New years resolutions don’t work because, as much as we might have a conscious wish to change, we have an unconscious wish to stay the same. The power of our unconscious minds rests in our commitment to safety. Changing is threatening to us, and we get in our own way in order to lessen that threat. A belief in the power of the unconscious mind flies in the face of our culture’s obsession with neurobiology and with the alleged freedom of choice that we’re all supposed to have.
Most of us think that addiction comes from the power of a drug, or substance. Once we’re in it’s thrall, we’ll do anything to get more. In fact, research has shown (e.g. Johann Hari’s book, Chasing the Scream) that addicts recover when they feel part of a community and when they have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, especially in their work lives. As Hari says, “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection.”
Empathy is necessary for the proper and healthy development of the brain and psyche. When it’s lacking or inconsistent, we become unable to manage stress. When our stress-response system is overwhelmed, we call that trauma. Inconsistent or absent mirroring and empathy in childhood is traumatic. Our society provides far too few opportunities for face-to-face mutuality and empathy.
There is a common sense notion that until people have their survival needs met, they can’t really express and try to gratify other, so-called “higher order” needs. Common sense is wrong. Needs for meaning, relationships, recognition and agency are every bit as important as economic survival needs. No one need is “primary.”