Ari Sytner

There’s no Such Thing as a Phone Addiction. Is There?

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage

The traffic light turns red and the row of cars slowly crawl to a stop. It turns green and then red once again, but strangely, not a single car moves. As each driver is looking down at his or her phone, squeezing in just a few extra seconds of email or social media time, the world around them remains paused. Nobody has noticed the passing clouds, the ticking clock, the children’s laughter, or the changing traffic light.

This unfortunate reality has become the new normal. 

Yet, many ask, “so what?” If a person is sitting in their car, waiting in an airport, or standing in line at the store while looking at their phone – why does it matter? If anything, they are increasing their productivity by multitasking in real time! The truth is that in most cases being drawn into one’s phone does not directly hurt anyone. However, it causes us to miss out on life, people, and opportunities which continue to unfold whether one notices it or not.

John Bowlby is the father of psychology’s well-known Attachment Theory. The underlying idea behind this approach is that people form primary attachments in their lives, and the paradigm for that one relationship will be applied to all future relationships. When a person forms unhealthy attachments, the rest of their relationships will have the same flaws and will remain troubled or compromised.

This model need not only apply to our relationships with people, but even with objects! For those people who suffer with the painful disease we know as addiction, they live with a constant inner turmoil, which is most easily settled by giving into the addiction. That one drink for the alcoholic becomes the primary relationship in life, and breaking free from it seems insurmountable, despite repeated attempts to quit. Why would an intelligent and accomplished individual take another drink if the last one led to a fight, divorce, or D.U.I.? The answer is because the object of the addiction has become the primary relationship in the life of the addict – and that is not something one can easily walk away from.

One might say, “I can quit anytime,” but their track record may say otherwise. Being unable to put down the drink (or the phone) demonstrates the extent of one’s reliance upon it – and magnifies the unhealthy relationship one has with the object.  

Today’s cell phone usage has introduced a new relationship paradigm. No longer do people put their health, safety, or loved ones first – instead, the phone has become our first and primary attachment. While we have more connections than ever before, the quality of our relationships are being reduced dramatically, as the phone has become our go-to relationship for comfort and self-soothing.

While many are apt to quote the addicts mantra of, “I can stop at any time,” it is something easier said than done. I am fascinated when in the middle of a counseling session a client looks down to respond to text message. As they continue talking about important issues in their lives, their voice slowly trails off and stops in mid-sentence. A moment later, once the text is sent, their voice bounces back and continues talking as if nothing strange just happened. They are unaware of how their relationship with the phone is impacting what is happening in physical space they occupy.

Undoubtedly, this same scene repeats itself on dates, at business meetings and during precious family time. Yet, ironically, they sit in my office with tears flowing, trying to understand why they struggle to maintain happy and healthy relationships.

Utilizing Gestalt Therapy, I can often help clients to develop a self-awareness that enables them to identify that was is happening during our sessions is likely happening outside as well and negatively impacting their relationships. Many people will initially deny that one has anything to do with the other, much like the line of cars that are oblivious to the green light before them. But only when putting the phone down, or even better, shutting it off, can one regain their full mental and psychic energy to be fully present and aware of the world and the people around them.

Not only is the relationship with our phones robbing us of enjoying the connections with the people in our lives, but it in many cases, it prevents us from maximizing our mental abilities. Recently, I was out running errands when I noticed that I had forgotten my phone at home. It was a moment of pure panic. Shortly after, I felt a sense of calm as I realized that I was actually OK and not missing out on life. I was enjoying the scenery, the quiet, and my thoughts when I soon noticed new ideas that popped into my mind. Ordinarily, I would have immediately taken out my phone and made a note or sent an email, text or Tweet. I don’t like sitting on ideas when I can run with them. But then something happened.

The longer I sat with my ideas, unable to do anything about them but think, the more the ideas started to grow. Before long, I noticed that my previously half-baked idea was developing into something far greater.

It was that moment that I realized the importance of embracing a primary relationship, first with myself above all others. If I could only spend more time building a better relationship with me – my thoughts, ideas and dreams, only then could I work to enhance the relationships with the people in my life.

While I absolutely love my phone, there are other priorities which are truly far more important.

Thus, rather than live a beholden existence, where we are primarily attached to our phones, we should not be afraid to set ourselves free from time to time. By disconnecting from this virtual relationship, we will be able to better focus and fully embrace the truly meaningful relationships in our lives.

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Technology, Sex and Dating: Navigating a Crazy New World

Posted by in Relationships & Marriage

I recently asked my readers to share what their biggest frustrations and problems are. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the incredible number of responses from loyal followers and readers and I took great time and energy to read and respond to each one. While there were many topics that dealt with addiction, marriage, parenting, stress and work (all to be addressed in later articles), there was one topic, by far, which stood out above all others. Like a perfectly woven thread, this topic unknowingly bound together dozens of perfect strangers, all of whom were plagued by the same demons – dating, technology and sex.

It seems that no matter how hard they try, there are countless people trying to date for marriage, but finding no success. They begin to question whether they are being naïve and fairytale-esque simply by wanting to find their soul mate and start a life and family together.

How tragic is it, that the core, fundamental goal of building a home together with a beloved spouse is now looked at by so many as a pipe dream! Why is that so many women are reporting that the men they meet and have high hopes for, are typically looking for a one night stand, or worse, they are already married?! (Also to be addressed in a later article).

Technology has added an incredible boost in our ability to meet more people than ever before. However, with increased technology the quantity of prospects has increased and the quality has decreased. I am a big believer in mature people using online dating in a responsible way and enjoying results. However, the abundance of apps currently on the market, all have one thing in common. It is not that they are encouraging meaningless sexual encounters. Rather, it’s what is beneath the surface of that problem, and that is, that the apps are playing directly into a person’s impulsivity.

It is that impulsive nature, which, in an already over-distracted ADHD world, only further disintegrates the courtship process. Thus, instead of heading down the long road of searching for meaningful and fulfilling relationships, the quick, easy and impulsive thing to do is find a one-night stand. After all, think about the fact that the apps are based on GPS location. In other words, “just show me person who is close by to me at this very moment". Ultimately, by giving into the impulsive behaviors, one forms an unhealthy reinforced pattern. This can lead to compulsive or even addictive sexual activity and keeps a person on that same lonely path. As time goes on, one will likely face a web of lies, shame, loneliness and depression and runs the risk of physically or emotionally hurting themselves or those they meet.

The task of creating a home and building a future, is far from an impulsive undertaking. It is not something that is done with a single swipe, after only .02 seconds of viewing a single photo of a person. It takes work, hard work! It takes knowing yourself more than anything, and then learning to know the essence of another person. Love develops over time when you learn to appreciate and admire the incredible qualities of that other person. The more you can know someone, the stronger the foundation and the better off the relationship. Though it takes time - it is well worth the investment!

I have a great deal of compassion and respect for my clients who struggle with the challenges of dating. While being single today has many wonderful opportunities, it is not without hardships. For anyone that his looking for a meaningful relationship, I will share four key suggestions:

  • Try to stay away from the more impulsive apps and lean towards the more marriage-oriented dating sites.
  • Find a dating coach, mentor or therapist. This is not just a friend or roommate you can talk to, but a trained and objective person who can help you map our your goals and explore the ideal ways to achieve them, without enduring unnecessary emotional rollercoaster rides.
  • Of course, one of the best and proven methods to meet real people that have marriage potential, is to ask a friend to set you up with someone that is known to them and who shares your same goals.
  • Finally, Stay positive! Don’t stop living just because you haven’t found your soul mate. They will come along in due time! But in the interim, keep developing yourself into the most awesome version of you without compromise or succumbing to impulsivity. Ultimately, your spouse, children and household will one day be the primary beneficiaries of your continued strength, optimism and zest for life!

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To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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Indulgence or Addiction: Where is the Fine Line?

Posted by in Addiction, Relationships & Marriage, Stress & Adversity

Today’s world offers a smorgasbord of enticing gateway drugs that can appeal to virtually anyone. That’s right, no longer does a person have to be a full-blown heroin addict to struggle with substance abuse. Addictions and dependencies can be connected to virtually anything – not only addictive chemicals such as nicotine. Consider that things such as ice-cream, coffee, TV, internet, shopping, music, Netflix and exercise are generally not considered to be inherently harmful, yet, when they are used in a maladaptive or compulsive manner, they can develop into full-blown addictions.

The reason for this is because addictions are rooted deep within a void that exists in the mind of the addict. Often, it is a disturbing or traumatic early experience in childhood which created an insecurity. Maybe it was a bad experience with a parent, teacher or friend, but it left a void that never healed. Later on, as an adult, when a person hits a wall, he or she will subconsciously confront those same uncomfortable feelings. As a coping mechanism, the brain begins to crave something soothing, an escape of sorts, which allows the addict to fill the emptiness that lies deep with in them.

For some, the escape can be alcohol or drugs, for others it could be withdrawing to the couch to eat an entire pie of pizza. Interestingly, most people assume that the object of addiction – such as the cigarette or whiskey, is the primary attachment, as if to suggest that the alcoholic is drawn to alcohol. However, in most cases, the attachment is not to the object, but actually, to the act of self-soothing. For the alcoholic, they happen to have chosen whiskey; but it just as well could have been video games, sex, work or chewing tobacco. The common thread is that they are all being used as instruments of escape and ultimately, become the single most important relationship in the addict's life.

As the brain is the most complicated organ in the body, it can be difficult to understand addictions. However, keep in mind that the brain is perpetually producing and balancing chemicals that help maintain emotional equilibrium. However, when one finds an addictive substance or routine (such as binge eating or watching Netflix all day and night) to serve as their primary form of soothing and escape – it replaces the brains need to regulate itself chemically. Thus, whenever a person feels a “low”, instead of the brain producing the needed chemical regulations, the addict’s brain flags that feelings as a “craving”. It is at that point that the addict starts looking; searching for a fix to regulate their equilibrium and pick themselves up artificially.

While it provides a temporary relief, the problem with this solution, is that it is maladaptive. Ultimately, it will deteriorate a person’s health, wellbeing or relationships. Addictions are certainly enjoyable as they provide a temporary escape from reality, pain, loneliness or suffering. However, what happens afterwards?

Often, a person is left in a state of shame, depression, lack of funds, or perhaps, deeper emptiness – which for the addict only has one solution – further indulgence in their drug of choice. It is in this context, that a mere "innocent" indulgence, such an extra piece of desert (or two) can start to get out of control, and like the flip of a switch, turn into an addiction.

It is this uncontrollable spiraling, which requires intense support from friends and family and the help of a properly trained therapist to teach the addict new coping mechanisms which are healthy. On a positive note, over time and through recovery, the inner void can be filled with new and more productive habits. The brain itself can be slowly weaned from the addiction and can be “recalibrated” to once again regulate itself in a healthy manner, without the need to seek the soothing of an addiction in order to cope with the stress of everyday life. While anyone can be susceptible to developing an addiction, the good news is that they are also capable of recovery!

To contact Ari Sytner for counseling, interventions or feedback, please click here.

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