Emotions and Addictive Behaviors

If our emotions regulate us instead of us regulating our emotions, we are subject to using substances or people as a substitute for self-regulation. Because our feelings can be such a powerful force, we need to have the ability to manage our feeling states, i.e., think about them and express them in constructive ways. For example when we feel depressed, we can find ways to understand the nature and cause of the feelings, communicate what we are feeling, and find what is needed to take care of ourselves.

Lacking the skills of self-regulation, we often form powerful attachments to alternative methods of regulating our feelings. We can easily enter into an addictive relationship with a substance or person that provides regulation by helping us feel better. Instead of having an internal mechanism that can make rational decisions to help us guide our feeling states, we become attached to an outside source to change and determine how we feel.

It seems to be the case that both not enough parenting and too much parenting can influence the development of addictive behaviors later in life. If a parent is able to relate to their child's feelings and recognize their needs they can also help them learn to negotiate the feelings that arise when a need cannot get met. If a child does not have this experience with their parent they will have a much harder time regulating their feelings for themselves later in life.

Likewise a lack of self-regulating capacity can be caused by a parent who has imposed too much regulation on the child, by deciding for them what they need. Such a child would be given little opportunity to experience their own needs being related to. It is through the experience of having our real needs related to and negotiated with, that we internalize and develop our self-regulating capacities.

Without experience teaching us, it is hard to see that we can influence our own states of mind, i.e., we can learn to think about what is happening and take actions that change the way we feel. Usually if we are in a negative state of mind, the physical and emotional state seems to control us. We need to learn that we can control it, to a large extent, by figuring out what has caused it, and what actions we can take that can give us a different experience. We often overlook the simple experience of telling someone else how we are feeling or the fact that our bodies are feeling depressed because we are not using them.

Of course there are circumstances where feelings have become too big for us to handle and we need the help of a professional or a group to form a more active and positive relation with ourselves.

Learning to express our feelings can help to prevent addictive behaviors. Visit Truceworks.com for support in expressing your feelings in a more relational way.

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