Take a closer look at the expanded arm “How the Brain Works”. At first glance you might think that I’ve duplicated a clue. Repetitive and Addictive may seem like the same clue, but they are very different.
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Repetitive actions are those we repeat for a range of different reasons. Repetition can be a healthy function when we make the bed every morning simply because we like a tidy room. We may like to re-read a good book or return to a good restaurant. Playing with flashcards can help us remember facts for a test or re-working a math problem can help ingrain the theories in our mind. Repeating actions can be a good thing.
Repeating actions because we feel compelled to do so can produce mental stress and can be part of a mental disorder. Patients who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive disorder fight the desire to turn a light off and on several times before leaving a room. They may experience great stress if they don’t soap and wash their hands multiple times before leaving the kitchen. I know one patient that had to seek medical help because he couldn’t stop wiping his nose. He caused a physical sore that wouldn’t heal and had to be medicated in order to leave his nose alone.
Most normal repetitive actions can be changed without a lot of stress. I didn’t realize that I said, “Can I ask a question?” right before I ask a question. My adult son (don’t you hate it when kids point out this stuff?) became frustrated with me and insisted that I never make that statement again. “If you are going to ask a question mom, just do it! Don’t make me answer two questions when you actually only want one answer.”
Silly issue but since my son is very logical and to the point when he expresses himself, I made a mental note to stop repeating that question. While I slipped a couple of times during my training – I don’t repeat that statement anymore. I’ve learned to stop and think and simply ask a question.
My editor at Today’s Christian Woman also teaches a class on writing articles and gives a list of nonsense words that most writers use. For example, why use the word “really”. Just because you say it was “really” bad – does that make it worse than using the word “horrible”. Good point! I’ve memorized her list and I try not to use words that don’t make sense.
Repetition is not as complex or as difficult to change as an addiction. As we work through our chart, we should ask the question “Is this dysfunctional behavior a repetition or an addiction?” I hate being this literal and I hope this doesn’t hurt any of the victim’s family, but if we are going to explore the problems of a Sandy Hook shooting, we must ask all kinds of awful questions. When Adam Lanza shot one of his victims eleven times, was his action a simple repetitive act or was it a form of addiction? What motivated him to continue shooting especially when the child was probably already dead? Was it like a video game to him? Was he trying to rack up points or was he addicted to the way the corpse responded to the bullets? Or…did he simply not know how to stop the rapid fire of bullets?
All of these questions are important when we discuss the issue. If the only reason so many bullets were fired was because the gun was so quick – then yes….we need to move to the discussion of guns and how they are used. But if the real reason was Lanza’s addiction – then we must define his addiction and ask what can we do to prevent children from developing that type of addiction.
There is concern that repetitive acts can become addictions. While it’s true that repetition ingrains the action and pleasurable feelings in the brain, there’s a lot we can do to prevent repetition from becoming an addiction. First of all we need to be sure that the action itself does not contain addictive qualities. Many people can have the gene that leads to alcoholism. A non-drinker friend of mine tasted Champagne at a wedding. She drank a small glass. She was amazed at how long she had to fight the urge to drink again. For two weeks she cried when driving past a bar on the way home from work. The urge to drink again was overwhelming. Refusing to give in to the desire (to repeat the act) helped her avoid a dangerous addiction. Thank goodness she recognized that she had an addictive desire for alcohol. After two weeks the desire went away. She refuses to even smell alcohol now.
I plan to discuss this in detail later on, but did you know that your emotions can be a repetitive act? I’ve known people who were mild mannered and soft spoken who developed a harsh angry tone through repetition. Humans repeat acts that make us part of a group. When teens see that laughing while curling your hair behind your ears – is an act that the cool kids do – every teen wants hair long enough to curl behind their ears. They repeat the actions as if their subconscious feels that doing this will make them “cool” as well. By the same token when teens (or adults) feel like it’s cool to be angry – their response to their world will be one of anger.
I had a friend that was extremely mild mannered. He began to take care of an aging parent with dementia. The parent was aggressive and angry. After spending all of his time in an angry situation, my friend became an angry aggressive person. We become our environment. That’s a fact that none of us can get away from. We may fight to not let our environment define us – but it will be a fight and we won’t totally win until we are out of the situation.
As a parent you must understand how repetition affects your child and how your home environment may lead your child to not only develop repetitious actions but addictions as well.
We must be very careful with our repetitive acts and ask two very important questions. Is this good for me? Will this lead to an addiction?