A few years ago I was at the park with my kids and I saw a dad swinging his baby daughter in a baby swing. The baby chuckled and looked engagingly at her father but he missed returning her happy look because he was looking at his phone.
A small moment in time with a powerful impact.
Guest post by Salma Saad
Self-esteem comes from internalizing parental attention. The baby who repeatedly gets the shaft in comparison to the cell phone internalizes shame and inadequacy instead of a sense of self worth.
What kind of impact will our technology addiction have on our children? I myself regret with sadness that I have not always been as present with my own children as I would have liked to have been.
I worked in advertising and all the big brands that I worked on were addictive substances: soft drinks, fast food, technology, tobacco to name a few. If you watch the documentary “Hungry for Change” you can see how the food industry adds addictive substances to almost everything we eat because this keeps us buying more even though it makes us unhealthier.
As a society we are highly vulnerable to being manipulated by addictive products.
What makes us vulnerable and why are some people easier targets than others?
I don’t have what most people think of as addiction but in therapy I realized that I use a great many mechanisms to distract myself from my emotions. These included chronic work/busyness, daydreaming, technology, caretaking, etc. Most of us know what emotional eating is but eating isn’t the only thing our emotions leave us vulnerable to.
Stuffed feelings are a marketers dream because this makes us prone to unconsciously seeking out all kinds of material things to distract ourselves from our inner pains. We check social media, or eat some French fries, and it provides us with some temporary pleasure. But this takes us down the slippery slope of becoming dependent on external substances to regulate our emotions and achieve validation.
Over-working and over-exercising are examples of addictions that are often viewed positively and social media/technology addiction, serial dating and unhealthy relationships are regarded as “less serious” than substance abuse.
The nitty gritty of what goes on in our brain and bodies
I know people who say quitting addiction is about will power. There are those who can simply quit smoking cold turkey, for example. But doing so is not the same as a real recovery.
“White knuckling,” as it is called, relies on pure will power without addressing the underlying problems that continue to cause the craving. In fact, it often results in one replacing one harmful addiction with another.
Someone who stopped smoking and became obsessed with Tinder instead didn’t become any healthier. Yes smoking has harmful health affects but becoming hooked on validation from a dating app can have a detrimental affects too, such as long term loneliness.
So what happens inside your brain and your body that makes you vulnerable to addictive products?
Under normal conditions when a person gets scared the sympathetic nervous system automatically increases their heart rate, and then when the threat recedes the parasympathetic nervous system calms their body down.
In people who have experienced chronic threats in childhood the calming affect doesn’t kick in and the body stays on alert longer that it needs to.
Then when the same type of threat comes up again the body doesn’t go into alert as it should. For example, a woman who experienced domestic abuse as a child will disassociate instead of getting angry in her adult relationship therefore allowing the abuse to happen instead of stopping it in the moment.
If your body is too tense/alert when it shouldn’t be and also not tense/alert when it should be then you are going to be an easier target for addictive products and processes.
How I got better
I have had a problem with being too submissive due to the culture I was raised in. I have become more assertive by simply noticing my lack of anger because his helps me to feel the anger and stand up for myself. This started out very hit or miss but after a few times this got much better. I’m finding my voice and my anger is showing up appropriately and I am very glad about this.
Becoming aware and changing the behavior rewires neurons in the brain so that the behavior becomes easier over time.
If you feel that people get away with treating you badly, or if you have trouble saying no, or if you fail to stand up for yourself then pay attention to the activation level in your body in the moment when this is happening to you. Noticing the internal lack of response (not getting angry when you should) will help you speak up.
As you become more assertive your relationships will become more authentic.
I also grew up in danger and so my body is often on high alert even when there is nothing scary going on. I often pause and feel my body and I notice tension, shallow breathing, accelerated heart rate and a closed throat.
You can calm your body down by visualizing tender moments with people you love, such as your children, when you feel a high level of fear or defensiveness in your body. I sometimes wake up at night and I feel restless. I know that my body is highly activated for no reason.
At these times I visualize emotional moments with my kids or my kitten cuddling into my neck. Doing this calms my internal state very quickly and I am able to fall back asleep. I even had success with the practice of visualization during a stressful negotiation not long ago, and the result was very favorable for me.
People whose bodies are in a state of over- or under- arousal are not open to deep emotional connection and tend to have troubled relationships. My life has improved tremendously with respect to my relationships since I started therapy and mindfulness.
I’m not all better yet, rewiring the brain takes time but so much has already improved for me. I hope that sharing my experience will provide some value to others who are struggling with similar issues to myself.
Salma works in technology and is a mother to two boys and two cats. She enjoys writing on many different topics including parenting, technology, her upbringing in the Muslim culture, PTSD from growing up in the third word and other life experiences. You can find more of her blog posts on Medium.