When one talks about addiction, the usual things that come to mind are alcohol and drugs. However, there is something intrinsic that many people find addictive – emotional pain.
What is Emotional Pain Addiction?
This is a condition wherein you feel like you will not survive without feeling a negative emotion such as worry, fear, grief, depression, or anger.
When you are in constant emotional pain, your body undergoes subtle changes that make you dependent on stress-related reactions. As such, you may find it hard to give up on pain – just as an addict will find it hard to quit smoking, drinking, or using drugs.
The Science Behind Emotional Pain Addiction
This condition is driven by both physical and mental reasons.
Physically, you are not addicted to pain itself – but rather, the endorphins that come with the pain.
Endorphins are substances that the body releases to the bloodstream after injury or pain. They are natural painkillers that have similar effects to the drugs morphine and heroin. In some people, this flush of endorphins can lead to a euphoric sensation – much like a drug high.
Apart from physical strain, the emotional strain can also lead to the release of endorphins. Constant strain can trigger an endorphin rush, which leads to a barely-noticeable ‘dulling’ effect. That being said, if your body swims in endorphins regularly, you can end up with ‘dead’ senses.
Because of this, you only feel emotions when something intense happens – such as anger, fear, sorrow, or rage. This eventually leads to further endorphin release, which can make you emotionally numb.
When you live like this for so long, you may find it hard to give up on the pain. Due to the rush of endorphins, you feel a false sense of security – as if everything is right in the world. This results in a defense mechanism – where you protect yourself from feelings that are hard to disregard, such as love or vulnerability.
While the endorphin rush is the biggest culprit behind emotional pain addiction, other factors may explain your condition. They include:
- History of trauma and other negative experiences
- Insecurity or lack of self-esteem
- Guilt or regret that cannot be overcome
- Fear of happiness
- Desire to take the world’s problem as your own
- Growing up with parents who are disciplinarians who set unrealistic expectations
- Possible mental health disorder
Symptoms of Emotional Pain Addiction
Because of your addiction to emotional pain, you may seek out situations – albeit unconsciously – that surely lead to a negative feeling.
For one, you may have a history of engaging in prolonged, stressful relationships. You often mistake love for pain (and vice versa). As a result, you often fall in love with a person who is unavailable – or one who actually causes your pain. If not, you tend to stay in a relationship that a lot of people find intolerable.
As an addict, you tend to make need-based decisions rather than wisdom-based ones. You feel that your emotions should be the primary basis for your actions. You often tell yourself that you did what you felt was right. There isn’t a consideration of other factors when evaluating, responding, or making decisions. You often follow the pattern of feeling, reacting, and justifying – which is of course, harmful in the long run.
How to Fight Emotional Pain Addiction
Just like being addicted to drugs, an addiction to emotional pain can be hard to fight. It requires strength on your part – and support from your family and friends.
This support is particularly important given the absence of Pain-anon groups. Compared to alcoholics, you don’t have a 12-step group that can serve as a sanctuary.
As such, your support group should be fully understanding of the challenges of emotional pain addiction. This, of course, is something that a therapist can provide. With professional help, your support system will be able to hone the essential actions of encouragement, acknowledgment, nurturance, and patience. With therapy, they can avoid guilt, anger, and criticism – which are counter-productive to your recovery.
In terms of psychotherapy, you will need a counselor who is well-versed with brain chemistry and the nature of addictions. He or she may use the following interventions to help you out:
- Gestalt Therapy
- Intense-Feelings Process
By doing so, your therapist can help you achieve the following:
1. A ‘Realistic’ View of Emotions
To break the vicious cycle of feeling, reacting, and justifying, you need to acknowledge your vulnerability. To do so, you need to practice the following:
- Self-regulation, which involves treatments and interventions that help you regulate yourself and your emotions
- Self-soothing, or calming yourself through breathing, prayer, stretching, tapping, or meditating
2. A ‘Self-Regulated’ Brain and Nervous System
Self-regulation is all about being stable and being in control of your brain functioning. This is best done through emotional processing and control. This can help you temper your feelings with thoughts, thus making you less reactive and less impulsive. By being able to delay gratification, you can respond to certain events better.
3. Self-Soothing Skills and Routines
You can calm yourself through several self-soothing techniques. They include tapping, self-talk, and rhythmic breathing.
Another revolutionary way to soothe yourself is through Thought Field Therapy. You can rapidly administer this to avoid any negative feelings. Not only will this help you achieve emotional balance, but it can help you build confidence as well.
How Long Does It Take to Recover from Emotional Pain Addiction?
As with most addictions, dealing with emotional pain can take a long time. It may take you about six months – or more – to fully function without the pain. That’s because you initially feel like a life without pain is unfamiliar – especially if you have been dealing with it for so long. More often than not, you may experience a void that needs to be filled now that pain is no longer widespread.
In the end, your goal should be to:
- Replace stress with relaxation
- Choose supportive relationships over chaotic ones
- Nurture yourself rather than deprive it
By doing these, you can eventually recover from emotional pain addiction – and live the happy life that you deserve.
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