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  • Neglect and Entitlement: The Connection

    Why do people who have a “good childhoods” become addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping, video games and excitement? 

    Little Johnny grew up without any rules or consequences as a young boy.  He could practically do whatever he wanted while his parents were busy working.  He was always told he was a “good boy” and grew up feeling privileged and entitled to do whatever he wanted.

    Modern addiction theory is that emotional, physical or sexual trauma can be a precursor for addiction. How does entitlement, without seemingly any trauma cause addiction?

    The idea is that having no boundaries for your children and letting them do whatever they want, whenever they want, without consequences, is a form of neglect.   According to Karen Michie of Karen Michie Counseling, “Even if someone has not experienced much in the way of obvious trauma, sometimes it’s not so much what happened “to them” as it is what didn’t happen “for them” that lays the groundwork for addiction. Children need attunement, nurturing, the right to be vulnerable, healthy boundaries, and the right to be authentic.”

    According to Dr. Kate Balestrieri, CST, CSAT-S, PACT-II, EMDR, TSY, founder of Modern Intimacy, “False empowerment is a form of trauma (neglect of appropriate emotional and behavioral boundary setting and the opportunity for humility and boredom), and so it feels especially insidious, because the trauma is not always perceived as trauma, because it felt so good to be privileged. The constant onslaught of “You’re great!” without any negative consequences sets the stage for an incredibly fragile ego, and poor distress tolerance, hence the reason to jump into more conquesting/intensity to drown out the reality (and terror) of a person’s mediocrity. 

    Addicts act out on “bad days” when they have negative feelings and their needs are not being met.  They also act out on “good days” to celebrate their success.  But to the addict, “things going well” can be overwhelming, according to Kelly McDaniel, author of Ready to Heal. “It’s a terrible irony, ANY feelings cause a desire to dissociate because it’s TOO real.”  People feel they don’t deserve success, so they screw it up by giving in to the fear with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, food and excitement.

    The hunt for the person, behavior or substance that will alleviate the fear is what becomes most important.  As Dr. Patrick Carnes says in his book, Recovery Zone, “Without the self- certainty that comes with deep attachment within the family, addiction becomes a refuge for the anxiety one feels about being unacceptable to others.  If you don’t trust others, alcohol, drugs, sex, food and excitement will deliver on their promise.  The addict starts to have a relationship with the object of their hunt and their real partners don’t seem real anymore.  What is real is the hunt, the risk and the behavior.” 

    Acting out in addiction comes from not having our needs met, not feeling like a priority in our primary relationship and looking to others to fill up the need for attention, attachment and intensity.  What’s missing is the addict’s inability to be vulnerable enough to be intimate in his primary relationship because he’s focused on the intensity of the hunt.

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