Thursday, September 15, 2011

The (Emotional) Addiction at the Root of All Addictions

I read this definition of an addiction on the internet: "An addiction is an unconscious way of coping with emotions." Yes, that's true, but a more precise definition is called for: "An addiction is a self-defeating reaction to, or consequence of, unresolved negative emotions." Unresolved emotions can, by definition, be resolved, and negative emotions can, in large part, be eliminated from our psyche.

In the process of full recovery, the unresolved emotions have to be identified. An addictive person can be burdened with deep, frequently unconscious feelings of being deprived, refused, controlled, helpless, rejected, betrayed, abandoned, criticized, hated, and so on.

With the right knowledge or with in-depth therapy, a particular individual can identify, based on his or her childhood experiences, which of these negative emotions "push his buttons." Once the negative emotions are identified, the individual becomes aware of how determined he has been to continue to experience those unresolved negative emotions in the different situations of everyday life.

We can say, in fact, that addicts have a hidden addiction. They are compelled to experience repeatedly those negative emotions that are unresolved in their psyche.

Yet, addicts (and most people, for that matter) fear to journey into their psyche. They don't want to look inward to see their own participation, unconscious though it may be, in their failures and self-defeat. Penetrating our psyche to acquire self-knowledge is, technically speaking, not that difficult. The hard part is overriding our resistance to seeing ourselves more objectively.

We have to penetrate beneath the negative emotions such as anger, fear, loneliness, depression, and sadness to uncover the deeper negative emotions. Because they are unresolved, these deeper emotions become attachments or addictions. We don't know how to live without them; they are part of our identity. We keep experiencing them over and over, especially in life's challenging moments.

These deep negative emotions were listed above: to repeat, they constitute unresolved attachments to feelings of deprivation, refusal, control, helplessness, rejection, criticism (especially self-criticism), betrayal, abandonment, and having no value.

Much of the time we are unaware of how acutely we are stuck in these negative emotions, unconsciously (secretly) recycling them and provoking situations in which we are repeatedly entangled in the emotions. Before there is a substance addiction or a behavioral addiction (compulsion), there is an emotional addiction to a negative feeling that is unresolved from our past.

In varying degrees, this hidden dynamic, which I call the fatal flaw in my book Why We Suffer, affects most people, not just addicts.