Why do we self-destroy?
What possesses us to mistreat ourselves (and others) by route of excessive alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sex, porn, gambling, Facebook, food, soda, video games, shopping, interpersonal drama, self-sabotage, isolation, external validation, deception, and delusion?
(If you do not recognize yourself anywhere in that list, you, at a minimum, may be dependent on delusion.)
Every detrimental dependency that overrides logic to cause anomalies in self-control faculties (in other words, when we do things we don’t want to do) produces a desirable chemical reaction.
We all have little pharmacies in our heads. There’s a stockpile of dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, and melatonin, to name a few.
But the internal drug stash is all locked up, and our brains only cough up the goods when certain conditions are met.
A genuine smile earns some serotonin.
And it feels good.
Eating chocolate triggers a little more serotonin.
It feels good and tastes good.
MDMA opens the serotonin floodgates.
And the only way it could feel better is with chocolate, while genuinely smiling (and having sex, though that could be overkill).
What feels pleasurable is perceived by the deep brain as a necessity for survival.
We’ve found ways to feel good that go entirely beyond what’s natural. We stimulate our inner pharmacies in ways nature never intended. And it makes things all wonky.
But dependencies are multi-faceted. There are layers to the “why.”
You’ve probably heard the term coping mechanism thrown around a bit.
Another way of describing the process of dependency is to look at it in terms of coping.
Here’s that list again: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sex, porn, gambling, Facebook, food, soda, video games, shopping, interpersonal drama, self-sabotage, isolation, external validation, deception, and delusion.
Can you see how each of those could be related to coping with something?
Everyone is driven by a different set of quirks and carries a unique load on their backs, but here are some examples:
I was dependent on alcohol, at first because it made me feel more social. Was coping with my social fears.
Later, after I realized that my deeper thoughts tended to go to sleep during inebriation, I used it to cope with aspects of my thinking that I did not want to contend with.
I used drugs to cope with feeling unimportant, bored with life, and angry at society. Cigarettes, stress.
Was dependent on sex to make me feel desired. Coping with feeling undesirable.
Porn, coping with loneliness.
I’d sabotage myself to cope with my fear of failing in the future.
(“May as well screw myself now, rather than be screwed by failure later.”)
My dependency on delusion was a way to cope with reality.
Most coping mechanisms, once the behavior pattern has been established, are triggered by (among other factors) internal tension.
So, by dealing with the problem of internal tension, theoretically we’d be well on our way to bidding adieu to our vices.
Maybe your inner voice just said, “Yeah, right,” or “Easier said than done,” or “That’s impossible,” or, “Look, a squirrel!”
Or perhaps your inner voice took the, “That sounds great,” or “Where do I start?” or “Let’s give this a shot,” route.
You could also be totally ambivalent.
Whatever is going on in your head, it is hugely based on your beliefs.
Let’s say that I believe if someone truly loves me, they’ll show me by making or buying me gifts.
So, when some girl I’m dating doesn’t make me gifts, it must mean I am not loved.
I have a deep want to be loved, so not feeling loved is a direct contradiction to my desire.
And this causes internal tension. Look out, Ben & Jerry’s, I’m comin’ for ya.
The actual root problem is not feeling unloved.
Feeling unloved is the effect of a belief:
“If I am loved, I will receive gifts.”
Receiving gifts is not a universal prerequisite for feeling loved.
Maybe you don’t care about gifts at all, but you need to be told that you’re loved 800 times a day.
Maybe feeling love, to you, is about people making time to show you they care. Spending time with you. Asking meaningful questions, making out in public, whatever.
What this means is that different people have different expectations about what it means to feel loved.
Those different expectations are developed through learning experiences throughout life.
So, when I was a kid, I had a thought process to the effect of:
“My mom gives me a lot of gifts. That must mean that receiving gifts indicates that I am loved.”
Then, I get older, and this process plays out:
“My girlfriend never gets me gifts. She must not love me.”
For many people, it is difficult to even notice those thought processes. Because if I have a voice in my head saying my girlfriend doesn’t love me, my default reaction is to argue with it before it even finishes its sentence.
Anyway, that original belief that receiving gifts means being loved is based on my own interpretation rather than reality.
An interpretation that came from a child’s frame of reference- a sincere, authentic, but limited perspective.
Even though it began in childhood, it stood the test of time, continuing on as a mostly unconscious belief in adulthood.
Therefore, no gifts = no love.
Dependency on gifts to cope with feeling unloved.
Feeling unloved? Major inner tension right there.
And this is just one example.
Can you imagine how many other childish interpretations became beliefs that are not always congruent with what happens in life, therefore resulting in inner tension?
And the tension seems basically cumulative. Builds up until we explode. Then, we cry. Get angry. Punch things. Have breakdowns, drink ourselves into oblivion, eat and eat until we burst at the seams. Have loads of angry sex. Anesthetize. Distract. Do anything we can, to relieve the tension. Release the dopamine!
More like cope-amine…
And that never works, not for long.
Vices are band-aids, and not even the good kind that stay on a while.
They address the surface issues, and then they fall off.
Then, we need more vices. More band-aids.
Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
At the root, underneath the tension, beneath the scrapes, are the beliefs.
Beliefs that don’t get along with reality.
So, let us address those faulty beliefs. Shift things around a bit, hit a few switches and levers.
Minimize the need to cope with life, by being flexible and mindful. By learning which thought processes work in your favor, and which ones drag you down into the pit.
We’re all programmed by the way we were socialized. By what we were taught, and more importantly how we interpreted it.
Unless you’re some self-empowerment prodigy, you probably had little say in your childhood interpretations. So it’s not your fault you developed self-limiting tendencies.
However, the onus now rests on you to get with the program. Now, you can choose how to interpret your own life. You can optimize your interpretations. Decide who you want to be. Reinvent yourself.
Or you can stay the same.
Totally up to you.
You, reader, are triumphantly awesome.
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Also published on Medium.