Demonizing is an excuse and won’t stop addiction

Demonizing and shame don’t motivate behavioral change. The neuroscience is debated on that, but I’ll boil it down: shame = “I am bad.”

And how do you cope with feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, insecurity, maybe self-hatred?

That’s right, with your vice of choice! How, then, can you stop the cycle?

Demonizing is an excuse and won't stop addiction Pinterest pin

I relied on porn for years to boost my self-esteem, which had fallen into a dark pit by comparison, envy, and POMO (the Pain of Missing Out). The shame hurt. The demonizing– avoiding responsibility– made it better.

Take it from me: if you want to regain your life from the grips of a bad habit, these tactics won’t work.

Shaming bludgeons people into good behavior by singling out whatever flaw the shamer sees. If you can’t fix the flaw, (I still can’t!) hopelessness imprisons you with your vice as your only entertainment. Self-pity, self-hatred, rumination… it’s debilitating.

As for demonizing? “I am bad, so give me the juice to make me feel better.”

Learn to fight these bad guys, and what does work instead, in this post.

Demonizing leads to shame

A cat cowers in shame.
(photo by shorchanov on Pixabay)

“This is a horrible thing, and I’m a horrible person for using it.”

There are bad things in the world. You’re not a bad person for falling into them. They were disguised, like a bear trap on the path.

Demonizing is a problem focus, not a solution focus. It leads to unnecessary rage, sometimes at people who don’t deserve it. Controversial stance: even when it comes down to genetics, an addiction is your choice. You’re using the thing to fill a psychological need, and nothing is better at doing that than the thing you chose.

(Not to shame you.)

Likely, it’s a superstimulus. Nothing can be better, until it stops being so good.

So you can stay stuck in anger mode forever. Or you can recognize you have a need that’s going unfulfilled.

It might take awhile to pinpoint, but this is how you escape escapism: you find a healthy alternative to your vice and create an offline world you don’t want to escape from.

Demonizing the tools is scapegoating. It’s an easy out.

Instead, find out why you “need” it.

Because putting yourself down for using it, in my and many others’ experience, leads you to “drink more juice” to feel better. And this never works. (I’m not just saying this: science links depression, shame, and addictive behaviors.)

Side note: demonizing the wrong thing

Heavy social media users often report they keep using it because they’re lonely. Demonizing the social aspect by abstaining completely, therefore, seems like a radical idea to me.

The same with porn: demonizing sexuality leads to all sorts of bad stuff.

And the same with YouTube: don’t abandon all forms of video because you can’t control yourself.

Demonizing, literally. You are the makeup artist of the monster.
You’re the makeup artist.

This again results in a problem approach and a lot of anger and blame. So long, then, as the companies don’t capitulate and make massive changes, you are powerless? Don’t hold your breath.

By demonizing an unhealthy outlet for a healthy need, you may inadvertently feel the desire for that need as itself malevolent. That’s a sure recipe for misery. And not fulfilling that need will do what?

Bring you back to your vice, an unrivaled binge, and square one!

I can’t hammer that one in enough. It left me stuck for YEARS. I started and stopped, blamed myself, hated myself for not being strong enough. It. Does. Not. Work.

And besides, repeated failure leads to feeling powerless.

Learned helplessness: when you fail too many times

The first step in the twelve-step program, I’m told, is to admit powerlessness so you can start to heal through the support of others. I’m not a doctor or scientist, just a man in the arena. But I think this is bunk.

Powerlessness, I think, comes from repeated failure. Something didn’t work the last five times, so why would it work now?

Your problems start to look like this.

A skyscraper-size robot the size of 1/10 another robot's heel looks up at it.
You’re the skyscraper-size robot on the left. Actually, you’re sitting inside its head.
© Jody Schaeffer and George Krstic (Megas XLR) 2004

So I give you this rule:

Never self diagnose.

We (and I) have a tendency to blame something other than ourselves. Funny how we never make a mistake but it’s always the fault of some condition, like “social anxiety” or “addiction.” The Devil made me do it!

(I don’t want to downplay any real, diagnosed afflictions, though. Those are rough.)

But as Jason Feifer says:

    "...our efforts to simplify very complex things and make generalizations across broad portions of a population can lead to real harm. And for that matter, telling this narrative about technology addiction can also harm ourselves. Because we are teaching ourselves how to be helpless."

Know how an elephant is tamed for the circus? When it’s a calf, it’s tied to a heavy chain and staked. Or it’s tied with rope and contorted into performance poses. It learns to associate rope with performance time, so even though an adult can easily cast off the rope and escape, it remembers the pain of imprisonment and thinks it can’t.

This is learned helplessness.

horse tied to a plastic chair

Once subjects had been exposed to a situation over which they had no control, they would continue to feel helpless, even in situations where they did have control.” – Brett and Kate McKay, describing a famous study by Martin Seligman

Telling yourself you can’t over and over is scientifically, psychologically debilitating. And it all starts with “addiction.”

Demonizing addiction

Let’s come full circle.

I said in my second article ever to stop calling it “addiction.” Similarly, I try not to use “recovery,” as it implies pathology. You shoot yourself in the foot and can believe, not just think, healing is impossible.

You have within you the power to change. If you don’t believe that, you won’t. And I know it sounds hokey.

"I can't" but the "'t" is being cut off with scissors

But giving yourself an external locus of control (demonizing the thing that got you hooked) is an excuse to give up, because you think it’s an insurmountable barrier. Then you stay angry and never get anywhere– it’s not your fault, after all.

It’s not an insurmountable barrier. It’s a bad habit, and habits can be changed.

For now, be kind to yourself. Don’t blame the bear trap, or yourself for walking into it. Acceptance is the first step… just not acceptance of powerlessness. Don’t let anyone shame you, and don’t shame yourself.

Because here’s my layman’s uninformed opinion. Feel free to debate me on it:

Addiction is just a label.


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