Why Those with Addictions Need Love and Belongingness


While society tends to view some forms of addiction (work, caffeine, shopping) more favourably than others (substance abuse, gambling), it remains a universal experience. Unfortunately, this complex subject continues to be widely misunderstood and stigmatized. The result is that many who suffer from addictions aren’t given the support and treatment they need. 

In recent years, a growing body of research has shown that addictive tendencies are often rooted in early trauma. When children are deprived of the love and human connection so vital for their growth and well-being, this deficit can later manifest in self-destructive coping mechanisms.  

Bullying, abuse, neglect, criticism, or exclusion from a group can cause people to feel isolated, traumatized, and alone. This may lead to an attempt to fill the void that was opened in formative years. 

Rather than viewing addiction as a logical problem to be ‘solved,’ we must ensure that the afflicted are met with love and feel a sense of belongingness. This vital need must be fulfilled for long-term recovery to be possible.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943, Abraham Maslow shook up the world of psychology with his deceptively simple theory. The pyramid (as shown above) has since become a mainstay of presentations, analyses, and lectures throughout the world. 

As humans, we often have a plethora of different needs vying for our energy and attention, so it can be difficult to know which one we need to focus on. This is why Maslow’s pyramid has proved so helpful: the American psychologist managed to capture a compelling structural truth about human existence. 

The pyramid is arranged with the most basic, essential needs at the bottom and the more complex, spiritual needs at the top. Maslow theorized that if the requirements of the lower tiers aren’t met, the needs of the higher levels can’t be properly fulfilled. 

Many of those who suffer from addictions were deprived of love and belongingness as children. If this essential building block is missing, they are unable to fulfil the needs of higher tiers and realize their full potential. What’s more, their health and well-being can suffer, and addiction becomes a desperate attempt to make up for this deprivation.

What do we mean by ‘love’?

It’s an inconvenience of the English language that the word ‘love’ has myriad meanings. For example, people can become addicted to romantic love, and it can cause considerable suffering. However, the love that concerns us is the supportive, nurturing kind; one that doesn’t seek to possess or reshape but remains open and unconditional. To love people purely as they are, despite perceived flaws and grievances, can have immense healing power.

What is ‘belongingness’?

Humans are social animals, and one of our core needs is to be part of something larger than ourselves. Belongingness refers to the feeling of being accepted, trusted, and ‘seen’ by a particular group. This could be family, friends, co-workers, a religious group, and so on. 

Those who wrestle with addiction often become ostracized or isolated, meaning this fundamental human need goes unmet. To facilitate healing, it’s essential we recultivate a sense of belongingness that may have been formerly lost.

Gabor Maté on dispelling the myths of addiction

Gabor Mate

“Addiction is not a disease. It’s an attempt to solve the problem of emotional pain.”

Dr. Gabor Maté is a world-renowned physician and author. Much of his work explores the relationship between trauma and addiction. Maté posits that this widely misunderstood affliction has its root not in genes but in underlying emotional and psychological issues. 

For 12 years, he worked in the downtown east side of Vancouver, British Columbia, which he calls “one of the world’s ground zero’s for addiction.” He points out that:

“Addiction is not a choice anyone makes, it’s not a moral failure, it’s not an ethical lapse, it’s not a weakness of character, it’s not a failure of will (which is how our society depicts addiction) nor is it an inherited brain disease (which is how the medical tendency is to see it) what it actually is is a response to human suffering.”

What Maté found was that all the people he worked with over those 12 years had been severely traumatized as children – neglected or abused, physically and emotionally. The medical literature aligns with Maté’s view: that, rather than being a disease or a choice, addiction is actually an attempt to temporarily escape suffering.

Rather than seeing human nature as aggressive and competitive, Maté believes that the opposite is actually true: human nature is cooperative, generous, and community-minded. By reconnecting with that innate capacity for love and connection, we can help to sow the seeds for sustainable recovery from addiction.

Fostering the conditions to reconnect with self-love 

When it comes to trauma, it’s not the pain itself that causes suffering but the inability to be with that pain. This can result in people becoming guarded, closing their hearts, and turning to addiction as a means to cope. Maté refers to trauma as the combination of an open wound as well as a scar: the wound is extremely sensitive, while the scar tissue is hard and inflexible.  

When anyone touches the wound, it can trigger acute hurt, whereas the scar tissue becomes the cold, hard defence against pain. However, remember that it is a wound, and wounds can be healed.

By providing people with an authentic sense of love and belonging, we can help to break down those barriers and allow people to face their pain in a safe, secure way. This enables them to reconnect with the self-affirmation and self-love so necessary for healing. 

Overcoming shame to work through addiction

It’s common for those afflicted by addiction to feel shame. This complex, deep-rooted emotional state is characterized by feelings of inadequacy, self-consciousness, or the feeling of being exposed and vulnerable. It’s easy to see how such an emotion could fuel addiction, harden the scar tissue, and prevent people from reaching out for help and support. 

Despite the leaps and bounds made in addiction awareness in recent years, society continues to condition those suffering from addiction to feel shame and a lack of self-worth. Often through no fault of their own, family and friends can even become conduits for these misconceptions, unknowingly reinforcing the barriers to healing.

It’s essential that those enduring this know that what they’re going through isn’t their fault. While it can feel like they’ve let people down or family and friends are no longer there for them, support is always available. While they may not have access to love and belongingness via the old channels (family, friends, etc.), our holistic approach to treatment ensures they can begin to fulfil this essential need in other ways.  

The courage it takes to overcome shame and seek help shouldn’t be underestimated. Doing so is a huge step toward recovery, and we will do everything we can to support you in the endeavour. 

How we provide love and belongingness

As Gabor Maté says, “We were created to love.” Having access to a loving, supportive community is the cornerstone of healing, and we understand the importance of providing this when treating addiction. 

Our group therapy can help to foster connections with others who have gone through similar experiences. For those who have felt cast out as a result of their addiction, this can be an incredibly powerful way to facilitate a sense of belonging. 

We also know that family involvement can be incredibly helpful when treating addiction. Studies have shown that people tend to heal more effectively when their families are able to properly understand and support them. 

Addiction can put a serious strain on interpersonal relationships, which is why our multilayered family support seeks to create a familial environment conducive to recovery. Through therapy, education, collective healing, and more, we enable people to rebuild the bridge to love and belongingness.

Our expert team at Centres For Health & Healing has decades of expertise in treating all kinds of addictions. So, if you’d like to learn more about our approach and treatment programs, please don’t hesitate to contact us

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