What’s worse

What’s worse: A ‘gambling problem’ or a ‘cocaine addiction’?

Someone once said to me: “I’d rather have a cocaine addiction than this gambling problem, because you can’t physically use that much cocaine to make you go bankrupt”.

My first impulse was to explain him that this is not a great deal either, and to tell him about heavy cocaine users I met who wished they had lost all their money in their younger years and so had been forced to stop using long ago and be now in good health.

Our boundaries around anything we do are very individual and not at all set in stone – they can change with time or context.

Listening with different ears to what this person was actually saying I heard that HIS boundaries around cocaine use were more protective against financial harm (and also reducing the health-related harm), as he was sniffing about twice a month only, whereas he had little boundaries around his gambling. So to say the next day blues after a coke binge were enough to make him leave at least two weeks between these binges which felt like a real choice. Whereas when it came to gambling he seemed to live on automatic pilot with no choices at all.

So I think that the question to deal with (as a therapist) is not what’s worse, not even why our boundaries are different when it comes to different things we do (unless you’re a researcher too).

Boundaries aren’t just internal – so it’s not just about improving our resilience, coping mechanisms, frustration tolerance etc. They lie in our society too, in the people around us, our activities, our identity, our view of ourselves and the world just to name some.

In this moment I want to deal with three other questions:

What do people want from their daily lives and for their future?

What helps them to adjust their boundaries around certain activities to get the most out of what they want?

What helps people to guard their boundaries once they have set them?

(The images in this blog post are variations of my own painting The City).

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