I’m putting together an eBook for people interested in using mindfulness to overcome addiction problems. I’ll share the chapters on here as I write them. Here is part nine in the series – you will find links to earlier posts at the end of this one.
Did you ever consider the possibility you spend way too much time focused on yourself? I remember feeling offended when a therapist asked me this question – how dare she – but it wasn’t until I started getting over my obsession with self that I could move my life in a better direction.
The words ‘self-obsession’ and ‘narcissism’ are often used interchangeably, but they are not necessarily the same thing. For many of us addicts, self-obsession is fueled by self-hatred rather than self-love. It is our sense of being damaged goods that keeps pulling our focus inward and it is this that cuts us off from other people.
As a young child, I had an open and trusting nature, but as I got older, it felt necessary to create barriers to protect myself from the bad stuff. It meant that by the time I reached adulthood, I didn’t feel close to anyone – even those who I claimed to love.
My efforts to protect myself came at a huge cost because the truth is we can only experience love to the extent that we are willing to risk being hurt. The barriers I created to protect myself pushed other people away and imprisoned me in the limited world of self-obsession. The saddest part looking back is I didn’t even realize how much of the good stuff in life I had forsaken.
The Miracle of Thinking about Other People
The therapist who suggested I might be a tad self-obsessed talked me into doing some voluntary work. At the time, I was living in a dry house (second-stage rehab) in London. I’d been sober five months, but I’d become stuck, and it seemed like only a matter of time before I would relapse.
I began spending time with a local lad who had profound learning difficulties – I would push his wheelchair around Catford Park or take him to Pizza Hut. Paul shared the same name as me, and we were both the same age, but compared to the challenges he faced in his life, mine was a picnic.
I remember the first time I returned to the dry house after visiting Paul. The other guys kept asking me “what the fuck happened to you?” I was visibly beaming, and it was obvious to everyone that something had shifted inside me. Those two hours of thinking about another person had benefited me more than six months of intensive therapy.
I now know the secret to mental well-being is thinking less about myself and more about other people. In fact, my level of self-obsession is an accurate barometer of my how well I am doing in life. If I’m spending more time worrying about other people, it means I’m doing great.
Mindfulness and Compassion
“Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.”
Self-obsession is one of the most powerful forces behind mindless behavior. It means more attention is given to the stories inside of my head rather than what is actually happening in this moment. It is like being in a relationship where we ignore the other person – the universe doesn’t seem to like being ignored, and it kicks our ass for doing it.
Some people associate being mindful with a cold and artificial relationship with life – as if the goal is for us to transform into Mr. Spock from Star Trek. This is not my perception of being mindful. I approach this moment from a place of curiosity, wonder, and compassion. Observing this wonderful experience called life with an uncaring attitude would not be progress for me – it is what I tried to do with alcohol.
The great benefit of mindfulness is it greatly improves our ability to be compassionate towards ourselves and other people. It is doubtful that anyone reading this is a psychopath, and the ill-will we have developed towards ourselves and others is generated by fear – we don’t want to be hurt again. Mindfulness allows us to see these defenses are unnecessary and that the inner-ease we have so long yearned has always been there waiting for us.
Socrates famously proclaimed that an unexamined life is not worth living. Perhaps he was right, but it is compassion and not our ability to think deeply about our problems that is going to allow us to develop serenity. It sounds like a cliché, but I doubt many people spend their last moments of life wishing they had spent more times obsessing about themselves.
Check back soon for the next post in this series – How to Develop Self-Compassion and Improve Our Relationships
Other Posts in This Series
Part 1- The Mindful Path from Addiction to Serenity
Part 2 – Why Mindfulness Makes the Perfect Replacement for Addiction
Part 3 – How Mindfulness Works
Part 4 – Mindfulness versus Addiction Cravings
Part 5 – Mindfulness for the Ups and Downs in Recovery – Part 1
Part 6 – Mindfulness for the Ups and Downs in Recovery – Part 2
Part 7 – How to Mindfully Find Your Life Purpose – Part 1
Part 8 – How to Mindfully Find Your Life Purpose – Part 2