What’s Your Emotional Addiction?


Have you ever thought about emotional addiction?

We can be addicted to a certain substance or behavior. But can we be addicted to an emotion?

I came across the term emotional addiction while listening to a talk by Dr. Rubino about self-esteem. The gist of it is: We experience negative events; we interpret them and then we create a general rule that shapes our perception. The result is an addiction to one of these three emotions: anger, fear, or sadness. In other words, we see the world through the lens of this emotion.

We do experience a gamut of negative emotions but it seems to me they stem from one of the main three categories. Here are some examples that come to mind.

  • Anger can be a fit of rage, or a verbal outburst. But it can be a form of dissatisfaction, frustration, disappointment, or resentment.
  • Fear is not only a paralyzing, body shaking adrenaline-pumping emotion. It manifests in so many ways such as lack of trust (in self and others), hesitation, indecision, doubt, anxiety, or procrastination.
  • Sadness can manifest in apathy, indifference, helplessness, or a sense of lack.

Addiction is usually associated with excessive and harmful behavior or substance abuse. The word addiction conjures up weakness and dependency. And the same can be said about emotional addiction.

An emotional addiction, not only colors our world with its shades, but can also be our crutch. It creates a familiar framework for our lives. And in the process, it holds us back and forces us into a relentless loop of painful feelings and reactions.

So it’s crucial to our mental and emotional wellbeing to examine how we feel most of the time and assess our negative emotional dependency.

Awareness: The first step in facing emotional addiction

I truly believe every transformation starts with awareness. In order to change anything, we need to become aware of it first.

When people start a recovery journey they start with the admission that they are addicts. The same applies to emotional addiction.

But before the how, let’s think about why awareness is essential.

Why it’s important to become aware of our dominant negative emotion

The most important reason for wanting to become aware is to stop the automatic subconscious cycle of unnecessary pain.

If the way we feel shapes everything else, then it’s really important to examine the excessive and harmful feelings that cannot be true—all the time. Some fear or anger might feel like a warranted response to some event. But it shouldn’t become a general rule that dominates everything.

If we always view everything through a negative lens,

  • How are we to experience joy or to fully express ourselves?
  • How can we see the good in others and ourselves if all we see is negativity?
  • Can we ever be at peace within if we’re consumed by a negative emotional addiction?

How to become aware of emotional addiction

In order to become aware, start noticing how you’re feeling. Most of the times our feelings run in the background, unchecked and unquestioned.

Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m feeling, just a sense of unease, till I start paying attention.

Give the negative emotion a voice and a home

What category does your emotion fit into (anger, fear, or sadness)?

What is it telling you? It may be just a whisper, or a nudge. Take note.

My emotional poison

Thinking about my situation, I realized that I’m addicted to fear. The imbedded feelings I have revolve around one form of fear or another. Most of the time the feeling is subtle—a general sense of unease, hesitation, doubts, and unfocused energy.

When I paid more attention, the underlying fears came up—fear of failure and success, feeling not good (or not ready) enough, fear of rejection, fear of missing out and procrastination.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t have anger or sadness. I do, but to a lesser extent.

What’s your emotional addiction?

What about you? Do you have an underlying negative emotion that shapes your experiences and decisions?

I invite you to think about this for a moment. Reflect on the following questions.

  • What bothers you?
  • What pains you?
  • How do you feel when you wake in the morning? Are you relaxed or stressed? Excited or blah?
  • What thoughts about yourself, others or the world keep coming up?
  • What does your protective side tell you most of the time?

Whenever you feel negativity, sit with it, and determine its nature.

Beyond awareness: Feel, but don’t judge

After you recognize the emotion, keep paying attention to see if a pattern emerges. The pattern will be more of the same emotion (maybe in different flavors).

1. Own the emotion.

Ownership doesn’t mean we have to defend the way we feel. It’s about taking responsibility for our emotional state. Maybe someone did something way back when, but that shouldn’t justify how we feel most of the time—today.

Don’t judge yourself for feeling the way you’re feeling. The feelings built up over years and were probably based on a defensive and protective mechanism. So don’t add to the negativity by beating yourself up or wanting to feel differently.

Admitting something that we don’t like (having an emotional addiction) alleviates the pain. There is ease in acceptance. We no longer need to fight how we feel.

2. Pay attention when the feelings come up.

This is a very hard thing to do. Sometimes the feelings run fast and deep before we can recognize that we were swept by an emotion.

If you catch yourself on the verge of getting into a fearful, sad, or angry state,

  • Notice the feeling. What type of feeling is it?
  • Watch it as it moves through your body. Feel the energy of the emotion. It can be in the form of shaking, shortness of breath, muscles tightening, butterflies in your stomach, or increase in body temperature.
  • Let the emotion go through your body completely if you can. Feel it like a wave that takes over and leaves.

When the emotion takes over quickly

If the emotion took over pretty fast and you didn’t realize how you felt till after the fact, it’s okay.

Review the event and go through how you felt and reacted. Re-feel if you can the emotion and allow it to go through without resistance or judgment.

Did you notice anything that triggered the feeling?

3. Release and step out of the emotion.

When we feel or re-feel something, we allow the emotion to go through instead of suppressing it (or regretting the reaction).

Feeling the negativity without fighting it or acting on it is like releasing a ball that was submerged and held underwater. We allow it to come up when we can, instead of letting the pressure build up and the ball pops up when we least expect it.

We can watch our emotional ball come up to the surface of our being. We can fully feel it—realizing that it is a separate event from us. It doesn’t define us. We can walk away and leave the ball floating for a while.

If the emotional pressure builds up again, we do the same thing—feel it (i.e. allow the emotion to go through the ocean of your being, like a submerged ball passes through the water and up to the surface) and step out (look at the ball floating, separate from you).

Do we need to dig into our past to change the present?

I personally don’t think so. It may be helpful to shed light on a significantly negative event that happened in the past, and try to reinterpret it by finding alternative meanings. This usually helps in eliminating the limiting belief and related emotions.

What if we don’t know where something started? Do we just keep circling the same negativity?

It’s better to be here right now and deal with what’s happening and how we’re feeling in this moment. If (and when) we have more time for introspection, it will be an added benefit. But let’s not sit and wait for the magic revelation to happen.

Can we change how we feel? And should we?

Once we acknowledge that we have a negative emotional dependency, it may sound logical to force ourselves to change how we feel.

Society wants us to feel courageous, positive and cheerful, happy and calm. And we want to feel just like everyone else is feeling. Guess what? Everyone else has some negativity that they have either expressed, or suppressed.

If we think that others have it all figured out, we’re misguided. We express the collective sadness by mourning the loss of life more than celebrating it (the news is a constant reminder).

Look at the history of human violence up to this moment and tell me it’s not based in fear, anger, or both.

Marketing is the business of selling us happiness in a product or service. Why does it work? Because there is a sense of lack and sadness within us.

Instead of wanting to crush the negativity, we can accept how we feel, and who we are in this moment and allow whatever is taking place to come to the surface.

Can we change our emotions? I don’t know for sure. I’m trying this approach as I write this. But I suspect we can.

And this is not about feeling peppy and positive—far from it. It’s about feeling okay and viewing life from a clear lens instead of a smudged one, smeared with past negativity, which has no relevance to our lives today.

Plus, when we learn to process the negativity and allow it to be without acting on it, we realize that we’re okay even if there is fear, anger, or sadness within us. We feel, release and move on.

Interestingly, this is where we start feeling differently. The negativity no longer wants to hold on to us—because we don’t need its pain anymore; we’re fully alive with it or without it.