Similarly to being addicted to anything else (i.e., drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling), people can also be addicted to their emotions. When we experience an emotional reaction, powerful chemicals known as neurotransmitters (i.e., dopamine and norepinephrine), surge through our bodies. These neurotransmitters thus affect our nervous systems, eliciting a physiological response in our bodies. That's why when we experience certain emotions, our heart rate can change, our breathing can change, and our pupils may dilate -- similarly to when ingesting certain drugs.
We can become addicted to these emotions -- such as anger, sadness, self-pity, mania -- because of the effect they have on our brains and bodies. I often see people become hostage to their emotions, and through their addiction, subconsciously recreate situations and dynamics that elicit the same emotional response over and over again.
We can also build a tolerance to the emotion we are addicted to. Over time, we then need more and more chemical compounds in order to feel. Individuals may then feel "numb" or even apathetic when not experiencing that emotion, thus leading to them recreating a scenario where they may act impulsively, violently, passive aggressively, sexually promiscuous, etc. in order to achieve the desired effect.
Even if there are negative consequences to these individuals' behavior, "feeling" becomes their main objective. They often do not understand or are aware of this pattern. And this pattern often elicits the cycle of shame. Individuals may then feel numb, stagnant, or "without," so they recreate a situation or dynamic, (albeit unhealthy and unnecessary) in order to "feel." And then when they act out, they experience the emotion but then eventually experience the negative consequences as a result. When they experience those negative consequences, they then beat themselves up for getting in the same position over and over again.
Other signs of emotional addiction can include re-telling the same tragic story over and over again for months or years, and feeling as if you are in that moment in the present. If you find yourself enjoying emotions even if they are not necessarily healthy, or feeling apathetic when in the absence of experiencing those emotions, you may be having this experience. We often seek out people, relationships, dynamics and situations that reinforce our beliefs. However, we also do this in an effort to continue to feel the surge of the same emotions over and over again, in order to "feel alive."
As I've written about before, the neural pathways in our brain become strengthened over time by what we do, think and say over and over again. Therefore, our brain will scan our environment for stimuli that will continue to reinforce those thoughts, beliefs and actions -- looking for things that we can seek out or recreate in order to get that "emotional hit."
Most people experience an emotion and either react to it, distract themselves from it, or suppress it. Instead, take some time to assess what patterns you keep finding yourself in that have led to shame, self-pity, pridefulness, anger, frustration with yourself, or self-destruction, to name a few. Then think about what the emotion is that you continue to experience as a result of the behavioral patterns you have gotten yourself stuck in. The next time you experience that emotion -- instead of reacting/distracting/suppressing it, observe it.
Observe it and breathe through it until it passes. When it passes (and I promise it will), recognize how much better you feel by not acting on out with the same behaviors you have in the past. Slowly but surely you will lose the pull to the emotion because you recognize that it does not in fact do anything for you. The delay response will become your best friend.
Although it will feel uncomfortable, stick with the delay reaction. The urge to act out will pass. Then choose a healthier behavior response, even if it feels unnatural, to replace your maladaptive pattern with -- exercise, meditation, reading, calling a friend, going out for a fun activity, completing a task on your to-do list, journaling, not responding with passive aggression, asking for help, asking for what you need from your loved one, honestly and openly expressing your emotions -- I could go on and on.
Write about what you have been getting out of this emotional addiction. At some point in your past, this behavior served you a purpose. It no longer does. Otherwise you would not be feeling like shit. Ask yourself: Does this still serve me? Why am I doing this? What am I avoiding? How is this behavior rewarding me (in a maladaptive way)? Write about it. Then release it. Act differently. Then slowly but surely, you will break the habit of acting out on the emotion you've become addicted to.
(In my next posts, I am going to write about how to re-wire the brain and how to seek validation from ourselves, which will also be helpful in breaking emotional addiction)