Addictive behavior can take many forms. Chronic abuse of substances like heroin, prescription drugs, and alcohol can lead to clinical physiological dependence and intense, even life threatening withdrawal symptoms. Addiction to other substances like cigarettes may involve a shorter, less intense physical withdrawal period, yet for many they are just as difficult to quit. And there are other habitual behaviors such as nail biting where there is no clear physical addiction, but the pattern functions in the same way as an addiction.
It may be that all of these behaviors share a similar structure. Consider the possibility that this common ground lies in the way the habits are formed and the positive intentions (yes!) they represent.
Many speak of their first "high," and indicate that it was a very powerful experience. If an experience like this comes at a time of psychological vulnerability, the act can be attached to deep emotion. And by providing needed comfort at a crucial moment, it can be received by the unconscious mind as a directive, i.e. "repeat this behavior when in need of comfort." Your unconscious mind responds powerfully to deep emotion. And it excels at creating automatic patterns of behavior.
The first experience of the addictive behavior can be compelling in unexpected ways. For instance, the first drag on a cigarette will often be physically unpleasant. But the feeling of belonging to a new group of friends and looking cool might be so powerful that the pattern is imprinted. Repeat it enough, and a strong physical addiction can be firmly established on top of the imprint. Variations on this theme abound.
The highest priority of your unconscious is to protect you. However it has the characteristics of a child genius, capable of amazing things but in need of adult (i.e. conscious) direction. Like a child who will eat candy until she gets sick, the unconscious is capable of repeating automatic behavior patterns long past the point where they are serving you. And…it is quite resistant to change. In fact, many have written about the “critical factor,” an aspect of the conscious mind that serves as a mental “gatekeeper” to the unconscious. The gatekeeper will routinely block suggestions for change, coming up with any number of rationalizations even if the suggestions are positive and you consciously desire them badly. But don’t worry. You can work with the gatekeeper to allow positive suggestions to pass through. And, once a positive suggestion gets past the gatekeeper, it will be accepted by the unconscious without question. Which is great news for you as we’ll see later.
You can begin to see how addictions might be a little complicated to overcome because they appear to be rooted in automatic behavior patterns stored in your unconscious mind. The patterns operate below your level of conscious awareness. So conscious efforts like “willpower” are generally not effective in the long term. As mentioned before, there can be a powerful physical addiction layered on top of the stored unconscious behavior pattern. Most focus nowadays is on this top layer, the clinical physical addiction. Common treatment methods include medication and traditional therapy based on conscious mind discussions. Many of us have seen how the layer of clinical physical addiction can be treated successfully and still the subject returns to the addictive behavior. This indicates that the true root cause of the addiction is the stored behavior pattern continuing to operate below your level of conscious awareness.
For those who cannot stop on their own, I am aware of a couple of ways to break through and reprogram your unconscious addictive patterns. One way is to experience a severe emotional blow, such as an overdose, an auto accident, a divorce, or otherwise "hitting bottom” as described in the AA literature. This produces a shock combined with powerful emotion that occupies the conscious mind and the gatekeeper, thus allowing the unconscious to receive suggestions for positive change. And unfortunately, for many who are seriously addicted to powerful substances this seems to be what it takes. In these cases AA and related groups can be very helpful. They have saved many lives. The program has worked for people I know and respect. Go there if you need to. I think you know what I mean, isn’t that right?
Another path to consider is the use of Hypnotherapy. This process can also allow you to bypass the gatekeeper and directly access the unconscious mind to change things for the better. I think you already have a hunch about what you need to do if you’re addicted. Recognizing the dynamic at work is key. And for many this recognition is enough to start them on the road to recovery. Like a GPS, if you tell it where you want to go, it can find many ways to get there, accessing the vast reservoir of your recorded life experiences and possibly more than that. And you really should program the destination. Now there is an important distinction to be made here. The unconscious responds well to general direction but not micromanagement. You don’t yet know the things you might learn even though deep down you’ve known them all along. You can just forget that last part if you want. And you may notice the feeling, just the inkling, the beginning of an idea taking shape. Like that feeling when something is on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t quite remember it, but you know if you move on and do something else, you will be surprised and delighted when the answer pops up unexpectedly, without even trying. One day, you take a deep breath of fresh air and notice you feel alert, energized and very optimistic.
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Until next time,