Your Addiction Primer on Mindfulness and Loving Kindness By Stanton Peele
I’m really happy that Stanton Peele has written a piece for my site about Loving Kindness.
Stanton Peele’s books have really helped me, including his newest one (with Ilse Thompson, whose work I also know and respect), Recover! An Empowering Program to Help You Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life. Stanton Peele has an on-line self-help program, The Life Process Program, lifeprocessprogram.com, which I and others find to be an extremely good value. Here is the piece Stanton has kindly written for me about Loving Kindness and Mindfulness.
Your Addiction Primer on Mindfulness and Loving Kindness
In the Life Process Program we have created an online addiction treatment program that incorporates cognitive therapy and Buddhist practices. Chief among these practices are Mindfulness and Loving Kindness.
Mindfulness has become a new buzzword. But, hopefully, coming to grips with its meaning can help us all, whether currently addicted or not, to fight addiction. In psychology, per Ellen Langer, mindfulness refers to being aware of the factors in your environment that drive your behaviour. For example, you may drink excessively when you are anxious, or when you hang out at a bar with a particular group of people.
In Buddhism, mindfulness means living in the here and now. My friend Johann Hari (who has written the anti-addiction-as-disease best seller, Chasing the Scream) defines addiction as anything that blocks us from living in the here and now.
Both of these concepts of mindfulness give us important ways to combat addiction or alcoholism. They make us alert to, and welcoming of, the world around us. In Ilse’s and my anti-addiction program, which we abbreviate as PERFECT, the “P” is for “pause.” Mindfulness allows you to halt your headlong rush towards your addiction that can overtake you at bad moments.
Mindfulness is thus the ability to control your own thinking and behaviour in line with your values. Of course, it may take some effort on your part—and some moments in the sun—for you to clarify or rediscover your best self. According to Buddhism, we all possess such “perfection.” We all belong to, and in, this world. Do you feel that way? We teach you ways of meditating about this state of perfection, a birth right for every human being.
In this self-acceptance, we come to the Buddhist practice of Loving Kindness, which is compassion towards others, and at the same times towards oneself. Ilse Thompson and I find that Loving Kindness opposes the 12 steps (even though a number of hard-working authors try to combine the two philosophies).
Consider steps 4-6:
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Feeling very uplifted around now? AA can provide good support for people, or it can undermine them. You’ll have to be the judge of that for yourself. But these steps don’t represent a Buddhist path. They are rather a Western religious tradition of guilt, self-blame, and shame that we feel is a prod to addiction, and not a remedy.
Of course, keying into Loving Kindness towards ourselves is not a pass to indulge in behaviour that harms ourselves and others, one that offers us a “get-out-of-jail-free” Monopoly card. It is rather a way of relaxing our judgments about ourselves that paradoxically permits us to act more in line with our positive values.
For example, Ilse and I write in of Recover! An Empowering Program to Help You Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life:
Self-control research has discovered that self-criticism reduces self-control. Rather, self-acceptance and forgiveness—especially in the face of stress and failure—enhance people’s capacity for changing negative behaviors.
Consider a study of students who procrastinate, then beat themselves up for having done so. The very act of self-recrimination for procrastinating makes it more likely that they will do so again before future exams. The
harder the students were on themselves, the greater this effect.
Instead, “forgiveness, not guilt, increases accountability . . . taking a self-compassionate point of view on a personal failure makes people more likely to take personal responsibility for the failure than when they take a self-critical point of view. They also are more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience.” (This last quote is from Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.)
Recently, my friend psychiatrist Sally Satel wrote for the New York Times, “Can Shame be Useful.” Sally finds that it can be, since people weigh their negative feelings when they decide to quit an addiction. I endorse entirely Sally’s understanding of people’s possibilities for self-change, rather than of being caught in an irresistible biological force field, the vision promoted by the “chronic brain disease” meme.
But, for Ilse and I, adding a burden of shame weighs down our efforts at, and ability to, change.
Sally, for instance, doesn’t want drugs legalized since, after all, going to jail can be one motivation to quit a drug habit. For Ilse and me, imprisonment, or its threat, is not a good impetus for change. As Ilse wrote to me: “That seems like a wrecking-ball (hitting bottom) approach to facilitating people’s recognition of how their behavior is in conflict with their priorities, designed to elicit the most intractable shame and social consequences.”
My good friend, Tom Horvath, president of SMART Recovery, and founder of SEATA (the Self-Empowering Addiction Treatment Association), put it succinctly: “We can use shame therapeutically if it exists, but agreed, let’s not try to create it!”
As Ilse added, “I have a lot of confidence in people’s ability to hate themselves without resorting to ruining their lives as a means of helping them see that their choices are undermining their values.”
For me, putting people in jail to make them realize they’d be better off unaddicted is like depriving them of their homes since homelessness also makes them aware that addiction is bad for them.
Following the practice of Loving Kindness towards ourselves is to pursue a different path to recovery.
Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D., is the author (with Ilse Thompson) of Recover! An Empowering Program to Help You Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life.. His Life Process Program is available online.