Problem gamblers typically believe, as they head out the door to the nearest casino, that their full and sincere intention is to win money. Little do they know they’re acting out an emotional attachment to the feeling of losing.
Such gamblers typically do become, in the derogatory sense of the word, losers. They can lose their money, happiness, self-respect, and perhaps their loved ones and home as well. At this point, indeed, we see them as losers.
Yet it doesn’t occur to them that they actually want to lose. Why would anyone, even “losers,” be determined to lose? That level of folly defies common sense. Consciously, of course, problem gamblers do want to win. On the surface, winning money is their all-consuming passion. But unconscious dynamics in their psyche are playing a different game—a game of self-sabotage and self-defeat.
The dynamics of our psyche require us to experience repeatedly our unresolved negative emotions, however painful. A person who is sensitive to feeling refusal or loss, for instance, typically goes through life repeatedly experiencing this suffering. The impression of being refused likely started in childhood, and it continues through life as a psychological conflict: The adult is desperate to get some reward or benefit, at the same time that he or she is expecting refusal or loss. This person will be burdened with the suffering the conflict produces, unless the conflict is resolved with insight and awareness.
Problem gamblers have an inner conflict. They are desperate to feel the drug-like euphoria of winning in order to cover up their deep affinity for feelings of emptiness, loss, refusal, worthlessness, and passivity. Those negative emotions are powerful, and the thrill of winning is able to cover them up—if only temporarily. These negative emotions can also include feelings of deprival, helplessness, self-rejection, and self-hatred. The more they lose, the more intensely they feel this unresolved negative congestion within them.
Problem gambling is simply a means of acting out one’s deeper emotional addiction to painful, unresolved inner conflict. If, for some reason, problem gamblers weren’t able to gamble, they would act out their inner conflict in other ways, perhaps through substance abuse, job failures, or relationship problems.
To some degree, we are all challenged by self-defeating inner dynamics. Not only can we feel the pain of unresolved negative emotions—we are, as mentioned, compelled to go on feeling them. It’s as if we are programmed to feel and to act out whatever is unresolved within us. Figuratively, our inner coding is askew. That inner software needs to be upgraded. Through our intelligence, insight, and knowledge, we can penetrate our psyche to bring us up to speed.