Addiction is a Habit; a Habit is Not an Addiction

It’s easy to conflate ‘bad habit’ with ‘addiction’: they are both behavioral mechanisms, both evidence an inability or unwillingness to abstain, and both manifest themselves in cravings that involve periods of remission and relapse. Take that morning ‘cuppa joe’, for example. Caffeine provides an adrenalin rush and a feeling of warm comfort but, unless abuse leads to pathological displays of aberrant behavior, moderate, repetitive consumption of coffee is a habit. A habit is not an addiction; an addiction is a habit. A bad or negative habit can become an addiction based on abuse over use. There are good habits and bad habits; addictions remain pernicious. It’s confusing because “we speak of ‘addictions’ to all manner of behaviors that would have been called ‘choices’ just thirty years ago” (Hoffman 2002).

Equate that caffeine fixation to a line of cocaine; both indulgences are guaranteed to stimulate the desired effect, but one is more detrimental to the overall well-being of the consumer. So let’s clarify while simplifying the differences between a negative habit and an addiction. Rather than professing to have a bad habit if, by bad, we mean significantly detrimental or pathologically injurious, let’s call it what it is―an addiction. If we purport to have an addiction to chocolate because we very much enjoy an occasional hormonal stimulation, let’s call it something else―an urge, an intermittent habit that occasionally wants gratification. To many, addiction over negative habit equates to mortal over venial, potentially pathological versus neurotic, eternal damnation or three Hail Mary’s, reincarnation as a fine human specimen or an incontinent sloth. But it’s not quite that cut-and-dried. It’s a matter of intent and degree; they are different rungs on the same ladder.

confused kid

I have a bad habit, I like to skin pet calico cats
. That, my readers, is not an annoying habit like leaving your dirty dishes in the sink overnight, but is a unsettling, onerous dysfunctional behavior. Both bad habits and maladaptive addictions are addressed through ReChanneling and other cognitive-behavioral programs, each immoderation requiring a certain due-diligence of recovery work because it have disrupted our psycho-physiological growth for an extensive period of time. The deficiencies didn’t appear overnight, but are assiduously cultivated through reactions to input and conditions, desires and appetites. While the brain’s chemistry is a major component to addiction, any habit can alter our neurological structure. Scientific evidence focuses on one dimension of brain adaptation, ostensibly ignoring the sociological implications of the situational inconsistencies, contradictions, and anomalies that addicts and those with habitual maladaptive behaviors confront as part of the human condition. This is where motivational and recovery programs can be most helpful. Your thinking, the content of your mind, is conditioned by the past: your environment, upbringing, culture, experiences, and so on. “The central core of your mind activity consists of certain repetitive and persistent thoughts, emotions, and reactive patterns that you identify with most strongly” (Tolle 2005).

Are all addictions destructive? What about addictions to meditation, exercise, healthy eating? There is an argument to be made about positive addictions and it is important to provide clear distinction. Glasser (1985) makes the claim that addictions can “strengthen us and make our lives more satisfying.” Positive addictions can enhance our confidence, creativity, health, and overall life. Glasser also claims that a “positive addiction does not dominate one’s life; it stays confined within a time frame” (O’Conner 2014). The definition of addiction provided by experts in addictive medicine states that addiction evidences an inability or unwillingness to abstain, and an advocate of daily prayer and exercise certainly has the ability to refrain for a day or two should he or she desire. However, the definition goes on to say that addiction is characterized by
impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death (Addiction 2011).

The concept of habitual negative dependency being of positive value contradicts the assertion that addiction evidences itself in “impairment in behavioral control [and] … diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships.” Also, the letters ‘dys’ or ‘dis’ prefixing functional or ease negates the meaning, i.e., dysfunctional means not functional and disease actually implies ill-at-ease. The more accurate translation of the Latin prefix includes such words or phrases as ‘apart,’ ‘asunder,’ and ‘having a privative, negative, or reversing force.’ O’Conner wonders why “healthy behaviors that contribute to happiness” should be considered positive addictions? “What is gained by naming them addictions?” For our purposes, an addiction is a psycho-physiological ‘dysfunction’ that, in no way, contradicts positivity. Both bad habits and addictions are repetitive maladjusted behaviors―activities or emotions that facilitate desires or needs, which become habitual through repetition―that interfere with ordinary life obligations such as work, relationships, or health, affecting singular growth by subverting good goodness and thus impeding expansion into greater goodness.

GOOD, GREATER, and GREATEST GOODNESS

Let’s briefly illustrate the three primary degrees of goodness. GOOD GOODNESS is the deliberate preference of right to wrong―the evolution of altruistic social impulses, primary instincts for survival. GREATER GOODNESS is more complex decision-making through experience, reflection, and inner-discourse, underscored by option-oriented decisions made through cognitive analysis. Greater goodness is accessed by humankind’s innate advanced human potential via evolution, and enhanced through demonstrable, data-driven methodologies. GREATEST GOODNESS is values that should be, and ought to be sought. They reside in the realm of the desirable but are, as yet, unattainable. Greatest Goodness is a quality with which individuals flirt without consummation. It is perfect moderation, the state of consistent equilibrium.

Recovery from habitual or addictive maladaptive behavior is difficult. CBRT―Cognitive Behavioral ReChanneling Therapy (Mullen 2017) addresses the restructuring of the mind―the physical rerouting of neural networks―by disputing irrational thoughts and beliefs, substituting more judicious ones by means of cognitive repetition until they become automatic, habitual replacements to the irrational thoughts. The behavioral component of CBRT requires the individual’s participation in an active, structured therapy group consisting of people with similar distress or neuroses. These individuals are habituated to modify their negative tendencies through exercise and repetitious behavioral activity geared to address the cause and consequence of the dis-ease.

Stanislavski’s authenticity method (Mullen 2016) teaches the protagonist (self), to foster a genuine interconnectedness with the antagonist (other) through attentiveness, perception, physical and emotional analysis, and so on, in order to open the curtains to reveal the genuine character of both self and other as they interrelate. In theatre, there is commonly a single protagonist; in life, both participants are protagonist and antagonist, reflecting and responding to each other.

Abhidharmic mindfulness is the scientific data-driven application of the eightfold path of right practices. Mindfulness is the proactive partner to Stanislavski’s learned reactive ‘method’ as they co-facilitate the self’s ability through relational emotional cognition and practice, in order to improve the authenticity of the interaction. In a perfect world, both self and other would mutually drop pretence and interact with authenticity, but this is not a perfect world. However, any attempt at personal interaction delivers, to variable degree, a positive outcome. A person of authenticity, as used herein, is one who lives in accordance with his or her desires, motives, ideals, and/or beliefs, and whose sum of intents and actions are thus manifest as beneficial to self, other, and society.

The cessation of a compulsion insinuated into day-to-day operations is a formidable and time-consuming task, a life durational work-in-progress. Lao-Tse (1988) informs that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” ReChanneling is designed to be more practicum than therapy, providing methodological avenues of recovery while allowing the participant (client) to control the pace of the journey. (We don’t know the extent of the Chinese prophet’s travels but legend has it he remained in his mother’s womb for eighty-years so he was arguably restless.)

Not only must we diligently apply ourselves to ameliorate a bad habit or addiction, but we have to be sure we are prepared to compensate for the emptiness left by that which has been eliminated. Rather than simply replacing the negative tendency with a comparable, positive one, ReChanneling encourages a superior replacement, accessed through our natural metanormal capacity for growth. Metanormal (extraordinary, supernormal, supranormal, transformative, etc.) is evidence of upward human ability, accessible through practice, which surpasses the typical functioning of people under normal circumstance (Leonard 1992). There are multiple methods to motivate and activate this functioning, many of which surpass what is contemporarily understandable. As Augustine (2014) said, “Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.” I urge you to peruse Michael Murphy’s (1992) The Future of the Body for a number of data-driven examples. Without upward mobility, humanity would still be huddled in damp caves wondering how to harness fire. We are creatures of evolution, capable of wonderful things; we need only reactively participate in evolution and proactively tap our inherent metanormal potential.

Those of us who have hurtful tendencies that we have determined demand rectification do not eliminate the problem by simply and arbitrarily eliminating the negative impulse (which in-and-of-itself is far easier said than done). That negative expression, that flawed disagreeable habit, must be rechanneled into a positive one―one with preferably superior components―to fill the void left by the elimination of the maladaptive behavior. For example: perhaps your particular poor behavior―your negative habitual inclination, if you will―is a craving for harmful gossip. The loss of that behavior must be aptly compensated (replaced) by a positive, superior one. A suggestion might be to rechannel the gossiping into volunteer work: being kind and attentive to people rather than denigrating them. Another example: say you are prone to falsehood or self-exaggeration (overcompensation for perceived lack of). It might be of value to re-examine the qualities that underscore your uniqueness, and thus rechannel any lack of self-worth into pride of your positive accomplishments and individuality. The generated self-esteem would hopefully refocus your attention to the needs of others, rather than your own perceived deficit of character.

In clinical and motivational sessions, I share with participants the eight categories of love, delineated by Greek sophists, that are natural constituents of human-nature. The first is celebrated EROS―the clinging of romance novels, songs, and films. Eros is a precarious and ephemeral love that overwhelms the senses: the wistful longings accompanied by deep sighs and obsessive behavior. It is the irrational and mundane type of infatuation that underscores the phrase, Mom, I’m crazy about him. I’m madly in love. Eros is an exhilarating and arguably universal experience of ambiguous endurance.

The second type of love is PHILIA or brotherly love, the friendship of a good friend or comrade-in-arms. It embraces that robust youthful bond of a football team when collectively facing opposition, or grunts who battle to the death as a cohesive unit, or even the instant familiarity of a thousand people protesting what they believe is social inequity.

STORGE is the natural love between parents and their children, and PARMA the endurance and loyalty we cultivate to adapt to our partner in a marriage or long-term relationship. LUDUS is the puppy love of adolescence, the flirtation in the bar, prick-teasing, dancing with strangers. It is not an intimate sharing of affection but a suggestiveness that reinforces a trivial but self-important aspect of identity.

AGAPE is the love one has for humanity which, unfortunately, rarely supersedes nationalism, race, religion, or political affiliation. We are consistently susceptible to cliques, mobs, and organizations because they provide that much-needed sense of belonging. Mistakenly construed to be the highest form of love, agape is primarily reserved for the heavenly embracement of god by man and, in instances, man by god. Agape embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends reality, and ostensibly persists regardless of circumstance.

The remaining two forms of love are the binary aspects of PHILAUTIA which, negatively possessed, is obsessive narcissism. Notoriety, self-aggrandizement, and the preoccupation with ‘success’ take precedence over affection, intimacy, and philanthropy. One who dwells in this fanciful self-adulation cannot authentically embrace another because the pond is only large enough for a single reflection. The depravity of the narcissistic self overshadows the value of the other, effectively subverting any altruistic motivation.

HEALTHY PHILAUTIA, on the other-hand, is the kind of self-love that is the product of an inveterate sense of inner-worth and value―the emotional competence that allows us to treasure our deep capacity to share. It is extremely difficult to accept love unless we have the ability to initiate and reciprocate, and that ability originates with the respect generated by our own sense of self-assuredness. It is this form of love that generates empathy and compassion. As we cumulate, more and more, the formidable aspects of healthy philautia, we experience true compassion and empathy, and become increasingly aware of the needs and conditions of others. It is this innate ability that is promoted and facilitated by the program of ReChanneling.

MODES OF LISTENING

Like the actor on the stage, through authentic listening and attentive interaction, the protagonist (self) transmutes to unitary being with the antagonist (other) and begins to ‘feel’ the other, which is the foundation of empathy. Jacque opines to Duke Senior, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare 2005) a meritorious concept. The program of ReChanneling utilizes Stanislavski’s stage method of emotional awareness to generate authentic interaction in the world-at-large.

Empathy: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :the capacity for this” (Merriam-Webster, 2017).

Conversation: informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.

Empathy is not sympathy. In the latter, we feel sorry for someone; when we empathize, we vicariously experience someone. This entails opening ourselves to a novel participation, being with and within the other, the resulting osmosis experiencing the other’s physical, emotional, and even spiritual presence. Empathy is generated through robust attentiveness, and an interactive and heightened method of ‘listening’ which involves the verbal, the physical (gesture and spatial), the intuitive (moods, and attitudes), and the experiential. Empathetic listening is the most respondent and conscientious form of listening.

IGNORING LISTENING is an apathetic type of listening, what Covey (2004) describes as “not listening at all.” It is calling attention to ourselves without consideration for the other(s). In Ignoring Listening, the only thing we listen for is a break in the conversation where we can intervene to promote ourselves. Any pause, any inadvertent intake of breath is a cue to jump-in with whatever we feel like saying. Our only use for the other(s) is his or her accommodating presence so that we can invade it.

Example: Your companion(s) are discussing ramifications of the Republican’s assault on ‘Obamacare.’ Without acknowledging the issue, you jump in with an enthusiastic description of your home run in the recent game of gay team baseball.

COUNTERFEIT LISTENING is ingratiating ourselves into a conversation without contributing to it. We pretend to care about what the other(s) think or say by imitating or mimicking their emotions so that they like us. We nod when they look profound, we smile when they smile, laugh when they do. We pander ourselves into the good graces of the other(s), without contributing to the conversation. Counterfeit Listening is an obviously blatant and disingenuous act of deception.

Example: The discussion is about a recent episode of the TV series Transparent, which you have never watched. Discussing a scene, the others laugh and you join in, later nodding you head in agreement at the mention of the brilliant writing, adding, “What a terrific show!”

In SELECTIVE LISTENING we only hear what we want to hear, what suits our needs. We’re not as interested in what the other(s) is saying as we are of making a good impression. We wait for topics to which we personally relate, ignoring anything that doesn’t have the potential to make us appear accomplished. Afraid of appearing ignorant or boring, we only hear things that allow us to display our astuteness. Essentially, we display contempt for the other (s)without knowing it. We come off as self-serving and arrogant.

Example: The conversation/discussion centers around the politics of the Republican party and their commitment to defunding social organizations including Planned Parenthood. You immediately jump in and talk about something cute your son did at breakfast that morning.

Peanuts

HOSTILE LISTENING. Participating in a conversation with a defensive or insecure attitude can generate subconscious or intentional hostility. Finding ourselves uncomfortable in our surroundings— the office party, a gathering that our partner insists we attend—we subvert conversations through ignoring, counterfeit, and/or selective listening. When under the stress of an uncomfortable situation, we often defer to our baser instincts; resentment easily leads to hostility

ATTENTIVE LISTENING is an honest attempt to pay attention to what the other(s) is saying. We listen carefully to the words but neglect to analyze the motivation expressed within and between the words. We strive for content over context. “Words alone can be misleading … we fail to grasp the speakers’ intentions and the various social positions from which the words and intentions emanate” (Hollan 2008). Attentive Listening is an honorable attempt at authentic communication, and if we have reached this level of listening, we should take credit for a conscientious and caring effort. There is one form of listening that surpasses this, however—a holistic interaction that takes into consideration the inner motivation of the other(s), the desires, fears, apprehensions, intent, and so on.

Example: You attempt to engage a young man in conversation. He responds appropriately to the standard introductory questions. You lead into a discussion of a film you both have seen. He responds with verbal appropriateness yet is distracted and keeps looking about the room. You assume he is not interested in continuing the conversation or establishing a friendship. You assume he is unenthusiastic about your presence. You walk away without the knowledge that his father died the day before.

EMPATHETIC LISTENING is engaging with the other(s) with intent to intuitively and intellectually grasp his or her holistic being, willing to embrace the depth of motivation to cultivate a genuine interaction. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Experts estimate that ten percent of communication is represented by words, thirty by sounds, and the balance by body language. Our use of words is intentionally ambiguous because we need a means-of-escape should they be misconstrued, misappropriated, or exploited. The sounds we make―the grunts, the sighs―have meaning beyond words. As do the gestures, the facial expressions, the physical stance. Moods, perceptions, desires, feelings, intentions, ambitions―all are expressed through subtle physical signals. Empathetic Listening is understanding through participating within the other.

Example: Following-up the conversation with the young man in the “Attentive Listening”—during the discussion, you become aware of his shuffling of feet, lack of enthusiasm, difficulty with direct eye-contact. Rather than assuming it is because of you, you direct your attention to his urgencies. You recognize the possibility that he has something else on his mind. Perhaps you ask, “Am I making you uncomfortable?” If he shows interest in continuing, you might comment, “You seem distracted, What’s on your mind?” In any case, you have directed the emphasis away from you onto him. Yes, there is the possibility you will be rejected but you have already won. You have revealed a genuine empathy for another human being.

With ReChanneling and other revisionist methods of growth and recovery, we reclaim that goodness forever extant within, anxiously awaiting for reaffirmation. Experiences, circumstances, conditions cloud and distort our perception of who we are meant to be, and supersede our innate good goodness, shrouding it in apathy and ego, audacity and envy, buffoonery and self-indulgence. Goodness is never absent, never lost; it merely needs to be retrieved and brought back into the light. Once we reacclimatize to our good goodness, and begin to eliminate the selfish impediments to our growth, we rediscover that pleasurable feeling of strength and determination to do and be better, an acquisition that transforms the temerity of the reactive into the profound and formidable character of proactivity. It is during this process of recovery that our greater goodness begins to replenish our grace―not of religion but of inner quality and self-awareness―and that invigoration reanimates our aspiration to reach for the brass ring of greatest goodness, said aspiration catalyst to metanormal evolution. Although inaccessible in our current condition of wisdom, greatest goodness pre-conditionally makes itself available to the occasion of humanity’s collective ascension to the next level of consciousness, that excellence of being of which prophets, poets, and philosophers longingly speak.

SOURCES

Addiction. (2011). Definition of Addiction. American Society of Addiction Medicine. Rockville, MD: ASAM. Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction

Augustine of Hippo (2014). The City of God, 21.8. Pickerington, OH: Beloved Publishing LLC.

Covey S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, p. 253. New York City: Simon and Schuster. Covey provides the basic concepts for the types of listening discussed.

Glasser, W. (1985). Positive Addiction. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Hoffman, M. B. (2002). The Rehabilitative Ideal and the Drug Court Reality. Federal Sentencing Reporter, 14 (3/4), 172-178. From “Drug Sentencing: The State of the Debate in 2002.” Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20640422.

Hollan, D. (2008). Being There: On the Imaginative Aspects of Understanding Others and Being Understood. Ethos, 36:4, 479. San Francisco: Wiley for the American Anthropological Association. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20486593.

Lao-Tse. (1998). Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching : A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way. Ursula K. Le Guin: editor and coauthor. Boulder, CO: Shambhala; New edition.

Leonard, G. (1992). How to Have an Extraordinary Life. Psychology Today, 25:3, p. 2. New York: Sussex Publishers.

Murphy, M. (1992). The Future of the Body. Explorations Into the Further Evolution of Human Nature. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

Mullen, R. F. (2016). The Art of Authenticity. Journal of Literature and Art Studies, July 2016, Vol. 6, No. 7. New York: David Publishing. Retrieved from www.davidpublisher.org/Public/uploads/Contribute/57426420547ed.pdf.

—– (2017). ReChanneling: Refining, Redefining, and Reinstating your values through the infinite fusion of mind, body, and spirit. Academia.edu, pp. 4-6. San Francisco: Academa.edu. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/32545782/ReChanneling.

O’Connor, P. (2014). Are There Positive Addictions? Psychology Today. New York: Sussex Publishers. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/philosophy-stirred-not-shaken/201411/are-there-positive-addictions. It is O’Conner’s article that alerted me to the erroneous findings of William Glasser.

Shakespeare, W. (2005). As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII. From William Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Stanley Wells, Editor. Oxford New Shakespeare, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition: Oxford, England.

Tolle, E. (2005). A New Earth , p.60. New York City: Westminster, London: Penguin. A Plume Book.

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Dr. Robert F. Mullen
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