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Insecurely Attached: Is Marijuana Shangri-La or Quicksand?

Insecure attachment may drive some people to chronic marijuana use.

Key points

  • Insecurely attached people might be at risk for chronic use of marijuana to avoid chronic distress.
  • Habitual marijuana use by those who are insecurely attached might lead to inertia or other problems in their lives.
  • Facing inner struggles, rather than running from them, can lead to a happier life.
 Ashton/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Ashton/Wikimedia Commons

Your state has legalized recreational marijuana for adults, and you look forward to being able to legally chill out with its help. This might be a great plan … or it might not. If you struggle with self-doubt, fear of rejection, or feel like you need to earn the acceptance of others, then there might be an unexpected downside to getting high.

Whatever your personal beliefs are about legalizing marijuana, it’s important to consider your personal situation when deciding whether to use it to calm your anxieties. This issue has been brought to my attention by some people who have reached out to me for help from Colorado, where I’ve been told that marijuana is as easy to get as bottled water. As I listened, a theme emerged. (Admittedly, the people I spoke with do not constitute a representative sample, but I believe their insights are worthy of sharing.)

Those who reached out to me had clearly struggled with anxiety related to insecure attachment styles. Connecting with others was made difficult by an underlying sense of being flawed, unlovable, or deficient in some way. To compensate for their inadequacies, they would often try to prove themselves by being successful or by being a good friend (what most others would see as them being extraordinarily nice). The fear of being rejected or judged would fill them with an exhausting anxiety or paralyzing depression that they could not turn off ... until they turned to marijuana.

With the help of a few tokes or an edible or two, they could finally feel calmer. Better than any massage, marijuana helped them to feel as happy and relaxed as if they were living in Shangri-La. Their self-doubt vanished. The need to prove themselves to others evaporated. The need to seek happiness by engaging in the world—which could itself be stressful—was unnecessary. They could often just hang out and be happy, a welcome relief.

However, they realized at some point that along with not feeling anxious or doubting themselves, they had also lost their motivation to do much more than chill out. Like when you see things in your peripheral vision, they would gain a fuzzy awareness that they were not actively engaging in hobbies, making a full effort to advance at work, or nurturing close relationships. But they felt happy. Still, occasionally they would gain clarity, seeing through their daily haze to the inertia of their lives.

Something was wrong, and they knew it. When they were sober, the negative thoughts and painful emotions that they had banished to the cellar of their minds became like the monsters that live under the beds of innocent children—creating a deep, foreboding anxiety. If they wanted to feel at peace and happy when not high, they needed to be willing to stop anesthetizing their anxiety with marijuana. A scary idea.

These people were reaching out to me because they wanted help facing those monsters. Of course, there are many reasons to seek a high. And different people have different experiences with marijuana. So, if marijuana generally improves your life, enjoy it (though the scientist-practitioner in me feels compelled to remind you that marijuana can compromise the brain’s development until it matures, when people are in their late 20s).

However, if you are driven to chronically use marijuana as a way to keep those lurking monsters at bay, you might want to reflect further on your use. If it is taking more away from your life than it is adding, the time has come to put down the gummies or put away your pipes. This choice can be the beginning of a new journey—a more difficult one, but also one that is more rewarding and can lead to a truly happier and more fulfilling life.

To learn more about how trying to override difficult emotions can cause problems, watch the brief video, When Chasing a Feel-Good Can Make You Feel Bad.

More from Leslie Becker-Phelps Ph.D.
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