Emotions are complex experiences that at times overwhelm us. They can bring us to states of joy and happiness, but they can also drop us into states of anger or sadness that feel insurmountable. Many addicts struggle with emotions, and rely on substances to mask or disconnect from emotional experiences. Others turn to substances to induce certain feelings. Using substances to disconnect from our emotions is a form of dissociation. In theory we are elaborating upon an element of addiction that incorporates dissociative states that prevents the integration of emotions that have been deemed intolerable. Eissler explains “every emotion has the tendency to enfold on and to engulf the ego while excluding the presence of any other emotion” (1953, p. 203). Dissociative states allow the addict to avoid intolerable emotions.
The nature of emotion “is not an activity of the individual but something that happens to him” (Jung, 1951/1979, p. 9).
Imagine the continued repression, forcing down of emotions that you could not tolerate; attempting to press these emotions deep within your unconscious, within the shadow. Every time an emotion, deemed intolerable, seeps into your awareness, you are at the mercy of the supporting memories and associations of these emotions. As you continue pushing away and repressing this material towards the great and vast depths of your unconscious, you become disconnected from yourself. Dissociation leads to a mass of intolerable emotions, and these emotions ferment into volatile elements within the shadow. The gap widens further into fragments within the psyche.
Jung (1960/1981) explains that the shadow can assimilate into consciousness to emerge into awareness. What was once pushed away and held at bay can be brought back into our awareness with great effort. In order for the addict to tolerate emerging affect, the ego will project the charged emotions upon externalized objects in order for the ego to be estrange from the volatile, intolerable elements. Over time, an addict can experience affect based material without needing to disconnect from it entirely. The meaning we place upon our experiences greatly influence how we are able to hold them within us; but that which we push away and disconnect from remains devoid of meaning and isolated. Meaning provides containment; meaning can bring back what was fragmented and separate into the fold of our being and lead to the experience of wholeness and integration.
Eissler, K. R. (1953). Notes upon the emotionality of a schizophrenic patient and its relation to problems of technique. Psychoanalytic Study Child, 8, 199-251.
Jung, C. G. (1979). Aion. In H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire (Eds.), The collected works of C. G. Jung (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (2nd ed., Vol. 9). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1951)
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex