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Don't Ask "Why the Addiction?" Instead, Ask "Why the Pain?"

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

“Don’t ask ‘Why the addiction?’ Instead, ask “Why the pain?’”

I recently had the privilege of attending a conference where Dr. Gabor Maté was one of the keynote speakers, and I love this approach he uses when working with clients who are dealing with addiction.

By shifting the centre to the pain and the cause of addiction, people can focus on empathizing with and understanding the person who is in pain.

This approach also helps us to see that addiction is not a choice but rather, a coping mechanism for an underlying issue.

As such, some questions I like to ask when helping clients are:

“What is right about the addiction?”

“What is useful about the addiction?”

“What is helpful about the addiction?”

This approach helps us see the utility behind the addiction.

This approach helps us realize that the addiction is doing something to aid the person.

Finally, this approach can help the client see where the core of the addiction lies to develop another, healthier approach to dealing with the core issues instead of using addiction.

Overall, addiction is a complex issue that can manifest in many different ways, from substance use to social media addiction to compulsively working during off hours. As such, the rates of addiction vary depending on the specific type of addiction and the population being studied.

However, there is one thing that can help all people who are dealing with addiction: compassion.

"Only when compassion is present, will people allow themselves to see the truth."

- Dr. Gabor Maté

While asking, “What is wrong with you?” leads to hostility, judgement, and defensiveness, asking, “What is right about the addiction?” leads to openness, empathy, and trust.

While asking, “Why can’t you do anything right?” attacks the person, asking, “What is useful about the addiction?” addresses the behaviour and seeks to resolve the underlying issues.

While asking, “Why are you so hopeless?” minimizes the person’s being, asking, “What is helpful about the addiction?” can empower someone to take action and do something powerful, frightening, and potentially, life-saving: change.

If you are ready to make that change, contact me today for a complimentary discovery call.

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