Core Beliefs and Core Emotional Habits
The focal work of the Center is to help bring to awareness the deep-seated beliefs—imprints—that shape our perceptions and drive our emotional experiences; and more importantly, to offer practices to transmute the stuck emotional energies that fuel the self-defeating beliefs and habits. Imprints are forged at the intersections of messages inherited from the family of origin, from cultural norms and social institutions and organizations.
We teach that in our human experience, we carry both life-enhancing (positive) imprints and self-defeating (negative) imprints. Life-enhancing, or positive imprints, are imbued with elevated feelings of compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, joy, generosity, to name a few, feelings that nurture and sustain trust in our Authentic Self. We describe the Authentic Self as the pure and true Heart of our Being—fundamentally whole and integrated. We believe that it is not only our individual calling to seek alignment/harmony with our Authentic Self, but that we are further made stronger when we nurture compassion for self and others.
To negative imprints, on the other hand, are attached what we refer to at the Center as core emotional addictions. These are emotional cravings for security, power-control, sensation, and suffering. Unrecognized, these emotional cravings, attached to various negative imprints, keep us in the fight, flight, or freeze behaviors—survival behaviors of relating to others and the environment even when context no longer requires survival behaviors.
For example, a person struggling with the emotional addiction to security will continually feel as if she/he never has enough, never does enough, or is never good enough, and therefore, continually craves having, being, and/or doing more—the person interprets and repeatedly experiences life events as evidence of lack, betrayal, and abandonment, experiences which in turn feed an emotional craving for being, having and doing more. A person struggling with the emotional addiction to power control will continually feel the need to dominate and overpower others. He/she compulsively crave to have, be, and do the most—the person interprets and repeatedly experiences life events as a series of power struggles and endless competition, experiences which in turn fuel an emotional craving for winning and dominating.
A person struggling with the emotional addiction to sensation will compulsively seek crises and drama in daily occurrences and relationships or seek high intensity, high-risk behaviors to appease an emotional nervousness; on the opposite end, the person may actually completely shut down in isolation and depression—the person interprets and repeatedly experiences life events as boring and/or purposeless, experiences that in turn fuel an emotional craving for crises/drama or complete shutdowns. Finally, a person struggling with the emotional addiction to suffering will compulsively seek to be vindicated and/or validated through personal suffering and self-sacrifice. The struggle becomes an emotional craving. The person never rests in satisfaction of a pleasant experience, but continually seeks more struggle to feel either worthy or vindicated.
While one or two of these cravings may be dominant forces in an individual, it has been our experience that all of them live to a certain degree in all of us. Imprints (stories we have accepted as true and which we retell ourselves about ourselves and the world) and their core emotional addictions often create a cacophony of inner voices that battle each other in cycles of self-recrimination and accusations.
Core emotional addictions not only color the lenses through which we perceive reality but establish the baselines for what we identify as emotionally familiar and acceptable, often against our best judgments.
We believe that substance addictions (i.e. alcoholism, drug abuse, nicotine addiction, etc.) and process addictions (i.e. gambling, shopping, spending, eating, compulsive sexual activity, etc.) are manifestations of core emotional addictions. At the Center for Heart-Mind Coherence, we guide clients through the process of (1) identifying inherited negative as well as positive imprints, (2) recognizing the core emotional addictions developed by and congealed around negative imprints, and (3) integrating into daily practice the tools we offer (a) to release the energy of core emotional addictions and (b) to draw on positive imprints and the strengths of the Authentic Self to find buoyancy in making room for elevated emotions, clear thinking, and creative action. At the Center, we also integrate heart-focused breathing techniques developed by the HeartMath Institute (www.heartmath.com) to help clients modulate emotional states as well as use them as an entry into mindfulness and meditative practices.TOP OF PAGE
The Question is no Longer Why but How
Within the conceptual framework of imprints and core emotional addictions, the question “why?” has already been answered. Why do some of us repeatedly engage in self-defeating behaviors, or get trapped in freeze modes? Because of imprints (deep-seated core beliefs inherited from a confluence of messages from a family of origin, culture, and institutions) around which have congealed certain emotional habits that have become core emotional addictions. Within this conceptual framework, the question becomes how? How do we become aware of these mutually reinforcing core beliefs and core emotional cravings, and when we do, how do we harness the emotional energies for optimal well-being and fruitful relationships? This conceptual framework thus foregrounds the experiences of clients as central to the discovery process.
In exploring the how question for each client, we, along with our clients, practice compassionate attention and intention. We bring to awareness the freeing and empowering effects of the creative use and application of the energies of heart-focused attention and intention.TOP OF PAGE
The concept of core emotional addictions, as used and applied at the Center for Heart-Mind Coherence, was originally developed in the 1980s by clinicians of the addiction treatment center then known as Pavillon Gilles Desjardins, in Quebec, Canada. The co-founders of the Center for Heart-Mind Coherence, Liliane and Caroline, were part of that clinical team. Liliane had married Gilles Desjardins and together they directed the efforts of Pavillon Gilles Desjardins which then morphed into Pavilion International Addiction Treatment and Training Center and was relocated to North Carolina as a demonstration project. Gilles and Liliane Desjardins and their clinical team had by then developed the Desjardins Unified Model of Addiction Treatment that emphasized, among other clinical approaches, a family of origin and core emotional addiction work. The concept of core emotional addictions was first articulated and published in an article in the late 1990s (Eick, 1998); and it is more recently, in 2010, that Liliane Desjardins published an experience-based book on the role of a family of origin imprints; and that Caroline Eick authored the book Core Emotional Addictions at the Root of Compulsive Behaviors: How to use the Heart-Brain to Quiet the Obsessive Cognitive-Brain (2018).
Original Influences and Inspirations
Our early work at Pavillon Gilles Desjardins was deeply influenced by the teachings of PRH (Personalité et Relations Humaines), originally founded by André Rochais. The PRH approach to human growth focuses on creating the space for clients to engage in self-discovery that brings to surface “les carences affectives” –emotional deprivations. As we pursued, as counselors in the field of addiction treatment, our individual and collective work with PRH, we built on and adapted the original idea of carences affectives. In the early days of the Pavillon Gilles Desjardins, it was Liliane Desjardins and Caroline Eick who co-created and conducted“les forces de vie” psychoeducational classes where clients were helped to identify the emotional resiliency that developed from emotional deprivation.
At that time too, in the late 70s and early 80s, the term “codependency” was gaining purchase in the field of addiction treatment (codependency was a term that originally described a person’s compulsive habit to be in relationships with chemically dependent partners). We merged the notions of compulsive emotional attachments that characterize codependency, with the notion of emotional deprivation as examined within the PRH approach, and captured the dynamic trajectory from emotional deprivation to emotional cravings to emotionally addictive patterns.
Of course, our work was deeply shaped by the family systems approaches to understanding alcohol and drug addictions, and the works of Virginia Satir and Sharon Wegscheider. These works served as grounding upon which we built the core emotional addiction framework.
Our work at the time was also influenced by Ken Keyes’ classic Handbook to Higher Consciousness(1975), in which he attached the term addiction to emotional states:
I am freeing myself from security, sensation and power addictions that make me try to forcefully control situations in my life and thus destroy my serenity and keep me from loving myself and others.
To Keyes’ list of these three addictions, Richard Hofman, a member of the Desjardins clinical team, identified the fourth addiction–to suffering. We later identified all four addictions more precisely as emotional addictions attached to particular belief systems. This conceptual framework captured the observed struggles of our clients (as well as our own).
Finally, our work was also influenced by Patrick Carnes (1983) and his idea of addiction interaction disorder, and grounded in the reported experiences of our clients. We conceptualized categories of deep-seated emotional cravings that captured the observed struggles of our clients (as well as our own). Addiction interaction refers to two phenomena. The phenomenon by which a person uses one addiction to enact another. For example, a person struggling with sex addiction may develop an addiction to alcohol in order to enact the sex addiction. Another dimension of addiction interaction disorder is when one stops drinking alcohol only to begin overeating, or gambling, smoking, etc.
It is this latter dimension of the addiction interaction disorder that helped refine the concept of core emotional addictions to security, power-control, sensation, and suffering as it stands in its present form. These cravings are born out of trauma and/or unmet authentic human needs for security, agency, enjoyment, and community. They become, as earlier explained, the emotional cravings that drive actions. Today, neuroscience is substantiating the model with evidence of neuropathways, and further providing evidence for how emotions and emotional states can actually become addictive (Dispenza, 2012).
The work of the Center for Heart-Mind Coherence is dynamic and organic. The Center is committed to continued growth: See section Initiatives / Knowledge Base.TOP OF PAGE
Western Cultural Bias in Approach to Emotions
Finally, it is important to acknowledge, as part of the conceptual framework, the Western cultural bias of the core emotional addiction approach. Psychologists (Ekman & Friesen, 1969, 1975;Izard, 1980; Sarni, 1999) have shown that there are cultural rules learned during socialization processes that shape which emotions may be expressed and by whom across social markers (gender, race, socio-economic status, etc.) within different cultures. For example, overall in Western cultures, the norm is to maximize positive emotions and minimize negative emotions (Kityama & Kityama, 1999). In Eastern cultures, the focus is to seek a balance between positive and negative emotions (Tsai et al., 2007).
Certainly, the bias at the Center is to lessen the struggle attached to “disturbing” emotions as understood in Western culture. This said we embrace and practice, at the Center for Heart-Mind Coherence, the cultivation of intentional observation and non-resistance to disturbing emotions through mindfulness techniques toward lessening emotional distress as interpreted and experienced in Western cultures. We are also aware that in the case of people with a history of serious trauma, the practice of mindfulness may, in its beginnings, be a re-traumatizing experience by bringing to awareness the sensations associated in body-memory with a violent past, with the result of increasing rather than decreasing the distress. We refer people with histories of serious and acute trauma to specialists in somatic healing (Levine, 1997; Weiss, 2015).TOP OF PAGE
A School for Self-Discovery and Self-Empowerment
While the work at the Center is often experienced as healing and liberating, the Center is not a therapeutic setting, but a school in Self-discovery and in the empowerment of Self and Others. Faculty and staff bring to bear, in the work of the Center, their long term experiences as persons in recovery from substance and/or process addictions, or persons in recovery from having grown up with parents or lived with significant others addicted to a substance and/or process addictions; our co-founders further bring to bear their personal experiences as immigrants as well as children of immigrants have grown up in multicultural and multilingual neighborhoods; and as mother and daughter who have healed their relationship from the past traumas of alcoholism. Their experiential knowledge base provides, through lived examples, the needed grounding to the more theory-based knowledge from social and natural sciences that bring to view the powerful role played by individual and collective emotions in shaping the experiences and stories we tell about human reality.
All of us working at the Center for Heart-Mind Coherence are committed to practicing and embodying the teachings of the Center that foreground compassion, integrity, and peace within ourselves and with all others; and to practice the humility necessary for ongoing growth, deeper learning, and freer hearts and minds. At the Center for Heart-Mind Coherence, we believe that learning to work with the energies of emotions to enhance our physical and mental health, as well as to develop mutually empowering and harmonious relationships with one another against the background of global upheavals, is the new frontier for human beings across all disciplines and fields.