28 Nov 2017:
Addictions can be as varied as alcohol, cigarettes, prescribed medication or substance abuse, but also encompass compulsive behaviours like online shopping or even masturbation. Most addictions have very similar underlying patterns. In therapy we are working on breaking these.
Triggers and “automatic pilot” mode
A first and big step is to become aware of these underlying mechanisms. When paying close attention we can notice how certain events, circumstances or interactions are leading to painful emotions, thoughts and even physical sensations. We feel unable to deal with these so we try to avoid them by resorting to our habitual coping strategies: our addictions and compulsions. Mostly this happens with us being unaware of what is going on. We just react in “automatic pilot” mode, behaving mechanically or even unconsciously. We don't question if our copying strategy is actually helpful or if it has really helped in the past, and therefore we don't realise that addictions are coping strategies that only help in the very short-term - causing more problems in the long run.
How to break the vicious cycle?
To break this vicious cycle we start by bringing attention to the body. Building up awareness of smallest physical sensations and how they are linked with our unhelpful thoughts, as well as how they trigger certain emotions. Those in turn lead to our unhelpful coping strategies. We then practice to turn towards those uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and emotions and stay with them until they naturally subside. This technique has proven far more helpful than trying to forcefully “battle” an addiction and keep running away from it.
To break the relapse cycle we also learn to see thoughts as just thoughts and emotions as just emotions. We train to become a passive, but caring, observer, realising that we are more than our thoughts, more than our behaviours and more than our emotions. We thus experience that thoughts and emotions can be uncomfortable but are in themselves harmless. It is only when we react by falling into addictive behaviours that we are harming ourselves.
We also start to discover that thoughts, feelings and emotions are all transient and temporary. If we turn towards them instead of avoiding them they will naturally fade away.
Hypnotherapy is one type of therapy that can be hugely helpful to guide people through this healing process and to facilitate therapeutic change.