The DNA of addiction

“The greater the disparity between our healthy needs and our childhood environment, the greater our focus on survival rather than maturation.”

BY MARY COOK — “But I’ve always been like this.”

“I’ll be hurt if I become vulnerable.”

“I’ll have no power if I don’t intimidate.”

“Without my character defects there’ll be nothing left of me.”

Those kind of thoughts usually come out in therapy. But many of us run on auto-pilot, and such archetypal ‘beliefs’ loop in auto-pilot in our unconscious mind — the operating system of our psyche.

And out of fear we hold ourselves hostage to defense mechanisms that keep us dysfunctional. Our original spirits become imprisoned when healthy needs and vulnerable feelings chronically meet painful rejection.  We don’t want the wounding to continue.  So we imprison our deeper truths, openness and vulnerability.

The greater the disparity between our healthy needs and our childhood environment, the greater our focus on survival rather than maturation.

When we grow up with chronic problems accompanied by denial, we internalize belief systems to protect us from overwhelming pain.  We adapt to our environment instead of remaining true to ourselves.  If this were a temporary evasive tactic, it wouldn’t be so problematic.

But we tend to attach to new identities and new life scripts out of fear.  That fear can then propel us into creating a lifetime of similar misfortunes.

Just as drugs seem to protect us from pain and backfire as the disease progresses, so our adaptations to living in a hurtful environment initially protect and eventually engulf us in deeper hurt.  Drugs and overused defenses remove our abilities to solve problems because they remove honest, uncensored thinking.  What we think is protecting us, is actually setting in motion new problems.  To deny our true feelings and desires and adapt to dysfunction means that we change ourselves to accept, expect and pass on the dysfunction to others.

The wounding which began long ago continues of our own volition.  It continues in drug addiction and other compulsions.  It resides in abuse, dishonesty, and denial of our dreams.  This defensiveness drowns out the voice of pain and need.  Life now belongs to our imprisoned true self and we can’t get to it without a courageous struggle.  At the very least, this leaves us depressed.  At the very most, we feel as if we want to die, because there’s no feeling of life inside us.

So how do we escape our own prison?  First we recognize the harm our defenses cause.  Many of us then use counseling and the spiritual tools of recovery to encourage the flawed, hurt, yearning parts to emerge.  This brings back the original fear and hurt and we experience the powerlessness we felt at the age it first occurred.  If we persist with helpful support, however, we grow in our ability to distinguish between painful past events and our life in recovery now.  Therapeutic and recovery processes allow us to realize that the same tools that bring sobriety, bring release from life scripts no longer needed.  Seeing our problem solving competence in areas that don’t trigger our wounded past, allows us to consciously bring this level of maturity into changing old beliefs that fail to serve our growth.  Transforming defenses into positive behaviors is the business of recovery.

Examining and healing old wounds allows us to identify and take responsibility for our healthy needs.  Letting go of old fears enables us to confront problems and pain with courage and compassion.

As we surrender defenses and free ourselves from outdated scripts, we get a glimpse of our true self.

We can no longer settle for survival.

Hope, faith and excitement about living from the full spectrum of our potential is now our focus.  Exchanging our adversarial role with life for a complementary role propels us into perpetual growth.  The paradox of dysfunction is that the parts we hold hostage contain all of our solutions.  They are our greatest teachers when we set them free.

Mary Cook, M.A, R.A.S. has over 34 years of clinical experience and 29 years of University teaching in addictions treatment and psychology.  She has a private practice in San Pedro, CA and is available for telephone and office counseling, consulting, guided meditation, speaking engagements and in-service training.  Mary is a national speaker and the author of Grace Lost and Found: From Addictions & Compulsions to Satisfaction & Serenity, available at Barnes & Noble,, etc.  See for further information.

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