19 June 2007

Addictions - Alcoholism, Sex Addiction

Addictions are an interesting topic in our society. We hear people say they are addicted to chocolate or something and we laugh. We hear someone say they are addicted to coffee and we understand the headaches that come with withdrawal. But when we hear people say they are addicted to alcohol or sex, it is a little tougher. Those are real addictions and they carry a social stigma.

What Is Addiction

Drinking a lot or having a lot of sex does not necessarily make one an addict. They are signs that might be indicative. Most alcoholics drink a lot; not all people who drink a lot are alcoholics. See the Venn diagram, but "Don't get cocky." Even people who do not drink can exhibit behaviors typical of alcoholics. They are sometimes known as "dry drunks."

There are factors beyond sheer quantity that determine addiction. In 12 step programs they talk about powerlessness and unmanageability. Obsession and use of the addiction to relieve or avoid pain are other signs.

A really powerful definition that I have seen is, "Addiction is a form of insanity in which you are deluded about reality." This is from Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery by Patrick Carnes.

Powerlessness gets back to a previous entry on free will. People who are powerless over their addiction may have tried to stop using, but have not been able to despite negative consequences. They know they should stop, but cannot. This is not a failure of resolve. It is a function of chemical reactions in your body. Nobody can control those reactions in the moment. Many people judge others, saying "Gee why don't they just say no?" The answer is that they cannot do that.

Unmanageability can be thought of as the outward expression of the addiction. Family relationships falter, careers go in the tank, friendships dissolve, and health deteriorates. These are consequences of the addiction. You don't control them. If you drink too much your liver erodes. If you surf porn from work you get fired. If you have sex with prostitutes you may get a disease. Get caught driving drunk and you go into a special circle of hell.

According to M. Scott Peck, "Mental health is a commitment to reality at any cost." Losing touch with reality is a key sign of addiction. Addicts rationalize their behaviors and deny that there is a problem despite the wreckage that they leave in their wakes.

Often, addicts do not accept the reality of their addictions until they hit bottom, losing their spouses, jobs, or health.

Sex Addiction

Most people are familiar with alcoholism, so I want to talk a little about sex addiction (which is not yet recognized in the psychologists handbook, the DSM IV). Sex addiction, like overeating, can be difficult. Unlike with alcohol, going cold turkey is not a healthy thing to do, so the addict needs to find healthy ways to satisfy their needs.

Sexual addiction is defined as any sexually-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one's work environment.

There have been a few (fictional) movies recently that dealt with the impact of sex addiction on young women. They are Black Snake Moan and Georgia Rule. I can't say much about Black Snake Moan because I didn't see it. What was notable to me is the press coverage and reviews of the movie. Most of them talked about Christina Ricci as the "town slut" or as a nymphomaniac. One review however, on Netflix starts with "After finding sex-addicted 22-year-old..." It is a more sympathetic and less judgmental view, which I find encouraging.

Georgia Rule is the story of a young lady (Lindsay Lohan)who is out of control in her life, which goes back to sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather. She too becomes seen as a "slut" in a small town. The pattern that she exhibits, starts with a distorted sense of how love is expressed. For her, sex is the way that one shows love. Abuse as a child is a pretty typical pattern in sex addicts.

A third movie "Blades of Glory," cast Will Farrell in the role of a macho figure skater. He was supposedly a sex addict, but it was used in the movie for comic relief. I really enjoyed the movie, but the comic depiction of a sex addict was inaccurate.

Sex addiction can be expressed by viewing pornography, frequenting "gentlemen's" clubs, extra-marital affairs, even masturbation can be an expression. Again, engaging in those behaviors does not make you a sex addict--look for powerlessness and unmanageability.

There is a view that Sex Addiction is a powderkeg with the fuse lit. As internet kids, who have grown up surfing pornography, mature and continue on to more blatant and dangerous forms of sex addiction, some therapists believe that there will be a rash of problems.

Different Levels of Addiction

Some addicts are abusers. Their use of the addictive substance is not the strongest draw, but they use the addiction to avoid other issues in their lives. People get drunk to drown their sorrows, or masturbate to ease the pain of rejection.

Next comes more serious forms. Regular drunkenness and contacting inappropriate live people in sexual ways (affairs, live pornography).

Finally the very serious issues, where laws are being broken or serious boundaries are being breached, e.g. DWI, blackouts, prostitution, exhibitionism, indecent groping and molestation of others.

Many addicts go through a binge-purge cycle, where the do something that they consider shameful, so they completely stop those behaviors for a while, until they go off the wagon again, oftentimes to soothe the shame that they feel about the original behavior...

Where To Go For Help

Several source of help for addictions are available. Twelve step programs have helped millions of people. Individual or group therapy can help.

I believe that these types of help are simply ways of altering the inputs to your body system--increasing positive inputs. See my post on free will.

Some selected twelve step programs
Alcoholics Anonymous AA
Sexaholics Anonymous SA
Sex Addicts Anonymous SAA
Overeaters Anonymous OA
Co-Dependents Anonymous CODA

On to The Importance of Vacations >>>>>

10 June 2007

Shame and Guilt

One of the books I have read that has had really strong influence on me is "How Good Do We Have to Be" by Harold S. Kushner. This book is about perfectionism, the toll it takes on us and how to get past it.

Kushner is a rabbi, so much of what he writes is in terms of God and the old testament. However, you don't have to be religious to understand the meaning behind what he says. He sums it up well near the end of the book where he says, "Life is not a trap set for us by God, so that He can condemn us for failing. Life is not a spelling bee, where no matter how many words you have gotten right, if you make one mistake you are disqualified. Life is more like a baseball game, where even the best team loses one-third of its games and even the worst team has its days of brilliance. Our goal is not to go all year without ever losing a game. Our goal is to win more games than we lose, and if we can do that consistently enough, then when the end comes, we will have won it all." I think it's a really powerful and important message.

This blog entry is about guilt and shame though, and one of my big takeaways from this book were his definitions and descriptions of guilt and shame.

First, guilt is feeling bad for what you do; shame is feeling bad for what you are. So you feel guilty that you kicked the dog in a fit of anger. You feel ashamed that you are a horrible person who would kick the dog.

But that's not all of it. My grandmother would tell me, "You should be ashamed of yourself for..." whatever it was I had done. And I would feel ashamed. So shame has a second dimension as well.

Not only does one feel shame for what they are, but there is often an external judgment or at least a belief that you are being judged by others that goes with it. The 2x2 matrix shows how shame and guilt relate to action, being, internal, and external sources.

Are Shame and Guilt Bad?

My take on it is the following. Feeling shame along the "What I Am" row can often have a negative impact on you. It causes you to hide yourself, even from people you love. It is what causes beautiful young girls to become anorexic.

Shame and guilt for what you have done can be very healthy, not just for you, but for society at large. Someone who feels no guilt for his wrongdoings is a psychopath; one who feels no shame for his wrongdoings is a sociopath.

That doesn't mean that Johnny Knoxville and his jackass crowd are a bunch of sociopaths. True, they are a really good example of people who have no shame, but the stuff they do is not fundamentally "wrong."

It reminds of a trip I made to Rio de Janeiro many years ago. This old guy (maybe my age now), with a pretty big belly (about like mine) was strutting down the beach wearing nothing but a speedo. I remember thinking, "Does this guy have no shame?" Then coming to the realization that in fact he did not have shame. He was what he was and was comfortable in his own skin. It made a huge impression on me. There were thousands of beautiful young people on Ipanema that day, but he's the one I remember. Go figure.

Bottom Line:

Feeling guilt or shame for things you do can be good. If you accidentally run over your neighbor's cat, feeling guilty is understandable. If you kill your neighbor's cat while driving drunk, shame is understandable, because you have broken one of our external codes and you would be judged. You may also feel shame in that case for what you think you are (e.g. an alcoholic).

Internally driven shame (shame for how you think others would view you), can lead to cycles of acting out through addictions (binge-purge cycles). On the other hand, if shame is being driven from external forces, e.g., someone telling you how stupid you are, or what a horrible person you are, it may be verbal or emotional abuse that you are experiencing. That's probably a relationship that needs to be fixed or exited.

On to Addictions - Alcoholism and Sex Addiction >>>>>

05 June 2007

Communication 201

Let's put the two blog posts together now. One post was that emotions are facts. The second one talks about the communication process.

First, you need to know what you are feeling. It's not always easy, but there are oftentimes physical cues. Some people say that there are five to eight primary feelings or emotions--joy, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, curiosity, acceptance, and fear--and that all other feelings are simply combinations of those feelings--jealousy can be a combination of anger and sadness; excitement can be a combination of joy and fear. Once you get past those primary feelings (and their synonyms), you may be on thin ice.
Consider the following examples.

If you are telling someone how you feel based on some outside events, e.g. "I feel concerned (fear) that the president is risking nuclear war because he is putting missiles in eastern Europe." You are expressing a fact and the rationale for that fact. It's kind of like saying, "I know it is raining because I can see the rain through my window." You're expressing one of the primary emotions and doing it to a third party.

It gets trickier when you are communicating your feelings directly to the person who is "causing" those feelings. Consider a situation where the message you are receiving is strongly negative. Maybe you're getting chewed out for turning in a report late. When you tell your spouse about it that night, you might say, "I really felt attacked." That works because you are simply reporting a fact to a third party.

If you were to tell your boss, "I feel attacked." Even though you are reporting a fact to him, there is the implication in there "You are attacking me." In essence, you may be using your expression of a feeling as a form of attack or judgment.

So what do you say to your boss?

If you can frame it into one of the primary emotions, you will be in better shape than if you use a secondary one. Often, adjectives that end in -ed are judgments in disguise. Attacked, rejected, humiliated, and punished are some good examples of feelings that are probably judgments in disguise.

So what do you say to your boss? Probably your best bet is to say nothing at first. Process the feelings going through you. You may be angry, afraid, surprised, or curious depending on the circumstances. Keep a lid on your emotional, unthinking reaction. If the boss is genuinely angry, i.e. not putting on a performance to invoke fear, you might acknowledge his anger. "You seem really upset about this." Try to get a handle on what is driving his emotions. Rather than reacting to his words, respond to the emotion behind them. This is often easier said than done.

Once you understand what is going on there, try to deal with the circumstances, not the person. For example, you might say, "I feel surprised that the deadline was yesterday. I understood it to be tomorrow." rather than "You told me it was tomorrow." Say that and you're in for a urination contest that you don't win by being "right."

Stick to the format, "I" & "primary feeling" & "circumstance." and you will probably be ok.

But This Goes Against The Grain. It Is SO PC

Yes. As engineers, we are taught that black and white are the only two colors. Everything else is touchy-feely PC BS. Why not just tell the boss that he is full of something and let him know that he was wrong? The short answer is that, in most cases, it would be ineffective.

Your boss is just a bag of chemicals with fears and anxieties. Pointing out other people's errors, thereby making yourself "right," is seldom a winning move. It displays a strong lack of emotional intelligence, as well as poor judgment. Here's a link for more on emotional intelligence.

The other thing is that politically correct is not all bad. In most cases, it is a more objective, logical, non-judgmental way of stating things. For example, calling someone "black" is not PC. Now we call that person African-American or a person of African descent. Sure, it's more syllables and we feel some resentment (disgust plus anger?) at having to change (yet again) a way of saying something, but it is more accurate. Black is an inaccurate description of most African-Americans.

Summing Up
Stick to primary feelings when possible.
The format "I feel + primary feeling + circumstance" is usually an effective way of communicating.
Be careful of judgments hidden as feelings.
Politically correct is usually a more accurate, if perhaps cumbersome, way of expression.

On to Shame and Guilt >>>>>