The root cause of addiction and a path forward

“There is so much more to see in a drop of water than can be seen by the naked eye. The heavens above have an immensity that cannot even be comprehended by the naked eye. There is so much more to emotions than can be expressed by words alone.”

I have been a psychoanalytic trained psychiatrist for over 30 years. For the first 10 years of my practice, most of my patients talked to me lying on a couch. After 10 years of listening to them speak, I found out what they were talking about. They were talking about their emotions. So, in 1963, I started to develop new techniques to get them to express their emotions directly with full bodied emotional expression. After 10 years of listening to them screaming, I found out what they were screaming about. They were screaming about their loneliness, their feeling of emptiness, of feeling alone, of feeling unfulfilled, of needing something, somebody, to make them feel fulfilled. They were screaming that they did not feel good enough or lovable. They were screaming about what they called the need for “love,” what I recognized by 1968 as a need for “bonding.”

My emotional expressive screaming process worked fantastically, efficiently, and effectively. My book about this therapeutic group process, “A Scream Away from Happiness” was published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1972. However, by the time the book was published, I really knew, bottom line, what my group members were screaming about. Their full bodied emotional expression, frequently without words, was a technique which functioned like a huge newly found microscope and telescope. With their deep non-verbal emotional expressions, I could understand and experience for myself things what other therapists never knew existed, that I did not know existed when I was a practicing psychoanalyst. There is so much more to see in a drop of water than can be seen by the naked eye. The heavens above have an immensity that cannot even be comprehended by the naked eye. There is so much more to emotions than can be expressed by words alone.

It took me four years to personally experience the full significance of bonding. It took me three years, after the book was published, to develop techniques that were efficient, effective, safe, and teachable to other therapists, often including therapists who could not be with me at my Institute in New York City for prolonged periods of time.

As I demonstrated and taught my process around the United States and Europe, it started to dawn on me as a result of the overwhelming clinical observations and experiences, the basic reasons to account for this generalized unhappiness of Western cultured people. The fact that the participants were in groups gave me the awareness of the basic commonality of the problem with divergent types of people who composed the groups. The fact that I presented my process to people in Europe whom I verbally could not communicate with was significant. I knew I could not be hypnotizing them. We could not speak each other’s language. We needed interpreters to speak to each other. However, to communicate our emotions, we needed no translators. Two or three emotionally laden screams and I knew where they were, where they are, and where they had to go. A musician can do the same thing with music. Three or four notes played in effective continuity and he knows the musical score. When the group of 40 did what the interpreters asked them to do, they experienced what I knew they would experience because they are human, just like me and tens of thousands of others who experienced the process.  I would tell them much less than what I am writing to you. Usually a 30-minute lecture twice a day before a three-hour experiential group as part of a three to 11 day workshop.

My first hypothesis, which evolved from my clinical observations and experience, was the concept that we in Western culture are suffering from a basic biological deprivation of a basic biologic need, which human beings need for happy survival. I call this biological need bonding.

In the development of our culture these past few thousand years, this biologic need has been lost sight of. Since we never recognized it or even knew it existed in human beings, it was very easy to lose sight of. The pre–human ancestors of human beings have been around about 20 million years. Our immediate Pre-forefathers, Homo erectus (walking upright) appeared about 3 million years ago. Our present forefathers of our species, Homo sapiens “with intelligence,” appeared about 300,000 years ago. Until they learned to domesticate plants and animals, about 10,000 years ago, sub man and man lived in hunting and plant picking tribes of 30 to 40. Built into their survival was their physical need for each other. They slept together for protection and warmth. They needed each other to hunt and search for food and water. Built into their survival was their emotional awareness that each was a source of potential help and support, that each was a source of potential pleasure (which I call desire), and pleasure. They could not survive if each were a source of potential pain (which I call danger) or pain. One can trust only an emotionally open person. Being able to be emotionally open to each other was essential for their survival. Many primitive tribes have only one word to connote friend or family. They have only one word to connote stranger or enemy. Bonding, physical closeness and emotional openness, evolved as a genetic human need. And so, humankind evolved for millions of years within a tribe. They could not sustain their life without the support of the tribe. That all started to change about 10,000 years ago when our intelligent Homo sapiens learned to domesticate plants and animals.

A new social – cultural unit evolved. The extended family unit of the agrarian culture gradually evolved and took the place of the tribe. Being only about a third or fourth the size of the tribe, I feel the deprivation of the need for bonding gradually developed in the agrarian family unit. This accounts for my belief that people have not been as nice to each other for the past 10,000 years as they had been. Where as in the tribe most of their time was spent with family and friends, now more and more time would be spent with strangers and enemies.

To me, the breakup of the tribe was analogues to the biblical story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. Humankind was not expelled because we developed the knowledge of sex. Humankind left the tribe because he developed the knowledge of domesticating and raising his own plants and animals. The tribe was no longer necessary for survival. Humankind did not know, even to this day, that he needed his fellow beings for another biological need, bonding.

But in spite of this, humankind grew in the extended family from a few million to a billion in the next 10,000 years. However, at the beginning of the relatively recent industrial revolution, in 1850, the extended family unit started to be broken up as people left the farms and went off by themselves, to seek their fortune in the newly developing burgeoning cities. Due to the financial and medical advances, they survived and more than reproduced themselves. In 130 years, the population increased from one billion to almost 4 1/2 billion.

Humankind multiplied in Western societies but were less and less happy and fulfilled. Westernized culture has been in a greater and greater, and deeper and deeper, search for happiness; not for food, physical health, overcoming natural disasters, or any of the biological needs mentioned, except one, a lack of human closeness. We are much less fulfilled for bonding than our agrarian forefathers. As individuals left the family farms and made their way to the growing cities, they became deprived of this network of emotional and physical closeness. At best, they would find only a few friends but they did not live with each other. Contrast this with the 40 or so kinfolk that live intimately with each other all their lives. This was the prevailing conditions of our ancestral forefathers for millions of years of humankind’s Evolution.

Finally, the industrialized person would find one other, the mate, to whom he/she would live in relative isolation. They only had each other to fulfill their biological need of human closeness, bonding. Because they were not raised together, they tended to have different values, patterns of behavior, different attitudes, and beliefs. These differences would tend to separate them. Sex was and is not enough to hold them together indefinitely. They both were defective, from conditioning, in their capacity to understand, experience and utilize the greatest bond between human beings, the biologic need for each other to be emotionally open and physically close: bonded.

Again, their early ancestors had 40 people all their lives. Their more immediate ancestors had 10 to 15 people all their lives, and the new wife was brought into her husband’s home.

On Okinawa, where I was stationed during the Korean War, the Okinawans practiced this custom: the woman would live with her future in-laws for months before the wedding took place. If they were not happy with each other, the marriage would not take place. The ex-engaged young woman would return to her home in the same or in the neighboring village.

Yes, we, of the “civilized world,” who have so much of everything else, have only one other peer with whom we live our life of quiet, almost solitary confinement. When will we learn that one human being cannot possibly fulfill the needs of another human being all the time. So, the deprivation in our westernized culture grew and people passed on the symptoms of our deprivation to their children. The children adding a lifetime of experiential deprivation into their human experience passed even greater deprivation onto their children. We have now survived many generations as more deprived human beings. But we are finally beginning to know what is the matter.

In December 1977, the American Medical Association released a nationwide medical news bulletin. In essence it said that after years of research by anthropologist, primatologist, sociologist, psychiatrist, psychologist, obstetricians, and pediatricians, they have come to the conclusion that the newborn infant has a biologically based need to be physically in contact with its mother. This pronouncement caused a revolution in infant care. Not only in America, but soon thereafter in Europe.

Before the last pronouncement, good classical medical practice dictated that the infant be placed in the sterile nursery to keep him/her protected from contagious diseases. The infant would only be given to the mother when she was ready, willing, and able to breastfeed. Breastfeeding was not encouraged to say the least. The father could look at his infant through a glass into the nursery. Holding his baby was against the rules. It would introduce too much chance for contagious infections into the nursery. The mother, if she still insisted to breastfeed her baby, could observe her baby between breastfeeding’s through the same window that the father was using.

Many women though they knew they went through the pains of childbirth, did not have the opportunity to hold, cuddle, and hug their baby long enough to feel connected, bonded, to their infant child. They developed a depression over the emotional loss that they felt. This was labeled postpartum depression. There might have been other causes for the depression based on the realistic social – cultural situation, but I feel many, if not most of the symptoms were due to her feeling that the baby did not exist, or the lack of pleasure that she expected to experience from childbirth.

Childbirth is not a pleasure, it is a pain. The pleasure comes from experiencing what the mother has given life to. Seeing, what she gave life to was not and is not enough, she had to feel it. She has to establish a biological based bond to enjoy her child’s birth. Because so many mothers do not know how to bond, even with her newborn, it should be the responsibility of the obstetrical staff to teach them.

Once the depression sets in over the lack of fulfillment of her biologically-based unconscious, pleasurable expectation, it acts like a glass wall between herself and her baby. When the baby is finally brought to her, it is too late. I suspect that the baby too has already reacted to the deprivation of this natural biologic need, so perhaps there are two glass barriers. How tragic. Unless the mother has strong unconscious and conscious forces based on her own healthy fulfilled bonding needs, she may never break through the barriers, and never feel the bonded closeness that nature intended. I have seen so many people who have never felt close to their parents and later to their children. Tragically, they don’t even know what they are missing. There is so much more to be seen in the heavens above us than can be seen by the naked eye.

We wonder why we have such a problem with addiction, crime and delinquency, especially in our adolescent youth. Here is where it starts. It just takes the child 14 or 15 years to get strong enough to endanger others when he starts to express what he has been feeling from day one. I know, I am an acknowledged expert in the treatment of delinquent adolescents.

The American Medical Association said more. They said that environment should enable the mother to be with the child for as long thereafter as feasible. Fathers were encouraged to hold their babies while a baby was still in the hospital! “Living in” and breastfeeding were encouraged. This was a total turnaround from the rules under which many previous generations were born. Our mothers were told to keep us away from people less we get an infectious disease. To keep us in the infant’s solitary confinement called a crib. Not to pick us up except every four hours to feed us. Let us cry, it is good for our lungs. Don’t pick us up if we cry, because it will spoil us. We are a savage that has to be domesticated and acculturated. No wonder we banged our heads, bit our nails, wet our pants, had a feeding problem, cried all night and/or sucked our thumbs.

I cannot understand why it took the authorities so long to come to their conclusions, except that they too were blinded by the cultural fogs that limit our observation of our biological needs. When I was still in training, I remember Dr. David Levy telling us about the findings of researchers who discovered that half the infants in a well-run sterile orphan’s nursery died within the first year. Even then they thought it was due to the lack of holding the infants. They called the disease, really the “dis-ease” syndrome, marasmus. The infants just curled up and died because their own biological need for bonding was not fulfilled. By the early 1970s everyone heard about Dr. Harlow and his monkeys. Monkeys raised by wire and straw surrogate mothers were unable to relate to their fellow monkeys. They either huddled in a corner in terror, or attacked any available monkey in rage. They were so disturbed, they couldn’t even procreate with the opposite sex.

No one can buy this need for all their love or money. The chronic deprivation of this biologic need in westernized people is causing most of the unhappiness in the Western world! I called this need bonding. Nine years later the American Medical Association also called it bonding. I guess we looked in the same dictionary. When will they recognize that children and adults also need to feel bonded, to feel fulfilled, for as long as they live.

To me, bonding is a biologically-based need of human beings to be emotionally and physically close. It is more accurate to say emotionally open and physically close. (Indeed, a form of bonding, depending on the species, is biologically essential, genetically evolved, and even primate.) If two people are physically close but emotionally closed, it is about as fruitful and fulfilling as hugging a tree or a dead stranger. It feels empty at best. Indeed, much of the human contact between people is empty at best. Most people feel they live in a world full of strangers at best. Most people are truly phobic (frightened or tense) or paranoid (suspiciously controlled or angry) about the experience of bonding. Most people feel very uncomfortable the first time they bond. Even when the occasion presents itself, within the safety of the group, they do not trust the other person, and/or themselves in a close physical and emotional embrace.

Humankind does biologically adapt to changes in their environment. But this adaptation takes hundreds of thousands of years. Homo sapiens evolved on this planet 3000 years ago. His predecessor, Homo erectus preceded him by 3 million years. All during this time, their society remained pretty much the same. There was barely any culture to pass on to their offspring.

All this changed with the discovery of how to domesticate plants and animals. Culture started only 10,000 years ago, less than 3/10 of 1% of humankind’s existence. If a father made a chair, he could give it to his child when he died. Before that there was no need or time to make a chair. The tribe might have to move on the next day on their unending search for food. Primitive men could not afford to carry anything they made with them except their tools and weapons. He had been free to move great distances if necessary on his constant search for food. Those who were lucky enough to stumble on a relatively unending supply of food were able to stay in one place long enough to learn how to domesticate the plants and animals that could be a stable source of supply, of their needs for food. Materialistic culture, which could be passed onto their children, could have only started 10,000 years ago.

Yet, even 8000 years later, at the time of Christ, most people did not have much. A tent, a small plot of land they tilled, some animals, skins, and some pottery. People learned to change their wooden bats and spears for metal bats and spears, and to wear armor to protect them from the bats and spears of others who wanted their animals, women, and themselves as slaves.

Yet for all the wars of the past 2000 years, humankind swelled from two hundred million to a billion by 1850. Culture was able to make life more abundant, I doubt whether it made it happier. But life was easier in some ways. There were more material possessions for the lucky few. Human beings were less at the mercy of nature. But not much had really changed. We still lived in an agrarian society. We still had slaves. But we had closer bonds with our fellows with whom we lived then we do now. Even the slaves felt more bonded in bondage, then many of us do now. As mentioned, that changed with the industrial revolution. Now every 10 years we acquire more knowledge than we had from the beginning of humankind till 10 years ago. Knowledge has sped up cultural evolution into a cultural revolution. And the revolution will not end, it will be progressing faster and faster. We cannot afford to lose sight of our human needs. We cannot cheat mother nature. We now know what has happened to us as adults. The real tragedy is what has happened to us as infants.

For millions of years the human infant, after evolving for nine months in the mother’s uterus, was born and proceeded to spend 85% of his waking time for the next six to eight months, on the mother’s breast, or side or back. He was carried for about three years because he was too small to keep up with the migration of his tribe in their search for food. When they stopped, he crawled away from his mother to satisfy his curiosity when he wished. Surrogate mothers were always around, as were surrogate fathers. There was a continuum of life through adulthood evolved by nature which was not interfered with by culture because there was little or no culture. Those species who successfully adopted to nature’s way of life survived. Those that did not are no longer with us.

Even with the introduction of the agrarian culture, the care of the infant remained basically the same. Women’s primary role was to bear and raise children, and secondarily to work and help her husband on the farm or ranch. But there were other women around to help her share the load. If the mother’s milk dried up, there were wet nurses (other lactating women) around to feed their baby. Some women made a living or partial living from being a wet nurse even when I was a small boy. The woman’s breast was still considered a maternal object not a sexual object. A woman would, without shame or cultural inhibition, expose her breast to feed her baby. Her baby still came first. (They still do this in Europe much more frequently than in the US.)

 

Women used to die much sooner than men. Both my grandfathers married a second time after burying their first wife. Women were chattel. What her husband wanted he got. That was the law. Of course, babies bonded to unhappy, depressed, resentful women would absorb the emotional distress. Not being able to understand the cause of the distress, they grew up with the feeling, later put into words, “well that is the way the world is,” or “there is something wrong with me.” I believe even after the turn of the 20th century, most grew up feeling that is the way the world is. “To be born a woman is to be born to suffer.” “Life is not supposed to be happy; work hard and you will receive your rewards in heaven.” But in spite of the harshness of living, the child thought he belonged, he felt bonded even if it was to a harsh reality.

From infancy, he was hugged, carried, and rarely if ever alone. He always had a warm breast to suck on, big smiling loving eyes to look at when nursing, and warm loving, protective, supporting arms around him. If not his mother’s, then someone else’s, it makes no difference, they all love him. He is part of them and they are part of him. He is lovingly bonded to them and they are lovingly bonded to him. He belongs. He is good enough. He is a source of great pleasure to them. He feels he is lovable. He feels very entitled to enjoy himself. He feels entitled to his needs, they give everyone pleasure. And as he learns to crawl away from mother to happily explore the world he has a great sense of power as he becomes aware that he is separate. “I’m me. I exist. I am here to continue to enjoy myself as I have been doing. It is great to be alive!”

Thirty years ago, I saw all this with the infants and children in Okinawa. But I did not understand it all. I went to the hospital’s library and read every book I could find on cultural anthropology. I was delighted to find two books written by Dr. Abram Kardiner, who was also a psychiatrist and living in New York. When I finished my tour of duty, I returned to New York and looked him up. I found out he was a cofounder of Columbia University’s Psychoanalytic Institute and actively teaching there. I found out he held two professorships. One in anthropology, one in psychiatry-psychoanalysis. To top it off, he had been personally analyzed by Sigmund Freud himself, and was one of the early cofounders of the psychoanalytic movement in this country. I was awed and spent the next 7 1/2 years being analyzed by him. Tragically, I did not know about peer therapy, and I felt like an inadequate underling, frightened yet grateful that he would take me on as a patient. What pain for years.

I did not learn to understand the Okinawans in my analysis. I learned in my analysis that I was terrified of authority, that I did not feel good enough or lovable. That I was not good enough for my mother, and certainly not lovable. And that I was not good enough for my analyst, and certainly not lovable. What I did learn in analysis is to stop trying to please them. I went from a frightened good little neurotic boy to an indifferent turned off character – disordered adult. I’ll suck my own thumb. Leave me alone, I’ll be all right. I do not expect anything of you (or women I would like to love) so I will not try. I’ll survive, I always have.

I learned about the Okinawans when I learned about people and myself in the new form of therapy that was evolving out of my group practice. Amazingly, in our process of getting physically and emotionally close to relative strangers or casual acquaintances in a group, all of one’s psychopathology comes out. Few, if any, have time or the ability to defend their basic emotions or attitudes which they think are valid but are really their symptoms. A lifetime of malprogramming. This basic problem becomes exposed to everyone that they are working with in the group and even to themselves. And they see how similar it is to everybody else’s problem. Just variations of a theme.

Why is this? The question is very valid, the answer is very simple but very profound. Suppose an infant was born into a family where the parents were very upset, ignorant, and had a lot of problems and pain. Good cold water was not scarce but they had to get it from a well and they did not like to be bothered. Every time their infant cried or screamed for water he would be told to shut up, to wait, or he was hit or ignored. When he was finally given water it was with abruptness, hostility, and indifference. When he finally got it, he was told how to drink it, where to drink it, how fast to drink it, how much to drink, and how long it should take. When he did not meet the requirements he was yelled at, scolded at, screamed at, and physically hurt. But he survived. As soon as he could, he got his own water, and kept to himself as much as he could. After this, his parents left him alone. (By the way, I had a patient who had this experience with food, he learned to regurgitate everything he ate, and then to eat it at his leisure. It was the price he paid for feeling free and in control).

Twenty five years later the battered child finds himself at a Sunday garden luncheon party in August. He is thirsty, and the lovely young hostess seeing his discomfort as he licked his lips comes up behind him and says abruptly, disengaging his thoughts, “Here is a glass of cold water.” What would you think, feel, or do if you were he? If he screamed, shouted, stood up, or swung around protectively, would you call him sick, maladapted, crazy, hostile, or programmed correctly to a sick environment? Would you give him a pill, call the police, call a hospital, give him shock therapy, talk to him, or change his environment? I do see people who are phobic or paranoid about food or water others get them, but they are relatively rare. However, most people are phobic or paranoid about bonding.

Why is that? That is a valid and important question. Within my writings, you will find a valid answer.

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