Are You a Slave to Soft Addictions?

ByABC News via logo
July 21, 2003, 1:23 PM

July 22 -- Do you watch TV for hours without noticing? Or do you ramble on the phone for hours instead of going to bed?

If you answered yes to the questions above, there's a chance you could be a victime of "soft addictions."

Best-selling author, Judith Wright, coined the term "soft addictions" more than 12 years ago when she began teaching people how to break seemingly harmless habits like watching too much TV, over shopping, overeating, or surfing the Internet for hours.

Find out more about soft addictions and how to break them by reading an excerpt from Wright's book, There Must Be More Than This:

What are Soft Addictions? Soft addictions can be habits, compulsive behaviors, or recurring moods or thought patterns. Their essential defining quality is that they satisfy a surface want but ignore or block the satisfaction of a deeper need. They numb us to feelings and spiritual awareness by substituting a superficial high, or a sense of activity, for genuine feeling or accomplishment.

Many soft addictions involve necessary behaviors like eating, reading, and sleeping. They become soft addictions when we overdo them and when they are used for more than their intended purpose. Soft addictions, unlike hard ones such as drugs and alcohol, are seductive in their softness. E-mailing, shopping, and talking on the phone seem like perfectly harmless, pleasurable activities while we're engaged in them. When we realize how much time and energy we devote to them, however, we can see how they compromise the quality of our lives.

Though I'm going to provide you with a list of common soft addictions, you should understand that an almost infinite variety exists. A soft addiction can be as idiosyncratic as any individual personality. While a universal soft addiction might be television watching, a more personal form might be doodling geometric figures or counting things for no reason.

Some people have difficulty differentiating an occasional behavior or fleeting mood from a soft addiction. If you watch television one hour per day, is it only a harmless habit, while if you watch three hours per day (the national average), is it a soft addiction?

As a general rule, keep the following in mind: The motivation and the function of your behavior determine whether or not it's a soft addiction. For instance, television can be a window into new worlds, stimulating viewers with new ideas and leading them into meaningful pursuits -- or it can be a means of escape. I know a woman who is very selective in what she watches, using television as a tool to learn about life in foreign cultures and to understand animal behavior. She employs television watching as a tool to gain knowledge. Another woman I know vegges out in front of the television daily, channel surfing and letting the programs wash over her. She leads a tough, hectic work life, and she mistakenly believes her viewing habits relieve her of stress. Rarely does she have a particular program she wants to watch or a real reason for watching it.