I have just completed a new edition of Secret Attachments: Exposing the Roots of Addictions and Compulsions. It’s available as an e-book on Amazon for the sale price of $2.99. If you get a copy, feel free to review it or leave a comment.
This was my first book, and I think it has aged very well since first published 22 years ago. With this 2015 edition, I have added many clarifications and revisions. Yet the structure of the book and much of the text remain the same. The book has a straightforward simplicity, a knack, I like to think, for making the principles of depth psychology readily accessible to everyday readers, including teenagers, without diluting the essential knowledge.
These psychological principles apply to us all, whether or not we have addictions or compulsions. So everyone can benefit by reading this book. Here is an excerpt from the opening pages:
Foreword to the 2015 Edition
A few years ago I came across this definition of an addiction: “An addiction is an unconscious way of coping with emotions.” Yes, that’s true, but much more explaining needs to be done. This book provides the full understanding of the relationship between addictions, compulsions, and unresolved negative emotions.
An addiction or compulsion is a self-defeating reaction to, or consequence of, unresolved negative emotions. These unresolved emotions—which include feeling refused, deprived, helpless, criticized, rejected, and abandoned—all originate in childhood. These emotions linger in the psyche of adults, creating an effect called secret attachments. Unwittingly, addictive and compulsive individuals replay and recycle these painful attachments through the events and situations of everyday life. Hence, addicts are attached emotionally to recurring experiences of old unresolved negative emotions.
In other words, a secret (or emotional) attachment can be understood as an unconscious temptation, willingness, or determination to go on experiencing whatever is unresolved in our emotional life, even when doing so is painful or self-defeating.
An addictive or compulsive person is often more challenged by unresolved negative emotions than the typical person. Hence, the suffering and self-defeat are likely to be more acute. Fortunately, this negative content in the psyche can be accessed and released, putting an end to most if not all emotional and behavioral dysfunction.
Attachments to unresolved negative emotions are hidden from a person’s awareness, hence the word “secret.” Modern science has established, of course, that much of the mental and emotional processing going on within us operates at an unconscious level. Secret attachments exist in our unconscious mind, yet our psychological defenses operate in such a way as to keep these attachments a secret from conscious awareness.
Unless explored and understood, these secret attachments will go on producing inner conflict, suffering, and self-defeat. We can overcome the disrupting influence in our psyche of these attachments, and thereby enhance our capacity for self-regulation, when we see our inner dynamics clearly enough.
These unresolved emotions have to be identified. To repeat, an addictive person is attached to (or emotionally sensitive to) deprivation, refusal, control, helplessness, rejection, betrayal, abandonment, and criticism. Even when this individual is not actually, say, being refused or controlled, he or she can be unconsciously determined to experience events and situations through these unresolved, negative emotions.
Through depth psychology, an addictive person can identify and release these negative emotions that push his or her “buttons.” These are the same negative emotions the person once experienced as a child, although often the emotions have been repressed and there is little conscious access to them. Once the emotions have been identified, the individual now becomes aware, through the monitoring of daily experiences, just how determined he or she has been to continue to replay and recycle them. People now clearly see how the attachments have been pushing them into various kinds of self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors. This self-knowledge in itself empowers the individual by making him or her smarter about the dynamics of inner conflict.
Here’s another way to think of it: We can say that addicts have a hidden or secret addiction to those negative emotions that are unresolved in their psyche. They are compelled to go looking for the old hurt, and a price they pay for doing so is the loss of self-regulation.
Yet addictive and compulsive individuals (and, for that matter, the vast majority of people) fear to tread deeply into their psyche. We have unconscious resistance to looking inward to see our own participation in our failures, suffering, and self-defeat. The inner knowledge concerning this collusion in our suffering is, in itself, not that difficult to understand. The hard part is overriding our resistance to acquiring the self-knowledge.
We have to penetrate beneath the surface layer of negative emotions (such as anger, fear, loneliness, depression, and sadness) to uncover the deeper layer of negative emotions (feeling deprived, refused, controlled, helpless, criticized, rejected, betrayed, abandoned, and unworthy). Because these deeper emotions are unresolved, they act, as mentioned, as attachments or addictions.
These negative emotions and our unconscious attachment to them are indeed unresolved. In a sense, we don’t know who we are without them. We haven’t been able to live free of them. They constitute what seems like an essential part of our sense of self, although this identification with them is largely at an unconscious level. On the surface of our awareness, we keep experiencing different shades of negativity over and over, especially when we’re triggered by life’s challenging moments.
To repeat, it’s important to understand that most of us are completely unaware of our emotional attachments. Instead, we become entangled in the painful surface symptoms that include addictions, compulsions, anxiety, stress, confusion, self-doubt, anger, loneliness, cynicism, laziness, apathy, pseudo-stupidity, and a sense of feeling overwhelmed by life’s challenges. This book provides more than 100 specific examples, taken from my psychotherapy practice, of exactly how this all happens.
Readers will see that the same basic psychological principles and dynamics apply through a wide range of addictions and compulsions. In other words, the same basic underlying dynamics can produce an alcoholic or a compulsive overeater, a drug addict or a self-defeating gambler.
Up to now our psychological defenses have fooled us into believing that secret attachments don’t exist. Awareness of their existence is the vital first step to inner freedom and successful self-regulation. The suffering these attachments produce become a distant memory when we uncover their hidden dynamics in our psyche.