Posts Tagged ‘addiction’

I received the following letter regarding telling people things they don’t want to hear:

Dear People’s Therapist

I have been a fan of your blog for a long time, and thank you for running the blog!  I have the following question:
My mother-in-law is obese.  My father-in-law just passed away a year ago from diabetes.  My husband wants to talk to his mother to get her to lose weight because he doesn’t want to lose her (she is almost 60 years old).  We tried hinting but it got no where.  We tried inviting her over to our house for healthy dinners but because I’m Chinese and my husband is Caucasian American, our Chinese diet of vegetables and tofu is not exactly her cup of tea.  We tried analyzing the situation and decided that she doesn’t eat much during meals but she snacks a lot on junk foods.  My husband wants to know how can he talk to his mother about her losing weight and not hurt her feelings or sound like we don’t like fat people (my husband and I are the only skinny people in the family)??

Thank you very much!!


And here’s my response:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist.

If you’re interested in learning more about the scientific and philosophical underpinnings of psychotherapy, you might enjoy my first book, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy”

My second book takes a humorous look at the current state of the legal profession, “Way Worse Than Being A Dentist”

(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.) 

For information on my private practice, click here.


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The phrase “addicted to oil” gets bandied about a lot with reference to the USA’s massive reliance upon – and consumption of – fossil fuels.

It’s worth taking a look at what drives an addiction, any addiction.

First, there is the physical element – the fact that, due to your genetic predisposition, you crave a substance, such as alcohol or drugs.  In the case of the USA and oil, that translates into some unique factors in our history and our geography.  Settlers from Europe “discovered” a vast, sparsely-populated continent.  They found oil there, invented the automobile, and the land grab already underway switched into high gear. Behind romanticized notions like “frontier” and “cowboy” lies a wasteful low-density settlement pattern that renders mass transit a virtual impossibility.  As a result, “the American Dream” always seems to involve owning a big house far away from everyone else, and driving hundreds of miles per day in a gas-guzzling car.

The second factor spurring addiction is aggression.  As the addict awakens to the cost of his behavior, it begins to take on a different tinge – it becomes about anger.  As one of my clients, a recovered alcoholic, told me – when you’re doing something so obviously self-destructive, there’s always a “to hell with it” attitude running things, an attitude of aggression.  You can wrap yourself up in excuses, but deep down every addict knows what he’s doing is not only self-destructive, but destructive, period.  Feeding the addiction becomes an outlet for aggression.

There are good evolutionary reasons why discharging aggression feels good.  The aggressive animal can intimidate his rivals and mate widely, producing the most off-spring.  The animal who most enjoys aggression, like the animal who most enjoys sex, is the animal who reproduces most successfully.

The problem with discharging aggression, at least in humans, is that it produces a hang-over.  You awaken to remorse.

It’s fun to chant “drill, baby, drill” with cheap demagogues like Sarah Palin and Michael Steele.  There’s a major “to hell with it” factor at play.  You don’t care about pollution – you just want to have fun, like Arnold Schwarzenegger storming LA in a Hummer or Palin blasting around a pristine forest in a snowmobile. You hate feeling deprived and controlled. You want what you want, when you want it.  Get out of my way and let me guzzle!  I’m going to get drunk tonight and Par-TAY!!!

Sounds like every alcoholic on a binge since the dawn of time.

Then comes the morning after.

It will take more than a single morning-after and one bad hang-over to wake this country up to its addiction.  At very least, it will require hitting a true bottom – like the environmental holocaust happening right now in the Gulf of Mexico.  After this calamity, there can be no more denying how far things have gone.  The USA is a sad case.  A wreck.  Let’s be realistic – we’re hard-core users.  If that oil weren’t swirling in deadly currents in the Gulf and the Atlantic right now, it would be burning in power plants and a million internal combustion engines, its deadly currents rising into our atmosphere to wreak a different kind of havoc.  We’re unleashing astonishing destruction each and every day.  We know that.

We are Americans and we are fossil fuel addicts.  We know it is bad for us.  We know it is bad for our neighbors and our family – the Earth and every species on it.  The question is whether this is it – we’ve hit bottom – or whether we’ll go right back to bingeing.  How bad does it have to get?  Can we get clean, or will we continue as we have been – following in the footsteps of so many addicts before us – killing ourselves and wrecking the lives of others.

It is a common trope in books and films about alcohol and drug addiction that to truly hit bottom you have to do something you regret for the rest of your life.  Typically, that involves causing harm or death to a helpless innocent, like a child.  The alcoholic who drives home drunk and hits a third-grader crossing the street usually sobers up, because that’s a pretty awful bottom to hit.

We’re there.  Take a look at the pictures of wildlife destroyed by this spill.

We did that, because of our addiction.

It’s time to own the situation – to get clean and sober.  Enough is enough.

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The news has been full of reports of Heidi Montag-Pratt and her claim to have undergone 10 separate plastic surgery procedures in one day.  That includes rhinoplasty (a nose job), breast augmentation, lip collagen injections, chin reduction, and god only knows what else.

“I’m beyond obsessed,” is the frequently cited quote.

It certainly sounds like it.

The death of Michael Jackson also put plastic surgery into the news this winter.  Fans – and others – pored over photographs documenting the strange transformation that rendered him unrecognizable from his early days as a child star.

The question, amid all this hullaballoo, is whether there’s anything really wrong with plastic surgery.

A person clearly has a right to alter his appearance, and if he thinks the results are beautiful, that’s his business.  Plenty of people choose to cover themselves with tattoos, or get a multitude of piercings.  There isn’t much difference between that and having your nose straightened or your chin or breasts made larger or smaller – is there?

Not really.

We all have the right to look however we want to look, and I’m fine with plastic surgery – unless it becomes an addiction.  That’s when it stops being about controlling your appearance and making yourself happy, and starts to become a compulsion that can make you miserable.

The definition of an addiction is simple:

1) you no longer receive the same pleasure from the activity; and

2) you lose control over it.

That’s where the trouble starts.

It can feel very good to have plastic surgery.  If there’s some funny little quirk of your appearance that bothers you, and you finally get it addressed, it can be immensely liberating.  Several of my patients have had “boob jobs” and they might laugh about it, but say in all seriousness that it made them feel more confident and that they’re happy with the results.  One of my patients had a face lift, and was similarly pleased with how it made her feel – more youthful, less wrinkly, more confident.

The problem is that something that feels very good can become addictive if you become fascinated with that good feeling and try to recreate it again and again.

Along the way, you can ignore underlying problems.

There is a tendency, when you don’t feel good about yourself, to locate what bothers you in one particular physical feature.  That bump on your nose, or smallish bosom, which others hardly notice, might be inflated to enormous significance to you – until you become convinced that you would feel entirely better if you could just correct that one problem.

Initially, it might work.  At last – bigger breasts.  Or a smaller chin.  Or fewer wrinkles.  Or whatever.  Other people might not notice, or vaguely think you look better.  But to you – it’s a vast relief.

Then you go back to do it again.

One of my patients had her nose done, and was happy with it – even if other people didn’t much notice.  That’s when she decided to have her chin done, too.  And then get it re-done, to get it just right.  And then a piece of bone came loose, and she had to repeat that surgery.

That’s when she realized the chin surgery was probably a mistake all along.  Instead of getting the same good feeling after each surgery, she only felt worse.

She realized it was becoming an addiction, and that she needed to stop using plastic surgery to escape doubts about herself, and her ability to find love.  There was nothing more that a scalpel could do for her.  She needed to find out why she didn’t like who she was – and address it in therapy.

It is impossible to say whether Heidi and Michael are examples of addiction, or just people who enjoyed altering their appearance to suit their own tastes.  But the signs – chiefly the sheer number of surgeries – are there.

Plastic surgery tends to have diminishing returns.  You can only operate on your body so many times before features scar up or grow distorted.  There’s also the issue of losing what makes your appearance special in the process.  The “ideal” features produced by plastic surgery tend to have a certain blandness.  The goal of plastic surgery, in most instances, seems to be making someone look more like everyone else, instead of making him look more himself.

If you’re considering plastic surgery, ask yourself whether you are really addressing a simple matter of a physical quirk, or whether there’s more going on that you need to stop and examine.  If the insecurity seems to involve more than just a bump or a wrinkle, it might be time to look deeper, and ask yourself what’s wrong with accepting yourself just as you are.

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