Many 'harmless' habits that we overindulge in like nail-biting, shopping, web-surfing, continuous texting or checking for messages, overworking, procrastinating, gossiping, watching too much television, and too many cups of tea or coffee, can become what are called "soft addictions" that limit our potential, ultimately draining us of both energy and self-respect.
Unlike hard addictions, which are usually related to a chemical substance, you don't die from soft addictions. ''But you don't really live, either,'' said Judith Wright, author of The Soft Addiction Solution, who labelled this phenomenon.
Soft addictions begin as normal, everyday, soothing activities, but can end up numbing your feelings and leaving you drained of energy. Some addictions like television zone you out; others like shopping bring temporary ease. Overeating or overusing gadgets are the adult equivalent of thumb-sucking. Though these feel like solutions to a problem, they can get in the way of leading a more fulfilling life.
They can also often have long-term consequences. Stress snacking can cause you to be constantly unhappy about how you look, how your clothes don't fit, and worse, get you to an unhealthy weight. A runaway shopping addiction can destroy your finances, or at least cause you to lie about it. Excessive caffeine intake can cause headaches, insomnia, irritability and anxiety. Too much TV on a regular basis, especially at night, makes it both hard to sleep and hard to wake up.
Thought to be patterns that begin innocuously in early life, Nathalie Anderson's fairytale take-off poem on the subject humorously yet painfully reveals the truth about soft addictions:
"…And so it's been. The prim princess royal, gifted with itty-bitty knitted booties, now acquires shoes – so many, she'll never go slipshod or round-heeled, a pair for every coloured thread in every Persian carpet…
"There's a prince who bets on ponies. There's a prince who marries showgirls. There's a princess who reads twelve mysteries whenever she's down…"
Because they seem so benign, and we even sheepishly admit them or laugh them off, often it's friends, family or colleagues who point out when this gets in the way of our work, relationships or other aspects of our lives.
If people tease you about always being late, your friends get mad when you are texting while seeming to engage with them, your husband complains that you spend more time with your online friends than him, if your wife points out you are becoming a couch potato – these are warnings of a soft addiction. Also pay attention to those little feelings of discomfort that softly but persistently nag you when you're off track.
You have to recognise that there is a deeper need or hunger under the soft addiction. You need to make the distinction between what you want and what you hunger for. As Wright said, ''You might want a new designer dress, but you're really hungry to feel good about yourself.''
The first step to beating a soft addiction requires making a commitment to higher quality of life. When we pay attention to where our soft addictions are getting in the way of our wellbeing, daily functioning, our intimacy, and ultimately our dreams, we can regain hours of wasted time, choose health-supporting options, save money wasted on comfort-shopping, and restore a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.
First Published by Marguerite Theophil on SpeakingTree.in