more so when doing our dream work. Sharing our dreams with others requires vulnerability and trust. We need a space in which others listen respectfully and lovingly and do not intrude with their interpretations. Everybody allows everybody else to be the expert on their own dreams and the meaning of those dreams.

When you decide to join us for a workshop, you make the decision to set aside sacred time to do soul-nurturing work. You are part of this team of dream explorers, which holds the safe and sacred space for everybody else. Together we can be like the flock of geese, forging ahead to discover new lands.

Sacred space is where you connect with who you are at a soul level, where you find yourself again, and sometimes again and again. Workshop participants often return for further workshops to learn something new, but also to experience and connect in this sacred and heart-opening space once again.

 

Join us—for the first time or again—on Dec. 9/10, 2017 for the Dream Workshop in Lowville (Burlington). For more details click here or contact me

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!