One psychologist once said that he thought the Bible contained the best description he’d seen of how addiction works. He referred to the text from Ephesians 4:17-19 which describes people who, according to the Apostle Paul, have “futile thinking”: “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”
In other words, these people don’t necessarily know when they have a problem. They don’t know how hardened and insensitive they can be to their own pain, because of their thinking patterns, that they seem almost helplessly unable to avoid longing for more of what gives them a good feeling.
It is easy to identify the power of some of the more obvious addictions in life, but I want to switch focus to those which are more subtle. For example, someone who may never use drugs or abuse alcohol to hide past pain, yet they may cover for an approval deficit by being a performance-driven and affirmation-addicted workaholic! Others may see that they have a problem, yet they might simply legitimise their unhealthy emphasis on the basis that it is not really too destructive. There is a real risk in such cases of a self-righteousness creeping in, which ends up making people calloused to the damage that they are doing in certain areas of life as they crave a little more of what brings an externally driven sense of self-worth. (A ‘Messiah’ complex can also be especially easy to take on).
I don’t know about you, but no amount of money, promotion or acceptance by others could make me want to shackle myself to an unhealthy dependence on what others say or think about me. Yet we probably all risk lapsing into some small measure of an unhealthy self-image (say, at work, even if our boss will probably not be around to hold our hand when we are one day on our death bed!). It’s just a matter of degrees, and it’s comforting, after all, to remind ourselves that we are only human, and just need to recalibrate ourselves every now and then.