Gabor Mate’s definition of addiction is “any behaviour that provides a temporary relief which you crave and you cannot stop in spite of the long term negative consequences”.
It is basically a safety mechanism to deal with uncomfortable feelings, soothe your pain, relieve stress, fill your emptiness and gain a sense of control among others.
The question is: Why do you need to keep yourself safe? Why can’t you regulate yourself and control your impulses in spite of the negative consequences? What happens to your brain?
Our Teacher, Marta Antero, shares her knowledge on what causes addiction and how Kundalini yoga can help you self-regulate and manage your triggers.
What is an addiction and what causes it?
To begin with, I don’t follow the disease model of addiction. There is a new way of thought led by addiction field experts such as Gabor Mate, which does not consider addiction as a genetic mental disease. It has the symptoms of disease sometimes but it is not what initiates it.
An addiction is an attachment disorder due to the inability to regulate yourself, to manage your emotions. Your emotions become so intense and you become so overwhelmed that you need to look for something external to change how you feel. It is a hunt for Dopamine which provides temporary reward and pleasure.
I believe most of us are addicted to something but we don’t relate to it. The reality is that we live in an addictive society where we are addicted to our own stress hormones, social media, consumerism, our own personal identity, negative history, body image, cultural bias and belief system among others.
To understand what causes addiction we need to look at the root and the impact it has on the body and brain development.
Addiction is mainly rooted in childhood trauma and emotional loss but as with addiction, there is a big misconception when it comes to trauma. Trauma does cover events such as abuse ( physical, mental, emotional or sexual ), parental divorce, the death of a loved one, parental addiction …
But trauma is not only something bad happening to you, it can be the lack of something good. It can be very subtle and invisible and have an impact on the most sensitive child. For instance, if your parents were stressed or not physically or emotionally present working too hard to provide for you and as a result unable to meet your emotional needs. However this does not mean you were not loved or you need to blame your parents, since they tried their best given their circumstances and very likely they suffered emotional loss as well. Neither justifies the abuse or neglect.
Kids have certain emotional and brain development needs, not only do they need to be loved, they need to be seen, heard, celebrated and accepted for who they are. When the emotional needs are not been met, the right conditions for healthy brain development are not being present.
As a result, all those parts of the brain and brain circuits responsible for self-regulation and impulse control are not developed properly and you need to look for something external to change how you feel. You sacrifice your authenticity, who you really are, looking for the connection to and validation from your parents since your survival depends on that attachment.
Therefore for the most sensitive child, there is a higher predisposition to develop an addiction as an adult, due to the inability to regulate emotions. You continue using the same safety mechanisms ingrained in your subconscious brain to protect yourself.
The brain is not developed genetically, it’s developed in relationship to the environment. Only 95% of the brain is developed by the age of 3 and it continues until the age of 7. Certain parts like the prefrontal cortex are responsible for impulse control and the majority of dopamine receptors is not even developed until the age of 25, this is why teenagers are very impulsive. While the brain is a work in progress, it is being shaped by the environment you live in.
In addition, kids can not only feel their own pain but also the pain around them and they make it their own. Kids are narcissists in the sense that they can’t blame adults for what happened to them, it’s not their nature, they internalise it and make it their own fault, having an impact on their self-worth and giving rise to shame (the core belief of not being good enough).
They cannot regulate themselves because those parts of the brain are not developed yet. They need the adult to regulate with, to help them integrate the experience and to make them feel safe. The best way to teach a child to self regulate is by staying calm and present so the child feels safe.
If for instance, the mother is anxious, the baby is going to feel the mother’s suffering. If the mother does not hold the baby to make him/her feel that the pain is not going to last forever and everything is going to be ok, the baby won’t be able to release the pain. That pain will be stored in the body and in the brain. Consequently, the baby is going to disconnect from himself because he does not want to feel the pain anymore. Disconnection is a safety mechanism and one of the major impacts of trauma.
To summarise when you have a history of childhood trauma, emotional loss, addictions, stress, anxiety ( which is also an addictive behaviour ) your stress system and stress response is over-activated, your alarm system is continuously ON searching for any “perceived threat”. You don’t feel safe.
This is the reason why you get triggered very easy by circumstances other people don’t even bother about. When you get triggered you get into the child state. All those emotions you are feeling right now (anger, fear, shame, stress…) are not your current emotions, they are activations of your past memories. You are experiencing the present moment from your unconscious unsatisfied childhood needs reacting exactly the same way as you did then.
How can Kundalini Yoga help :
Kundalini yoga is very transformative when it comes to recovery. I have my own personal approach where I focus on healing the root: the impact of trauma on your body, your nervous system and your emotional being, learning to self regulate and manage your triggers and finding alternative healthier ways to soothe yourself without abandoning yourself, and establishing new neurological pathways.
Until you heal the root of addiction you go from one addiction to another. Have you found yourself moving from drugs to alcohol, from alcohol to nicotine, from nicotine to food, control, perfectionism …? and what happens when you stop and you don’t know what to do with all those emotions you have been suppressing with your addictions?
It is not the substance or the behaviour that makes you an addict but the relationship you have with it. You need to establish a new relationship with yourself so you don’t need anything external to change how you feel.
The good news is that as per Gabor Mate quoted “trauma is not what happens to you, it is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you”.
The trauma is not the abuse or the neglect but the impact: the disconnection, the shame, the inability to stay present being caught in the pain of the past and fear of the future, perceiving the world from your own negative history and being unable to manage your feelings and control your impulses.
Another of my favourite quotes from Gabor Mate is “We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world”.
You can’t change what happened in the past, but you can take responsibility for yourself to heal the impact. You can change your addictive brain and establish new neurological pathways. You have the power to change how you feel!
Going Deeper & Healing
My upcoming online course Inside addiction uses a combination of Kundalini yoga, self-reflective coaching, neuroplasticity, discussion and lecture. There is also an opportunity to integrate all the learnings and experiences from each session with daily and weekly homework.
I would like to note that during the course you don’t need to keep going back into your past and traumatise yourself, you don’t even need to know what happened to you as a child (unless you want to explore it). I have a very forward-looking and companionate approach to recovery where I don’t focus on the past, instead, I focus on healing the impact and finding alternative healthier ways to move forward and create the transformation you deserve.
Even if you don’t believe you are addicted to anything (you might discover you are, as one of our past students did) you can still benefit hugely. This course is a journey of self-development, letting go of all those limiting beliefs, self-sabotage and negative history holding you from becoming the best version of yourself, learning to manage your emotions and respond from your present needs not your unconscious unsatisfied needs from childhood, navigating through the challenges and create the life you deserve. Amazing for managing stress and anxiety since they are also addictive behaviours. Stress is also one of the roots, major triggers and factors contributing to relapse.
What is the alternative? Staying where you are, feeling stuck and suffering or doing something to transform your life?
To book Marta’s Upcoming Online Course ‘Inside Addiction’, please click here.