Being self-obsessed identified as new type of addiction, according to Derby research

8 October 2018

Being ‘addicted to yourself’ has been identified as a new form of addiction, according to a University of Derby academic.

Ontological Addiction Theory is a new psychological model of human functioning and mental health, which explains why people become attached to ‘me, mine and I’, as well as the strong influence that ego has over people’s choices, thoughts and behaviours.

The new theory has been developed by Dr William Van Gordon, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby Online Learning, who says it explains the third ‘missing’ type of addiction.

Dr Van Gordon said: “It is generally accepted among the scientific community that there are two forms of addiction; chemical, such as addiction to drugs and alcohol, and behavioural, for example, addiction to gambling or computer games.

“However, this new theory proposes that there is a third type of addiction called ontological addiction – the addiction to how we believe we exist.

“Previous models of addiction have largely overlooked the possibility of being ‘addicted to ourselves’, yet ontological addiction meets all of the criteria for a genuine form of addiction. For example, people with the condition will often experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to overcome their addiction to selfhood by being less egocentric.

“While most psychological models of self imply that we exist as independent entities, the new theory demonstrates that this is a flawed perspective because, in fact, we rely on innumerable causes and conditions to live.

“People who have a wrong or erroneous view of themselves and reality can start to believe they are the centrepiece in a world in which all other lifeforms, objects and concepts are less important. Perceiving the world like this can give rise to an addiction feedback loop that constantly reaffirms the belief in self, which can lead to functional impairments and mental illness.

“Being addicted to ourselves becomes exhausting after a certain amount of time and causes us to miss out on the truth and wisdom of reality.”

Dr Van Gordon, who was a Buddhist Monk for 10 years, said that in addition to drawing on his own research findings relating to meditation, the new theory brings together evidence from various disciplines of scientific enquiry.

“The tendency to become addicted to self is probably something that human beings are born with,” he added.

“However, we cement or weaken our ego and belief in selfhood, depending on how much we live out our lives through the lens of ‘me, mine and I’.”

Dr Van Gordon said social media was an example of how people can become more addicted to themselves.

He added: “Problematic social media use can cause people to be drawn further into the condition and its associated negative consequences.

“For instance, when using social media, people can construct another layer of selfhood that feeds on likes, shares and followers for its existence, but that does not reflect an accurate portrayal of the individual’s true nature.

“If we interact with social media and technology mindlessly and are used by them, they tend to draw us away from the present moment. This leaves us little time and space to investigate the true nature of ourselves and how we really exist. It tends to further blur our understanding of what reflects a true and distorted perception of reality.”

Dr Van Gordon said people can recover from ontological addiction through three phrases.

“Firstly, people need to be aware that they are addicted to themselves. They can then start to deconstruct their belief in selfhood before starting the final phase which is to reconstruct a new and more dynamic sense of self – one which understands that we are a vital component of a larger society.

“To know whether a person has ontological addiction, they would need to be honest with themselves and investigate the extent to which their ego governs their thoughts, words and actions. For example, when performing an act of kindness, a person could ask themselves whether deep down they are actually hoping for some kind of gain, reward or recognition.”

Dr Van Gordon, who has conducted research in the field of mindfulness and contemplative science, said meditation can help in the recovery process. 

“Meditation can play an important role because, in addition to introducing breathing space into the mind, it can help to undermine ego-centricity,” he said.

“Meditation helps us to become more familiar with the workings of the mind and understand how ego is influencing our thoughts and behaviours. I have conducted previous research which shows that just eight weeks of practising meditation techniques intended to undermine addiction to selfhood can lead to as much as a 40% improvement in mental health and wellbeing, job performance and psycho-spiritual awareness.

“It’s important to note that not being attached or addicted to yourself does not mean not caring for yourself. By reducing egocentric beliefs and behaviours, there no longer exists a self that can be, for example, offended, let down, cheated or traumatised.”

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