Relationship Fitness

S21 E6: The Role Addictions Play in Men’s Relationships

In this episode of Relationship Workout for Men, host Vince Vasquez and psychotherapist Roni Maislish explore the psychological roots of addictions, focusing on the emotional voids that fuel them. They discuss how unaddressed childhood needs and feelings of emptiness can lead to various addictions, offering insights into recognizing and addressing these underlying issues.

**Vince Vasquez speaking:**

Welcome to Relationship Workout, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner and being a better partner for the person they choose. Season 21: Men Navigating Strength, Vulnerability, and Addictions. Episode six: The Role Addictions Play in Men’s Relationships. I’m here today with Roni Maislish, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist who has been working for 20 years on the psychological roots of emotional eating, food addiction, and obesity. So, Roni, what do you think about this? We’re going to discuss how our psychology is the root of our food and other addictions. What do you think about this?

 

**Roni Maislish speaking:**

Yeah, I think when I thought about this topic, the word that popped into my mind was hunger. So many people in general, and men specifically, are wandering around in this kind of emotional hunger or sometimes emotional starvation. Being in a hunger mode is good, but being in a starvation mode is different because when you are in starvation, you don’t have enough time and energy to pick the right nutrition and nourishment for you. So I think addiction starts with some kind of starvation, you know, and it could be starvation for touch, physical touch, for relationships, for meaning. You know, if you don’t have meaningful purpose in your life, you can become addicted because of that, because you’re wandering all day without a direction. You can be starving because no one directs you, guides you, or nourishes you. So all of those addictions help you not to feel the void, the emptiness, and the depression that come from having no connection to yourself, to others, and to God.

 

**Vince Vasquez speaking:**

So it goes back to being present. You mentioned filling a void. So is this a void going all the way back to this covert trauma that we had from our childhood? This need to be connected? What is that emptiness? How do I identify if I even have an emptiness? How do I even know that?

 

**Roni Maislish speaking:**

Yeah. Again, I think you need to start from some point to have this kind of curiosity—why my life is not working as I want it to, or why my relationships with people in general, and with my wife, are so shallow and unfulfilling. And then maybe when I’m asking those questions, sometimes I will have some kind of answer about childhood. What kind of childhood did I have? So, you know, I’m going back to the self-psychology of Kohut. Kohut said that a lot of people came to him, and when he asked them, “How was your childhood?” they said, “Oh, my childhood was okay, you know, all fine.” And Kohut said that this group of people is the right group to come to his therapy because childhood should not be fine. When you ask people, “Oh, I had it fine. It was okay,” no. Childhood needs to be nourishing, filled with understanding, guidance, protection, sheltering, and a sense of safety. You need to feel that your parents hold and contain you. If you don’t have all of that, you don’t have enough emotional nourishment or fuel to grow up from a psychological point of view. Then you will feel those feelings of not being strong enough. Going back to what is emotionally strong, you’re not strong enough. You don’t have your own identity. You’re not operating from your nucleus and true self. So every little thing can knock you off your main road. If your self is not strong enough, you feel alone, empty, nothingness, or deadness. Michael Eigen from New York used the term “psychic deadness” when he worked with one of his patients. What is psychic deadness? Feeling this nothingness. Another term that professionals have been talking about for the last 10 years is emotional neglect. How do you define this kind of neglect? It’s very subtle. Addictions help you to go back for a particular moment and feel some kind of comfort, safety, stability, or integration. But it’s only for a second. It just helps you not to become disintegrated or crazy. So it helps, but for a minute. If you really want to move forward, you need to find all of what you lacked in your childhood and learn how to work with that, how to search for that in life, and then how you can arrange it within yourself. Even after learning how to be empathetic to yourself and guide yourself, you still need it. You still need to be hungry for that from other people, but not in a starving mode. There’s a difference. I will always want to have meaningful conversations with people, but I’m not starving for that. I’m hungry for that, and it’s a huge difference because starving is connected to addictions.

 

**Vince Vasquez speaking:**

So starving is connected to that emptiness. But hunger is connected more to your passions and your journey. That’s a really interesting distinction. So that emptiness could cause all sorts of addictions, from food addictions to other addictions, such as the next episode topic we’re going to talk about: toxic relationships. But basically, you’re filling a void that you have through these addictions. That’s really interesting.

 

**Roni Maislish speaking:**

And you want to run away from this emptiness, deadness, nothingness. You know that food will help you, you know that in your mind. Or sex, or coffee, or work, or gambling, or running. It doesn’t matter what kind of addiction you’re attracted to. I don’t think there’s a good addiction, you know, because if you like running, for example, and something happens to your leg, you break your leg or something, what can you do now? Right?

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