Look familiar? Whether you’re addicted to Twitter, chocolate, or another compulsive behavior, we all have some sort of addiction plaguing us, like alcohol or other drug dependence, gambling, eating disorders, sex, etc. As a psychologist/author (psycho author),I find addictions positively fascinating, and love to write about them. An addiction can give your characters conflict and depth.
Authors, if you choose to torture your characters with addictions, how do you write those behaviors authentically? Readers, how do you explain why your favorite characters continue to engage in behaviors that clearly hurt them? I want to share one simple model of addiction to help answer these questions.
1. This model starts with feeling negative emotion, like anger, hurt, fear, stress, shame. We don’t like feeling this way so we try to change the feeling.
2. Sometimes we turn to addictive behaviors to change the feeling. For example, I’m feeling really anxious about people liking my novel so I start drinking.
3. Many drinks later I’m not worrying about much of anything. I’m comfortably numb. I feel temporary relief. It’s very reinforcing!
4. Alas, the relief is short-lived, because when I wake up tomorrow, the worry about people liking my novel is still there. I’ll probably have even more worry now because I also have a hangover and I’m late to work. I’m angry and disappointed with myself for getting drunk. I feel like a loser. I’m back to experiencing negative emotion.
And here we go again!
Sound plausible? One reason we get stuck in addictive behavior is that temporary relief we feel. We seek the high or the numbness which prevents us from feeling the pain momentarily.
How therapy can help break this cycle is by teaching more effective coping skills for dealing with negative emotion. When I worry about people liking my book I can practice “nonjudgmentally” by listing the facts instead of spewing judgments. Here are some facts about the situation:
1. I feel nervous about reception to my novel.
2. I don’t have control over how readers view my novel.
3. Writing the novel was very enjoyable to me.
4. I have dealt with anxiety before without getting drunk.
5. I feel better at work after a good night’s rest.
Recently I finished reading Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder. (See my review HERE). Muscle is an autobiography by Sam Fussell, who became addicted to bodybuilding, including countless hours at the gym, bizarre diets, and steroids. Sam disclosed how much he disliked himself. He was ashamed of his fear, and he hid behind a wall of muscle so others wouldn’t see who he really was. Every time he felt the pain of lifting enormous weights, he forgot about his fear and felt invincible. It was a perfect description of the cycle of addiction.
And now it’s time for the Author Author Blog Bounce! Go to the Omnific Publishing BLOG for instructions.