No one is going to be able to tell you how much time you should spend on the Internet and how much time you shouldn’t spend on the Internet. But what we need to do is individually decide whether our Internet use or time on the computer, is interfering with our life detrimentally. After all, pathological use of the Internet can result in serious negative life consequences such as job loss, relationship breakdown, financial debt, academic failure, apathy, and an un-lived life.
If the Internet does have a detrimental effect on our life, and we would like to change that, we need to admit that we have an addiction to the Internet and take steps to move beyond the addiction.
The well-known addiction psychologist Mark D. Griffiths' created the six criteria of Internet addiction. They are: 1. Salience: When the use of the Internet becomes the more important activity in an individual’s life and dominates their thinking (pre-occupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behavior (deterioration of socialized behavior). For example, even when the individual is offline, they are thinking about the next time they will be online. 2. Mood modification: This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of engaging in Internet use and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e. they experience an arousing “buzz” of a “high” or paradoxically tranquilizing feel of “escape” or “numbing”). 3. Tolerance: This is the process by which users increase the level of Internet use they partake in to achieve mood modification effects. So, for someone who is engaged in Internet use, they tend to gradually increase the amount of time online, to increase further the mood modification effects. 4. Withdrawal symptoms: The unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects, which occur when Internet use is discontinued or suddenly reduced. Examples of withdrawal symptoms could include shakiness, moodiness and irritability etc. 5. Conflict: This refers to the conflicts between the Internet user and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (job, social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intrapsychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) which are concerned with spending too much time engaged in Internet use. 6. Relapse: The tendency for repeated reversals to prior patterns of Internet use to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical of excessive Internet use or addiction can be rapidly restored, even after periods of abstinence or control.
In my opinion, if you feel like you meet any one of these criteria, it is important to consider what is to follow in this article.
The Internet can serve as a facilitator or masker for multiple addictions because so many dependencies can be fed via the Internet. We can feed a porn addiction through the Internet, we can feed an information addiction through the Internet, we can feed a gaming addiction through the Internet and we can feed a gambling addiction through the internet to name a few. So the first thing we need to do, after we’ve admitted to ourselves that we have an addiction to the Internet, is to take a seriously objective look at what we chronically do on the internet. What are we really addicted to? What fix are we getting via the Internet? Keep in mind that we might simply be using the Internet to distract ourselves from something we would rather not feel or see or do.
Every addiction, no matter what it is, is the result of a need that is not being met. The question is what need? The answer will change depending on the person. We also use addictions to get away from things. Basically, we use them to move away from something unwanted, towards something we need or want to experience. We have to figure out what we are trying to use our addiction to get away from and what need we are trying to use our addiction to meet. Unless we stop running away from what we are trying to run away from and begin to meet that need in healthier ways, we will always have reason to relapse back into the addiction. Even though it is beneficial at a certain point to start physically weaning off or eliminating the thing you’re addicted to, it does no good to do so, unless you have addresses the underlying cause of the addiction.
Before we go further, it is incredibly important to understand that something does not have to be what the scientific community calls a physiologically addictive substance, in order to be addictive. This is especially because on a physiological level, we can become powerfully addicted to the chemicals our own body produces in response to something. It must be said that Internet addiction is particularly common among people who have social phobia and fear of intimacy. Basically, if you have a fear of connection and intimacy, but you need and want it, the Internet (especially social sites like Facebook and Instagram) provides a safe way to get it. You can be honest and close, while still maintaining your distance. Virtual online friends start to gain more communication and importance over time to the person becoming more important than real-life family and friends. This is why it is so important for our social healing, to begin to take our meaningful online relationships and making them physical or three dimensional in nature. We need to physically interact with other people.
People who are currently struggling with depression and anxiety are also at risk for Internet addiction because the internet provides a plethora of distractions from the pain of your own physical life. It must be said, that Internet addiction is a form of life avoidance.
So what should you do if you are ready to admit that you have an Internet addiction and you wish to move beyond the addiction?
1. As I said earlier, the most important thing is that we discover what we are trying to use our addiction to get away from and what need we are trying to use our addiction to meet. The true addiction that is at the heart of the Internet addiction, whether it is gambling or social networking or porn must be addressed. 2. Once we discover what we are using our addiction to get away from, we need to do the opposite. We need to dive head first into the thing we are running from. We need to be completely present with the negative emotions that are trying to get our attention. There are deep inner wounds in need of healing. There are fractured aspects of us that are in need of integrating. We abandon ourselves (the part of us that is hurting) every time we try to get away from what we are feeling. We have to stop the cycle of self-abandonment. We begin with practicing emotional Vipassana. To learn this process, watch my YouTube video titled “How to Heal the Emotional Body”. Practice this process when you feel the compulsive need or craving to get on the Internet or engage in your addiction. Any and all shadow work that you do will benefit you immensely when it comes to addiction. We have to make the subconscious conscious in order to have any choice as far as our actions are concerned.
3. We need to honestly ask ourselves if we want to commit to life or not. This may seem like an odd thing to ask ourselves, but just because you’re alive, doesn’t mean you’re committed to living. Our life will never really be lived unless we commit to being here and commit to doing the most that we can with our lives before we die. Take the time to answer this question. There’s no right or wrong way to answer. 4. If we wish to commit to our lives, we need to start making changes in our life. We need to ask ourselves, what am I missing out on as a result of spending so much time on the Internet? Internet addiction is a form of life avoidance. What is it about your life that you want to avoid? At some level, if we are addicted to the Internet, a part of us does not want to participate in the living of our physical lives. Do you feel powerless to your life? What has prevented you from making changes to your physical life so that it feels better? What has prevented you from making changes to your physical life so it is actually a life you want to live and are excited to wake up to every day? Now here’s the most important question… What changes would need to happen to my life for me to really want to live it and wake up to it every day? Start making those changes in your life. Involve other people in the process if you want to. Consider this a life crisis.
5. Find ways to meet your needs and wants that are healthier than the way you’re currently meeting those needs and wants. For example, if I’m using the Internet to facilitate my addiction to information because new information satiates me and makes me feel full or whole, what could I do instead to make myself feel satiated, full or whole? Maybe I could attend a meditation retreat. Maybe I could get a gym membership and exercise. Maybe I could find a way to contribute, like help someone or volunteer for a charity. Maybe I could pick up a new hobby. Maybe I could start going to therapy. Don’t be afraid to try new things. 6. Notice the urge. We have to commit to having awareness. When you notice the urge to get on the Internet, ask yourself, “Do I really want to do this, and why do I really want to do this?” Be aware that when you are addicted, you are very good at justifying your behaviors and at convincing yourself you have a good reason to be on the Internet when it is really just about being addicted to it. Don’t make a habit out of lying to yourself through justification. After you answer the question honestly, you can then decide whether to get on the Internet or not, but the important thing is having awareness of the urge and of why you’re getting on the Internet.
7. Notice your triggers. Assuming you’ve started to notice the urge and have started to pause to ask yourself why you’re getting on the Internet, start to recognize your most common triggers. Your triggers are the things that cause you to go check something on the Internet. For example, the idea of starting a work task might be a trigger (so you may be getting on to avoid or procrastinate it). Some other triggers might be feeling lonely, having arguments, other people arguing, eating, getting a notification on your phone or computer, being bored, stress, feeling guilt, feeling like a failure, or thinking of something you want to look up to name a few. Pay special attention to the trigger that causes you to get on the Internet the most. In the future, when you notice the trigger, you will be ahead of the game. You will know that you’re at risk for having the urge and so being ahead of the urge, you can either go straight into emotional healing work/shadow work or you can replace the urge to get on the internet with another behavior like doing pushups, drinking water, going for a walk, journaling or something else.
8. Limit your time on the Internet. You can do this however feels best to you. Commit to a time limit that feels doable and promising to you. Maybe you can only commit to taking a break for ten minutes every hour. Maybe you can limit yourself to only getting on the Internet two times a day and at certain times. Maybe you can limit yourself to only getting on the Internet certain days of the week. Commit to whatever feels doable to you and then hold yourself to it, or involve other people to help hold you to it. Having accountability helps when it comes to addictions. Admit you’ve got the problem publicly. Solicit people to help you maintain awareness of yourself so you can make the right choices for yourself. There is also content control software that can help you with this, should you want to buy it. Remember that a change that is not fully committed to, will not work. And no one can become a substitute for your own commitment.
9. If internet use is a particularly big issue for you, instead of limiting your time on the internet, you may benefit by scheduling things throughout the week that are not internet related or where you have no access to media. Stay as connected as you can to the offline world.
10. Reduce your Internet resources down to the most crucial and important for you in your life at this point in time. Some of us spend inordinate amounts of time on the Internet because we have so many things on the Internet to distract us. Delete the ones that don’t add to or enrich your life. Trim them down to the essential. You may need your e-mail account but not need your Facebook account. You may need your Facebook account but not need that computer game you’ve been playing. Limit yourself online to the things that are really important to you. But don’t forget to ask yourself why those specific things are indeed so important to you.
And when you do get on the Internet to do important things, treat the Internet like a tool. The Internet is a means to an end. The question is, what end is it a means to this time? Each time you go to get on the Internet, plan your strategy, regardless of whether you’re looking for entertainment or looking to do something related to work. And don’t let yourself deviate from the plan.
The Internet is an incredible manifestation. It facilitates the expansion of human consciousness in unparalleled ways. We should rejoice in the many gifts that it has given to the human race. But let us not forget that we have come here to live our physical lives and let our direct experiences become the platform for what we ultimately become. Let the Internet enrich your life, do not let the Internet become a way to escape your life. Your attention matters give it to the things that make your life better.