Addiction to People
Addiction to other people is the most prevalent type of addiction, afflicting the majority of humans; yet it's the most ignored, misconceived, and even applauded. Its causes, harms and possible treatments thus remain the least discussed. Somehow people are afraid to discuss addiction to other people, lest they offend or lose other people, ending up alone and facing the stigma and curse of solitude, that most cultures and books negatively depict. Living alone on a desert island or in solitary confinement would be a nightmare to many, and a harsh punishment in several judicial systems.
Naturally, they won't offend Mother Nature either (too many offenses and fears, making life more difficult than it is). They won't do something unnatural such as living in solitude, disobeying her who has taught them, by imprinting in their genes, to be emotionally bonded to one another, for better or worse, whatever the price is at the moment of inevitable separation. They do so, even though they know Nature is not always the right guide, nor should her orders be taken for granted.
Many choose to bury their heads in the sand, when it comes to the most serious type of addiction, left without treatment or advice on prevention: the most damaging to life, regressive to civilization, and paralyzing to rational thinking. They won't take action, because they are people addicts themselves who need help.
This is not the place to discuss addiction to a person (lover/parent/child/etc.) that one can find much material written on elsewhere (dealing with bereavement depression/losing a loved one/breaking up a relationship/child dependence on adults/etc.). This is simply a broader argument about and against addiction to being with other people, to the company of other people, any people, which is the root problem of all the above problems. A chronic people-addict merely suffers for being alone, or silent, that they always need others to socialize with, friends or strangers—while standing in line, sitting in a waiting room, traveling a long distance, chatting on phone, on line, etc.
Neither is this a discussion of addiction to people from the perspective of Buddhism and other oriental teachings, that deal with the more general concept of "non-attachment," i.e. freedom from all types of attachment, by gradually breaking attachment to people, objects, memories, places, etc. Attachment is a mere euphemism for the problem at hand. Addiction to people is a fully-fledged addiction that needs treatment, by doctors, scientists and society, most of whom are unfortunately people addicts too.
Choosing between religion, sex, food, sports, arts, etc., I found no better candidate for the title "the opium of the people" than people themselves. It wasn't difficult to realize that "people are the opium of the people" (or people is the opium of the people, where people is just a drug, an object of addiction), considering the scale of damage and number of addicts to such opium. Still, nobody cares: everyone keeps going with the flow, with the herd of other people. It's hard to be the black sheep, the odd one out, when everyone is blindingly white.
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Studying people's reaction to losing a loved one shows how similar it is to the withdrawal symptoms of drug addiction: the same spasms, cravings, irritability, depression, lack of purpose or concentration, etc. Still, it's taboo to discuss or treat the subject of social bonds as mere harmful fetters keeping humanity from progress and pursuing happiness. A scientist might be branded a heartless immoralist if he attempted approaching, scientifically, the subject of our inherent social instinct, many value as the prime source of happiness giving meaning to their life, that they would never abandon: to them solitude and hell are only synonyms.
If they only realize that the very scientific facts they now reject can save their life, from much suffering and emotional trauma caused by that "harmless" instinct, while introducing a variety of natural and artificial alternatives, they may gradually change their mind, and let go of wrong social beliefs and a primitive behavior they have been hypnotically following all their life.
Counting the causes of pain most humans encounter during a lifetime, one can legitimately put losing a loved one on top of the list. It's when the withdrawal symptoms of our addiction to other people take a tragic turn, as we have cravings we unfortunately can never satisfy. This painful experience takes different forms, i.e. types of separation:
How to survive such difficult times then, accepting the loss of a loved one, shortening the period of withdrawal symptoms, and minimizing or ending cravings for people we lose? Can we not become attached to them in the first place, to avoid such pain? People become attached to each other so easily, and everyday we develop new bonds and strengthen old ones. The stronger the bond, the greater the pain afterwards. Our love for other people is partly controlled by brain chemistry, partly by choice and reason. Is there a way to reason with our social chemistry to avoid future pain, or is it inevitable?
When we design a new building, we make sure it has enough exit doors, fire-extinguishers, security cameras, etc. We prepare ourselves for the worst, even when it doesn't necessarily happen. Considering a worst case scenario and thinking of death is not just for pessimists; it's for realists too, who simply accept reality and try to make the best of it, rather than dwell on or ogle the half-empty glass! Since fear and pleasure don't go together, we must face our fear, especially that of losing people we care about, then take action. This is not pessimism; it's precaution.
What is said about buildings applies to humans too. We need to find ways to minimize the damage caused to the tissue of our life, when we lose a loved one by death or otherwise. We should learn in advance the ABC's of prevention of addiction to people.
The great French philosopher and mathematician Pascal once said:
People think they would be missing life if they stayed alone. They believe life is too short to live in solitude. They want to have maximum happiness, but they don't know "how to be happy." So, they run to each other seeking the answer. They keep moving from one group of people to the other to find the answer. They fail, and all they get is diversion, not happiness.
The nature of addiction to people differs from other types of addiction, because it involves several body hormones and different evolutionary functions. Oxytocin is usually mentioned, positively, as the fear-fighting, cuddling, social hormone that bonds people together, and pleases them too by keeping the levels of other endorphins stable. We don't mention its negative side, when such strong bonds eventually break, after having been growing for years, or a lifetime. The price we pay is so high:
1. We lose great energy with other people, consuming our mental and physical stamina, and leaving little for our other non-social needs. Developing few or many relationships can equally consume our "life energy," that we devote to finding, nurturing and maintaining such relationships. We have to find time in our schedule to attend weddings, funerals, birthdays, parties ... preparing ourselves with the right words and the right gifts. We have to regularly meet, talk, smile and interact from time to time, else we will slip their memory. Even when we are apart, we must send post cards, flowers, parcels; or make apologetic phone calls, in all special and non-special occasions, on public or private holidays ... otherwise, we become far from heart as we are from sight. And if we fail to fulfill any of these social obligations, one must be armed with the right apologies, excuses, lies, and most eloquent expressions of guilt and remorse in our dictionary, for circumstances we have no control over.
Our ties must keep growing, and our love be expressed, regularly by words and actions. Our mutual affection has to perpetually increase even when it turns into a source of pain, as we see those we loved eventually lost along the road, one after the other. We can't stop ourselves from being attached to people we loved, helped or just spent time with. We turn into people's addicts by mere force of habit and passage of time. It's the way our primitive brain is programmed, to love those causing us a mindless thrill followed by a needless misery, like a drug addiction without treatment yet, because it's an addiction to people we live with and cannot escape, and the brain too is part of us we cannot change or escape. Will there ever be a cure for our addiction to people?
2. With others, we lose time, sometimes more than we spend alone, measuring up to years or decades in proportion to life as a whole. In the middle of our ecstatic moments of laughter, thrill and excitement with other people, we forget that too much of our thoughts, feelings ... and life are spent with them, only because "it feels good." Then we come back to our senses and think logically of our actions, only to realize we gained nothing at all from such social addiction, that we basically followed because the chemistry of it was so irresistible.
3. We sacrifice emotional security. We are always susceptible to suffering from bereavement, abandonment and disappointment in those we thought to be permanently available and kind to us. Addiction to people can take a high toll on the life of its victims:
4. We sacrifice physical security, by sharing the same air we breathe, the food we eat, and even our bodies, when showing affection socially or sexually, with all the health hazards resulting from such sharing. Most obviously, we share the same space, which leads to crowdedness, as in populous areas, minimizing the quality of all aspects of life: education, health, transport, communication, security, work, and cooperation. It minimizes life itself, as life turns into chaos and order gets lost. Then when a disaster strikes it's the loss of human life that is maximized, as the other ugly face of "socializing" shows up in
Sometimes, the human bondage isn't only regressive, but fatal. Refusing to abandon one's environment and relationships they have had for years, despite its harms, is literally "clinging to one's grave," like those overstaying in war/pandemic zones, or mere pathetic relationships. Their knowledge of the price they pay and risk they take every minute is useless, up until the end when a tragedy strikes. Many die this way, apparently by a gunshot, bomb or virus, but in actuality they die by their attachment to the past, land, and people they can't break away from, the real culprit. The very source of happiness—other people—becomes a cause of death. Had they reasoned with and accepted reality, exercised caution and not thrown it to the wind, and refused to be blinded by instinct and mere brain chemistry, they could've seen the light at the end of the tunnel, and survived.
5. Addiction to people makes us lose self-control, becoming nearly doped. Just like other types of addiction (to drugs, food, habits, etc.), addiction to other people (addiction to people pleasing/addiction to people's approval/addiction to people's company) makes its addict reliant on his/her object of addiction, willing to go to extremes to satisfy his/her cravings and get a false brain reward, while losing control in the process, over his/her words/actions/emotions, only to regret it afterwards, as if one was temporarily haunted by another person.
6. We sacrifice our self-interest, if it's not mutually shared and leading to higher mutual interests. Both the economist and the biologist know better which lasts longer, a sympathetic or symbiotic relationship, among living organisms as well as states. A people addict cannot offend, upset or harm the very people he/she is addicted to, even when the latter do all the above to him/her, with pleasure.
7. Fairness is replaced with bias and discrimination, by favoring certain groups of people we are attached to, over those we are not. If we unfairly like some, we, automatically, unfairly dislike the others. When favoritism plagues a society (with sexism, ageism, racism, nepotism, lookism, etc.), the wrong values and people replace the right ones, leading to society's corruption, oppression and instability, just because people followed their social "instinct" dictating to them what/whom to choose based on mindless qualities (gender/age/race/family ties/looks/etc.), rather than worth or competence.
8. Satisfaction is shaken as we unconsciously compare ourselves to others. Because we have less time to understand ourselves (our needs, tastes and abilities), we wrongly measure ourselves up to others (their needs, tastes and abilities). Then we feel miserable because we will never possess what others possess, even if it's less: it's only different. Comparison is the thief of joy.
9. Diversity and individual differences are sacrificed at the altar of conformity, to be sure one is following the standards every one else in the group must follow. People go to extremes in their endeavors to conform to others: repeating what everyone says, buying things not for them, adopting others' lifestyles, living/working/enjoying what others live/work/enjoy, making life decisions only because others had taken, and, worse, attacking those who are different (alone, weak, or foreign).
10. When being with others turns into an addiction, it is always at the expense of one's creativity. Scientists who are confined in their labs to find cures for our diseases, inventors in their workshops developing ways to speed up civilization and challenge the laws of physics, writers theorizing and working to find rules for others to walk by, those and many others wouldn't be doing what they are doing in solitude, if they were mindlessly addicted to the company of people.
11. Similarly, we sacrifice our privacy when we let others interfere with our lives, out of innocent harmless sharing, although people are different by nature, even twins or siblings are, which is what makes each of us special, especially when they know that which makes them special. Killing our differences in the name of mindless social intercourse is a barbaric animal instinct that we genetically possess, whose prime function is achieving higher good for the group at the expense of the individual's, eventually erasing all forms of diversity and creativity to achieve an obsolete primitive uniformity. The homogeneity or unity of a certain society should be based on the shared goals of its members, not the methods each member uses to reach those goals.
12. And so with dignity, that is easily trodden on by others. When adults become addicted to each other, spending more time together, they gradually lose interest and respect for one another. Ironically, people become curious and respectful of those who want to be alone and live their own way, rather than those they spend time and do more things with. If you volunteer to help someone who needs you without knowing it, they will rebuff your help. If you ignore them, or give them empty words (telling them how they vitally need you, and promising to help them, without meaning what you say), they will run after you and stick to you, like ants to a candy bar.
13. Above all this, with others we lose honesty, and truth becomes of no one's interest. We sacrifice honesty to avoid offending, hurting, or losing other people. Being the foundation of society, without honesty, a society built on lies, superstitions and misinformation eventually crumbles.
It's easier to cure other types of attachment, to a place/drug/habit, when we cure attachment to people first. If you are attached to people you love, imagine bringing them all to live with you in the "desert island" you chose to settle on. Life becomes easier then, because now they are all by your side, no one to miss, and nothing to long for, back in the old land, except a bunch of memories you already, ubiquitously carry in your head. The main object of memories is with you, while the rest is just a barren space and time, where no one lives but ghosts.
When we see someone in the news who has just lost all family members in an accident or catastrophe, we cannot help putting ourselves in their shoes, wondering: "What is it in themselves they can still cling to, to stay alive?" Many of us love to imagine dying instead while surrounded by their loved ones, although in reality many die ALONE, without getting a chance to say goodbye to anybody. We all want to say in the end: "It was a good life!" Do we need somebody else to say this to?
Increasing relationships to avoid future suffering may help temporarily, but it is not a pain-proof solution. One may give birth to many children, so that when a child dies there are still other "spare-kids"! Yet, in such case the pain isn't lessened, it's only divided: instead of having one big shock, you receive several, smaller, less severe ones. This pain-fighting strategy has the only advantage of saving us from being completely broken when a tragedy strikes. Yet, measuring the overall effect it has on one's life, the chances of losing people increase with every new bond we create. Let alone that dividing one's emotion equally is virtually impossible, since we always find ourselves attached to some people more than others; this could lead to multiple tragedies instead of one, turning the very solution to the attachment problem into a bigger problem in itself! The possibility of an emotional trauma is still there. We have to consider more viable solutions:
1. EMOTIONAL INDEPENDENCE
Most societies, religions and cultures encourage individuals to be emotionally dependent on each other, considering it essential for their well-being since it's only a human nature. There is even a stigma attached to those who do not participate in social activities intended just for pleasure. You could be criticized, if not ostracized, if you found those gatherings a mere waste of time.
We need to re-evaluate our ethics and let go of many stereotypes we have inherited from traditions, superstitions, and rulers who cared only for their self-interest by encouraging and supporting herd ethics just to make their ruling easier and longer.
Sadly, self-love has long been synonymous with narcissism and selfishness. It is time this great virtue re-gained its status. You can't love others, if you can't love yourself: charity begins at home. We don't have to turn other people into mirrors of ourselves, just because we are afraid of facing ourselves alone. There are many questions WE alone can answer, because they interest no one but ourselves. There is no need to be afraid of facing solitude, or to run to others like a "clingy" child.
Growing self-love and self-esteem is vital for the survival of any creature. Survival instinct precedes social instinct.
The fragility of human bonds is commonly ignored by sociologists and marginalized in most social systems, that prioritize cooperation, praising the good achieved for the group, over the psychological status of the individual, although it's the latter that motivates cooperation. A wise sociologist should take both into account, since individuals make groups, and parts make wholes.
Only few see the larger picture, of the constant mobility and changeability of life, that begs the question of stability and need for emotional independence. A simple fact is commonly ignored, that "the more time one spends with others, the more attached one becomes to them." The chemistry of attachment is difficult to control, that individuals should be prepared for facing the turns of life, to flexibly adapt to new environments, belong to new social groups, or just accept a solitary lifestyle.
2. MENTAL INDEPENDENCE
Autonomous thinking is to think for oneself. It takes a lifetime to develop autonomous thinking habits, that first need guidance from family, school, society, and individuals themselves to always watch their thoughts and actions lest they mindlessly conform to the majority, until such actions develop into autonomous positive habits, independent of others' guidance or presence.
Equally important is applying logical thinking to social stereotypes, by "taking nothing for granted," and relying on facts and evidence rather than wishes or urges.
Autonomous thinking leads to logical thinking, and vice versa. One cannot value the importance of a logic or science they don't relate to. They wouldn't gather data, search for evidence, or bother about finding a truth that doesn't change their own life and make it better. Wisdom is useless if it doesn't lead to happiness. It's ironic how an uneducated person can use the rules of logic, almost professionally, much better than many educated people do, when he/she seeks an object they desperately need, whether to escape a danger/punishment or win a reward (stick or carrot).
3. PHYSICAL INDEPENDENCE
Physical independence from other people helps achieve emotional independence. Achieving self-sufficiency is the ultimate goal of every human or state, whether one lives alone or with others. It's difficult to live without other people, yet we can minimize dependence on them, to avoid the hefty price we pay and list of social diseases we infect ourselves with by such dependence/attachment/addiction/etc. Physical independence has many forms:
4. SOCIETY'S INDEPENDENCE
The state role should gradually replace that of familial and social bonds, that not everyone has/likes, to provide social security for individuals.
Rules, law & order protect the individual's rights, much better than fickle, biased, arbitrary social bonds. There can be plans for almost everything in life, even for personal pleasures, to save us the unnecessary fights, disputes and chaos, and replace primitive laws of the jungle with civilized human ones. How many brothers have lost their family bonds because of unplanned inheritance and unwritten will? How many coworkers turned into enemies because of unfair work regulations? How many accidents happen when people don't take precautions, stand in line, respect their turns, etc.?
Symbiosis is vital for the survival of both humans and animals. Symbiotic relationships last longer, better organize human lives, and achieve harmony and happiness. Symbiosis is not an obsolete animal trait; it's eternal: between all living beings, or non-living ones. Mutual bonds are better measured and defined, unlike other hazy, addictive and consumptive relationships based on emotion (which is animal too). Mutual interest is natural and optional. There are always some interests we share and some we don't.
Is life/happiness possible without people? Life is easier and happier with people, by cooperation between people, not by love. When emotion gets in the way of reason, those purely emotional pleasures become the very cause of serious problems afterwards: jealousy, envy, prejudice, disrespect, discrimination, etc.
When others sympathize and shed tears for our misery, we gain nothing. But when they offer their help, in return for ours, our life goes on in harmony together. People become more motivated to help us, when they know their reward in advance, just like children. Mutual interest organizes our life more efficiently than by living at the mercy of fickle social chemistry. Waiting for a philanthropist or good Samaritan to show up and solve our problems may take forever!
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Heaven/Hell is other people. Hell is not other people, as long as they complete, not compete with each other, by bringing out the good EVERY human has. People are useful to people; they need each other to do jobs for one another, thus each is an ingredient for one's happiness and survival. Robinson Crusoe did not only miss the human touch; he also needed someone to work with him. Other people are the doctors who cure us; they are the inventors, scientists and researchers constantly searching for ways to improve the quality of our life. Other people are the farmers, teachers, technicians, plumbers, etc. We need other people.
However, problems arise when we overestimate the roles we expect others to play: when we put them on a pedestal. Adhering to absolute non-existent mindless morality disrupts our perception of reality, making us later susceptible to psychological shocks.
Nothing is wrong or evil about symbiotic relationships: they are simple, realistic, and more enduring than those based on erratic chemistry, confusing and making people live in a non-existent utopia. We strive to make our world a better place, but it is not a utopia yet (where we become ONE with each other, giving each other a big "universal hug"). True love is not possible without justice, equality and harmony first. Harmony is not a natural ingredient of life: we create it through our civilization. "I need you" and "I need you too" make more sense than "I love you" and "I love you too"; it gives meaning to a strong, long-lasting relationship.
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The refinement of human nature is a must for its evolution. Labeling humans as mere social beings limits their freedoms and discourages individuals from believing in themselves; rather, humans are rational beings; and if they aren't, we should help them become so. Attachment is below man's rank. Man is superior to animals because of his reason: the higher brain he possesses to control his animal senses with, not to give up all reasoning for them. Yet, many misuse such organ, if using it at all, while bragging about possessing it. They belittle other animals, drawing a dividing line between humans and those "inferior" creatures that helplessly follow their instinct, just like most of their superiors—humans—do.
An incurious person accepts casual pleasures to satisfy his/her social urges. Humans aren't so different form their animal cousins when they blindly follow their social instinct. Like food, our hunger for happiness can be satisfied by any pleasure, safe/meaningful or not (eating, mating, socializing, etc.) as long as one eventually feels full. It won't be long before they feel hungry again, when the temporary thrill goes away, along with the people who offered it, until new others appear to share even newer things with, then they go too, etc.
Watching those Indian tribes meeting for their pipe-passing rituals, then starting their usual hallucinative talks, you realize that far away in the civilized cities of the world people are not that far:—
People prepare, organize and announce their meetings, weeks and months in advance. And when they finally meet, they drink, smoke, flirt, flatter, laugh, lie, ramble, moving from one subject to the other, aimlessly, at maximum speed, bringing up their good old memories with and without a reason, to reach a climax of excitement, showing off a sudden extraordinary power and (Dutch) courage to do all the impossible stunts. Dream and reality become one, and so facts and lies, truth and falsehood! After all we all need to be happy, at any expense, don't we?
"Happiness is the greatest good," as Bentham put it. It's the only meaningful value all other values are based upon. Seeking happiness is essential, yet a happiness that lasts longer is worth more seeking after. The analgesic euphoria obtained from social and sensual pleasures we share with animals is still vital, however, for those under great stress or pain, to find or see any other source of pleasure: they live on them, it's all they have. Yet when one has better sources, refined, deep, and meaningful, uniquely human pleasures, one should capture and cultivate them. We should humanize our nature, not animalize it, if we seriously want to continue evolving.
Our search for happiness should amount to our position in the animal kingdom, not by indulging ourselves in the illusive chemical thrill our body offers sometimes. We do not need pleasures that are so detached from reality, like drug-induced pleasures, where the shock can be too severe afterwards. Sensibly enough, the price of fun shouldn't be higher than the fun itself.
Thankfully, our body nature offers many other safe, deep joys we can experience without being neither deluded nor harmed. In other parts of the world, on its Eastern side, such experiences have been for millennia valued and respected ... while they have only recently found their way to our hedonic, materialistic West!
5. FUTURE PLANNING
Many of our present relationships will be obsolete in the future. Most of the beneficial roles currently played by humans will be played by computers and robots in the future (bankers, teachers, doctors , etc.), even including familial roles (parents, siblings or nannies). As some computer scientists believe, like inventor and futurist Raymond Kurzweil, in a few decades from now artificial intelligence will exceed human intelligence in most aspects of life.
Future people will value privacy and individual's freedom more. The "itching" chemical urge to follow, talk about or interfere into the lives of others will be unmotivated, if not genetically eradicated. We will be relieved of the hormone secretion and primitive brain structure dictating to us whom to love or hate based on race, sex, looks, or even familiarity. Even the mother-child love, the most sacred and deepest of all human bonds, won't be the same. Motherhood instinct can equally be useful and harmful, as it's based on mere chemicals (oxytocin et al) that we now understand thanks to brain scanning technology. As we move forward, which no one can stop, all our emotions will be controlled "in the laboratory," even before we come to life and and see the light of day. In short, we will be emotionally independent from other people (although not financially, physically, or intellectually, which is mutually useful).
Hell is other people only when we become attached to and obsessed with them.
Addiction to other people is so prevalent, that most of us complacently think it cannot be changed; or because it's natural it should stay so. Man has conquered Nature in many fields before, achieving so many goals and turning dreams into reality; yet, freedom of, and from the heart is still the dearest, and scariest to him—one he is not yet prepared for. It's a stab in the dark; a hesitant step onto no-man's-land, that no one wants to take. Yet, for many scientists, truth-seekers, and those who have suffered enough human losses, it will be a relief.
At every stage of our life, we hope that we will finally be free ... and relax. Starting off when leaving our mothers' wombs, we begin our childhood phase; then to school we go, to have our necessary education, to become unemployed, employed then retired. We make the family we always dreamed of and create our own children, who in turn leave us to start new families too. We go through cycles, from one phase to the other, hoping that eventually we will catch our breath ... but we can't. It may be Fate, if we think it is, Fate that cannot be changed. Yet who can believe or disbelieve, unless they know enough? And where is the place to know: school, church, street ...? If they find the Truth, shall they embrace it or run away from it? What will they prefer then: a bitter reality, or soothing myths and sweet-talking friends?
In this vast cosmos we live in, from a light blue dot named Earth, every human is daily crying for help, hoping that others will hear him/her and run for their rescue. Yet the entire human race is still helplessly ignorant, pathetically naive. They always need help from others, not through sympathy and tears, just help. Where to find those Others, and whether they are Heaven or Hell, nobody knows ... yet.