Addictions: Rewiring Brian pt3

Left & Right Brain FunctionsAddictions: Coping Strategies – Rewiring Brian Part 3

In Stopping Addictions pt 1, we looked at  addictions research which demonstrated that the brain’s capability to learn is based upon what we “feed” it. This is true for porn addictions as much as sexting or other compulsions. Through feeding it our addictions this leads our brain to learn powerful but unhelpful neural connections. This then leaves you with wiring “faults” and a “Brian” instead of a brain. These neural connections create links between your feelings, thinking and behaviour and it is these patterns that we call addiction and why it is difficult to stop.

Quite simply, to get new habits you need new connections.

Addiction and Relaxation

This brings us to some techniques which you can use to help you to “rewire”. We looked at 3 techniques in part 2 Stopping Addictions pt 2, of this series. The next technique is a combination technique. Firstly, Progressive Muscular Relaxation (PMR) is great to use as, not only does it provide you with a distraction technique  in itself  but it feels great to do and gives you health benefits. PMR is one of the easiest ways to relax and it’s really pretty quick to learn. Even better, when combined with a simple breathing technique and visualisation you get something really very powerful at your service.

PMR

These relaxation exercises have been very widely used and  whilst they might indicate a tight muscle they should not cause you any pain to undertake. If you feel in any pain simply stop. Equally, if you have any concerns about your health see your GP.

It is easiest to start from your feet and work up to your head. Hold each stretch moderately hard for about 13 seconds and then relax, feeling the difference between your state of tension and relaxation. At you feel the relaxation tell yourself in your mind that you are warm and relaxed.

  1. Curl your toes down hold (for 13 secs.) Feel the tension. Keep holding, then relax.
  2. Curl your toes up and hold for 13s. Feel the tension in your shin. Keep holding, then relax.
  3. Tell yourself  in your mind that you are warm and relaxed
  4. Tense your thighs and hold; keep holding,  then relax.
  5. Tense your tummy muscle (abdominals/six pack), hold, keep holding for 13s and then relax.
  6. Tell yourself that you are warm and relaxed.
  7. Make a fist with both hands and feel the tension in your forearms. Hold for 13 and then relax. Feel the relaxation.
  8. Push your shoulders up to your ears and hold for 13, then relax
  9. Tell yourself that you are warm and relaxed.
  10. Push your eyebrows up to the ceiling. Hold and then relax.
  11. Bring your eyebrows together as though you are scowling. Hold and then relax.
  12. Inside your mouth, push your tongue up behind your top set of teeth, hold and then relax. Repeat with front bottom set of teeth.
  13. Clamp your jaw shut and hold and then relax.
  14. Move on to breathing and visualisation.

Visualisation is very powerful – most of the connections you make in your head are the same as if you were doing the actual activity itself.  As part of your distraction techniques to combat addictive behaviour it is important to choose an enjoyable activity to visualise as the visualisation will reinforce that activity almost as much as doing it. For most people visualisation works better if you are relaxed first. This simple breathing exercise helps many people to get “see” their image more clearly by feeling more relaxed. PMR plus breathing is ideal but you may need simply do this breathing technique as it often does the trick.

Relaxation: Breathing Technique 1

  1. Sit comfortably, “grounded”, both feet on the floor.
  2. Place one hand on your belly/tummy and one on your chest.
  3. Now focus on your breathing, breathing just from your belly. If you are doing this well, your hand on your belly will move in and out, whilst the one on your chest will not move.
  4. Concentrate on your breathing, thinking about each breath and feeling your tummy moving in and out.
  5. Then, when you feel more relaxed, visualise/see yourself doing your chosen distraction activity. Make the pictures you see very bright and colourful. If you can, imagine the feeling and sounds of the activity.

Remember, as you practice, your automatic (addictive) patterns of behaviour are weakened and you start to develop positive associations. This takes time and you will sill have addictive cravings/ images or other things for a long time.

Ken McLeish is Principal Therapist at Reflexions Counselling and Therapy in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Reflexions provides counselling and therapy for a range of issues including addictions. He can be contacted through the website: https://counselling-newcastle.co.uk .

Information contained in this blog is not a substitute for face-to-face therapy. It can only every be one view of a situation and may not be applicable to your situation. You are advised to seek specialist support for treatment for addictions. The work here is a personal view which may change over time and should not be taken as representative of Reflexions Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Relationships: Boundaries & Self-Esteem

Relationships-Good Boundaries

Relationships & Boundaries

Developing Better Relationships & Building Esteem

Research has shown us that boundaries are central to the way you feel about yourself in the world. They operate a little like your own personal force field which you use to let people in or keep them out; both emotionally and physically. Creating healthy boundaries helps you to have better relationships, less stress and greater self-confidence.

Do you have effective boundaries in relationships?

• Are you able to say no?
• Can you ask for what you need?
• Are you a compulsive “people pleaser”?
• Do you get upset when others around you are upset?
• Do people often seem to take advantage of you/your “good nature”?

Boundaries are where our needs and feelings stop and where someone else’s begins. Without boundaries you would let someone treat you how they wanted or do whatever they wanted with your possessions. Where your boundaries are weak you might feel that you have no rights to  – for example – say no or do what you want.

If you have been in an abusive relationship or been brought up in a dysfunctional family you may have little experience of what healthy boundaries are. Setting boundaries is one of the most important aspects of looking after yourself, tackling low self-esteem and allowing the “real you” to emerge.
Boundaries which are too rigid literally shut people out. You are very self-sufficient and don’t let anyone get too close to you.
Boundaries which are too loose can be seen where you may put hands inappropriately on strangers or let others touch you inappropriately. You might be sexually promiscuous or be confused between love and sex or get too close too fast. This is where your personal force field is faulty and allows people to come and go as they please and is often linked to a chaotic life full of drama.

Tips for Effective Boundary Setting in Relationships, Marriage and with Partners

  1. Understand that setting a boundary for the first time often results in a feeling of being uncomfortable (you may feel selfish, or guilty or embarrassed) as those around you, initially at least, bump into it and test you out.
  2. Set boundaries respectfully, simply and clearly using few words.
  3. Remain calm
  4. Do not apologise or justify to others the setting of a boundary.You only set the boundary and are not responsible for someone else’s feelings. If others get upset with your boundaries that really is to do with them and not something you need to feel responsible for. Remember that you can’t control how someone else feels. Good friends will accept your boundary needs.
  5. Boundary setting takes time, practice and determination.
  6. Expect to be tested on your boundaries and have a firm plan of action – which may involve help or in extremes the police.
  7. Develop a system of people who will support you and respect you & your boundaries and at the same time move away and reduce contact from those that do not.

Ken McLeish is Principal Therapist at Reflexions Counselling and Therapy in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Reflexions provides counselling and therapy for a range of issues including addictions. He can be contacted through the website: https://counselling-newcastle.co.uk .

Information contained in this blog is not a substitute for face-to-face therapy. It can only every be one view of a situation and may not be applicable to your situation. You are advised to seek specialist support for treatment for addictions. The work here is a personal view which may change over time and should not be taken as representative of Reflexions Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Resources

Boundary Issues: Using Boundary Intelligence to Get the Intimacy You Want and the Independence You Need in Life, Love and Work;  Adams, (2005), Wiley.

More resources can be found on Reflexions Counselling and Psychotherapy Couples page:Couples Counselling Resources

Addictions: Rewiring Brian: pt. 2

Left & Right Brain FunctionsAddictions: Stopping – Rewiring Brian Part.2

If you recall from Stopping Addictions pt 1, which reviewed current research on addictions, your brain has used its thousands of years of evolution to rewire itself  to all of those “rewarding” things that you have been feeding it. Its’ capacity to learn has developed it in a way that is really unhelpful to you leaving you with faulty wiring and a “Brian” instead of a brain. Your brain has developed strong neural connections between brain cells based upon your feelings, thinking and behaviour. It is these patterns that are the basis of your addiction and why it is hard to stop.

One picture that may help is to imagine a sheep track in the hills. Sheep follow the same paths over and over again and, if you look, you can see these deep grooves where the sheep have been walking. It is also true that every now and again a solitary sheep runs off in a different direction but, by and large, they do follow the same paths. Thoughts are like sheep in that they often follow familiar paths in your mind because those paths have been well used.

To get new habits you have to rewire your brain. Because of the depth and strength of the connections of the brain you have unconsciously learnt to respond to triggers – which may be either internal feelings (like sadness or frustration etc.) or things we see/hear/feel. These triggers are linked to your addictive behaviour. You need to help you brain to make new connections.

Reboot Your Brain?

Perhaps the ideal is to go “cold turkey” and to reboot your brain and teach it a new programme. Gambling addiction or pornography addiction seem to respond to “turning the tap off”, stopping and rebooting. Unfortunately, with substance misuse because of physical withdrawal you may well need to taper your addictive behaviour for medical reasons or might need medical supervision in rehab.

Three of the Best

This brings us to some techniques which you can use to help you to rewire.

1. Surf It

The good news is that we cannot maintain the intensity of our feeling for all that long. The first tactic is to surf the feeling. Notice the feeling and identify it and look at it in your mind. What is the specific feeling? Then surf it towards the shore. It will break on the beach if you just hang in there. You cannot maintain an intense feeling for a long period. Try it.

2. Incompatibility

To give you a clear idea of this in practice, if it was smoking go take a shower. Your job is to work out beforehand what the alternative activities are (write a list!) so that you can immediately put the alternative activity in place.

3. Distract Yourself

As above but any activity that you enjoy that takes your mind away from the thoughts of addiction. In order to work effectively, this needs to be something you really enjoy, ideally something which occupies your thoughts/makes you concentrate. You also need to do it immediately. When you have found an activity that works stick to it repetitively.

Distraction tends to be harder than doing something incompatible. Writing a journal, making a favourite snack, playing chess, having a deep conversation are examples. Progressive Muscular Relaxation or meditation are also great but require some practice.

When you first start these alternative activities it will require lots and lots of will power. As you practice turning your attention to these alternatives they will get easier and easier as you begin to “rewire your brain” and your addiction becomes less powerful. The more you do this, the stronger the connections get and the weaker your automatic responses will become. You will, however, still get your addictive cravings/ images or other things for a long time, they do however, change and become easier to manage.

Ken McLeish is Principal Therapist at Reflexions Counselling and Therapy in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Reflexions provides counselling and therapy for a range of issues including addictions. He can be contacted through the website: https://counselling-newcastle.co.uk .

Information contained in this blog is not a substitute for face-to-face therapy. It can only every be one view of a situation and may not be applicable to your situation. You are advised to seek specialist support for treatment for addictions. The work here is a personal view which may change over time and should not be taken as representative of Reflexions Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Addiction: What is a Plastic Brian? Part 1

Left & Right Brain FunctionsAddiction: What is a Plastic Brian ?

New research shows that addictive behaviour although initially voluntary can spiral out of control as the brain’s neural circuitry becomes overloaded and then rewires. Your brain control function then becomes weakened and you have difficulty in controlling your urges and your addictive behaviour becomes compulsive.

How does this sorry state of affairs come to pass? After all, we have had thousands of years of evolution to get this sorted. The very problem appears to be with evolution itself as our brain has been designed to be very adept at responding to stimuli. However, our brain wasn’t well prepared for the intense stimulus overload of the modern world.

Plasticity is a function of the ability of your brain to make new connections: As thoughts flow through your brain, networks of neurons join your brain cells together. The more you do something the stronger the connections become. All well and good, until those connections are the wrong ones. So your brain becomes a “Brian” having wired itself up incorrectly.

The brain works by making connections between brain cells and the more these connections are made the stronger they become. Similarly, you could think about patterns of thought as working in the same way, flowing along these connections. So we do something, get a good feeling, and we are more likely to repeat that behaviour which will then result in a release of “feel good potion” /(chemical neurotransmitters) etc. . Addictive behaviour of all types is a learned behaviour. This learned behaviour becomes automatic – so automatic in fact, that we no longer pay it very much conscious attention, it just happens.

Your behaviour will have been learnt well: your brain will have been busy rewiring itself to your addictive habit. It won’t just have learnt the behaviour but will have cleverly made connections to moods, feelings, situations, people, visual cues (triggers) and so on. A simple example is that you might have a trigger of a bookies sign or the paper dropping through the letterbox (racing pages). This complex network of connections is one reason why addictive behaviour is quite difficult to stop.

200 Women before Dawn?

What about if you could get the same fix but twice as intense? Well in today’s society you nearly always can. Food, porn and gambling are particularly problematic as they are all available “on-tap” and are difficult to avoid. Why not get your fix of gambling by betting on televised racing which you can play back later at high speed? Internet porn allows you to have 200 women before breakfast. These activities give a buzz at the time and your behaviour is reinforced. It is easy step to do this to feel the buzz when you feel down or depressed. And it is here that your problems really start as you learn addictive, automatic responses to such things as anxiety, stress, loneliness, boredom and so on.

Unfortunately, your brain adapts to this high level of stimulus and “damps down” its response. You crave more stimulus to get the same fix and you get trapped inside this vicious circle. Not only that, but you end up feeling bad about yourself as you find you cannot get yourself out of this. Which then makes you repeat your addictive behaviour, which makes you feel bad and so on. The changes in brain chemicals bought about by the addictive behaviour also affect the frontal brain and impairs the executive function. This means that you become more impulsive. You neural pathways have created a “Brian”.

Your challenge is to unlearn these maladaptive responses and rewire. See part II which will come as soon as I’ve written it…

 

Ken McLeish is Principal Therapist at Reflexions Counselling and Therapy in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Reflexions provides counselling and therapy for a range of issues including addictions. He can be contacted through the website: https://counselling-newcastle.co.uk .

Information contained in this blog is not a substitute for face-to-face therapy. It can only every be one view of a situation and may not be applicable to your situation. You are advised to seek specialist support for treatment for addictions. The work here is a personal view which may change over time and should not be taken as representative of Reflexions Counselling and Psychotherapy.