What is addicting for you? Maybe it’s shopping when you feel depressed, or driving too fast. For someone else, it might be video games, or drinking too many cans of Diet Coke in a day. Some addictions seem innocuous—while others can be much more costly—and can destroy lives and relationships if they are not rectified.
Maybe you see your “addiction” as not being harmful enough to warrant a behavior change—but deep down you know that stopping it would be best for you. But how do you do it? Where do you begin?
What if the process started NOT by looking at what is wrong with you, because you have a weakness—but by exploring your strengths? What if strengths could become both an explanation for how the addictive behavior gets triggered, as well as a resource to call on when it does?
Strengths, Misunderstood, Can Contribute to Addiction
Most of us would not consider our strengths as being contributors to our addictive patterns—but indeed, they can be!
When you begin to explore your strengths, you will notice that they don’t just define what you can do well. They also inform what you need to be your best.
For example, if you are someone with the strength of Empathy, you have an extraordinary ability to listen deeply to what is not being said, and demonstrate authentic sensitivity, warmth, and responsiveness. This is what you contribute to others—AND it is also what you need in order to feel connected, safe, and confident.
These things inform what you would expect to receive from others if you were part of a meaningful relationship: you expect tenderness, gentleness, deep listening, intuitively responding to your needs without being prompted. This strength forms a “you should” belief that can be viewed as a non-negotiable need in a relationship.
So, what if you grew up in a home where neither of your parents had the strength of Empathy? What if they did not know how to give these things to you? What if you are in an important relationship now, and these needs are not being met? What might happen?
For some individuals, this emotional disconnection might lead to engagement in a compulsive behavior—drinking, over-working, over-eating, for example—finding some other way to dim the pain or compensate for the unmet need. Often, an unsuspecting trigger for addictive behaviors is the unmet needs of our strengths.
Connecting with Self (and Others) through Understanding the Needs of Strengths
Most of us are unaware of the needs of our strengths, nor of the fact that we feel most connected to ourselves and others when the needs of our strengths are met.
If you have the strength of being an Achiever, for example, you need clear, mutual goals, with shared hard work toward them. When you experience hard work with others toward a common goal, you feel positive connection to yourself and to others.
Additionally, if you have the strength of Communication, you need verbal processing, and a clear, open, transparent line of communication. When these needs are met, you generally feel safe, free, open, and connected. If they aren’t, frustration ensues, and almost always in its wake, some kind of toxic behavior—and maybe even at times, addictive behavior.
The Opposite of Addiction is NOT Sobriety
Interestingly, addiction recovery professionals suggest this idea: “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is connection.” When we don’t feel connection with self or others, “we will bond with something—anything—that will diminish the pain.”
What if we understood this simple concept: our strengths have needs. We can understand both our strengths, what they have to contribute (to help us and others), and what they need to be at their best. We can take responsibility for using our strengths to meet our own needs and positively contributing to others. When we do, we feel increased connection with ourselves—and consequently, with others—and we can avoid stepping into addictive behavior choices.
At an addiction recovery center in southern Utah last month, a young staff member understood the power of this very simple idea.
One particular day, when an angry resident began an emotional tirade, he simply looked at the client and asked in a quiet, gentle voice, “What do you need right now?” Disarmed by the sincere question, the client’s eyes almost instantly filled with tears, and his anger seemed to dissipate.
“I guess I just need authentic connection,” he said. “I want someone who can understand how I feel. I just don’t know how to say that.”
The staff member said to him, “It sounds like you have the strength of being a Relator—someone who needs to talk heart-to-heart with people, and really be seen. Let’s go talk, then!”
The two of them sat down and watched the sunset over the mountains. Quiet now, his anger gone, the client simply said, “Thank you for caring about what I need. You really made a difference for me today.”
Imagine if we did that for ourselves? Imagine if we cared enough to get curious about the needs connected to our own and others’ strengths? Just maybe it could be the catalyst to help us begin to rise above the addictive behaviors in our lives—and help others rise above theirs!
 Anne Streiber. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.”Unknown Country News. Laurel, Africa. January 22, 2015.http://www.unknowncountry.com/news/%E2%80%9C-opposite-addiction-not-sobriety-it-human-connection%E2%80%9D#ixzz3VzoiY8jT
DeAnna Murphy has over 7,000 hours coaching and facilitating experiential learning and leadership development programs – and is the founder and president of Strengths Strategy Inc., the leading strengths application organization in the world. Learn more at www.unlockingstrengths.com. She is the author of soon-to-be-released Unlocking Strengths, The Key to Accelerating Energy, Performance, and Relationships.