Addiction is a word we tend to associate with dependence on drugs or alcohol. It can also be associated with eating, gambling or even sex. However, not many people realize that there is another type of addiction that is more internalized — Emotional Addiction. Many of us were taught to accept the ebb and flow of our emotions. But sometimes emotions can present dangerous realities to the people who feel them.
Emotional addiction is different than addiction to drugs or alcohol because it presents as more pervasive and less obvious. It colors how you view the world and respond to circumstances. To break emotional addiction, you must become conscious of these unhealthy patterns and learn to adapt these feelings with more constructive responses.
What Is Emotional Addiction?
Emotions are extremely powerful. When properly managed and integrated with cognitive functions like logic and reason, your emotions expand your capacity for productivity, self-care and healthy relationships. Because emotions evolved as primitive instincts, they can bypass logic and reasonable considerations, often leading us to disregard consequences. When someone has an emotional addiction, this is exactly what they experience.
Those who develop an emotional addiction become hooked to feeling a familiar way or responding to their powerful, innate emotions. The brain gives off chemical reactions in response to certain emotions, similar to those experienced while taking part in other addictive behaviors or substances. People with emotional addiction can become dependent on a certain emotion for comfort, relief, distraction or escape. The emotion grows into an obsession, a compulsion and an addiction.
Those who develop an emotional addiction might feel as if they live at the mercy of their feelings. Every circumstance is filtered through their default emotion and forms their worldview.
When emotions become idolized above healthier coping skills, the developed addiction can lead an individual to experience adverse side effects, such as:
- Unwise decision making
- Inappropriate behaviors
- Faulty self-management or planning
- Impaired productivity
- Injured relationships
When someone is dependent on emotions for stress relief, they are likely to turn to other outlets of self-medication, such as drugs and alcohol, in times of extreme stress.
Another way to view emotional addiction is as an emotional habit. Habit forming takes place when repeated actions become second nature. So, developing an emotional habit means unconsciously training yourself to respond to a variety of triggers with a default emotional reaction. Over time, that feeling becomes a baseline for how you respond to the world. If anger is your default emotion, you might find yourself turning to it whenever you’re uncertain. You may even feel a sense of calm as this emotion washes over you.
How to Break Emotional Addiction
The key to breaking emotional addiction and changing your emotional habit is to develop resilience to how you feel. This includes awareness of and control over your emotions. As you break the chains of emotional addiction, you give your body a rest from the chemical fixes it received from these emotional responses and allow natural healing to occur.
Here are a few methods of gaining emotional resilience and breaking emotional addiction:
- Identify your emotional habit: Emotional addiction can feel like it’s always been a part of you. However, as you observe yourself in the minutia of everyday life, you’ll see patterns to your reactions. Once you recognize these emotional habits, you’re ready to move forward.
- Re-wire your brain’s reward system: Whether through meditations or daily affirmations, your goal is to gain the power to produce real change. When an emotion starts to overpower you, give yourself time to calm down, even if that means stepping away from a situation. Some people find mantras they can repeat in emotionally charged situations.
- Resist the urge to brood: When you brood over something distressing, you rarely gain insight over it. You just end up replaying upsetting situations in your head. If you catch yourself brooding, distract yourself with a positive activity — exercise, crossword puzzles or even TV.
- Care for your self-esteem: When you discover an emotional addiction, you may feel shame. Try to show compassion and understanding to yourself. Self-esteem is like an emotional immune system — if nurtured, it can provide strength. Move forward focusing on the things you appreciate about yourself and the hope of a better future.
- Have patience: Most people develop emotional addictions after decades, so it’s unrealistic to expect instant change. Dedicate yourself to the process, but take breaks when needed. Re-programming how your brain responds to circumstances takes time. Keep your chin up and celebrate the small victories along the way.
Get Help for Co-Existing Emotional Addiction
Whatever emotional challenges you may be facing, we’re here to help. We invite you to schedule your appointment at our treatment facility in Tampa, FL.