I've noticed in myself a tendency to pursue situations that cause a certain stress, in a somewhat compulsive way. This is a bit like people who are drawn to people who are bad for them. I have heard Thich Nhat Hanh saying teens drawn to spending all their time on computers feel empty inside.

How are such "addictions" conceptualized in Buddhism? In other words, what would be the cause and nature of a behaviour that is bad for one, that depends on a kind of meaninglessness and self-sabotage?

Lastly, what would remedy such internal afflictions? Are they forms of a kind of avoidance of suffering?

3 Answers 3


I believe the term you're looking for is 'tanhā', which translates roughly as 'craving. The essential idea, as I see it, is that discontentment (dukkha) arises from a clash or disparity between how the world actually is and one's expectations of how the world ought to be. In some cases that disparity becomes so painfully acute that one decides something in the world must change to conform more to one's expectations. This is craving (tanhā). Craving — if left unfulfilled and unaddressed — can turn into an obstinate fixation, or eventually even a flight from reality into a fantasy world where (perhaps) the expectation is met, or mysterious and nefarious forces are conspiring to prevent the expectation from being met.

Some people believe that drugs or alcohol create the person they wish to be. Other people imagine themselves as metaphysical 'winners' and are drawn to gambling because it's something that ought to come out in their favor. Others think they should be with this person or that person, and lean towards stalking or obsession. Still others imagine that sensual pleasures (food, sex, excitement) are the height of existence, and pursue them with reckless abandon. The list is endless, really: anything where one might say "that would fulfill me" can turn into an addiction, as one constantly seeks to fulfill one's identity in a world that does not naturally lend itself to such constancy.


It's all greed, anger and delusion.

Self-sabotage is an obvious expression of cruelty towards oneself, it is due to a lack of compassion, a lack of sympathy and of course ignorance.

Greed, delusion, lack of concentration, laziness and all this lack of development is also there, right there for all with eyes to see.

The remedy is of course the development of the five strengths, the five faculties, the four satipatthana, the seven factors and the eightfold path.


Destruction with intention is a manifestation of anger. And if the behavior is personally destructive, then there may be anger directed inwards. Anger is very tricky and slippery. Anger justifies itself and seeks to destroy either directly or indirectly. So we must proceed with extreme care.

SN1.71:2.3: What’s the one thing, Gotama,
SN1.71:2.4: whose killing you approve?”
SN1.71:3.1: “When anger’s incinerated you sleep at ease.
SN1.71:3.2: When anger’s incinerated there is no sorrow.
SN1.71:3.3: O deity, anger has a poisoned root
SN1.71:3.4: and a honey tip.
SN1.71:3.5: The noble ones praise its killing,
SN1.71:3.6: for when it’s incinerated there is no sorrow.”

In the Buddha's description of anger there is an eye-catching phrase anger has a poisoned root and an honey tip. When we see or hear this phrase, we have to think carefully, "what is the poisoned root and what is the honey tip?"

Anger arises from expectations thwarted. It arises from desires frustrated and denied. Wanting kindness, we might be surrounded by cruelty. And out of hopelessness and sorrow, anger and resentment might arise from craving that gentlest of touch, a simple kindness from others. That is the poisoned root of anger.

We cannot control the others, but we can control what happens here. We can offer kindness to others and be content with that. There will at least be kindness in the world.

But if the thought arises that one is "unworthy and undeserving" of kindness one has stepped on a land mine that will explode and main or kill us. One might be tempted to punish oneself for an imaginary transgression. And that temptation to exercise control through self-harm is quite dangerous. It is the siren call of destruction. It is the honey tip that keeps anger and resentment alive.

The Buddha teaches us to step away from anger and resentment. Unsupported, they will fade and cease on their own.

And in their place the Buddha teaches us the limitless releases of the heart through love, compassion, rejoicing and equanimity.

Please be kind to yourself and allow that kindness within to grow and embrace others so that we all might suffer a little less. Let kindness, let metta guide you.

MN127:4.2: ‘Householder, develop the limitless release of heart.’

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