The Oxford dictionary definition of addiction is: “The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity, where ‘addicted’ means being physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance or activity.” When we think of addictions, we tend to consider things like drugs, alcohol, gambling, certain foods or sex. These are the most common addictions for which there are many groups to support people to break their addictive behaviours.
I always felt that I didn’t have any addictions and that sports and exercise were the only things I possibly may have been addicted to in my early twenties, because I needed it every day. If I missed my daily hit of exercise I would get grumpy, demanding and even controlling of situations. This obsessive behavior with exercise started when I was quite young and was mostly associated with playing competitive sports.
Throughout primary school, high school and even university, my competitiveness in sport was seen as healthy and not at all an addiction. It was considered to be helping me develop self confidence and to be beneficial for my studies as it would make me study harder to be better than others; also to feel good about myself when I got there.
In the last few years I have realized that being competitive was an addiction; it was unhealthy and it was harmful for my relationships with others as it affected my ability to be close, open and equal with others. I began to understand that there was something else underlying this competitiveness, which was another crippling addiction.
I say this was a crippling addiction now because it is not discussed in society. It is very hidden and therefore nobody ever suggested that it could be. In fact, I doubt that there are any support groups available for this type of addiction, but rather there are actually motivational groups available that feed this addiction without even realizing that they do.
You see in primary school and high school there is a lot of discussion about the harm of smoking, taking drugs, drinking too much alcohol and even having unsafe sex or random partners. We learn that these are things you don’t want to do, or get addicted to, and if you become addicted, you are often viewed as a failure by family, friends or society.
However, I would say the addiction I had was worse than a drug, gambling or alcohol addiction. I’m not suggesting that these are not terrible addictions; they can be, because they can ruin not only the person’s life and health, but break down family and work relationships, and destroy generations of families.
The addiction I am referring to is recognition; that is, being seen or identified for some particular characteristic, skill, ability or activity – in any way possible. This includes being a runner, a good speller, good looking, witty, rich, fantastic cook, favorite daughter or son, well dressed, or even a slow runner, terrible speller, ugly, stupid, poor, terrible cook or messy. The truth is that an addiction to ‘recognition’ can be for anything whatsoever, even being an alcoholic, drug addict or abusive partner.
The crippling nature of being addicted to recognition is not only the fact that there are so many things we can be recognized by, it’s that our whole life becomes an attempt to be seen, to be noticed, even to be categorised or put into a box as “the person who does this, or is like that.”
The need to be seen or recognized ruled my life, and I noticed there were people that I desperately needed to be seen by to fuel my need for recognition, such as my parents, a teacher, a popular person, my boss, or a leader of an organization or group, or anyone from the opposite sex.
The evil of needing to be recognised is that it is accepted in society as normal. Most people do it – in fact, society is built on it.
We end up living much of our life identified with a certain character or persona to the point that we are no longer our real selves at all. Instead, we become what we have been recognized by, trying to fit into certain criteria or categories that we have allocated in our mind. We shape, transform or change ourselves like a chameleon lizard changing its colours to hide in different environments.
As soon as we need to be seen or recognised for anything at all, we are leaving behind everything that we already are. We are saying to ourselves that we are not enough just being ourselves – that we need to be something else, or something more, to fit in.
I have started to expose any need for recognition by observing myself in certain situations, or with different people. I ask myself, do I change certain characteristics about me, the language I use, the tone in my voice, or the way I dress and what I am willing to do and say?
I discovered that I learnt to change myself from a very young age by watching others and seeing what made them happy or sad, and how I needed to be to fit in.
I learnt how to speak to certain adults, how I should sit at school, what to not talk about to avoid looking stupid, how to behave to make my parents happy, what clothes to wear to not get picked on, how to walk to not stand out and even how to eat, when to eat and what to eat, to fit in.
Understanding how much I have changed myself and where, I am now beginning to feel who I truly am. I can now discover and express me in full, how I want to dress, how I want to sit or walk, when and how I want to eat, what I really want to talk about and how I want to be in every part of my life, without the need to fit in and been seen or recognized by anyone else.
I see that it hurts me to change who I am to try and fit in or to make other people happy, which is impossible anyway, because they are mostly unhappy because they have not been themselves either, and are looking outside of themselves for any sign or comfort to feel better about themselves. So, in fact, by me being myself, I can inspire others to feel the answers are within and they too can let themselves out.
by Danielle Pirera, 34 Goonellabah Australia