Can We Get Addicted to Our Misery?

Question Is it possible to be addicted to our misery?

I have an aunt who is constantly talking about all of her illnesses and all of the hard things that are going on in her life. It seems like this is an addiction simply because she inflates her stories as time goes on.  She wants to keep repeating the stories and expects you not to leave; she even calls to tell her stories. She just wants to keep ranting about how hard her life is.

I have no doubt that she does have struggles, in fact, we all do. Yet she seems to dwell on nothing but those struggles. Is it even possible to help her find peace or even happiness in all of life’s hardships, when she lives every moment in recalling all of the pain?

Answer Yes, it is very possible to feel more comfortable in our misery than to fight to find more peace in our lives.

This type of addiction is very similar to any other type of addiction. The more you do it the more you want to do it. It does give you a temporary high or a feeling of being needed or having others feel sympathy for you. They want to be needed or accepted and this is one way to do that even though it is not a healthy way to accomplish it. It is a basic human need to belong.

Hiding in our misery is like a warm fuzzy blanket. If we are the victim, we are not responsible for making changes. That will be someone else’s responsibility. We are off the hook. This ideology prevents us from progressing and making our life better. According to Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD, it is “like a cat chasing its tail”, there is not a final solution, satiation, or satisfaction in addiction. It is a “futile cycle” which prevents the addicted one from moving forward. That may sound harsh yet living in one’s misery daily never brings happiness.

addicted to misery

Deep-rooted insecurity or lack of self-esteem may cause some people to feel undeserving. Some may feel that trying to find that joy may be a “setup” for disappointment. In a study by Eduardo Andrade and Joel Cohen, which evaluated why people like horror movies, they stated that some just like to be unhappy. They may need to feel risk or horror to feel much of anything.

Look at this list and see if this fits anyone you know:

  1. Find reasons to be miserable.
  2. Prefer to play the victim because they can’t or won’t choose to be responsible for themselves.
  3. Have empty unsatisfying relationships.
  4. Turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, food or any addictive compulsive behaviors.
  5. Feels powerless to change or feel it would not make a difference.
  6. Feel their life is harder than others.

Misery or happiness is a choice. To some extent, we do choose our own thoughts and how we play out those thoughts. (This may be more of a challenge for those with depression or anxiety.) One choice that is in bounds for everyone is to get help if the situation is too overpowering.  Cognitive or Dialectical behavioral therapy works wonders for any of us. Misery does not have to be terminal.

Is there a solution to all of this? Yes, to begin with, it takes being aware that they or you are caught in this cycle. Then it takes desire, consistency and determination. It is amazing how this mind-set affects mental, physical and spiritual health.

There are steps to finding joy in your life and live beyond the constant feelings of being miserable.

  1. Becoming aware – Self-aware and others-aware. This involves monitoring our inner worlds, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. It is important because it is what drives or influences personal development. This takes self-examination. How do we feel? How do we affect those around us? What needs to change to make us better stronger and happier people? High self-awareness is a predictor of a successful life. We can learn to be more self-aware by journaling, listening to feedback, working at being a better listener, trying to see the other person’s viewpoint.
  2. Realizing there is no such thing as perfection.  According to Psychology Today, “perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or our physical looks. It is a fast and enduring track to unhappiness; it is often accompanied by depression or anxiety. Perfection is usually driven by the desire to avoid failure or judgment.” The goal here is to practice being good with what life brings you. If you can be changed that is great. Change it!  If not, then find a way to live with it and still choose happiness.

This is one of my favorite stories:

A long time ago, there was a small village. In that village lived a serving man. His job was to fetch the water.

Every day, he would carry two empty buckets down the long path to the river, fill the buckets, and carry the full buckets back to his master’s house.

One of the buckets was perfect and would carry all the water it held all the way back to the master’s house. Naturally, it was very proud of its daily accomplishments.

The other bucket was imperfect. It had a crack. And every day, the serving man would fill it to the top with water, and every day, the bucket would slowly leak on the way back up the path and would arrive at the master’s house only half full.

This went on for two years. Finally, the bucket with the crack in it couldn’t take it anymore. When the serving man reached the river, the bucket said to him, “I want to apologize to you.”

The serving man was surprised. “Why would you want to apologize to me?”

“Because,” said the bucket. “Every day you have to walk all the way down to the river to fetch the water and walk all the way back, and every day, I am only able to bring half the water you put in me back to the master’s house. I am ashamed.”

The serving man felt sorry for the bucket. He said, “I’ll tell you what. As we make our way back up the long path to the master’s house, look around you. There are beautiful wildflowers growing along the path that will cheer you up.”

The bucket agreed; and as they walked back up the long path to the master’s house, he did look around and the beautiful wildflowers did cheer him up. But when they reached the master’s house, the bucket still only had half of the water it began with.

“I was still only able to do half the work,” said the bucket. “I still failed. I am sorry!”

The serving man smiled, and said, “Did you notice that the beautiful wildflowers were only growing on your side of the path? I knew about your crack all along, and I took advantage of it. Two years ago, I dropped flower seeds along the path, and for two years, you have been watering those flowers. It’s thanks to you and your leak that those flowers were able to grow and make the path to the river more beautiful, making everyone’s work more pleasant.”

 3- A gratitude journal – This is one of the major happiness changers. List at least three things every night before bedtime that you are grateful for. Write them down and when you wake in the morning reread what you wrote the night before.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami have done much of the research on gratitude. In one study, they asked all participants to write a few sentences each week, focusing on particular topics.

One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily irritations or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.

When we are stuck in the mode of living and loving our misery, our thoughts and feelings are distorted toward negative thinking. Our illogical thoughts cause illogical feelings and actions.

Dr. David D. Burns, M.D. (Feeling Good) gives us some insight to these negative thoughts.  Ask yourself if you are living in these thinking patterns:

  1. All or nothing thinking. In reality our lives are more in the middle, not all in one direction or another.
  2. Overgeneralization. It is easy to say that because of one bad incident, we attribute it to everything in our lives.  One bad situation does not represent that all situations are bad.
  3. Disqualifying the positive. When we have something negative happen we too easily do not see the positive situations in our lives.
  4. Magnification and minimization. Every time our negative stories are told we tend to enhance them. Like a fishing story where the fish just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Or we may minimize the good from our struggles. Ask yourself: “What good did I learn from this situation?” For example, when a boss states we did not do a project correctly do we interpret that to mean we never do it right.  
  5. Personalizing: It is when you assume responsibility for a negative event when there is no basis for doing so.  For example, when a mother receives her child’s school report, plus a note from the Tudor indicating her child is not working well, she immediately concludes “I must be a bad mother.  This shows how I’ve failed,”.  Don’t see yourself as the cause of all the negative or all the positive. What is really your responsibility? What part is not your responsibility? What is it that you are really feeling or wanting?

Those who are addicted to their misery are so deep in this type of thinking pattern that it can be very uncomfortable and hard to change this cycle and to find happiness in everyday living. We often become so comfortable with our life’s perspective that we can easily choose something that is not for our benefit.

Take these 3 steps listed above; becoming aware; Realizing there is no such thing as perfection; A gratitude journal; and work them faithfully day after day. There cannot be any growth or change without this work to change the thinking and the heart. We can find greater happiness, greater connections and greater progress in life just by following these simple steps.

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown they prefer the suffering that is familiar. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Kristena Eden

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