By: Cordelia Bloom
Before jumping right into the article, please enjoy this poem written by American anthologist and poet, William Cole, titled I’m So Mad I Could Scream:
I’m so mad I could scream,
I’m so mad I could spit,
Turn over a table,
Run off in a snit!
I’m so mad I could yell,
I could tear out my hair,
Throw a rock through a window,
Or wrestle a bear!
On thinking it over
I will not leave home
But I’ll put all my anger
Right here in this poem.
I’m feeling much better –
Like peaches and cream –
For a poem is the best way
Of letting off steam!
A “Hit” Emotion
Emotions begin with a thought. Emotions can be powerful. They can drive us to act, react, and behave in certain ways—and sometimes quite unpredictably. We’re taught to feel and accept our emotions, but what would happen if they were to actually become an addiction?
What is emotional addiction exactly?
When emotions are properly managed and integrated with cognitive functions (like logic and reason), they expand our capacity for productivity, self-care, and healthy relationships. Since emotions can be considered primitive instincts, they bypass logic and reasonable considerations, which means they (could) often lead us to disregard consequences. When someone has an emotional addiction, this is exactly what they experience. Those with this type of addiction become hooked on feeling a familiar way or responding to their powerful, innate emotions (Baum, 2022).
People with emotional addiction can become dependent on a specific emotion (for distraction, comfort, escape, or relief). This emotion essentially grows into a compulsion of sorts, an addiction. It’s all due to a chemical response in our brain, which makes it all the more difficult to identify or be aware of.
For instance, let’s refer to the piece above written by William Cole. We are not (officially) speculating at all, but let’s use his poem as an example and say that his emotional addiction is anger. Peace is the emotion he’d need to use to break the cycle of anger.
When emotions become idolized above healthier coping skills, the developed addiction can lead an individual to experience adverse side effects, such as (Baum, 2022):
- unwise decision making
- inappropriate behaviors
- faulty self-management or planning
- impaired productivity
- injured relationships
When someone is dependent on emotions for stress relief, they are likely to turn to other outlets of self-medication, such as drugs and alcohol, in times of extreme stress. These would be the outlets we’d like to stay away from.
Emotional addiction can also be described as an emotional habit. Once certain actions and behaviors are repeated and become second nature, a habit is formed. Thus, developing an emotional habit means unconsciously training ourselves to respond to a variety of triggers with a default emotional reaction. In time, that feeling becomes a baseline for how we’d respond to the world. If we were to talk about William again, since anger is his default emotion in the poem, he probably finds himself turning to it whenever he feels uncertain; he might feel a sense of calm or relief as anger washes over him.
An Emotional “Hit” Series (of Patterns)
In order to break emotional addiction, we’d have to own our patterns, or become conscious of them. If something stirs inside of us and we’ve noticed it happen continuously during a short period, then chances are we’re close to catching our “hit” emotion (if applicable, of course).
According to The Holistic Psychologist—a private and supportive space in the Psychology atmosphere led by Dr. Nicole LePera focused on self-healing through holistic approaches—some recommended steps to help identify any emotional addiction worth breaking include:
- Asking for input from someone you trust. Other people can see what we cannot see in ourselves. Find someone trustworthy and ask for feedback. Have they seen any particular emotion rise out of you for a short amount of time?
- Committing to a daily 5-minute meditation. Watch the feelings and emotions that come up while attempting to observe your thoughts.
Yes, this is quite a difficult process! Emotional addiction takes a lot of work, self-reflection, and commitment. Once the “hit” emotion has been identified, then you’re ready to move forward.
Once we’re able to point out what the emotion is, a wave of others tends to come down. Shame tends to tumble along since, in most cases, the person is oblivious of their own behavior. During this part of the process, it’s vital to practice compassion and understanding—any behavior can be changed with intention. We must move forward and have gratitude for this awareness (The Holistic Psychologist, n.d.).
To continue to break emotional addiction, we’re encouraged to create new habits and support it accordingly. The use of affirmations is another incredible way to shift the pathways of the brain and regain control of our “hit” emotion. It’s important to understand that resistance is to be expected during this undertaking.
Patience is key during this recovery process. Sooner or later, we’ll be able to not only notice emotional stability but also see physical benefits arise.
Gravitate Towards Self-Awareness & Journal Entries
According to Eric Baum—a mental health writer for 7 Summit Pathways, a treatment and recovery center that uses evidence-based and holistic programs to help each patient heal physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—the key to breaking emotional addiction and changing our emotional habit is to develop resilience to how we feel (2022). We’d essentially be in sync with our level of awareness and control over our emotions.
The following methods shed light on gaining emotional resilience by breaking away from emotional addiction (Baum, 2022):
- Identify your emotional habit: if we observe the minutes of our everyday life, we’ll pick up on the patterns in our reactions. Once these are identified (emotional habits), we’re ready to move forward.
- Rewire your brain’s reward system: whether through meditations or daily affirmations, our goal is to gain the power to produce real change. When an emotion starts to overpower us, we must either stay away from a situation or give ourselves a moment to calm down.
- Resist the urge to brood: we must distract ourselves with a positive activity—exercise, crossword puzzles, a book, or even TV. There is no point in sulking!
- Care for your self-esteem: let’s (try to) show compassion and understanding to ourselves. A nurtured self-esteem can provide strength.
There’s an additional important step to consider if we (or someone beloved) would consider going through this kind of recovery process. While it might seem oddly simple, it’s recommended to set an intention to observe our emotions by
- setting up reminders on our phone.
- journaling about this intention (which helps bring forward the subconscious).
- watching how we feel in daily situations (while being at work, or scrolling through social media, or when talking with family and friends).
- noticing the patterns (become alert, aware, or privy to).
- writing the patterns down (may provide clues to the “hit” emotion).
To further our ability to workshop this type of exercise, I’ve included a small collection of addiction recovery journal prompts that could guide us through this emotional journey (Pyramid Healthcare, 2022):
- Draft a list of everything in your life you’d like to say “No” to.
- What was the last mistake you made where you felt ashamed?
- How have you seen yourself progress in the past week?
- How are you feeling at this moment? Don’t hold back.
Even if it’s only 10 or 15 minutes, set aside time in your day specifically for journaling! It can be challenging to do so much self-reflection, considering we rarely observe our emotions before responding to them. By writing, though, we become conscious and mindful—we’re able to look at our scribbles or journal entries, and then reflect. If truly dedicated, through the writing process, we’re able to understand ourselves right down to our core. Can you imagine being someone addicted to their feelings and being a stranger to it? Or, perhaps we’ve been able to identify a beloved friend who is?
What’s on your mind right now? Are you feeling a specific way? If you’re feeling a little anxious about jotting anything down, then you’re right where you need to be. This would be the perfect opportunity to journal with The Love Story by clicking the link below and journal in a safe place with others to help get you started.
Disclaimer: Emotional addiction often coexists with other addictions or mental illnesses. If you need professional help confronting the emotional habits standing in the way of addiction recovery, contact somebody or seek for a facility in order to cope accordingly.
31 Addiction recovery journal prompts to use during your healing process. (2022, August 28). Real Recovery by Pyramid Healthcare. https://www.myrealrecovery.com/blog/31-addiction-recovery-journal-prompts-to-use-during-your-healing-process/#:~:text=Draft%20a%20list%20of%20everything,that%20you%20feel%20ashamed%20about.
Baum, E. (2022, December 16). Emotional habits and addiction. 7 Summit Pathways: Treatment Recovery Center. https://7summitpathways.com/blog/emotional-habits-and-addiction/#:~:text=The%20key%20to%20breaking%20emotional,and%20control%20over%20your%20emotions.
Cole, W. (2022, March 26). I’m so mad I could Scream. Pick Me Up Poetry. https://pickmeuppoetry.org/im-so-mad-i-could-scream-by-william-cole/
LePera, N. (n.d.). How to break an emotional addiction. The Holistic Psychologist. https://theholisticpsychologist.com/how-to-break-an-emotional-addiction/