To grow up bullied, abused, or neglected, is to grow up without experiencing a lot of control. 

We learn early, and all too well, that we don’t control what happens to us or how people behave toward us. 

We learn that we very often don’t control how we feel. 

To grow up feeling so overwhelmingly powerless is scary, frustrating, and sad. 

We end up not wanting to get too attached to or invested in anything or anyone— because we’ve learned that it can be yanked away from us at any moment, for no particular reason. 

We live in a constant state of anxiety, because if we “know” anything, it’s that we DON’T know what happens next…except that it will probably hurt on some level. 

At the same time, our brain is constantly looking for ways to feel even a LITTLE more in control of our life experience— specifically, how we feel. 

Many people reading this would give anything to be able to feel even slightly more in control of how we feel. 

Which is why we get vulnerable to addictive and compulsive behaviors— they present the illusion of control. 

When we’re desperately thirsty, we will absolutely crawl toward a mirage of water, on the off chance that it’s even sort of, kind of real. 

Certain behaviors and substances promise to change how we feel— and sometimes they even work. At first, anyway. For a minute, anyway. 

When those substances and behaviors DO work— even if they work imperfectly— it can feel AMAZING to a person who has felt overwhelmed and powerless their entire life. 

We get hooked not just on how those substances or behaviors make us feel…but on the idea that there might be a reliable way to change how we feel that WE choose, that WE are in control of. 

It’s such a seductive promise. 

It’s so seductive that I’m kind of tearing up right now, writing this. 

I wish it was real and lasting. 

But substances and behaviors of addiction are, in the end, liars. 

They promise us control while surreptitiously chipping away at our ability to make meaningful decisions. 

Many substances and behaviors of addiction create physical conditions that make it impossible to think clearly, set boundaries, and protect ourselves. 

But many of us will take that risk if it means having even a little control over how we feel. 

I don’t blame anyone reading this for wanting, desperately, to have control over how they feel. I know that’s what I want, more than anything in the world. 

I don’t blame anyone reading this for being willing to experiment with substances and behaviors that promise relief and control. I’ve done plenty of that. 

I just want you to read these words, so that maybe they’ll echo in your head when you need them: the “control” promised by certain substances and behaviors is illusory. 

It’s not real. 

When we are suffering, when we’ve BEEN suffering for years, we are particularly vulnerable to the promise of pleasure, relief, and control. 

That’s normal. It’s not a character flaw. We are not vulnerable to addiction because there’s something wrong or bad about us. 

I know. You just want to feel better. Me too. 

But we have to be real about what certain substances and behaviors can and can’t do for us. 

And we have to be real about the cost that those substances and behaviors will eventually extract from us— especially after we’ve become dependent upon them. 

There’s a reason why addiction is often a particular problem for people with trauma in our history. 

A history of bullying, abuse, or neglect sets us up for that vulnerability. 

It’s not our fault. 

But it’s our responsibility to manage that vulnerability. 

Even if it means giving up a promise so sweet and seductive that it virtually blinds us to everything else. 

One thought on “Trauma, addiction, control, and seduction.

  1. There may be people who are facing such feeling for the first time because of the uncertainty of lockdowns. How many children will grow up seeking relief at any cost because they lost their trust in adults? I feel that uncertainty, and I’m no spring chicken. Thank you Dr. Doyle for describing the feeling so well, the desperation for any sense of control.


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