Do You Have to Feel Wrong In Order to Feel Right?

Head bowed, he started crying again. Afraid to reveal too much of himself, he spoke carefully. Listening to him, my heart was breaking along with his already broken one. "I never realized life would be so hard, and I'd be so unhappy," he said. (He wasn't even 20, but he talked as if he were an old man.) During the next several months, my husband and I tried to win his trust. And we knew he wanted to trust us. But he couldn't let go--fear and denial held him back. But they also provided him with a temporary but false sense of relief: Denial assured him that he didn't really have a problem. (He claimed he'd just had "a lot of bad luck" in his life.) I flat out told him that he suffered from compulsion and addiction. He didn't believe me--and who could blame him? It takes real guts to admit self-defeating behaviors. Admitting his problem would expose his fear of having to change. Holding on to negative mindsets and behaviors is better than the risk of the unknown. (Or at least that's what we all tell ourselves.) But denial only produces more fear and more self-sabotage. We lost touch with this wonderful young man when he moved out of our ward and out of California. Last I heard, he was still using drugs.

 "First Sorrow," Artist Unknown

I understand his need to dull the anxiety and/or pain. It's easier to simply check out of life then to engage and problem solve. I have never broken the Word of Wisdom, thus I've never fallen prey to tobacco, drug, alcohol, or prescription drug abuse. Nevertheless, I have an addictive mindset. The LDS Twelve Steps program wasn't available 25 years ago, so I read a lot of books, got a Master's degree in Communication Studies, and prayed for understanding and spiritual strength. Consequently, I've overcome (for the most part) addictive and compulsive mindsets that led to my unhealthy behaviors. Namely, I had a real addiction to pleasing others, striving and maintaining a certain image, perfectionistic thinking, conflict avoidance, unnecessary shame, guilt, and fear, an inability to trust my own instincts, and feeling "less than." I've spent the last 25 years searching for and labeling these "emotional knots" and learning how to untie them.  Happily, these burdens began to lift at the very second I began my "knot search." I still struggle with anxiety. Angry people still scare me. I still struggle in setting appropriate boundaries. But I don't have to feel wrong anymore to feel that I'm doing what's right.

"The Sorrow of Peter" by James Tissot

My addictive personality has its benefits: I am driven to succeed. (I'm no workaholic; I also like to waste time.) Once I set my mind on a particular goal, there's absolutely no stopping me. I get what I want. Period. I'm a formidable foe and a skilled peacemaker. I have a deep, satisfying relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ. (I should have; I've invested enormous amounts of time pursuing and building a relationship with Him.) But here's the never-ending downside: I don't have a good "balance meter." I still tend to live in an "either/or" world; once I start a goal, it's really, really hard to pull away and focus on anything else. I look at my addictive mindset as a wild horse: I'm learning to saddle and ride it in a free and open range rather than fence it in and/or break its spirit.

In my last few posts, I've pointed out that addictive and compulsive mindsets affect all of us in the LDS community. I've also discussed the LDS Twelve Step program, and its benefits for every member of the Church. Like me, most of us have addictive and/or compulsive mindsets without even realizing it. Dr. Lee Jampolski gives us a lot of definitional foundations to work with:

Most people would not call themselves addicts, yet it is my observation that addictive behavior is prevalent in our society. When we find ourselves frustrated, angry, and unhappy, we probably don't recognize that what is occurring could be the process of addiction [and compulsion]. And if we don't recognize an addiction, we dig a deeper hole for ourselves in an attempt to escape the uncomfortable feelings. It is time to stop running away and to begin to look closer at what addiction is (Healing the Addictive Mind, 1991, p. 1). Addiction is a compulsive and continuous searching for happiness outside of ourselves, despite the fact that contentment always eludes us. More precisely, addiction is a continued compulsive external search, despite the fact that such a pursuit always leads us into pain and conflict. If we are to reverse addictive behavior [or mindsets], we must begin to challenge the fundamental concepts of our ego, which are: 

  • Guilt. Guilt is the belief that we have done something wrong, bad, and unforgivable.  Guilt is based upon the belief that the past is inescapable and determines the future. 

  • Shame. As guilt increases, we not only believe that we have done something bad, we begin to believe that we are bad.

  • Fear. Because of guilt and shame and the resulting feelings that we have done something wrong and are something wrong, we then become plagued with a fear of punishment. 

For some this translates into the fear of God; for others this manifests itself in the belief that they don't deserve love. Guilt, shame and fear do a war dance together that leaves us with anxiety and feelings of emptiness, incompleteness, and hopelessness. The ego keeps us from examining itself too closely by making us believe that guilt and shame are so strong a pervasive that we could not possibly get beyond them. Because of fear we run from looking within ourselves, and we begin to look to people, places, activities, and possessions for our happiness. It is in this external search for peace of mind that the ego pushes us towards our first steps in addiction (p. 9).

Interestingly, Dr. Lee Jampolsky is the son of the famous psychiatrist, Dr. Gerald Jampolsky. Gerald was a functioning alcoholic, and Lee has overcome his own drug addictions. Both men are well versed in theoretical emotional health, but actually living emotionally well was a completely different experience. Furthermore, attaining good emotional health means overcoming fear. Lee Jampolsky says, I have never seen addictive behavior occur where fear is not the driving force.  Fear is the fuel upon which the addictive thought system runs (p. 24).

Artist Unknown

Lee Jampolsky lists the core beliefs of the addictive thought system. In other words, these are unconscious fallacies we tell ourselves when trapped in an addictive mindset:

  • I am alone in a cruel, harsh, and unforgiving world. I am separate from everybody else.

  • If I want safety and peace of mind, I must judge others and be quick to defend myself.

  • My way is the right way. My perceptions are always factually correct.  In order to feel good about myself, I need to be perfect all of the time.

  • Attack and defense are my only safety.

  • The past and the future are real and need to be constantly evaluated and worried about.

  • Guilt is inescapable because the past is real.

  • Mistakes call for judgment and punishment, not correction and learning.

  • Fear is real. Do not question it.

  • Other people are responsible for how I feel. The situation is the determiner of my experience.

  • If I am going to make it in this world, I must pit myself against others.  Another's loss is my gain. My self-esteem depends on comparing myself with others. 

  • I need something or someone outside of myself to make me complete and happy.

  • My self-esteem is based on pleasing you.

  • I can control other people's behavior (pp. 40-50).

We may or may not experience every one of these feelings. For instance, I've never been a "control freak," but I had a tendency to let others control me. Much of our emotional pain comes from believing we are not enough even though we were created to be "less than whole" for our mortal existence. I've learned that I can be whole while being imperfect.

Dr. Scott Peck gives further insight:

One way of looking at addictions is to see them as forms of idolatry. For the alcoholic the bottle becomes an idol. And idolatry comes in many different forms, some of which we're quite accustomed to recognize. So there are nondrug addictions, such as addictions to gambling or sex. The idolatry of money is another. Idolatry also comes in forms we are not accustomed to recognize as readily. One is the idolatry of family. Whenever it becomes more important to do or say what will keep the family matriarch or patriarch happy than it is to do or say what God wants you to do or say, we have fallen prey to the idolatry of family. Family togetherness has become an idol, and often a most oppressive one (Further Along the Road Less Traveled: The Unending Journey Toward Spiritual Growth, 1993, p. 136).

No wonder one of the Ten Commandments is to "put no other gods before me." (And that includes the dysfunctional family expectations like "worshipping"  a false, unhealthy, or extremist family loyalty to parents and siblings or loyalty to "family secrets," etc.) Idolatry and addiction are intertwined and thus a truly dangerous and miserable way to live. Again, we do this unconsciously, or in a state of ignorance or denial. Most people cannot admit to themselves or others when practicing this type of idolatry. People will go to great lengths to justify and defend their behavior or the behavior of a dysfunctional loved one. Indeed, the hardest part of getting well is to admit the problem. Are you tired of feeling "wrong?" Do you want to get real? If your answer is "yes," then it's time to go on a hunting expedition in search of our false and unhealthy idols!

Here's to raising awareness,


(Note: The title of this post comes from Joyce Meyer.)