There are four core addictions found across cultures in the experience of human life. Typically when we think of addictions, we think of substances like drugs and alcohol, or of process addictions and behaviors like gambling or shopping.
But what is underneath each obsessive or compulsive behavior pattern?
Angeles Arrien (1940 – 2014), a Basque-American cultural anthropologist and educator who worked with indigenous people around the world, identified four core addictions that arise in various ways in each culture and connect us all in our shared human suffering. Arrien also described the gifts or human potentials that wait to be claimed on the far side of each addiction. Each gift, or resource, waits to be matured and expressed in healthy and powerful ways.
The four core addictions are:
#1. Intensity. The unclaimed gift of intensity is love, passion, and right speech of the Healer archetype.
#2. Perfection. The unclaimed gift of perfection is excellence, right use of power, and right action of the Warrior archetype.
#3. The need to know/certainty. The unclaimed gift of the need to know is wisdom, trust, and right timing of the Teacher archetype.
#4. A fixation on what is not working. The unclaimed gift or potential of fixating on what is broken is vision, truth, and right placement (truth without blame) of the Visionary archetype.
How the Four Addictions May Present & Supportive Practices
Addiction: The addiction of intensity may arise as amplified emotions that help us feel more alive. Intensity may hook those of us who experience a low threshold for boredom, a constant need to be validated, or a constant pull to busyness and productivity. An addiction to intensity may include the temptation to exaggerate experiences, bring more energy than necessary to tasks, or just take up a lot of space in the room. Substances or other addictions can amplify regular experiences creating an illusion of more vitality.
Gift: Intensity hides the true power of passion, paying attention, and authentic love. Intensity is the shadow of open-heartedness, meaning, and standing in our core. Love, passion and right speech are the human resources waiting to be claimed on the other side of intensity.
Practice: Practices to claim the gifts on the other side of intensity may include life-affirming habits, self-acknowledgement, story-telling, and identifying shadow wounds.
Addiction: Perfection is different from excellence as it is intolerant of mistakes. This addiction is perpetuated to help us avoid feeling vulnerable. Many indigenous cultures view vulnerability as a core strength when it springs from the authentic self. This addiction may appear when we deny our humanity and invest our energy in maintaining a cultivated image or a façade that we present to the world.
Gift: Perfection is the shadow side of excellence and the right use of power. The human resources and unclaimed gifts are excellence and humble leadership.
Practice: Practices to connect with these gifts may include time in nature or with animals, dance, bodywork, and awareness of how you handle the unexpected.
3. The Need to Know – Certainty
Addiction: The certainty addiction can show up in a compulsive need to know and understand things. It carries the illusion that we can avoid any unknowns or surprises in an uncertain future. A sense of control in this addiction is preferred over embracing the reality of the unknowable. It is a struggle to trust that change is a natural and inherent part of life.
Gift: This addiction may appear in relationships that have a quality of being strategized rather than connective. Other symptoms of this addiction may be personal beliefs that are expressed in dogmatic, righteous, critical, or arrogant ways.
The addiction to certainty is the shadow side of wisdom. The gifts to be claimed are being open to outcome, trusting, and having right timing. The unclaimed resources include clarity, discernment, being able to tolerate conflicting ideas and embrace paradox.
Practice: Practices that support this addiction may include telling the truth without blame (daily), singing, reviewing life goals, recording dreams, time alone, listening to inner guidance, and noticing sources of inspiration.
4. Fixation on What is Broken
Addiction: This addiction focuses on what isn’t working no matter how well things are going. It is easy to forget that most of our life is working and just a portion of it isn't going well. This fixation tends to magnify negative experiences, flaws, or blow things out of proportion when they don't go our way. This inflexible and critical perspective makes it difficult to see our own blind spots even when someone offers us another point of view. At other times, it may be hard to trust our own intuition.
Gift: The gifts on the other side of a fixation on what is broken include a clear vision of seeing skills, talents, and other resources in ourselves or others. Tapping into the potential of our resources for our lives with vision, insight, perception, and intuition are waiting to be claimed.
Practice: Practices that support this struggle may include silent and contemplative practices, asking for guidance, practicing objectivity, and honoring our roots and heritage.
The 4 Core Addictions & Their Unclaimed Gifts: A Cross-Cultural Perspective is based on:
Arrien, Angeles (1993). The Four-Fold Way: Walking Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary. New York: HarperCollins.