Sunday, February 2, 2014

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts

The weather has not been conducive to adventuring around the city of Toronto.   Therefore, I have been getting a lot of reading done.  Just this afternoon I finished In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté, a non-fiction book on the subject of  addiction.  It explores the relationships between early childhood experiences, ADD/ADHD, and addictive behaviours.  I certainly found it thought-provoking.

One of the issues Maté grapples with is how much control people have over their own behaviour.  Given one's various genetic pre-dispositions and the inescapable environments of childhood, how much are we driven by our "programming" and how much free choice do we actually have?  He doesn't try to answer that, but does make the point that there is no black and white answer; it's a slippery, grey area.

I like his idea of redefining free will as "free won't", i.e. the ability to resist our own impulses and compulsions when they do not work towards our long-term well-being.

It's also interesting to see the parallels between addiction and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They both centre around obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.  The defining difference is that someone with OCD derives no pleasure from their activities.  At least an addict gets a momentary high.

These questions go through my mind often as I make my way through life.  My impulse to be angry with someone for their destructive or irresponsible behaviour wrestles with my impulse to be understanding and compassionate regarding their side of the story.  If I'm angry it's often because I haven't defined my own boundaries well enough, and feel that perhaps they have been crossed, but I'm not sure, and feel both confused and threatened.  Also, I hate being put in a position where I have to choose between being a doormat and confronting someone, because both of those are uncomfortable.  Obviously if I get conscious about what's happening, I'll do the confrontation, but I won't enjoy it.

Maté quotes a therapist who advises that it is always better to end up feeling guilty than to end up feeling resentful.  In other words, choose to stand up for yourself, even if you might hurt someone else's feelings in the process.  I don't think it's necessarily that clear cut all the time.  I know that sometimes I feel resentful for reasons that don't reflect the current situation accurately.  Sometimes I feel resentful because the situation reminds me of a bad time in the past, or because I'm tired because I didn't sleep well the night before, even when someone is being perfectly reasonable with me.  I'll spend a lot of time trying to figure out if my annoyance is justified before I air it.

So, what do you think?  Any strong opinions out there on the free will/free won't issue?  Is an addiction the fault of the addict?  Is it really better to feel guilty than to feel resentful?  Throw in your two cents.


DarcKnyt said...

"Free won't" -- that's pretty good. I like that one.

I struggle with understanding myself as well as other people do, and being inherently lazy, there's little chance I'll invest the energy to do anything about it.

Deep thoughts...and I'm a poor swimmer. I'll leave it to the aquanauts and just try to muddle through.

Still praying for you. Hope things are all right.

Granny Annie said...

Is there anyone who is not in a state of confusion? Sometimes I cannot get my day started because I do not know what direction to go.

Vanessa T said...

Hmm, interesting! Love the "free won't" line. I think there is some truth to that, because I do believe that ultimately we are responsible for our choices. The problem comes when we have to suffer the consequences of someone else's choices. We can resent that, or draw a line. Sometimes the line has to be permanent, like I've had to do with certain people in my past.

Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, airing that annoyance is necessary to figuring out if it's justified, I think. "Thinking out loud," as it were. Then the other party can explain or continue being annoying.

One thing I read many years ago had something along the lines of having to decide if what you're putting into the relationship is worth what you're getting out of it. Yes, we are often willing to make many sacrifices in the interest of a cherished relationship, because of the value it has to us. But if we're constantly taking things out of our "emotional bank account," for the sake of a relationship that isn't putting anything back into said account, then it may be necessary to end that relationship. Painful, yes, but very freeing.

So, choices. We can only make them, and live with them.

I'll be praying for you. *hugs*

LL Cool Joe said...

Having lived a life full of guilt, I'm not sure that resentment isn't better. Although neither are good for you.

I think we all suffer with addiction to a certain degree, it's just that some addictions are more harmful than others. I mean I'd rather be addicted to caps than cocaine.

Lynn said...

I supposed getting addicted to something started with free will, but then it can be so problematic to become not addicted anymore.

Sparkling Red said...

DarcKnyt: Thanks! Yeah, I'm a bit of an aquanaut myself. I'll let you know if I find a solution to any of these problems, but don't hold your breath for it. ;-)

Granny Annie: I know the feeling.

Vanessa: Thank you. Yes, it's very difficult to know where to draw the line. I agree that it's important to let people know what impact their actions and choices are having on us. Then at least they can make more informed decisions about their behaviour.

Joey: Yeah, and I'll take clothes shopping over heroin.

Lynn: It can start with free choice. It's the toughest when people get addicted to eating. In that case abstinence is not a viable solution.