I first learned I had an “addictive personality” when I was a kid.
When I was young, I— and my parents— noticed something odd about my behavior: when I found something I liked, something that felt good, I got very, very into it.
As in, almost obsessively into it.
I vividly remember that my parents actually had to set limits for me when it came to things I liked— whether it was movies, or TV shows, or foods, or…whatever.
If left to my own devices, I simply would not stop indulging in whatever I was indulging in that made me feel good.
I really would watch a movie, then rewind it, and watch it again. And again. And again.
I really would eat bowl after bowl of cereal, until there wasn’t any left.
Now, you may think, that’s just the kind of thing kids do, right? All kinds need some sort of parental intervention to make sure they don’t overindulge in things they like.
This went a step beyond that.
I would never, ever feel “full” of the things that I liked.
I would never, ever feel satisfied.
This pattern continued as I grew up. As a young adult, it led me to become obese, because I had extreme difficulty putting the breaks on my eating behavior.
It led me to risky sexual behavior, because— even though I was, objectively speaking, a smart person— I had extreme difficulty saying “no” to potentially pleasurable experiences.
Even if those experiences put my health and my relationships in danger.
I know now at least part of what was happening. I was born with a genetic disposition toward both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression— meaning my brain has difficulty reliably producing the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which govern motivation, satisfaction, and happiness.
As a result, I was constantly reaching out of myself for a “feel good” fix— and I didn’t have the inherent ability to push the “pause” or “stop” buttons when I actually found something that gave me pleasure.
As I grew up, I experienced sexual abuse, and I was bullied— traumatic experiences that further impaired my ability to feel good or safe without some sort of outside “kick.”
Why am I telling you any of this? Because it’s important to understand why I think we need to take care to sometimes “pump the brakes” on our pleasurable experiences.
When we find something that feels good to us, our judgment immediately becomes compromised.
Some people can manage experiences of pleasure far better than I was able to as a kid (or even better than I’m able to now)— but the principle still applies.
We don’t think straight when it comes to things that make us feel good.
We WILL find excuses to indulge in those things.
We will bend logic and reason and our perception of reality to give us access to those “feel good” experiences.
We will ignore red flags in relationships.
We will justify behaviors that we wouldn’t otherwise find acceptable, in ourselves and others.
Again: it’s not that everybody will have the problems I had, and still do have, in regulating their experience of pleasure and curtailing their behavior.
Not everybody will go off the deep end and turn into an “addict” when they get a taste of feeling good.
But when we find an experience that makes us feel good, it’s never, ever a bad idea to just pump the brakes.
To take a step back.
To take a deep breath, and survey the situation.
In order to live a life of meaning and value, we need to frequently check in with ourselves and make sure we’re being authentic and honest about who we are and what we need.
And we need to make sure we’re not letting experiences of passion or pleasure mess with our judgement.
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