The Benefits Of Having An Addictive Personality (A Psychotherapist Explains)
My friends have a running joke that if I'm awake 14 hours, I'm eating 16 hours. People used to be amused by how my 3-year-old self could decimate an entire comb of 30 bananas in an hour.
I have an addictive personality courtesy of ADHD. Sensation, stimulation, and intensity drive me. Many things give me that glorious adrenaline rush and sense of satisfaction, and then I want a faster and bigger repeat. My eating habits aren't the only example—anyone familiar with the vastness of my color-coded wardrobe, shoe collection, and books knows I'm not exaggerating.
If you experience mania or have obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, you may also know an addictive personality intimately. The shame around how you're "not normal" or have "little self-control" hurts. It may also be shrouded in secret: Like high-functioning anxiety, when our lives seem normal on the surface, it feels a bit too much to be complaining about how our addictive behaviors are affecting us, so we suffer in silence.
If you have an addictive personality, know that you are not alone. And just like any form of neurodiversity, your condition doesn't need to be a curse—in fact, you can actually find ways to leverage it.
As long as you're managing any of its negative impact on your life, here are just a few benefits to having an addictive personality:
1. You're likelier to take creative risks.
Some research suggests one commonality among people with addictions is a gravitation toward novelty and new experiences. Judy Grisel, a behavioral scientist who specializes in addictions, argues at Scientific American that being predisposed to appreciating novelty makes us likelier to take risks, which in turn benefits society as we explore new horizons. But as civilizations stabilized, there were fewer opportunities to pursue this proclivity in healthy ways, and so we began to seek out experiences and substances that give us that elusive sensation of reward.
"With little opportunity for exploring new horizons, many might be inclined to seek excitement through direct manipulations of neurochemistry," writes. "Perhaps by developing alternate channels for the natural drive for new experiences and challenges to flow, the need to seek exciting states in chemical fixes would diminish. Even better, society as a whole might benefit as novelty-seekers trailblaze for us all."
In other words, addictive people might be that way because they're risk-takers at heart, constantly seeking new thrills—and those are attributes that push society forward. People higher in openness to new experiences are also likelier to be creative.
If you've got an addictive personality, consider how you can use your openness to new experiences as an advantage. A question you can ask yourself is, "What healthy risks can I take that can benefit or inspire me and the people around me?" What are you curious about in your personal life or career development that you can experiment with, to create new breakthroughs?
2. You have immense willpower.
In a depressive funk triggered by addictive eating, I had an epiphany: It takes as much willpower to stay in bed unhappily and self-sabotage with food as it takes to turn things around. With that, the story "I have no willpower" became nonsense.
"The dedication required in pursuing your obsessions is remarkable and demonstrates tremendous resources," psychologist and leadership professor Jonathan Marshall tells me. "If someone is spending six hours a day breaking off the split ends of their hairs, they have an extraordinary capacity for discipline."
I considered all the times I've hyper-focused on projects of interest and realized I've already demonstrated my own ability to channel willpower into something good, productive, and healthy. Similarly, I also realized that there are also many things in life I'm cautious about, and coupling that with everything I'd accomplished, I knew it was time to relegate the story of "I have poor control" to fiction.
Smashing these limiting beliefs affirmed I can accomplish anything I want badly enough. And with this came an acceptance of my wiring.
Acceptance means we stop getting angry about our addictive proclivities. By seeing ourselves as adequate, we stop punishing ourselves and witness our strengths—that openness and curiosity to taste what life offers.
3. Mastering your mind simultaneously makes you a master of mindfulness.
Anxiety manifests as an oscillation between having a busy mind and doing everything we can to escape our minds. But one key part of living with addictive behaviors is learning to master your triggers—that is, noticing what's causing you to suddenly have an urge to do something. That process of mastering our triggers is also a great way to master our minds, working our mindfulness muscles and developing our self-awareness, all of which can contribute to an elevated sense of well-being.
In the process of mastering our triggers, Marshall advocates we ask ourselves two questions:
- What triggers the strong desires?
- When does it happen?
Being able to anticipate them means you are more in control. He champions learning to observe the cravings as another thought or emotion that arises rather than be swept away. It's akin to Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki's wisdom: "Leave your front door and your back door open. Allow your thoughts to come and go. Just don't serve them tea."
One simple method for dealing with those cravings that I teach is to ground ourselves—shuffle our feet on the floor and do a quick three-breath meditation to reset our brain's fear center, so we reconnect with our innate wisdom. The more you do this, the more a mindful self-awareness will become second nature to you.
4. You are beyond resilient.
Battling addictive tendencies means we fall and pick ourselves up repeatedly. I like Nassim Nicholas Taleb's description of antifragility: He states that while fragile items break from experiencing destruction, resilient items bounce back. The antifragile, however, become even stronger.
Many muse about their goals without taking concrete action, partly because they fear failing. With time, they learn to be helpless, entrenched deeper in the belief that taking action is scary or not for them. As someone used to failing and rising again, you know you have it in you to pick yourself up after any real or perceived failure. This means that it's actually easier for you to accomplish more because you've been well-trained in the school of hard knocks—and you know that failure isn't the enemy, nor does it automatically condemn us to eternal damnation.
It is not about being born with certain talents or wiring that makes us amazing people. Many of us feel less than because we're wired differently. Know that thriving in spite and because of how you're wired is actually inspiring for the people around you. In fact, consider everything you've overcome—you'll realize that you're the champion your younger self never had, and it will spur you on to master who you are.
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach currently living in Singapore. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from University College London and her master's in philosophy from University of Cambridge. Her first book This Is What Matters was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2022, which guides you to transform crisis to strength, or design an #EverydayAmazing life.
She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, and Business Insider and has previously worked with Olympians, business professionals, and individuals seeking to master their psychological capital. She works globally in English and Mandarin-Chinese via Skype and Facetime, blending cutting-edge neuroscience, psychology, and ancient wisdom.