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Understanding and Dealing with Gaming Problems: A Q&A with a Therapist

I've always felt that the people who realize they have problems and are willing to see therapists are the easy cases. I think the hard cases are people who deny having a problem, and become violent/antagonistic when someone implies they have a problem. In the case of a partner with a gaming problem, how should someone approach the issue or convince them they have a problem?

The first thing I'd suggest to the partner of a compulsive gamer is to find a supportive environment to sort out your own feelings. The pain can become absolutely overwhelming and contribute to a growing sense of depression, hopelessness, and loss of joy in life. A good counselor can help you sort out what you are feeling, and then examine what options there are. If therapy is not a possibility for you, there are online support groups which can be helpful.

If I had to simplify the best approach to take in this type of situation I'm reminded of the classic term in addiction treatment called "hitting bottom." When a person is engaged in a compulsion that has taken over their lives they are not looking at life realistically; they are not considering the consequences of their actions. It takes a severe, abrupt, life changing loss to bring them back to reality. When you hit bottom, you come back to reality hopefully.

You can compare this to a person who begins a pattern of abusing alcohol. Initially they may have two or three drinks, get in their car to drive home, and they get there safely. There are no consequences. They may do this a dozen times, and eventually progress to four or five drinks, as if they are unaware that they are impaired and taking life threatening chances. Often it takes only one car accident, or a DUI arrest for them to wake up and admit "I've got a problem and I've got to stop." Nothing like a night in a drunk tank laying on a cold concrete floor to give someone a message about natural consequences. It's a harsh and necessary wake up call, and a logical consequence of their actions.

So the best treatment for someone with a habitual and destructive compulsive behavior is a hitting bottom experience. It's not quite as dramatic as a DUI arrest when we're talking about computer gaming, however when you stop preparing your partner food, buying his/her groceries, doing all the laundry, and waiting around the house hoping he/she will share some free time with you it starts to "bring the bottom up" so to speak. There is no need to beg, nag, cry, or allow yourself to become depressed over the situation. Let the consequences be natural. If your partner is not taking care of business, let the consequences pile up and overwhelm them. Don't enable. NEVER make the dinner and deliver it to the computer. Do your own laundry and let his/hers pile up into a huge smelly pile until there are no clean clothes.

Get out of the house, make other friends, and get your own needs for a social life met in other places. Leave the gamer to his/her game. Do your own thing. Detach. You may find that your partner notices the change and responds by taking a more realistic look at the situation....or maybe not. But at least he/she won't blame you for acting like a miserable nag.

Sadly in some cases the message isn't heard until you've gotten fed up and decide to leave the relationship. I still recommend professional help in sorting this out, as there is no easy and clear path. Empty threats are not productive and still come off as nagging, so there has to be a realistic action plan and it should be communicated that you are serious. At this point the compulsive gamer may be more motivated to consult a professional with you. If not, I like the advice the old sage Ann Landers used to give: "are you better with him/her or without?"

It's a time for lots of reflection, and feedback from wise friends you trust. Ultimately if someone chooses a relationship with a game over intimacy with you, it's time to decide if this is how you want to live your life.

Hard stuff indeed.

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Posted on December 2, 2006 | Comments (25) | TrackBack (0)

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