Applying this to Addictions
The model shown for understanding addiction comes from Gila and Firman’s book Primal Wound. They worked mainly with people addicted to substances – alcohol and drugs. I have deliberately chosen non-substance based addictions as I believe these are endemic in our society and much less examined.
There are two key understandings in this model:
- An addictive pattern has two key drivers – the need to get away from a painful memory, and the pull towards something that appears to bring satisfaction.
- The nature of an addiction is to create a pattern where real satisfaction is impossible. The thing desired or craved is outside the person; but the actual resolution lies within.
Avoiding particular flavors of early wounding can drive a variety of addictive patterns. Early traumas of powerlessness can create an ambitious drive towards power and success; inner emptiness may appear to be relieved by food, shopping, travel; isolation by busyness, relationships, TV. The important hidden part of the addictive pattern are the defenses, which will end a relationship if it is getting too close, and then start another one to get away from the feelings of loneliness. Similarly each promotion may bring temporary satisfaction but will never address the underlying avoided feeling of powerlessness or worthlessness.
The journey of healing is to expand the “comfort zone” in the middle layer of consciousness. This can progress towards positive or negative memories – whichever one is chosen, the other will arise. If I allow myself to remember a wounding experience, compassion arises. If I feel more connection to another than I am used to, I remember the sadness of losing intimacy before. This is a key concept, and missed by many psychological schools. We can’t have the good stuff without the pain or fear or anger. And similarly as we remember and include the painful wounding feelings of love, trust, safety will arise. As I stretch my comfort zone my tolerance or capacity for experiencing and witnessing difficult feelings grows with my capacity for presence, joy, creativity, intimacy and whatever else I have lost.
It is part of being human to have an impulse towards healing this inner wounding and brokenness. We want to be whole again – and some part of us knows how to do that. The journey towards wholeness is supported by experiences of safety, acceptance, company, empathy, holding.
Trying to keep us in our comfort zone are our defenses – created at a time when we were relatively powerless in our world, as children, and still active, often inappropriately, when we are adults. Being criticised, attacked, deprived, isolated, disempowered, all reinforce the belief system that underpins the defences, that the world is essentially unsafe, unwelcoming, unsupportive, and we need to adapt to survive.
An interesting concept is that the comfort zone is never still – it is either contracting, or expanding; and to expand we need to be willing to take risks, to challenge our defences and move beyond fear.
The Healing Journey
Yet people do heal – and within each of us is both a defense system trying to keep us safe in the world by repeating behaviour which kept us accepted in the past, and some part of us which longs for wholeness and integration. It’s important to recognise that both exist in all of us, and that different circumstances support the healing and defensive impulse. There are several key concepts for understanding how this process works:
In the “good reality” state there are both pain and joy, fear and trust. What makes it a good reality is that there is enough safety, holding, acceptance, to integrate all this experience and still believe in the world as an ok place.
What supports the healing impulse towards expanding comfort zones are good reality experiences – safety, acceptance, love, positive regard, welcome, appreciation
In the bad reality the fundamental experience is of the need to adapt, to be other than our true selves. My defences will strengthen their grip when I feel criticised, ignored, or panicked by the lack of time or resources for myself or the work I need to do.
At a collective level you can see the bad reality beliefs expressed in the underlying belief systems of the Industrial Growth system. I usually start this session with a brainstorm of what these beliefs are – see the end for a typical summary of this. I generally arrange what comes up into about 5 core negative beliefs, and behaviour that compensates for them. For example, powerlessness is compensated for by aggressive behavior – at a national scale, military might . Worthlessness by acquiring status symbols – big job, house, car, lots of shoes. Scarcity is avoided by producing, demanding and consuming more every year than last. Isolation by being constantly in busy or in company. And so on. I think it is no coincidence that these themes of negative experience are exactly the main negative experiences of childhood.
As a society we have a sense of unease about our world – but we have created very effective collective defences to reinforce the bad reality belief systems. A news system that sells stories based on creating fear and telling the story of human violence and corruption – but the bad guys are out there (the terrorists, the child abductor that is a stranger rather than a relative). An advertising industry that exploits our inner feelings of lack of worth and powerlessness to sell us products we don’t need. And a whole economic system that depends on constant growth to avoid catastrophic collapse. The healing impulse in this system is the large and growing number of people, organisations, groups, that are addressing the symptoms and causes of our behaviour – the movements of social justice, environmental protection, spiritual and psychological healing.. including Transition.