Have you ever been in a relationship that seems to be consistently tumultuous, no matter how hard you work not to rock the boat? Maybe you have a friend who is always in some kind of situation, whether it be romantic, in the workplace, with other friends, or family. Maybe you are that friend. It turns out, we can be addicted to chaos and drama—but it’s a matter of recognition and self-healing rather than shame.
Emotional addiction such as this usually stems from what we witness in early childhood. We asked Chenoa Maxwell, emotional and soul intelligence expert and founder of Live Limitlessly, to help us identify it in ourselves or others, and how to manage it.
Maxwell defines emotional addiction as a life in which one becomes unconsciously reliant on distressing and/or negative thoughts, emotions, or reactions that may have previously helped them to cope, self-soothe, or survive but are now destructive. So how do we realize it, accept it, and change it?
Unpacking emotional addiction is not so simple, Maxwell tells us. “Most of my case studies and observances in clients of my private practice aren’t even aware they are cultivating and forming habit loops of negative emotional addiction. There is a laundry list of potential triggers and lifestyle patterns that play into this habit loop, and that’s just the surface.”
Maxwell explains that the old cliche ‘misery loves company’ defines this addiction to bringing other people into a cycle of drama, at least at the surface level. It’s the subconscious desire to trauma-bond and keep oneself and others close to them in that loop. But Maxwell addresses the actual neuroscience and practice of breaking those negative thought habit patterns formed through traumatic life events, lack of or deficiency of self-love, low self-esteem, abusive relationships, or even grief.
How do we change emotional addiction on a subconscious level?
“To begin to loosen the grip that your emotional addiction imposes, you’ll first have to become conscious of your own thought patterns, i.e., self-talk or inner dialogue. Simply put, recognize your emotional ‘fix,’ like a substance addict recognizes their ‘fix’ of choice. For a simple example, choosing to fixate on ‘lack of’ rather than on gratitude. When you become mindful of your thought patterns or self-talk, you have a choice—commit to a growth mindset or to a fixed mindset.
In that instant of recognition, the opportunity to redirect those negative emotional patterns into positive ones is presented. In other words, it is always a choice that you, as a participant in life, can make.”
Of course, Maxwell knows that it’s not a simple task to course-correct years of pattern behavior and addiction.
“The first step I can recommend to begin the process of being self-aware if in a state of emotional addiction is to literally ask yourself, ‘Is my life actually moving my way?’ Are you genuinely happy? How are your relationships across the board? A great way to do this is to ask three to five people you know, how do you come off to them? The only requirement in that ask is they must be radically honest and you must radically, without judgment, listen and accept. It’s a great place to begin your practice of self-awareness (and bravo to you once you do commit to this exercise; it takes courage and desire to be better than you were yesterday!).
“My other fundamental tip is to get to know your emotions. Are you able to communicate them and, in detail, describe how you feel? If you can intimately know your feelings, you will be more adept at recognizing them as they surface in your day-to-day. So, for example, you may be feeling lethargic, disconnected, lacking motivation, aloof, or indifferent. Those feelings are tell-tale signs of onsetting depression. If they are constant or habitual, then it’s time to acknowledge that you’re not just having a bad day or week; it’s time to seek support and help in unwinding those negative patterns.”