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July 26, 2014 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Mental Health

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How do I overcome an addictive personality?
Question:

I was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused as a child. Physically and emotionally mainly by my stepfather (from the age of 6 to 12) but my mother was neglectful and verbally abusive as well. They had serious issues to deal with but it does not excuse their behavior. I still have anger issues relating to my mother's passivity and emotional cruelty to me and my siblings. I have mainly resolved the issues with my stepfather; I have absolutely no contact with him.

I was molested at age 7 by a neighbor and by other adult males throughout my teenage years, including several incidents of incest with two uncles during an overseas trip. I am now happily married, in a stable relationship for 5 years now; we do not yet have children. There is no abuse but we do fight and say mean things to each other. I have no contact with my family at the moment. My mother did not like my telling her that I resent her lack of interest in my education as a child (as in she did not care whether I attended school or not). My brothers do not contact me.

I have been to therapy and made good progress. I stopped going because I did not feel that close to my therapist and did not feel she was necessarily the best person to help me. She was a little on the cool side. In addition, I feel better able to manage my life at this time, with the exception of my current problem.

I am (in my opinion) a recovering sex addict. I have always been faithful within my relationships and have never been unfaithful to my husband. Prior to my relationship with my husband, I was promiscuous. That addiction is no longer a problem. I have also been a workaholic and a perfectionist in the past and probably have retained some of those qualities but not in an extreme way. I quit smoking recently (another addiction) and have gained quite a lot of weight. I feel that my eating is compulsive at times and this concerns me. I would like to be addiction-free.

In general, I feel pretty healthy emotionally. I get the blues sometimes but I think that that is normal. I will always continue to work on improving myself (I try to love myself unconditionally) in a positive way.

I would like your advice on how I can once and for all get rid of my addictive type personality. Do I have to spend many more years in therapy? Can I do certain things on my own? I have tried developing 'healthy' addictions like exercise and healthy eating. I am finding it difficult to change. I have the feeling that it will take me time to overcome my bad habits (overeating, not exercising, etc.). I would appreciate any light you can shed on this issue. Thank you very much. I am a big fan of your website. Keep up the good work! Sincerely, Wilma.

Wilma (30 year-old woman) from Canada

Answer:

Dear Wilma,

Tears came to my eyes as I read your account. Not because I was sorry for you, but because I felt humbled by your courage and invincible spirit. At least two-thirds of my clients report a history of severe abuse. I only wish more of them would cope as well as you have.

Wilma, I strongly doubt that you are a sex addict, or that you ever were: you write that you have been faithful to your husband for five years. The previous period of promiscuity was probably a means of working though your history of sexual abuse. People who have been neglected and made to feel insignificant in childhood often have an overwhelming need to 'buy' love. At some level, you had to learn that sex does not do this.

I hate labels like 'addictive personality'. They seem to describe a cause. 'I can't help having it off with every guy because I'm a sex addict'. Actually, they just summarize a pattern without explaining it. What is a sex addict? Someone who compulsively seeks out multiple sex partners. 'I seek out sex multiple partners because I seek out multiple sex partners' is not much of a statement, is it? In fact, such labels can be prisons. If I am an 'addictive personality', then I am stuck. How on earth can I change what I am?

If you were an addictive personality, then how did you give up a whole series of habits you wanted to do without? You have proved that you can break bad habits. You are even giving up smoking, which is harder to give up than heroin. The average heavy smoker needs at least 4 attempts to kick this nasty habit. Ten serious tries can fail, and the 11th succeed.

When you were a child, you thought like a child. You interpreted the actions and words of important people in your life in a child-like way. This led to certain conclusions, which are still with you and influence your thinking. If you now examined them with an adult understanding, you'd see them to be irrational. They were reasonable conclusions for a child, given the available evidence, but were false.

These beliefs are of the type: "If only I could be perfect, they'd love me." "No-one could possibly love me for my own sake, so I must achieve perfectly in order to be accepted." People who are 'workaholics' and 'perfectionists' usually have some such inner beliefs.

From your account, I think there are two current problems: you are eating more than you like, and you fight with your husband. Well, you have a wonderful, admirable record of conquering bad habits. I wish my record was as good! Everyone has bad habits. Don't think they are with you because of your dreadful history. They are with you because you are human! You don't need to be perfect. You just need to be you.

I suspect that once you stop thinking of yourself as faulty, you'll be less stressed out, more relaxed, and so fight less with your husband. Maybe you can ask him to do a deal with you: both of you do your best to let go of any past hurts. Start the new Millennium with a clean slate.

You ask if you should seek out more long-term therapy. As is clear by now, I think you have coped admirably with the scars of your past. What you have done so far has worked. Do more of the same. If something doesn't work, try something else. Help for emotional problems is like help for a bad back. You might go months without backache. You can do regular flexibility exercises to stay without pain. Then for some reason you get some twinges. When the pain builds up, you go to the chiropractor or physio. My work is similar. Seek help when you are stuck with a problem, and your own efforts can't beat it. You're probably stuck in a cycle where the attempted solution maintains the problem. Then you need an outsider to help you cut through the cycle.

Some books to read:

  • 'Love is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstandings, Resolve Conflicts, and Solve Relationship Problems Through Cognitive Therapy' by Aaron Beck
  • 'Self-Esteem' by Matthew McKay & Patrick Fanning

This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 31 years experience as a psychologist and is registered with the Australian Psychological Society. He practices in Australia. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith".

For more information visit the site or compact information page on QueenDom.

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