When we think about an addiction, we usually think about addictions to drugs or alcohol, gambling, sex, video games or even food. We rarely think about addictions to our thoughts. Many of my clients have thought addictions.
I have even suffered from a thought addiction. In graduate school, I threw myself into my studies and lived in the realm of philosophy and existentialism. When I look back, I was living in my intellectual mind to avoid my problematic relationship and bind my anxiety. Instead of identifying my obsessive need to learn and study as addictive, my professors and family rewarded me.
I can still feel the strong pull to reside in my intellectual mind. If I did not have an extroverted child, I would probably sit for hours contemplating reality and reading books on science and spirituality. I’d stay in my house for days reading and writing, and then sharing my discoveries with you. But luckily my extroverted child blocks my addiction and of course my own understanding of thought addictions.
Thoughts and mental activities can be addictive when used to avoid our emotions and personal challenges. Some of my clients have told me they were addicted to self-help books and were unable to stop reading them. They entered therapy because they were unable to apply their learning to their lives. The self-help books would bind their anxiety for a few days or few weeks but when the book ended, the emotional distress reoccured and sometimes even more intensely than before.
Basically, you can be addicted to abstract intellectual thinking. Intellectualizing is often a way to avoid internal states that are emotionally distressing such as anxiety, depression, shame, and grief. Abstract thinking can be a powerful way to alter our moods because it keeps us in categories so conceptual that we have no contact with concrete, specific, sensory-based reality.
If clients have a choice between reading a book or drinking alcohol to manage their mood, I would certainly suggest they read the book but it is critical to examine how the book blocks emotions and leads to an avoidance of personal issues. It is okay to read the book, listen to the documentary or podcast, learn and study new ideas, write, problem solve, or have projects as a way to manage our emotions, but it is not okay to use it exclusively or obsessively. It is also not okay to engage in these activities for long periods of time at the expense of our relationships or other activities.
To help my clients with thought addictions, I suggest they practice mindfulness tools before engaging in intellectualization or abstract thinking. It is critical to sit with your emotions and bodily sensations before engaging in any activity that draws your attention away from concrete, specific, sensory-based reality.
Check out my article, 7 Techniques for Practicing Mindfulness to learn strategies to more effectively manage your emotions and to practice staying in the present moment.
Contact me. If you would like to schedule counseling or coaching sessions to help overcome thought addictions, please email me through my website.