The Emotional Roots of Addictions

Behind addictions to alcohol or drugs are addictions to unresolved negative emotions. That’s a revolutionary idea, yet true nonetheless: Physical addictions are just symptoms of emotional addictions.

We know what it means to be addicted to alcohol or drugs. So what does it mean to be addicted to negative emotions?

By way of explanation, let’s begin with an axiom of psychology: Any unresolved inner conflict of ours is determined to be experienced by us, no matter how painful that is. Here are common inner conflicts: “I hate to feel deprived—I expect to feel deprived;” “I hate to feel powerless or helpless—I expect to feel powerless or helpless;” “I hate to feel criticized or rejected—I expect to feel criticized or rejected.”

These conflicts and others like them pervade the human psyche, and they are usually semi-conscious or unconscious. They create unhappiness and suffering, and they also constitute emotional addictions. How so? The expectation of feeling deprived, for instance, is actually an inner readiness or willingness to feel deprived or refused. This is because we keep getting tangled up in whatever is unresolved. Although it’s painful, an emotional attachment or emotional addiction is established to the negative feeling of being deprived or refused. Unconsciously, we’re willing to indulge or wallow in it, producing self-pity along with a victim mentality.


Chapter 1 -- The Essence of the Deadly Flaw

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my latest book, The Best-Kept Secret in the World: The Hidden Source of Unhappiness, Conflict, and Self-Defeat (2010, 280 pages). This book can be purchased as a PDF file at

Thinkers over the ages have speculated about a flaw in human nature—whether in the form of original sin, an enemy within, or a death instinct. My thesis contends that a hidden flaw does indeed exist. It was discovered in the last century by a relatively unknown psychoanalyst. Only a tiny percentage of the population have recognized or understood this flaw or even heard of it.

The innocent of the world, the good people, are carriers of this emotional quirk, as are the less noble among us. This flaw, however, gets the best of us only when it remains unconscious, hidden from our awareness in our psyche. It is analogous to a sabotaging virus, bug, or worm in a computer system. Even an excellent system is compromised by a troublesome quirk. Such a system operates at its best once that problem is removed. Obviously, the problem has to be identified before it can be removed. Here, briefly described in the next two paragraphs, is the essence of the problem.

It does feel like blasphemy to say that we like our suffering. It is outrageous to suggest that we are secretly interested in holding on to our negativity. Yet this is the paradox of this deadly flaw. It compels us to recycle our old hurts from our past, as it tricks us through our defenses into covering up our collusion in our suffering. These hurts consist of unresolved emotions associated with deprivation, refusal, helplessness, criticism, rejection, betrayal, abandonment, and a sense of unworthiness.

Uncovering Vital Self-Knowledge

The trick to becoming a happier and healthier person is to understand exactly how we contribute to our emotional and behavioral problems.

Sure, the world around us can be a difficult and challenging place. Yet most of our suffering and self-defeat are caused by chaotic dynamics in our mental and emotional processing. Up to this point, the human race hasn’t understood these dynamics clearly enough.

For starters, we want to expose the operations of our inner critic. That part of us assumes to be our voice of authority. It pretends to represent our best interests. But this part of us is inappropriately aggressive, and it is a source of negativity.

Another source of negativity is our inner passivity. This part is often represented by an inner voice of self-doubt. It is through inner passivity that we allow our inner critic to harass us, intimidate us, and hold us accountable. Inner passivity makes it very hard for us to self-regulate.