How To Win The Battle Against Excessive Behaviors

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The very nature of a holiday . . . is excess; the holiday mood is brought about by the release of what is otherwise forbidden . . .Sigmund Freud


This' the season for excessive behavior.

Holiday celebrations at the year's end entice us to eat more food; spend more money, and drink more alcohol than is prudent for our health. The period of indulgence is followed by New Year's resolutions, where we fanticize, at least for a few days, that we will never do it again.

Excessive behavior provides relief at a cost

Our excessive behaviors may provide a release valve, a way of coping with parts of life's experiences that make us feel vulnerable or unacceptable. The behaviors numb us to the shame that makes us feel as though we are "not enough."

Such was the case with Nancy, a young woman I spoke with recently on the phone. Nancy holds a responsible position in the community, but comes home and gets drunk every night. Sober Nancy does not express angry feelings, but drunken Nancy overflows with angry, hurtful words.

Nancy: "I've been drinking since I got off of work. Am I a good person? I try to be good."
Katrina: "There's no question about your goodness. Where are you?"

Nancy: "I'm at my church. I don't want to be a member of my denomination- I'd rather belong to a different denomination. But I don't know how to tell people without disappointing them."
Katrina: "It's hard for you to tell people the truth about your feelings. . ."

Nancy: "Are you mad at me? I don't want you to be mad at me."
Katrina: "I'm not mad at you, but I know someone who is."

Nancy: "Who is that?"
Katrina: "You don't want to say things that make people mad at you. But when you drink, you spit angry feelings all over the place. You are mad at you."

Nancy: "Yes, I'm mad at me, and so are other people. What do you want me to do?"
Katrina: "It doesn't make a difference what I want you to do. This is about you. What do you want to do?"

Nancy: "I want to stop drinking, but then I need to drink to feel better at night."
Katrina: "You want to stop drinking, but it would make you aware of your painful feelings."

How to control excess-a starting point

A starting point in tempering your excessive behaviors is to untangle the relationship between your painful emotions and the behavior you want to change-whether it is drinking, illegal drugs, overeating, overspending, or some other variant of excess.

Rate the following questions on a one-to-ten scale, with one being "not at all" and ten being "all the time":

  1. How much does my excessive behavior allow me to forget about painful emotions?
  2. How much would expressing the painful emotion negatively affect my relationships with others?
  3. How much does my excessive behavior negatively affect my relationship with others?

Finally, what would it be like if this holiday season, instead of using excessive behaviors to cover up painful emotions, you talked about your feelings? It could be a cherished gift you could give yourself and the people who love you.


Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD writes about the strengths and skills people use to face their mental health issues with empowerment (moxie) rather than victimization. She has turned her 30+ years of clinical experience with thousands of clients into stories and tips about how her clients were able to recover from mental illness and addiction and return to the roles they enjoyed during times of wellness. She is author of the website Her email is

Katrina Holgate Miller, PhD, MFT is a freelance medical journalist specializing in mental health.

Her professional experience has encompassed many facets of mental health care, including mental health assessment and treatment, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse (victims and perpetrators), couples counseling, and adolescent group counseling. For the past five years, Katrina has worked with patients across the country to help them resolve their barriers to adequate and effective mental healthcare and chemical dependency/addiction treatment.

Her writing tells the stories of the patients who used their moxie to overcome their distress.


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