A human being’s core addiction is to the traumatized self. Trauma, along with our early childhood patterns of compensating for  failures of love give rise to our trauma signature. This signature registers as “me” in my energetic field. As an adult, with all of this trauma relegated by repression to the unconscious, I default under stress to this self-image. We can live our entire lives believing this “me” to be our true self. It is a rude awakening to discover, as I did, at 58, that my life had not been my own. My self-image was forged in the furnace of survival. My survivalist ruled my life, determined what I could see and not see, it was in on every major decision, and impacted all of my intimate relationships.

The trauma signature is composed of core unconscious beliefs (CUBs) that got laid down in response to unbearable failures of love. These failures might be emotional neglect, withholding, rejection, physical or sexual abuse, or verbal abuse. If we had a mother who was feeding off us energetically to get the love she didn’t get as a child, this constitutes a failure of love as well. If we did not enjoy a secure attachment with our mother for whatever reason, this is a failure of love. And failures of love for infants, toddlers and children are always traumatic. The earlier the failure, the deeper the impact on our capacity to give and receive love as adults and experience life without anxiety.

In the process of my own psychedelic assisted psychotherapy I uncovered over twenty CUBs including: I am bad; I am too much; I am not enough; I am the cause of your misery; I am stupid; I am helpless; life is meaningless; life is hopeless, I am not safe, etc. These CUBs form our shadow self.

But we need to survive in the world so we generate compensatory actions and beliefs (CABs or the false self). These actions and beliefs are precise responses to the core unconscious beliefs. They are transport system to help us navigate life, when we learned that “driving our own car” (i.e. being self-defined and self-expressive) was not possible.

For example, in response to my my CUB, “I am bad” I compensated with a belief, “I am a good, kind, generous boy”, and then acted as if  it was true. This is my false self, or survivalist, working over time to be accepted. It lasts a lifetime until it is brought to consciousness and then deconstructed. Again, in response to my CUB, “it is not safe to have needs and wants” I formed a CAB that “I don’t need”, but the compensating action was manipulating others to get my needs met without having to ask—quite a feat! I formed a belief that “I should be more”,  and then compensated by constructing an ideal self that I hoped would make me loveable. Naturally, life became a performance of this ideal self, rather than an expression of my true “I”>

Together, these CUBs and CABs create our trauma self. We attach to this self-image. And then hold on to it for dear life should it ever be “threatened” with an actual experience of love. We identify with these beliefs and compensations. They become us. We become them. We get attached to the image we create, and then we create our reality from this false foundation.

We actually become addicted to this self-image.  Our preferred addictive substances or processes are then recruited to be in service to this core addiction. They are attempts to escape this limited self—because we intuitively feel how constricting it is. But they end up deepening our attachment to it. After a few drinks for example, I may break free of my careful, prudent presentation of myself and act like I’m the life of the party. Three more drinks and I’ve dropped through my compensating actions and beliefs and I’m feeling my core belief that I am unworthy of love—I am morose, “crying in my beer”.

Notice that neither the CUB, “I am bad” , nor the CAB, “I am a good boy” are true. I am what I am, neither good or bad—just Bruce responding to life as it arises. But, when I am in a state of unconsciousness about how all of this is running me, I compulsively need to show the world I am good (substitute smart, perfect, successful, charming).

I remember when this belief surfaced in the context of a therapy session. I was lying in a fetal position suffering in a way I didn’t have words for (because when it was originally happening, I was pre-verbal). Suddenly, I opened my eyes and looked at my therapist and declared, “I am not bad”! It was a protest that was arising in this space because I felt safe enough in the arms of my therapist. And then came the grief of realizing that I must have unconsciously believed that I was bad.  I had to be taught this. We aren’t born into the world feeling like we are bad.

There’s one more piece to the puzzle of our fierce addiction to the trauma self. When our CABs (false self) fail us, (as thankfully they shall) we collapse into the underlying core unconscious belief (CUB). Now, the healing can begin. But it will be a difficult journey.

With the failure of the CAB to hold the line, an underlying CUB ( I am bad or I’m unloveable) overwhelms the nervous system.  I call these experiences LEAKs. What is leaking out is both the belief and the underlying memory of the failure of love. Healing begins when the fortress of my CABs and my defence system collapses. When this happens, there is a strong impulse to act out the core unconscious belief.  We attribute what’s happening to some present circumstance. In truth, the present circumstance is merely a trigger for the early trauma. Nevertheless, we may be absolutely, 100%, convinced that nobody loves us, that we are scum and that there is no possible way out of this mess. God help the person who tries to tell us otherwise.

This is a memory. But we love the memory, in a fucked up way. It feel like us, so familiar, even strangely comforting in the way it confirms my beliefs about reality. It feels so true to us in the moment. The feeling of being unloveable is the very definition of who I am when I am in a memory. What’s more, the world really is a pretty shitty place.  I can trot out dozens of world crises to legitimatize my hopelessness. What’s the point of living anyway? We may check ourselves into a hospitable. This is a way of regressing in the hope that we will finally receive the care we missed as a little one.

The past has effectively hijacked the present and we are living out our trauma.

“The past is not dead. It is not even past”.

Truly, it is our life now in present tense, until we deal with the trauma. Eastern religions called this karma – the consequences of the past playing out in the present, which is a pretty good definition of trauma (except with trauma it wasn’t our fault).

When we are feeling helpless, hopeless and there is no way out, the CUB has us. We don’t have it. We will not be talked out of it. We behave like an addict and anybody who attempts to get us to see ourselves and the situation through a different lens will be attacked. A buddy of mine who works with people who are addicted to opiates tells how if often happens when the addicted self is finally being exposed (that is, the underlying trauma is surfacing), the person will become fierce and attack him verbally—and occasionally physically. This is the traumatized self not wanting to sense into and feel the truth of what happened, and thus have to relinquish both this self-image and the addictive substance that is supporting it. But my point is that the opiate (or whatever addiction said person is dealing with) is being recruited by the core addiction to the trauma signature.

This is also why we don’t actually want what we say we want. We might say we want to be loved, but when somebody throws a lavish birthday party for us, we cannot take in the beautiful stories that are being told about us or all the love in people’s hearts for us. We listen, but it doesn’t register. We may feel like running away. It raises anxiety. To take it all in would mean disrupting the narrative of our trauma self. Any disruption means feeling what we suffered when we really were helpless along with the grief of having our hearts broken by those charged with loving us. And remember, when we children, we were literally helpless to solve the situation. We were truly stuck. We aren’t any longer as adults, but part of being in a memory means that we summon this sense of helplessness as well.

It’s why we “upper-limit” our potential. We might get that raise or the promotion we always wanted, but then find ourselves strangely sabotaging the new position. We make dumb decisions. We become overwhelmed by the responsibility. We have crossed the threshold of the trauma self, and the guardians of the threshold have risen up to warn us to turn back. We feel like we cannot possibly live without the old self. We will enjoy too much freedom, too much responsibility, too much self-esteem.

Or we might find the woman or man of our dreams. Surprisingly quickly we start the unconscious project of turning them into the kind of person who confirms that I am not free, who I cannot love and does not love me,  who turns our lover into an enemy, the madonna becomes the whore who doesn’t care about us but is checking out all the other women/men. The one we had yearned for our whole lives and found, becomes the betrayer. We develop extravagant narratives, and even create the circumstances, which prove it to be so. But inside, we are convinced that it’s all happening objectively out there.

The truth is that we are, each of us, unspeakably beautiful and radiant. Most of us learned otherwise in the course of growing up. To return to this beautiful human underlying all of our trauma means that there is some work to be done. Grief must have its way with us. We must learn that we can survive now what we couldn’t then—all the sensations and feelings in our body. It means coming to a precise awareness of our CUBS, CABs, and when we are in full LEAK mode (in a memory) and then taking full responsibility for it. Only then will we be truly free from our addiction to our trauma self.

Live Your Own Life Course

Bruce Sanguin Psychotherapist

Written by Bruce Sanguin

5 thoughts on “THE CORE ADDICTION”

  1. I appreciate your honesty and transparency in providing examples from your own life. It helps me see beyond the shame and hiding that often accompanies our deepest fears and wounds. Wondering if you can address a couple of questions: 1) Does everyone have a trauma of some degree, that impacts or current behaviors and thinking? The reason I ask is that there almost seems to be an assumption in some spiritual work now that if you are not acknowledging or working on some past trauma that you are spiritual bypassing.
    2) How can we support those around us who clearly are acting out some form of trauma, though won’t acknowledge that (I guess I am assuming if we know someone who is clearly addicted to food, sex, alcohol, drugs, work, or whatever, that there is a trauma at the root of that, right?)
    3) If we look with wide-open eyes at the current very dire state of the world (including climate, poverty, greed, disease and unhealthy food systems, etc. etc.) shouldn’t we almost expect a type of trauma to result. “We” are in some serious messed-up state and basically living out some collective suicide trajectory. If we aren’t already all individually traumatized, our we acting out some collective trauma at this point and what the heck can we possibly do to work through that? Is it a matter of faith now that God/The Ultimate/The Evolutionary Impulse can provide the ‘safe arms of the therapist’ to help us heal this massive, metastasized, and potentially fatal human wound?

    I know that’s a lot of big questions, but anything you can offer is most appreciated. I hear so much about trauma these days, and everyone seems to be dwelling upon their particular version of it….

    Thank you.

    • Thanks Sophia,

      1. Not everybody is dealing with trauma. But generally speaking, our culture is still not trauma aware, associating it with wars, accidents, and horrendous acts. But I define trauma as a failure of love, and in the brain it registers the same shock and cascade of hormones as acts of violence in war. In fact, it’s harder to deal with in the sense that it is often enacted by the very person(s) who were charged with your protection.
      2. Yes, I would say that underlying most, if not all, addiction is unresolved trauma. Unfortunately, until somebody is ready to deal with their own trauma there’s not a lot we can do. At the point, however, that it is affecting us, I would say, be straight with them about how its impacting your life and tolerate no disrespect. The firmer you are, the more clearly they see how their addictive behaviour is affecting others. So don’t indulge them.
      3. I would say that the more we are aware of our own trauma the more clearly we can see and feel the madness of a world that is desensitized to violence, because it is the norm in our private lives. Trauma normalizes violence which causes us to acquiesce in the face of the institutions, political, economic, and educational that perpepuate it. We literally don’t see it. The state can count on those who have been brutalized in their own families, but don’t recognize it, to acquiesce to inhumane social policy. When a person has worked through and integrated their own trauma and the trauma of their ancestry, the violence stops with them. This is intrinsically an act of social justice. As well, my experience is that if this integration is complete, any work the individual takes on to “change the world” will be done with greater compassion, and will be less an ideological reaction. Hope all that helps.

      • Very clarifying. It’s empowering to think that if we are willing to process and integrate our own personal traumas, there is the possibility of a healing impact rippling out, beyond our individual lives. Its so much more motivating to consider trauma work as “…intrinsically an act of social justice.” Thanks so much for your responses.

  2. Thank you for this great post. It resonates really well with my understanding of how the psyche works. It took you 58 years to realize this for yourself. It might be a difficult question, but what do you think could’ve made you realize it earlier?

    • Oskar, I think it was Anais Nin who said, alluding to the rose, something like, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” That said, there is a kind of perfection to it all, everything in my life leading up to the blossoming prepared me for it. It happens at different time for different people. There is, in this sense, no urgency.


Leave a Comment