Part of the recovery process for any addiction is grappling with what we want versus what we need. We may want the donut, but we need the apple. We may want the “bad boy,” but we need the “nice guy.” And this is a very hard emotional trigger to overcome. It requires a level of maturity that we previously never had, as well as a complete overhaul in thinking.
Want and need are wrapped up in several things, the first of which is the concept of immediate gratification versus deferred gratification: I want the pain to go away immediately, so I will call him and break my promise of no contact (NC) even though it’s not in my best interest. We place a higher value on feeding our emotions and getting what we want right at the moment as opposed to putting it off until there is a more appropriate (but often more difficult) way to deal with the pain. When you think of immediate gratification versus deferred, think of saving money versus spending it. When you hold off on buying stuff you want right when you see and you save your money instead, you are able to buy bigger and better things that have more value. My son is learning this lesson now (or not!). He had saved over $2000 for a new car. He needed only about $1000 more to get the model he wanted. Instead of waiting and working a little harder, he ended up blowing almost all his savings on t-shirts, food, and other stuff over the course of several months. When school started, and everyone was driving their car, he had to ask for a ride. Because he didn’t invest in a car, he is now dependent on others and has less freedom to go where he wants, which was his ultimate goal.
You need to see yourself as an investment. You need to see that the more you invest in yourself, the more hard work, love and education and experience you put into yourself, the more rewarding life becomes for you. The more valuable you become. Not only to yourself but others.
The second thing want versus need is wrapped up in is emotional thinking and logical thinking. Somewhere along the line, I don’t remember where, I learned that you think with two brains! Your emotional brain (which is ruled by your inner child), and your logical brain (which is ruled by your inner adult). To be a healthy individual means that there is a balance of power between these two brains, AND that both brains think in a healthy way. Most love addicts are ruled almost entirely by their emotional brains. And what’s worse is that their emotions are not very healthy to begin with. An emotionally-thinking individual tends to want what feels good. A logically-thinking individual tends to want what is rational, right and what makes sense. The conflict comes in when the two brains are not in alignment and desire different things. I am sure most of us can relate to this scenario: we are dating an avoidant person, someone who causes us a great deal of pain, yet we stay. Part of us doesn’t want to give him or her up (the emotional part), whereas the other part of us (the logical part) was driven to seek out help and knows the relationship needs to end.
Know that when something is right both the emotional brain and the logical brain are on the same page. They are in alignment. They want the same thing. When want and need are in alignment, both brains want the same thing. The trick is to give value to your logical brain and start to take it a hell of a lot more seriously than you have been. Many of us over-glamorize emotional and creative thinking. We tend to put a very ugly spin on “logic.” We see logical people as cold, rational, unfeeling, unemotional people who have no heart. Whereas we see emotional people as the salt of the earth. They are warm, passionate, loving and more “fun.” Not only is the kind of black and white thinking grossly untrue, it is detrimental to your health. You were given logic AND emotion and it is important to use both. By only using your emotional brain you cause a huge imbalance. “Want” wins out over “need” and the price becomes evident in the fact that you are not investing in yourself or caring for yourself properly. I do want to clarify that I do not think emotions are bad. But I do think that during recovery, a love addict cannot and should not trust or depend on their emotions. In order to balance the imbalance, use your logical brain most of the time. Until your emotions learn to feel in more healthy ways.
Want versus need is wrapped up in your personal belief system and level of maturity. I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “It’s better to spend money today than save it for tomorrow. Tomorrow might never come.” And yet, if you don’t plan for the future, and tomorrow does come, then what? What do you have to show for yourself? While this personal belief in immediate gratification has some merit, it is an immature belief. While it addresses the human need for immediate comfort and to enjoy the now, it does not address the equally important need to protect oneself for the future. This plays heavily into self-care. In order to take care of one’s self, you need to set goals, plan, save, and protect yourself by postponing things you want.
While the “bad boy” might seem like a great option now, and while he may make you feel wonderful and sexy now, what can he provide in the future? What’s his staying power? How will he benefit you a year from now, five years from now? Twenty? When we choose a partner, we need to have some bit of forward thinking and that comes from a level of maturity and an ability to see people as healthy choices or unhealthy choices. Choosing the bad boy, for me, was based on an immature notion I had had in my younger years of who I thought I was and what I thought was best for me. I learned that rather late in life that what I want did not match up to what I needed. I needed a family man. I needed a professional man who could take care of himself. I needed someone I could rely on, trust, and respect. More than anything, I needed someone who did not cause me pain and suffering. You tend not to think of any of those things when your goal is to find something you WANT.
So, my advice:
- Recognize the importance of deferred gratification. Oftentimes postponing pleasure as a way of achieving something of more value is the better option.
- Turn off your emotional thinking. At least for a year or two. Make logical decisions about things. Choose options not on how it “feels” but on its logical benefits. This is how you train yourself to align emotional thinking with logical thinking.
- Tweak your personal beliefs. Stop believing in things that don’t serve you in the long run. If you want to spend a little money now, that’s fine, but save a larger portion of it. If you want to satisfy a craving for love and emotional attachment do it in small doses with healthy people. Stop believing that expending all your emotions on the first date is healthy. It’s not. Think of the impact and consequences of your actions.
- Strive for maturity. That means making logical decisions, based on long-term outcomes. It means not empowering your demanding, needy inner-child by giving her free reign. Put her in a time out. It’s not all about her. Besides, she can’t make healthy decisions anyway (has she ever?!) And recognize that want is temporary; need is permanent. Lots of things in life are worth waiting for….