Bad Habits

Michelle Espy couldn't stop being a slob.

Mindi Hartman couldn't stop shopping and Uche Odiatu couldn't stop arriving late.

So what did Espy, Hartman and Odiatu have in common? A bad habit they just can't break.

According to educator and life coach Judith Wright, almost all of us have bad habits or what Wright calls "soft addictions."

"It can be anything from nail-biting or compulsively checking your e-mail or gossiping or hair twirling," Wright said.

Wright, the author of "The Soft Addiction Solution," says soft addictions are normal, everyday activities done to excess. She says some addictions zone you out, like television or Internet, while others, like overeating or overusing gadgets like BlackBerrys, are the adult equivalent of thumb-sucking. Click here to take Wright's soft addiction quiz.

Soft addictions start early, according to Wright, and she sees more than boredom as the cause.

"The real issue is that they're stressed out. They're trying to comfort themselves."

When Is It a Problem?

It's a problem "when the behavior no longer just soothes you, but instead begins to bother you," Wright said.

Wright said these soft addictions could become very embarrassing for the addicts.

"You don't feel good that you are out of control and that something has this much power over you," she said.

Espy was embarrassed by how messy her house was. She said part of the problem was that she was just too busy to clean.

She owns a pet shop, goes to college and drives her kids around.

"By the time I get home, I'm pretty much drained," Espy said. "It's a problem, and I want to get it fixed."

Unlike Espy, Odiatu, a dentist who was always late, actually knew why.

"I'll often say yes to everything. And I'll see maybe 15, 16, 17 patients in a day. So you can imagine," Odiatu said. "It's a tight schedule."

His overscheduling took a toll on his wife, Kary, who was often left waiting.

"I just expect that he'll be late," Kary said. "I expect it, and I don't think that's a good way to live, expecting that someone won't be there, and that they're going to disappoint you again."

Soft Addictions Strain Relationships

Hartman felt she was disappointing her husband, Kirk, who said she bought useless things and spent too much money. Kirk was a busy farmer, while Hartman stayed at home with their two sons.

Hartman said she shopped because she's bored. "We live out in the country. We have nothing but land and cows to look at."

She knew how upset Kirk got with her shopping, so she hid the bills.

"It causes a lot of tension at the end of the month when the bank statements arrive," Hartman said.

"I usually find the bank statements [hidden] in the back of a cabinet, behind a whole bunch of other stuff," Kirk said. What upsets him the most is that she is not telling him the truth.

Wright worked with Hartman and found that she was shopping to fill a void in her life. That's often the case for most soft addictions.

"We keep going to them, hoping that they'll give us what it is we need. If I just have enough designer dresses, then I'll be loved. Or if I just gossip enough, then I'll have a connection with another person," Wright said.

Hartman related that emptiness in her life to her husband.

"He just needs to be around more often." She said that her shopping addiction worsened when her deepest feelings of loneliness started.

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