Are you Gambling in a way that Might Be Affecting your Relationships or your Life in a Negative Way.
Updated: Sep 15
Here are a few thought from a counsellor who has worked extensively with hundreds of client's with serious gambling problems, and some exercises to do to help you begin to see if, you have a problem and begin to look at what might be possible.
"Hallo, My Name is Lee Tomlin, I have been a Psychotherapist/Counsellor for 13 years after four years at university, many more courses and a diploma in Energy Psychotherapy.
I love what I do and I find people interesting, inspiring and often brave, I spent 4 years working in a Gambling Help Program in Perth Western Australia, for a large non for profit counselling agency called Centre Care, here I was trained and given opportunities to work with many forms of problematic gambling, in different settings such as a woman’s prison, a Casino, and for the West Australian Lotto training their staff to support people with presenting issues around gambling. ".
There are many ways to gamble and there are many reasons people gamble, sometimes it is just fun and can remain this way, it is a problem when it impacts in some way on your life, yourself or others..
When gambling becomes a serious problem there is a reason.
Take a moment to think of other things in your life, do you struggle to control them?
Gambling might be the only problem, but not always, people who gamble excessively, will occasionally have a drink or drug dependency.
If gambling is the only problem, it can be harder to understand, they may say things like, “I have will power in other areas of my life” or “ I don’t understand how it got so bad”.
This can point to an underlying need in that person possibly a need to feel something different than what they might be feeling. It could be the impulse to distract the attention away from what the body or mind might be experiencing.
People appear to have a gambling area, such as casino, online, slot machines, horse betting, bingo, roulette, lotto, cards etc, often they will not do anything else.
It appears that some forms of gambling feed into a particular need in that person, this can be understood through therapy and self-discovery.
Stuck in a Cycle of Gambling?
Do you sometimes want to Escape difficult feelings? This can be an unconscious reaction, to feel anything, but what you might be feeling in that moment, or might soon feel if you stay with yourself connected to your body.
On the outside of this cycle are Denial, Lies, Secrecy and Blame. Then there might be a desire to Win; So you gamble: you will either Win or Lose. If you lose you might chase to get the money back, if you win, you might chase more wins; to achieve more highs!
Chasing then begins to bring new feelings, such as excitement of the win or massive disappointment of the loss. These become stronger than your internal feelings and help to override any undesired feelings that might be there causing you to feel shame. Unfortunately, if it is a loss, shame rises and on top of that there is no money left. Then it moves into the need to Escape or the need to Win.
Working with a specialist gambling support therapist, to understand this Cycle, can help lead you into permanent change. But more importantly, why you might have got stuck in this often scary, shame inducing cycle. To understand ourselves and the reasons for our behaviour, is the beginning of change and of a better life, with space to think clearly and more freedom from our suffering.
Here is an exercise to look at you’re gambling and see if it might be a problem.
Take some time to sit down with some paper about this idea of being in a Cycle of Gambling, see if you can begin to understand the ways that you have or are chasing, after wins or losses.
Write down times when you have chased your loses, or your wins, see if you can notice how it feels and allow yourself that quite time to contemplate.
Be aware, feelings might have been shut down. Notice feelings that come up as you do this contemplation, they could be things like; discomfort, shame, sadness, disappointment, fear, self-hatred, disgust, regret, to name a few, allow yourself to acknowledge these feelings and write them down, be as gentle with yourself as possible.
Remember these are universal feelings for people who get stuck in an addiction or impulse control behaviour experience too.
Some may feel other feelings, and some may feel more or less depending on their Personality or ability to acknowledge painful feelings.
Sometimes, due to people’s background, past trauma, family dynamics or even a loss you may have experienced.
Ask yourself some Difficult questions, be as honest as you can.
Do I chase always?
Not at all?
Do I chase always?
Not at all?
This is an opportunity to see what might be below,
Let’s Look at Feelings:
Worry. Alienated. Lonely. Depleted.
Overwhelmed. Edgy. Irritable. Guilty.
Distant. Withdrawn. Indifferent.
Uncomfortable. Helpless. Disconnected.
d. Ashamed. Dread.
If you are experiencing some of these feelings on a regular basis, this might be a time to reach out, talking to someone who will not judge you, who understands the nature of addiction and who can support you to find a way to change these feelings to more positive feelings like:
Peaceful. Connected. Clear headed.
Secure. Interested. Optimistic.
Relaxed. Relieved. Trusting.
Happy. Passionate. Vibrant.
Grateful. Engaged. Confident.
Hopeful. Invigorated. Appreciated.
Our feelings help us to find our ways to knowing what our needs are. If our needs are not met, we can find it hard to feel valued, seen, heard, or appreciated and this is something all humans want, connection. Often when you have been gambling at a problematic level, you may have lost all sight of your needs and have stopped feeling, this robs you of be
ing and feeling human, losing your sense of your core values, people often talk of feeling like they are going through the motions like a robot.
Be aware you might be a bit tender after this exercise, allow yourself to acknowledge if it was hard, this helps move towards having your own back and coming back to your core values within yourself.
If this triggers you and you feel really low and need to talk, please reach out to a friend, to me for a session or check in or call: Samaritans on 116123 or Text ; SHOUT 85258 they are both confidential, it’s always worth talking to someone as feelings will always pass, it is the nature of them.
Shame plays a big part of addiction, but it seems to play an even bigger part in Gambling problems. I learnt from clients that this was to do with the Winner/Loser aspect of this problem, the Highs and Lows and the feeling associated with those Highs and Lows.
The feelings around ‘winning big’ were so remarkably high, with a reward of money and feeling like a winner. If Casino related and now online, there would often a reward from these institutions, so a double win in a sense.
The loss was so painful for the ego but also often the wallet and any other impacts they may have associated with money.
People often do not reach out for therapy because of shame. Counselling is one place where you can get non-judgmental support, something that is
hard to find when your behaviour has been so impactful on yourself and others.
Looking at Shame, what is it and how can we work with it;
Shame involves a painful scrutiny of the entire self, a feeling that “I am an unworthy, incompetent, or bad person.” People in the midst of a shame experience often report a sense of shrinking, of being small. They feel worthless and powerless. And they feel exposed. (Shame - Psychology Definition - iResearchNet)
Some things people often said to me over the years were;
“I know I’m better than this but some of the things I’ve done over the last few years have been so against who I am I’ve lost sight of me!”
“I never knew I would be this person, who can’
t find a way out of this problem”.
“I’m a professional and I know about these dangers and yet I can’t find a way out, I feel like such a loser!”
I have worked with, Students, Doctors, Firemen, Police, Teachers, and others, this problem does not differentiate between peoples, race, gender, there’s no discrimination, it affects people generally who have something going on within themselves, like all addictions, we are not all addicted to everything, so the issue is more to do with our individuals’ relationship with the chosen activity, we might have the problem with.
"Addiction is a response to Emotional Pain" - Gabore Mate.
Gabor Mate goes on to talk about how addiction is more common than we care to admit in society. It is only once the problem, becomes visible that the opportunity to be judged by others or ourselves that the shame begins to seep in, distorting one’s self view and others view of us .
“Shame is something that comes about when we are not watching! It creeps in and takes over how people feel about themselves, it corrodes their Core Values until they and others no longer recognise themselves”. - TomlinTherapy
Shame is not an emotion we are born with, it is learnt, usually from our primary care givers.
We all have something we might be ashamed of, the problem with shame is if it is not shared with someone who is non judgmental, it just keeps on causing you harm as long as it is kept inside.
If we come from a family where parents shame their children even subtly, for example; stonewalling, ( Stonewalling involves refusing to communicate with another person, also known as the silent treatment) This leaves the child feeling like their bad or not value. If a parent is not coping and ignores the child, this can be very damaging.
If we are shamed as children but then the relationship is not repaired, the child remains damaged by the shame. Shame is a healthy learnt emotion, but must be healed after it has been handed out, so for example if a parent is angry and shames the child but then does not go to them and say something like, I'm sorry I got so angry but this and that, or because you did this I got angry, which helps the child understand, 'they' are not the problem, they remain in unhealthy shame, identifying 'them self' as the problem, not 'what they did' as the problem.
If you learn that you are the problem having been shamed a lot, this can also come from teachers or being bullied, it can lead to a learnt shamed state, almost as if, it is familiar to feel shame.
Guilt is said to be healthy shame, when we have been helped as children, to identify this, when parents model behaviour to understand, we can repair by apologising and taking responsibility, we are able to move through shame to guilt which is a healthier and more manageable emotion.
With addiction, often someone is doing something they know they should not again and again, often because they are avoiding difficult feelings or thoughts, it becomes harder to not feel shame , so guilt transfers to shame, possibly due to not being able to re assure yourself as a parent might have, that 'you are not a bad person, but you are behaving badly'...
I have witnessed in therapy, shame began to be felt often due to past trauma that was not addressed, this can lead to, a need to become distracted by something, often intense activities, then there is no time to reflect on how they might be feeling. People who have a gambling problem are often still able to function quite highly on the outside, in what looks like a controlled, proud, arrogant way, but in fact underneath there may be some real serious pain and suffering.
"This is often seen in carefully crafted self-narratives in which shame masquerades as pride by emphasising only positive aspects of the self, such as achievements and success. However, this is rarely authentic pride as the self is excessively over-inflated and accompanied by arrogance, grandiosity and narcissism." - (counselling Skills for Working with Shame, Christine Sanderson, 2015p.73)
Shame sometimes reflects our behaviour, it is showing us that we are not being true to ourselves, it begins to eat away at us adding to the negative self- talk and the way people may see us. Accepting feelings of shame is the beginning of shifting through to some form of understanding of what might be going wrong around your gambling behaviour.
Spending Some Time with yourself, Thinking About Resilience
“Much of what we call personality is not a fixed set of traits, only coping mechanisms a person acquired in childhood.”
A chance to do some writing around Resilience:
What does it mean?
Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress—such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. ... That's the role of resilience.
When people have been gambling at a problematic level for a while, it seems their resilience levels drop and stress becomes overwhelming for many people.
Resilience is generally learnt early on during attachment to parents but, when someone has not learnt this skill due a lack of early life support, such as family structures, disfunction, alcohol in the home, drugs, violence or other stressors, it can be a weak spot, around addiction. We can also have our resilient sense of self knocked if we have lots of really difficult life experiences. These may come from grief and loss, trauma, loss of control in life, like during a pandemic as we have just been experiencing.
We become less resilient and so more vulnerable to impulsive type behaviours, which, when we become vulnerable, can feel like they help by distracting us away from the difficult feelings.
To Come back to feeling Resilient, sometimes we need to revisit or visit for the first time some elements of our lives and to see what needs to be taken care of.
Below are some integral areas of our lives, or sense of self. I’d like you to sit and contemplate these areas of your life and see what comes to mind and to write them as a list.
SENSE OF SELF
FEELINGS OF COMPASSION
POWER AND CONTROL
MY SENSE OF SPIRIT
For example, it may look like this.
SENSE OF SELF.
Feeling alone, who could I talk to who will not judge me?
No meaningful connections, what does that mean to me …?
Struggling to see people I used to like spending time with, due to shame or gambling. I know these people are important to me, how can I reach out to them?
Feel like I’ve lost my old self, need to rediscover him or her.
I feel disconnected physically from myself.
What does that feel like…?
I feel disconnected emotionally, I need to talk to someone.
How do I feel about that?... (Keep writing if it’s helpful)
Keep going, this is not an exercise in all the bad things about you, it’s about understanding and taking some time to bring some awareness into the picture, because you are not bad, (I have had people disagree when I say this in session but ultimately it is true) what makes you feel bad in yourself or about yourself, is your behaviour around whatever it is your addicted to, in this case gambling.
Behaviour is something we can change and in turn this will change the way you feel. By changing and noticing the way we feel, what we need in that moment, we can work towards acting in a different, healthier way.
I am well aware that you may not be wanting to feel so this is where the counselling comes in, allowing you to visit difficult feelings while being supported and having someone who understands trauma, grief and loss or any other difficult emotions you may be carrying. Sometimes people are so in denial that they don’t think there is anything underneath their problem, it is known more so now than ever that we hold our difficult feelings in our bodies, so our minds find all the tricks in the book to not have to feel them!
Notice if this brings up any feelings in you, allow yourself to take a breath and bring in a mindful mind to be curious.
“Your worst enemy cannot hurt you as much as your own thoughts, when you haven’t mastered them,” said the Buddha. “But once mastered, no one can help you as much—not even your father and your mother.”
Stages of Change (Prochaska and DiClemente,1982)
This is the time when you are gambling or engaging in a behaviour which is having negative consequences, but you are in denial as to how much of an impact it is having on you, others around you, or your life. Maybe you’re not really thinking it’s a problem or anything that needs to be addressed.
Going into contemplative change you might start to think about your life and your behaviour. What you might do, how to do it, how others might
see you, how you might not fit in with some friends (gambling friends, or non-gambling friends), and all of this needs to be acknowledged to move towards change.
Determination, this is a period when you can begin to feel change and see some benefits. You may have decided you want to change and begin to talk about it more. You may see more clearly what damage the past behaviour has been doing to you and your life and others in it.
Action is the next stage and is the most vulnerable time. This is when you might be beginning to implement changes, maybe using Self- exclusion, GamStop or GAMBAN online or going to meetings, and reaching out to other support systems.
You might be not seeing certain friends, beginning to break the usual patterns of behaviour. This is also a time when feelings may rise and you may begin to feel vulnerable. Like not having people around that you're used to, having a partner who is so hurt from the lies and is finding it hard to trust you and sometimes like you. This lack of a substitute to your current discomfort, those feelings, those distractions, this is sometimes where you might go into relapse.
Relapse can last a long time or can sometimes change quite quickly into contemplation again and you might begin to move through the stages again.
This can be reached from action. Maintenance is a time of needing to be vigilant, to become more open with people you trust, to begin to see the difference you might feel, to be aware of triggers, to work with a therapist to keep an eye on old unhealthy patterns.
This is really when the Work happens.
Change is possible but help might be needed, I just thought I’d share some bits to get you thinking about change and to see there is a possibility to come though this silent and often very lonely Problem.