What is emotional addiction, and how does it affect how we behave? In this episode, Amy Killingsworth defines the phenomena to find the root cause of limiting patterned behavior. She breaks down the psychology and biology to help you determine the starting point and rewire emotional responses that are more aligned with your own righteousness, peace and joy. It all starts with understanding your brain. Listen in for an informative and insightful discussion on mental health, addressing trauma, and achieving emotional equilibrium the right way.
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What is Emotional Addiction?
I’m so excited to be back. I say welcome back because we have been on hiatus for a little bit and for a very good reason. We completely retooled our Rise to Reign method of life transformation and made it way more accessible to everybody. We are super excited about that. It is open now for enrollment. If you want to learn about it and see if it is right for you, if you need some healing in your life and you want to go deeper around the concepts that we talk about in the show, go to RiseToReign.com/enroll.
You can read all about the Rise to Reign framework. It is open for enrollment for only a brief period of time, so go ahead and jump on that. Don’t wait because we are getting ready to close it for our next cohort going through.
Without any further ado, we are talking about emotional addiction. In the last episode, we wrapped up a three-part series on Emotional Healing via Emotional Intelligence.
To give everybody a reorientation to where we are, the Rise to Reign framework is 7 principles applied to 7 categories of living. The principles are identity, sovereignty, integrity, amnesty, polarity, vulnerability, and generosity. We covered all seven principles at the beginning of season two of the Rise To Reign show. It goes back to June of ‘21.
We apply those 7 principles to 7 categories, body, soul, which is the complex of the mind, will and emotions, spirit, relationships, finances, creativity, and calling. That is why we call it The Method of Life Transformation because we take those healing principles, and we apply them to every category of our life in which we need healing. In November 2021, we wrapped up a series on emotional intelligence. I am picking up where I left off there. In this episode, we are talking about emotional addiction.
What the heck is emotional addiction? Emotional addiction happens in our central nervous system. It is basically what our system is used to. Our nervous system is patterned in a way. Starting before you are born all the way through childhood and every experience in your life has been recorded in your central nervous system, and whatever emotions that you are used to hanging out become addictive. As we know, with a heroin addiction, people who are addicted do not necessarily feel pleasure from their addiction but they need it to feel okay. Their body gets to a point where you have to have that hit to feel normal.
Normal is not a great word because, in emotional addiction, it is far from normal. Your normal is righteousness, which is a state of alignment, right relationship with God, with yourself, with others, peace, which is a calm sense. Also, the Hebrew version of peace is nothing missing, nothing broken, and joy, which is a sense of calm delight. That being said, righteousness, peace, and joy are your normal. That should be your emotional homeostasis.To your brain, familiarity equals safety. Click To Tweet
I would venture to say for most, if not all of us, that is not the case for us because we have grown up in this incredibly traumatic world and faced so much turbulence, chaos, and hurt. Some of us more than others but we all have that stuff in our nervous system that patterns our nervous system to something other than righteousness, peace, and joy. That is your emotional addiction.
An emotional addiction could be referred to as emotional equilibrium or emotional homeostasis. That is pretty much where you hang out emotionally and feel comfortable. Is overwhelming, anxiety, and fear comfortable? No, it is far from comfortable but it is what you are used to. It is familiar. Remember, to your brain, familiarity equals safety. Many of us have safety linked up with anger or fear and controlling type behaviors because that is what is erroneously patterned into our central nervous system, and we become addicted to the chemicals.
Emotions have a chemical representation in our bodies. Our body physically becomes addicted to the chemicals that are represented or accompanied by the emotions that we feel. Emotional addiction, as I said, could be called emotional homeostasis or emotional equilibrium. I do not like to use homeostasis or equilibrium too much because those words imply balance. It is anything but balanced. In an emotional addiction, it’s not balanced. It is out of balance. It is basically where you hang out, where you feel comfortable, and where you feel safe. Let’s establish an accurate baseline for where you hang out emotionally. That is important.
This is the default where you feel most comfortable and we will call it emotional addiction. Your clean slate when you are born or when you are in utero is programmed, not unlike a computer. You come into this world tabula rasa, which is what Freud called it, and that is the Latin for a clean slate. We know now that is not necessarily the case. Often, we come in with generational trauma and wounds that we are carrying, and there are things that happen even in utero that begin this programming process.
We are not a perfectly clean slate but let’s say that when a baby is born, it is pretty much a blank slate that is like a computer that needs to be programmed. The experiences in early childhood accomplish that much of this programming. From about in utero to the age of seven, your personality is fully formed. Your computer is pretty much programmed, so there are some adjustments to the software that happened over your life, and the programming continues but the base software of your central nervous system is pretty much established by age seven.
The problem here is that young children don’t have a grid of understanding, so deep fear and shame often are entrained very easily into a young child’s nervous system with little obvious stimulus. A lot of times, we look back on our lives and we think, “That wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t that big of a deal,” but your programming is based on your perception at that time that the event happened. What that means is, however you perceive the event as being scary, betrayal or whatever you perceived it as, that is how it got laid down in your central nervous system and how it has to be healed. We will get to that.
As the computer is being programmed metaphorically, the brain is searching for meanings and definitions, so it can form responses. It goes: stimulus, definition, and then response. That is the cycle, and that stimulus, definition, response cycle forms what is called a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are like a messenger that forms connections in our brain. That is how we learn.
Neurotransmitters trigger chemicals that we experience as emotional sensations. This is all science. For the longest time, we have thought of emotions as woo-woo, out there, and not important but they are physical things that can be measured with instruments. When we have this stimulus, definition, response cycle, we form a neurotransmitter, and the neurotransmitter triggers chemicals to be released, and we experience that as emotional sensation. The emotional state, that chemical reality that we experience most frequently in childhood, forms the basis of our emotional addiction, emotional equilibrium or emotional homeostasis.
If you were afraid much of your childhood, that is how your nervous system is patterned, and that is where you go. Now, anger can be secondary to fear because, as we get older and we want to be more powerful, a lot of times, we use anger to mask, numb or escape the fear. Emotional addiction is an attempt to maintain a balance between constantly changing conditions or even chaotic conditions in order to conserve energy and stay safe. I say “safe” because it is not real safety. It is a familiarity to your brain. Familiarity is safety, even if familiarity is extremely dysfunctional.
As we get older and our circumstances change, our bodies and brains patterned by neurotransmitters attempt to constantly bring us back to that same familiar emotional state. We are looking for situations. We are creating situations or responding to situations to constantly bring us back to safety. The problem with that was if our nervous system is patterned with fear or shame, that is where our body keeps continually trying to bring us back to keep us safe. Remember that to your brain, I will say it over and over again, familiarity equals safety.Understanding your emotional addiction helps you determine your starting point when you're trying to become present, conscious, cultivate self-awareness and rewire your emotional responses. Click To Tweet
Understanding your emotional addiction helps you determine your starting point when you are trying to become present, conscious, cultivate self-awareness and rewire your emotional responses. When we establish or when you identify your default emotional state, it is possible from there to anticipate faulty assumptions that precipitate self-sabotage behaviors. What it looks like is this, I will use my own self as an example: as a child growing up, I was habituated to fear, lots of anxiety. I grew up in a chaotic home. My parents were fighting. My dad was very angry and, as a small child, I was constantly afraid of everything.
That anxiety carried forward into my life. In the Rise to Reign archetypes, this is the prisoner archetype, afraid of your own shadow or just fear. What we do as we reach for empowerment is we climb up the archetypes through slave, which is characterized by blame and martyrdom to princess or prince. That is characterized by a false sense of power. How we accomplish that false sense of power is through anger. That is what I was talking about when I say that anger is secondary to fear. If you are a very angry person, dollars to doughnuts, you are masking anxiety with anger.
I got to that point in my mid-twenties probably and then got very angry, not necessarily outwardly angry but inside, seemingly angry. Sometimes it would trigger and I would explode in rage. When we are talking about emotional equilibrium or emotional addiction, we want to look at the sum of our experiences. Not only that one bad thing that happened. We all have that big trauma like our parents got divorced, somebody died, we were abused or we witnessed something.
Those are impactful but that is not what programs our computer. It is the sum of your variances from early childhood. It is not the dramatic moments. It is basically like the soup or the environment that you were habituated to as a child. I’m going to give you a quick timeline and some exercises that you can do for self-reflection. There is a source stimulus from ages 0 to 3. This is repetitive or adverse traumatic experiences occur like maybe your parents don’t change your diaper quickly or even at all or you are left in your crib to cry. A common emotional response is established to that repetitive stimulus.
In ages 4 to 7, you establish a protective response to that. A protective response is a behavior that is based on faulty perception to protect yourself and minimize suffering. That is your adaptation. From ages 8 to 15 is a stage called resignation. This is basically giving up when your best efforts fail to prevent pain. From ages 8 to 15, this is where your emotional addiction is solidified and established.
What does this look like? I will give you that example from my own life. From ages 0 to 3, the source stimulus was chaos in my home. My mom and dad were constantly fighting, slamming doors, and yelling at each other. My mom would leave in the middle of the night and take us with her. We wouldn’t know where we were going to sleep, and it was a constant fear. My emotional response was established from ages 0 to 3. Although I do not remember, I know as a psychologist, I can look back and see this process play out. It was established in fear.
The protective response is that, “I tried to behave well. I tried to shrink and make sure that I did not add to the chaos. I tried to make sure everybody was happy and calm.” That is based on the faulty belief that every child has in a chaotic home: that they’re somehow to blame. It is somehow their fault that their parents are fighting. If they could be better, then their parents would get along. Not true. It is a faulty response. The emotional response, then, is adapted from fear to shame. That is ages 4 to 7. It is like, “What is wrong with me?” Shame is what is wrong with me. That is basically the verbal representation of shame.
Ages 8 to 15 is resignation. Despite my best efforts to behave, be small, quiet, and make people happy, my parents still fought. They even got divorced. At that point, I realized that my best efforts to prevent pain failed, and I basically checked out. I pushed everyone away. I got into full rebellion and risky behavior. That was my response. The emotional equilibrium at that point is established as anger. It started as fear, it went to shame and established in anger. Anger is where I would default most of the time. To repattern an emotional addiction, you have to repattern the fear and the shame and the anger takes care of itself.
Here is your exercise. To establish your own emotional equilibrium from ages 0 to 3, what was your home like? What was the source stimulus? What was the emotional response established? Age 4 to 7, we are a protective response. That is your adaptation. Remember, mine went from fear to shame. What is wrong with me? Age 8 to 15 is the resignation. What is established? Spoiler alert: it is where you hang out the most.
When you get triggered, where do you go? Do you go to blame, self-pity, anger or catastrophizing and immediately fear-worry thoughts? The last one is the easiest one because that is where you live now. What I want you to do is try to go back to your childhood and figure out how you’ve got there. Ages 0 to 3 is the source. Ages 4 to 7 is the adaptation, and ages 8 to 15 is the establishment.
That is a quick primer on emotional addiction. If you want to go deep into these concepts and work directly with me, you can go to RiseToReign.com/enroll. We are enrolling now, and we will be for a short time, so we welcome you to check that out. If you have questions for me, you can text your questions to me directly at (843) 279-5738, and I will either answer you directly or I will use your question for an upcoming episode. Thank you so much for reading. I will see you in the next episode.
Are you a Prisoner or a Queen? (or something in between)
The four archetypes help you distinguish between your true identity and how you might react in times of stress or out of unhealed wounds. Your identity is defined as: a) The condition of being a certain person and/or b) the characteristics by which a person is known. How do you see yourself? How do others see you? Who does God say you are? By understanding the prisoner, slave, princess (prince) and Queen (King), you can be intentional about choosing to show up as your true self and stepping away from patterns of dysfunction.
You were born to reign. But you have to know who you are first. In this free download, I explain the four Rise to Reign Archetypes (Prisoner, Slave, Princess & Queen). Self awareness creates the ability to shift in the direction of your wildest dreams instead of your worst fears.