I've observed that many people now use the word “addiction” very liberally. It’s something we see all over. When I do talks in schools, I hear kids talking about their addictions, regardless of what issue they have or how severe it may be. The same happens in our popular media, as celebrities talk about their addiction to this or that. It’s like the term “everyday addictions” – the idea is now being applied to almost any kind of behavior we’re having difficulty stopping. This can be very useful, because it’s normalizing the word – taking the morality out of it, making it something we can all identify with, and taking some of the shame and blame out of it. However, it also has its downside, because at times we are using it to avoid taking responsibility for our behaviors.
Sometimes what we have simply isn’t an addiction. However we hide behind the word because it implies that “there’s nothing we can do” or that change is beyond our control. And the real truth might be that we just don't accept ourselves for not being willing to change.
Used in this way, saying “I’m addicted” becomes an easy way out. And I’ve done that with different issues in my own life. I once believed I was addicted to junk food and drinking coffee. Yes, I had other ‘real’ addictions, so I thought it made sense to say that these were too. But what I didn’t understand then was that there was a pay-off to it. And the pay-off was, “I don’t have to be judged by others for admitting that I willingly choose to eat unhealthy food - or doing what I would need to do to break free of these eating habits.” Easier to just call it an addiction and get everybody to leave me alone - including my own mind.
I’ve observed that most of us have a core belief that something is fundamentally wrong with us at the deepest level. This belief can express itself in many different forms. We may believe that we're notgood enough, don't know enough or don't do enough. We might think that we don't deserve to have what we need. Or it could be the belief that we are unlovable or unacceptable, or that other people won't love and accept us for who we really are.
When we get to the root of our “bad” habits, compulsions and addictive behaviors, these are the kinds of beliefs that lie underneath them. This is why many of our attempts to break our habits are so ineffective. We try to change the behavior instead of dealing with what's going on inside. The same is true when we want to help others change their habits; we often try to "motivate" them in ways that actually make them feel worse, thereby reinforcing their thoughts and feelings of guilt or “not being enough.”
Paradoxically, even while believing we are 'not enough,' we can also be high achievers. We may hold the highest standards for ourselves, or always try to be the best at whatever we do. And it's this conflict within us that contributes to our gnawing feelings of discomfort, discontent or pain inside.
Arnold Washton, Ph.D., and Donna Boundy, M.S.W describes this problem perfectly in their book Willpower’s Not Enough: Recovering from Addictions of Every Kind;
Part of having an addictive “dis-ease” means that we hold certain contradictory beliefs that set the stage for inner conflict and struggle – such as believing simultaneously that we are not enough and that we should be perfect.”
[Thus] …A faulty belief system lies at the root of addiction. This belief system… embraces the idea that it is possible to be perfect, that the world should be limitless, that our image is more important than who we really are, that we are not enough, and that externals (people, drugs, and other things outside of ourselves) hold the “magic” solutions to life’s problems.
Our behaviors are just the symptom. The real problem is what's going on inside of us.