Posts tagged self-love
Letting go of gambling ….why is it so hard -even when holding on hurts more?

This topic really felt relevant for me to write about, as I have been up against this topic myself last week. A few weeks back I was told on short notice that I would no longer be able to run my gambling support group for the homeless- a group that I have invested heavily in during the last 8 years.   When I say invested heavily- I am not necessarily talking about time spent running the group. It was just one hour per week, albeit over 8 years that add up. But I referring more to the about emotion. This group has been an eye opener, a learning curve, a remarkable community and an extremely worthwhile venture. I have reflected on the learning and on the sad stories presented to me far and beyond the hour spent with the group. Their often cruel but honest humour, and ability to laugh at tragedy may seem ‘twisted’ but is an often necessary response to the deep end of human suffering. Needless to say I have derived great joy from helping these men and women, achieve change. For some that change has been at the level of seeing a smile on their face. For some it has been a new suitcase to replace an old bin-liner. And for others it has been the mere commitment of showing up for this one hour per week when everything else has felt chaotic and out of sync. Many have even made real progress in reducing or quitting their gambling, and have made it into accommodation. There was little doubt that we all struggled with this final goodbye after so many years but we were at least all in agreement;  when good things come to an end they don’t need to go on forever in a practical sense. They will live forever in our hearts as fond memories.  We all agreed that it has been a lot of difficult but good times in the group – and we all accepted that it was ending and that a goodbye was necessary.   This is what I would call a ‘clean’ letting go.  Not sure there is anything called a ‘dirty’ let go – but I will spend the rest of this article looking at what it looks like when letting go is necessary; but the circumstances are less straightforward.  This is often the case when you have invested yourself wholeheartedly, but the sense of reward and reciprocity has not been present, not consistent or in some cases not there at all. Somehow things are not adding up, it feels unfair and/or unresolved.  Gambling tends to be an activity that produces all of the above, but there are of course other life circumstances too, not least the area of relationships. In both gambling and less healthy relationships, the common denominator is often the case of one person’s one-sided ‘chasing’ and clinging . You have invested (be it time, money, energy, emotion or all them ) but unlike in my personal example about ending the group, here we are talking about those times when there has not been returns on that investment. It leaves you feeling bereft and desperate, obsessed and confused. Like you have been ‘cheated’ or are at a loss. Often even though you have yourself watched the process unfold. This is the daily experience of a gambler. You are trying harder and harder, in spite of accumulated losses. In these situations- letting go is the most logically obvious- but the absolute hardest thing to to do!

Let’s explore some of the reasons why this happens…..

# you feel that you have invested a lot….and that consequently you are owed returns on your investment. Read the below…does it sound familiar?  

‘ but if I walk away now- what did I get for all of that money, time and ‘effort’ that I put in. And what about all the losses – how would I recover them if I don’t even give myself a shot at winning…? Better give it another go in case this is the time that I will strike lucky’

Our human nature often contributes to a couple of inaccurate assumptions. We often assume we should have control over situations and our life (which taking a step back we can immediately conclude we don’t have). We also often assume that there should be a sense of justice to situations. If I do X then he/she/it should do Y’.  If I am kind to someone, they should be kind to me or I had so much bad luck yesterday - today I will be lucky. We might feel that things we do for others should be reciprocated. In gambling this translates to an expectation of a particular outcome that is being ‘earned’ as you are putting money and time towards the activity.  ‘this machine is definitely due now’ ‘it has to pay out soon, I’ve stood here pumping in money for hours….  

It is no news that there is a HUGE illusion of control at play in gambling disorders. In fact this constitutes one of the biggest drivers of the addiction both early days in the addiction and often throughout recovery as well.   ‘If only I pursue my gambling like this – then I will be the winner…’ 

One of the underlying processes that make gambling highly addictive is the concept of intermittent reinforcement schedules. This forms part of the underlying gambling psychology and is why gambling is addictive to human beings.  If you are curious you can look it up, and if not we will come back to that topic another time in this blog. Briefly; intermittent reinforcement schedules refers rewards for a behaviour that is delivered on unpredictable and often random intervals, and sometimes in varying strength. This is known to foster great compliance and high motivation to continue engaging in a behaviour.

# many gamblers are competitive, hence the feeling of loosing or feeling ‘defeated’ leads to wanting to gamble even more to get a chance to ‘get back’ at the industry for taking your money, time and energy.

# the illusion of control, (referred to above) one of the well known cognitive distortions that problem gamblers present with. Essentially this is when you fool yourself to believe that if only you applied different formulas/strategies to your gambling, you will probably strike lucky… This type of thinking fuels further chasing and on a purely psychological level it can lead to intense obsessing and ‘clinging’ to the idea of winning.

# if you stop there is often an immediate and overwhelming sense of loss since there is no longer a hope of recover any of your losses  - this feeling will pass however can understandably be very strong right at the beginning when you try to quit. It may become easy to misinterpret this negative mood state as a signal that stopping is not the right thing to do, and before you live to experience the sweet relief that comes with properly letting go – you go back to cause more damage to yourself

# The gambling may have acted as a surrogate (although a bad one) for emotional coping skills, lift from boredom and escape from difficult problems and feelings.

No matter what role the gambling has played for you or how attached you feel please DO KNOW that whatever excuse your mind is giving you - the fact is that you would not be in the position that you are with gambling if it was a working formula. Put mind over matter quickly before this addiction drags you further down a hole- and ACT quickly even if a large part of you is struggling against. 

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How to love yourself in spite of the damage caused by your gambling… …... 4 small steps you can take today!

Last week in my group for homeless problem gamblers we had a session on self-love, and the questions that was being asked was; How to start loving oneself after all the damage inflicted by their addiction?  Several group members frowned upon hearing the word self-love and one said ‘but seriously – how can I love this (pointing at self) – look at what has become of me’.      What followed was a really good discussion about this ultra-important feeling for ourselves, that in its absence underlies pretty much all things bad in this world.    Without loving ourselves we end up with a perforated filter for negative influences in our life, poor boundaries, and as if that was not enough we can use our lack of self-love to justify more disgraceful behaviours towards ourselves and others with the justification of ‘not being worthy anyway’.  We can become habituated to situations and behaviours from others that are less than ideal; since we don’t value ourselves enough to see that we need to have better boundaries and say no. Last but not least, it also paves the way for feelings of fear, threat, and negative self-comparisons that trigger envy and in certain cases even hatred of self and others.    This is a vicious cycle, and one that can end us up in a really bad place where we don’t have even a shred of respect left for our self.   Needless to say, the ideal solution is just to start loving yourself; but what if all you have genuinely done a lot of damage?  And if the things we have done have actually been so bad that we find it hard to even accept that it happened? How then is it possible to take such a step and start seeing oneself as an individual worthy of those things that are seemingly there for others to have.  How can we allow ourselves to go against our own intuition and treat us well when everything and everyone suggests we should engage in self-punishment and deprivation?

Here are some of the great ideas we came up with in the group this week:


# self excluding and taking other proactive steps to limit the gambling from causing further damage in ones life. Depending on the country you live and what sort of gambling you have been known to engage in, the steps you take here might vary greatly. If you live in the UK there are a few good apps that will make it impossible for you to gamble online. You can also ensure that you take proactive steps and visit the bookmakers that you have been frequenting requesting to complete the paperwork for self-exclusion. Yes, this is not airtight, and I know there are millions of shops around but this step can actually feel empowering even if there are always going to be ways to gamble if you really set your mind to do it.  Buy time, empower yourself by acting with assertiveness and take this step anyway. Blocking your access to gambling is the most fundamental and important step any gambler can take and a huge display of recognising that you deserve better than being able to continue to sabotage your life by further betting.

# Start to Treat yourself well in small ways daily  Ok agreed-  this one sounds so cliché and obvious. But simultaneously please recognise how difficult it actually is to follow this seemingly simple formula.  Of course it sounds great to start treating yourself to a decent lunch, going to bed at a time that allows adequate sleep, allowing yourself a new hair cut or whatever it is.  Most people I speak to would be able to easily generate a nice long list of things that they would think constitute self-caring behaviours but so few in comparison will actually do any of them for themselves. It is not uncommon for people in general to have a bit of disconnect between what people know they should do and and what they actually do – but there should not be an entire canyon between the two. Start bridging that gap by highlighting just one or two small things that you can insert into your life starting today: do those until they become natural and habitual and then add another one. Building up slowly will always make it more likely for the behaviours to stick longer term since you repeat those small changes until they are no longer requiring of the same level conscious processing. Try and renovate yourself in a day and you will tire out and end up feeling like it is ‘hard work’ to treat yourself well.


# Stop tormenting yourself with what has already happened and focus on future action instead

This step is a lot harder than it sounds. We all know behaviours can end up becoming ingrained, repetitive habits – most people have some habit they have tried to get rid of either successfully or unsuccessfully – think nail biting, thumb sucking, spot-picking or whatever you have have been ‘stuck on’ yourself. It takes effort to stop doing something. It is going to take effort in giving up the gambling. But when you begin to break free it gets easier. You feel freer. On many levels it can feel like being ‘unshackled’ from routines and rituals you knew were just damaging for you. And you can use that energy to continue breaking free and living a fuller life.  What many people don’t seem to realise is that our thinking get into the same rigid patterns. The brain starts sounding like a broken record quite easily when we feed it the same experience again and again. Remember ; our emotional mind does not understand any better as it is busy looking out for our survival hence absorbs only the short-term aftermaths. Any constructed scenario that is followed out again and again and generates nice feelings, even if ever so temporary, will be memorised. The thoughts will take on whichever flavour we feed it – meaning if you teach it that going gambling makes you feel high and excited (short term) we need to recall that this is all that part of our brain cares about. Before we know it our brain will have picked up that the it will get to experience a nice ‘lift’ in mood ( or a reduction in a low) – simply by giving incessant prompts to the person to be engaging in the gambling. It basically becomes a mental habit. The mind starts thinking in particular ways more and more often, maybe even obsessively.  On the flipside it can also get hooked on extensive rumination about past negative experience, failures and wrong doings. Or rehash obsessively over a past or future agony in a failed attempt to gain closure and aqcuire learning. The reason I explain it in this slightly childish and basic way is so that you can start treating that part of your mind with some detachment yet some understanding and compassion. Yes it will keep firing away with the same broken-record-spiel any chance it gets. But do you need to listen in so hard?  Keep moving to better tunes and learn to feed the brain with new fresh info from which it can create new thinking habits.  Your mind should be focused on the present moment for you to experience the greatest relief and enjoyment. That does not mean there are no problems to sort; but it means that you keep your mind clear enough to actually be able to sort them while enjoying life a little.

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