After being a pastor for a few years, I began to realize that I had several addictions to “good” things and that these addictions were destroying me from the inside out.
Perhaps most fundamentally, I am addicted to acknowledgement from others. I desperately want to be seen as valuable or important by others. Sprouting off from this central addiction like crab grass shoots are addictions to perfection(ism), success, and work.
Overworking and overvaluing work in my psyche led me into a mild, long-lasting depression. Over the past decade, I’ve slowly been unpacking and recalibrating my inner world to think of work, success, approval, and grace in healthier ways. This has been a messy up-and-down process, but the fruit is a more peaceful, more relaxed, much healthier life (and family).
I resonate deeply with Henri Nouwen’s summary of the three fundamental temptations of leaders: relevance, spectacularity, and power (In the Name of Jesus, 1989). I suspect that these are each prominent addictions for most leaders, in Gerald May’s terminology (Addictions and Grace, 2007).
However, I would guess that we could divide the most common addictions for leaders into two categories: core addictions and presenting addictions. For example, my core addiction is acknowledgment, but my presenting addictions are workaholism and perfectionism. I suspect that most leaders have at least one of these core addictions: approval, attention, power, or security. These may manifest in various presenting addictions: workaholism, success, perfectionism, social media, service, money, exercise, appearance, etc.
Also, most leaders have divergent addictions (or at least vulnerabilities to them) that are not directly connected to a “laudatory” addiction, but work against positive growth. These divergent addictions may be indirectly connected to the “good” addictions as an escape valve or simply as a result of reduced defenses because of work-related exhaustion. Divergent addictions might include: alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, gaming, food, eating disorders, gambling, etc.
It is important for leaders to humbly and boldly assess all of their addictions because we carry our shadow side with us wherever we go.
It is present in every decision and every discussion, and unless we are aware of it, it will influence us in uncontrollable ways. Furthermore, most of our “laudatory” addictions can consume and destroy or debilitate our lives as surely as our divergent addictions. We may be headed to depression, burnout, blowup or breakdown. Or our addictions may slowly, secretly, yet pervasively hollow us out as individuals, friends, and family members.
On the other hand, if we face our addictions, we can actively embrace God’s grace and healing even as we battle our addictions in the present. Enfolded and enriched by grace, we can keep our addictions from taking over, and we can live with grace toward ourselves and others.