Episode #12: AbdulAziz Syed

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AbdulAziz Syed, orthodox Muslim man, school social worker by profession, Customer Happiness Extraordinaire for Purify Your Gaze, and weekend therapist is on this week to talk about his job in helping people with process addictions and how being a Muslim man in today’s world affects his life. Outgoing, gregarious, and well-spoken, Abdul’s advice is a breath of fresh air in the often overwhelming world.

I first met Abdul at Eric Engel’s homeless shelter, where we were both volunteering over a night shift. After a passionate, existentialist, and utterly humbling initial six-hour conversation, I decided that more people needed to know about Abdul’s work so they could be just as taken with him as I was. His night-time work in process addiction, and day-time work as an elementary school counselor leaves him with a nuanced and soulful way of relating to the world around him that I was excited to get into.

We talked about what a ‘process addiction’ is:

“Process addictions are those addictions that some people would call “Soft addictions” – food, Netflix, internet, pornography, sex, those kinds of things. Some of them are more clinically understood than others, like for example, gambling, which is an official DSM diagnosis. Others they are not formally considered addictions. They considered behavorial inclinations or behavorial impulse-control issues, although there is a lot of growing research, especially in the realms of sex addiction and porn addiction…that indicates there is this idea that their usage of that substance, whether that be sex or porn, is kind of getting out of their hands.“

We dove into what Abdul found to be his key insights from the world of addiction:

“People are very…there’s this increasing sense of disconnection amongst people. In the clinical world, sex addiction, porn addiction, is actually labeled as an 'intimacy disorder': the inability to connect with people on a very genuine or deep level. The world is becoming increasingly disconnected, and the more we are doing that, the more we are turning to things.  And the more we turn to things, that may satiate our need to connect, for a little bit, but then over time, there’s that void because we’re not truly connecting with people, and not having, and not building, those relationships.

We discussed Abdul’s own home-program for himself:

“Certain restrictions that I’ve put on myself, which I feel like actually give me more freedom are: I don’t have wifi at home, I don’t take my phone into my bedroom, and if I do, I charge myself a dollar, I have a strict diet regimen from Kelly Brogan’s program at this point, I try to finish all my work up and not bring work home. It’s really, really helped me be more focused and productive.”

The current political climate came up, and Abdul talked about how he handles it:

“I feel like my work is the same. Even during the election, and even during the campaigns, I’m like- hey, I have to do my work, regardless of where I am. Me moving to Canada, or whatever, won’t make a difference. I have to do my job, I have to serve, I have to live as who I am as a person, regardless of where it is…I’m not going anywhere – I have work to do!”

We discussed the advantages of technology, and how Abdul sees technology affecting people:

“In college, I was part of Phi Theta Kappa, and we used to have this Honors in Action project, and we did it on technology in education, back in 2010, and there was this idea of the Power, the Peril and the Promise, of something. Technology brings a lot of power, and it has it’s peril, and it has it’s promise.”

Where did Abdul put more weight in the Power, Peril and Promise of technology?

“Overall, I think more chips would be in the peril, personally. I’m coming into this from an interpersonal relationship standpoint. Empathy, my ability to see in your eyes, to be able to understand you, to be able to feel you, to be able to connect with you, me as a person, it allows me to self-regulate…Interpersonal connections, and interpersonal relationships are a very primal need of ours. And as we get more technology in our world, we are not able to feel each other the same way we would do if we were sitting next to each other…So far, technology has not done well in increasing empathy between people.”

He goes on to quote The Good Life Project - “If we do not teach our children to be in solitude, we’re only teaching them to be lonely” – and we talked about how you can teach anyone to be okay with being alone:

“What I’m doing for myself, is to forcefully disconnect myself from technology at certain times of the day. Being that people you can connect with really well, because if you can genuinely connect when you’re with people, then maybe you can learn to be better with being alone.”

And then briefly, about how his faith helps him grow in his day to day:

“There is a saying of the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, that is “It’s a part of one’s faith, to leave that which does not concern him.” And that’s a hard one for me. If it’s not your concern, it’s not your problem, it’s okay, you can let it go. Don’t get into other people’s business if you don’t need to. To gossip, to talk nonsense about people, don’t concern yourself with that.”

Show Notes: