Some tips on releasing destructive addictive habits from Maggie Pashley, worldwide healer and Sligo Wellness Therapist
Are you frustrated by failed attempts to break addictive habits, falling off the wagon, beating yourself up, creating more tension and feeling like you’re repeating the same cycle over and over again. You are not the only one!
We need to have habits and automatic behaviour to make our life simpler and more manageable. It would be hard if you had to learn everything from scratch each time you did it.
Many habits are very useful but others take away our energy, destroy our wellbeing and relationships, drain our money and time. The kinds of habits I have in mind include smoking and alcohol dependence, drug addiction, sex addiction, gambling, overworking, eating too much, compulsive shopping, and computer/phone addiction. They can damage health, destroy our finances, sabotage our self-esteem, harm relationships and even kill us.
So why do we keep choosing what doesn’t’ work here are some of my thoughts on why we struggle to let go of these harmful habits::
They give us some short term benefit
Whether it’s the comfort of eating a cookie when you feel anxious, treating yourself to a drink after a tough day, lighting up a cigarette to wind down, habits generally have some short term benefit. The hormone dopamine gets released which makes us feel happy …at least for a little while. However this can be quickly followed by some sort of downward spiral, whether that’s a hangover, a sugar drop or worse. I believe it is necessary to find some ways of helping us de-stress, and manage our emotions so that we are not hijacked by drink, cigarettes, sugar or whatever your chosen substance or behaviour might be. This could be as simple as breathing techniques to relax, using EFT tapping, going for a walk, something that takes us out of the tunnel vision of stress and gives us a wider perspective and in touch with some inner resources.
They can bury problems we don’t know how to deal with yet
Life can be challenging and present us with situations that create anxiety and insecurity.. In those times it’s easy to go for the cookie jar or the bottle of wine and of course there is nothing wrong with doing that from time to time but if we do that habitually and become dependent on that crutch we can end up with yet another problem to deal with. If you drink too much or eat in a way that plays havoc with your blood glucose and you pile on extra pounds then you feel worse, it becomes harder to make clear decisions and deal with the situation. With my clients I introduce ways of overcoming cravings, making better choices and increasing self esteem and resourcefulness.
For many an addictive habit might be a way of feeling closer to others, bringing back warm memories of somebody who is no longer here (nothing like your mum’s cooking!), a way of fitting in and not upsetting others and people pleasing. I have come across many clients who have needed to unlink certain good feelings, like love, appreciation and reward from their bottle of wine, cigarettes and chocolates and realise they can keep those feelings without their crutch. That chocolate is chocolate, not love!
Social pressure is something that makes people cave in on their good intentions as it requires self-esteem and courage to say ‘no, thanks’ when you really don’t want something everybody else is having and coaxing you to ‘not deprive’ yourself. So working on self-love and boundaries is really important.
It is a whole different feeling to make a choice because that is truly what you want in that moment and making a choice based on feeling that you need to people-please and can’t choose what is right for you.
We can also receive judgements and projections from others when we say ‘no’ to that unwanted glass of wine or piece of chocolate, that we are depriving ourselves, that we not fun to be around any more, too serious and more. We can of course have have fun without needing any of those things.
Not enough reasons to change
Releasing an old habit does require commitment and motivation. So the end result of your new habit does have to be better than what you are ‘giving up’. It also has to be believable otherwise you’re not going to even get off the starting block. You need something to remind yourself of why it’s worth doing and why you want to keep going. Writing down 40-50 reasons of what you want to gain from making that change is very helpful. As you move further and further towards that 50 mark, the reasons can get deeper and more personal. That’s good. Imaging going into your future and seeing two future paths – one with the destructive habit still in place and the other with the new healthy choice with you looking happy can be motivating. That’s important because the payoff from the new habit can take time to become apparent, while the ‘benefits’ of that cigarette etc are instantaneous. And even though the cigarette packets present a grim enough picture to logically invite you to stop smoking, they actually don’t for the majority of people who hope that won’t happen to them.
What works is creating compelling reasons to change and making them feel enjoyable. Imagine being able to dance the night away again, being able to choose stylish clothes and feel amazing in them, be a great role model for your kids or grandkids, feel vibrant and alive and so on. Imagine something that is such a good exchange for that old habit that it’s a no-brainer. See making that positive new choice as an act of self-love, choosing for your best life rather than experiencing it as an act of deprivation. So saying no to that extra glass of wine becomes an act of self-love not a punishment.
Fear of success or failure – two sides of the same coin
Do you find yourself starting out well at creating a new positive habit only to find yourself sabotaging your efforts before you actually succeed or indeed just as you are about to succeed? It could be celebrating achieving an initial goal with the very thing you want to release from your life. You feel so excited that you’ve dropped a stone in weight that you celebrate with a big stodgy cake and go down that slippery slope towards your starting point and end up heavier than you started. It doesn’t make logical sense but it can make emotional sense.
You may be frightened of success. Many people are. You might feel if you achieve your goal you’ll have pressure to keep going and going and don’t believe in yourself enough. You might feel you’ll lose friends if you move ahead or no longer share that common problem. You might even have an unconscious judgement of people who manage to really change their life around. You might identify yourself so much with your habit that you can’t see a YOU without it.
Another reason people can stay stuck in an unhealthy habit is it can give them a reason or excuse for not succeeding in some area of their life.
I think it is important to examine what your true needs are, what success means for you rather than what you’ve been conditioned to think it is, give yourself permission to not be perfect and just do your best. And if you mess up just make a new choice, start over without beating yourself up.
I find some of the most useful techniques for helping my clients move beyond negative habits are hypnotherapy, EFT and other energy techniques which focus on making changes at that deep unconscious level. Habits operate at that unconscious level so that’s the level at which we need to address them.
I offer face-to-face sessions at Sligo Wellness in Sligo Town and on-line sessions via zoom worldwide so if you need some extra help and support do get in touch. You can click here to book a FREE 15 min Clarity Session.