Too Distracted to Feel: Cell Phone Addiction the Denial of Grief and Starvation of the Soul
By Kevin Burke, LSW
Many miles away
Something crawls to the surface
Of a dark Scottish lake
- Synchronicity II, Sting
CNN reports that fifty percent of teens and twenty-seven percent of parents feel they are addicted to their mobile devices.
Comedian and social critic Louis CK says we can turn compulsively to the distraction and superficial affirmation of the social media world to avoid looking at the darker places within. In an appearance on Conan he shared about an experience driving with his cell phone, and the denial of grief:
You know, underneath everything in your life there’s that thing…You know, it’s down there. Sometimes when things clear away, you’re in your car and you go, oh, no, here it comes that I’m alone… But people risk ruining their own and taking a life because they don’t want to be alone for a second. I was in my car one time and Bruce Springsteen came on…I was listening to “jungle land”…And I go, OK, I’m getting sad. I’ve got to get the phone and write hi to 50 people…You know what, don’t. Just be sad.
Imagine a dank, moldy, musty basement where the windows have been sealed shut for years; no air and light can penetrate this darkness.
This is can be the condition of our hearts and souls after years of perpetual distraction and immersion in the demands of work and life routines, entertainment, and media. The nature of many modern jobs means that cell phones and ipads keep workers perpetually connected and accessible to their employers and clients. The 24/7 demands of some jobs leave little time to disconnect, to be emotionally present to loved ones, and refresh the soul.
GG Benitez, a mother of three, said that as the founder and chief executive officer of her own public relations firm, she feels the pressure to always be available due to the fear of losing any potential press opportunities for her clients…she said this constant need to be connected can be taxing. Yet, even when she tries to stay off her phone in the evenings for at least one hour, she has a tough time…”I had taken my son to a movie, and he turned around to me and said, ‘Are you serious, Mom? We are at the movies and you are still on your phone?’…”
Some of the latest research also suggests this immersion in the virtual world of social media, emails and texting may also be connected to the release of dopamine in the brain:
Holland Haiis, who wrote Digital Detox Program, shares:
“The dopamine in our brains is stimulated by the unpredictability that social media, emails and texting provide…”
This can leave us perpetually distracted and even serve as a type of self-medication for any painful or unsettling feelings and experiences we are trying to avoid.
Opening the Windows of Your Soul
As Louis CK points out, this addictive use of devices can also deny us the natural human experience of being deeply moved by something, and allowing powerful emotions to surface, even if they are initially painful. The body rewards the expression of grief with endorphins and the peace and relief that flows naturally from that process.
Facing those dark areas in the deeper waters of our self can also lead us to ask questions about the ultimate meaning of our life, and contemplate important questions about our priorities and relationships. In our journey to those places of emptiness and sadness we may discover there is a hunger for a deeper meaning that can never be filled by entertainment and social media or pornography and drugs.
Experts suggest setting strong boundaries around the use of phones and ipads and replacing the dopamine rush of social media with a walk, jog or bike ride. Taking time for meditation, contemplation and prayer will also help free our minds, souls and bodies from an unhealthy attachment to this virtual reality.
We may begin to recognize that we are actually spiritually starving and begin to make time to feed our souls with prayer, study and worship of the One who created us and gave us the gift of life.
Staying Numb and Distracted from Complicated Grief and Loss
We have learned from our over 20 years in ministry around the world in Rachel’s Vineyard that abortion is a deeply buried wound, and one that women and men will go to great lengths to repress and deny. People expend a lot of psychic energy to keep the memories and feelings buried, but over time this exacts a high cost.
Perhaps this constant immersion in our devices is working hand in hand with this denial. In such a constant state of distraction you may never have the space to make the connection between a struggle with addiction, relationship problems or anxiety and depression in your life, and an area of hurt or loss that is crying out for reconciliation and healing.
Abortion is not a normal experience of loss and grief. It is a complicated grief. With a natural experience of death there are religious rituals, social supports, expressions of concern and compassion that all help in the grieving process.
But everything about the abortion experience conspires to feed this massive denial about what is a powerful and life-changing physiological, emotional and spiritual event. The rationalizations in the decision making process, the misinformation about fetal development and the procedure and its aftermath, all serve to distance women and men from the deeper experience of an abortion and the impact on their hearts and souls.
The message women and men hear and absorb about their abortion from friends, family and society is: “stuff it, it’s a nothing, get busy, and move on with your life as quickly as possible.”
Follow His Example
It is natural to feel anxiety and other painful feelings when we unplug for awhile and give some attention to our deeper selves. If you have experienced an abortion loss (or multiple abortions) and take some time to be alone, don’t be afraid when those powerful or conflicting feelings start to surface.
Feeling anxious, sad, guilty, confused, and angry about your abortion experience and wanting to avoid those feelings…is normal. But the rewards and blessings of opening this wound to the light of healing far outweigh that initial pain and discomfort.
Even though the journey to healing may arise from a time of solitary reflection, you will need the encouragement and support of others who have made this journey before you, and know the safest and most effective way to recover from that loss.
You may be thinking, “Yeah sure that would be nice but I am way too busy, and I just can’t find the time.”
Consider the example of a man who was in constant demand by multitudes of his fellow countryman for his remarkable gifts of healing, deliverance and preaching:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
And Jesus also respected when he needed to give himself some space to grieve a painful loss:
When Jesus heard [that John the Baptist had been beheaded], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matthew 14:13)
Consider if there is a need for more light and fresh air to flow into your life and less time spent immersed in those useful, but distracting gadgets.
Let’s put aside the phones and other devices, turn off the TV for a while, and follow His example.