External vs Internal Motivation in Sustaining Recovery

The human capacity to search for happiness seems endless. My experience, within the counseling field, demonstrates that this endless search is often external. To seek happiness, fulfillment or peace through unrealistic dreams, addictions or even other people, is a fool’s errand. The “missing ingredient” in one’s life can not be external. The answer to the quest for happiness, fulfillment or peace is internal. “It is not the thing itself that disturbs us, but rather how we view the thing.” If this sounds familiar it is because Epictetus said it 2000 years ago. Today, it is the premise of cognitive -behavioral therapy. In short, if one can change the way one thinks about something, one can change the emotional state attached to it.

When the external search fails, as it is doomed to do, addiction may result out of sheer desperation. Addiction to alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex or even shopping, offers the frustrated happiness-seeker a respite, albeit temporary. Through an artificial change of consciousness, the happiness seeker is seduced into a short-term solution. However, when the addiction behavior concludes and reality returns, the elusive goal of happiness is even further away. The pernicious danger is that even a temporary solution can be reinforced. The external, addiction solution continues and becomes deeply embedded. The search for an internal solution for the happiness-seeker withers and dies.

In my practice clients that demonstrate commitment to resisting the seduction of relapse, are taught and encouraged to examine their cognitive processes both in the clinical session and in their private moments. This can only be accomplished through clarity of mind. That requires “thinking about the way one thinks.” Patience, persistence and fortitude are vital for success. When this skill is achieved the identification of certain “trigger” emotions is made. The strategy then becomes to address the “trigger” emotions before the danger of relapse increases. If the task of life is to fully experience one’s own full measure of happiness then rigorous attention must be paid to the content of one’s thoughts. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

-Written by: Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C. C.A.D.C. N.C.C.
-With contribution from Andrea Serrano