Curse Or Addiction?

“But the root of all these evils is the love of money, and there are some who have desired it and have erred from the faith and have brought themselves many miseries.” – First epistle of the Apostle Paul to Timothy

I find that quote from the New Testament intriguing; not because it is a religious text – each to their own on that score – but because it seems to me to be a metaphor for the power that material wealth can have on our emotional wellbeing.

The words the faith, for example, could easily be interpreted as a sense of morality or of right and wrong. And the notion that the desire for, and acquisition of, wealth can bring misery seems to me to have more than a ring of truth about it. 

Quite simply, being rich beyond imagination doesn’t buy you happiness – just ask Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and his wife Dasha Zhukova who this week announced their separation after ten years of marriage. If £7bn can’t buy you contentment then it’s probably safe to say no amount of money can. 

And whilst there are plenty of very wealthy people who seem to live their lives in quiet contentment, apparently putting the Apostle Paul’s sentiment to the sword, history is littered with the stories of society’s super-rich who seem to have been cursed with ill-fortune for generations.

The Kennedys, the Grimaldi royal family, the Gettys and the Rothschilds spring easily to mind as families which appear to have been magnets for tragedy down the decades. Yet surely no family has been as cursed as the Guinness dynasty.

Since Arthur Guinness founded his brewing empire in the mid-18th Century, misadventure after misadventure has befallen his heirs and close family members. From the 1960s the litany of catastrophes became so great that people began to talk of the ‘Guinness curse’.

First, Guinness heir Patrick Browne was killed when he ran a red light in Kensington and smashed into a van. Henrietta Guinness committed suicide in Italy in 1978 and was followed into the grave in short order by Dennys Guinness (suicide), the son of John Guinness (car crash), Caroline Blackwood whose Gothic existence saw her succumb finally to death through alcoholism and two minor heirs who died from drug overdoses.

Though the notion of a curse is of course highly romantic in the literary sense, it’s probably closer to the truth to suspect the tragedies that have befallen the Guinness family and others are the simply result of a toxic mixture of poor mental health. 

It’s no coincidence that drug and alcohol addiction feature prominently in the Guinness story. If money is at the root of all evil, then as the author and addiction specialist John Bradshaw says, shame is at the root of all addictions. And nothing is more likely to bring you bad luck than addiction.

The Guinness tragedies – both fatal and non-fatal context – have little to do with bad luck and far more to do with the shame of the past. Addiction is a symptom of something buried deep within the subconscious. 

One can speculate with some degree of logic on how great wealth can impact negatively on those who have it – and particularly on children. Certainly, it’s no coincidence that the Guinness story is awash with accounts of children who were either denied parental love or were actively neglected. One early account talks of immediate child heirs who were abandoned to such an extent that they were forced to beg neighbours for food scraps.

Abandonment, a common theme to a greater or lesser extent throughout the dynastic tragedies of the modern era, is a great nourisher of shame. As John Bradshaw observes: “Abandonment is the precise term to describe how one loses one’s authentic self and ceases to exist psychologically.”

As I’ve said before, no-one chooses to saddle themselves with an addiction, because addiction needs a trigger – and invariably that trigger comes in the form of shame. Shame at losing a job, shame at failing in a relationship, shame for one’s heritage, shame for behaving badly. Shame is the mother of all bad luck because of the life choices she provokes.

It’s hard not to look at the Guinness family and not come to the conclusion that chronic dysfunction has been a frequent bedfellow. If, as Bradshaw suggests, delusion is sincere denial, then it’s not difficult to see how psychology can short-circuit. 

Money breeds power, power breeds money and the acquisition and retention of both generally requires a ruthlessness that has no space for an upbringing or lifestyle that could be described as being in any way normal and often proves destructive in later life.

There’s more than a grain of truth in the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. And it doesn’t just corrupt politically and financially, but also emotionally.

And if you’re beginning to think that this doesn’t apply to you or the people you know because you don’t have several million washing around the family piggy bank, it’s useful to bear in mind that wealth and its impact is relative.

If one starts with nothing, the figure at which you might be described as wealthy is very much lower than the figure at which others might judge their riches. Being poor doesn’t mean you’ll never have to deal with shame, far from it – but it does mean your lifestyle, problems and fall from grace can’t be supersized to the same extent.

Money in and of itself isn’t at the root of all evil. Neither is the desire for affluence. There are sufficient numbers of happy, wealthy people to prove that. 

But if the well of your emotional wellbeing has already been fundamentally poisoned by your past, then having great reserves of money can artificially insulate you against your unhappiness and the unhappiness of others. Living fast and loose by making poor lifestyle choices around addiction means you might fly for longer, but reaching rock bottom and finally seeking the help you can take longer. And as some of those infamous families will testify, you might run out of time before that happens.

Lady Henrietta Guinness, prior to leaping to her death from a bridge in Italy in 1978, wrote a suicide note in which she proclaimed: “If I had been poor, I would have been happy.”

Sadly, the truth is that had she been poor, she would very likely still have been unhappy – but she might have recognised her unhappiness for what it was and, in that knowledge, taken a different course of action to deal with it.

At the beginning of this article I said that money can’t buy you happiness. But using it to invest in the right kind of help and deal with whatever trauma or shame is leading you to make dangerous choices can very often, accompanied with some solid self-work, set you on the road to good mental health.


The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

The Imperfect Pursuit of Perfection

Life, it seems, has become an endless pursuit of perfection. The perfect partner, the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect car, the perfect face. 

Except, of course, it’s never enough. No matter what we achieve, we keep redefining what we mean by perfection. Yet I’d argue that when we define perfection, we’re instead allowing ourselves to be defined by how we want to be seen by others.

This is certainly true of celebrities. The rock stars, film icons and sporting heroes who occupy the unrelenting attention of the world’s media live in a strange and terrifying alternate reality in which they are presented with an image of themselves and experience the suffocating pressure of trying to live up to it.

A life of celebrity can be almost Orwellian, where the definition of self can become so blurred that the person in the spotlight in turn becomes convinced that the image they see on the news, in the papers and on film is actually who they are or should become.

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Addiction: Rat Park, or rat race?

Addiction: Rat Park, or rat race?

In the late 1970s Bruce Alexander, a psychologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, developed a contentious hypothesis. In a global society which focused entirely on the role drugs played in addiction, Alexander looked instead at a different enemy: the environment.

At the risk of over-simplifying things, he believed drug use – and therefore addiction – was much less likely to be prevalent if people were given alternative choices to make. Unsurprisingly, the science community all but laughed at him.

But Alexander believed he was onto something and to prove it, he developed the Seduction Experiment based in something that came to be known as Rat Park.

Rat Park was a sensory environment 200 times the size of a laboratory rat cage. He filled it with all manner of diversionary objects and gave the rats housed there two water sources: one plain, one heavily laced with morphine.

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Eat Too Much, Drink Too Much, Smoke Too Much?

Eat Too Much, Drink Too Much, Smoke Too Much?

The subconscious mind can be voracious in it’s appetites with overeating, excessive drinking and an increasing reliance on nicotine being commonplace.

It can be really challenging to control consciously, especially if you’re using these outlets to deal with stress, anxiety or uncomfortable feelings.

How do you know if it’s too much? Well, you may notice what I call the ‘domino’ effect, here’s an example using all three: you get home stressed and wired after working late, the first thing you do is reach for a glass of wine to relax. The glass of wine becomes a bottle as it feels good but you don’t sleep well that night as alcohol affects your sleep. Waking up the next day hungover, perhaps anxious, maybe ‘beating yourself up’, your blood sugar is low so you reach for quick fix food, maybe coffee and nicotine will feature throughout the day just to get you through it. Not great but not a problem if it’s occasionally, however if it becomes a regular habit it starts to seriously affect your health, deplete your emotional and mental wellbeing, leaving you feeling under-resourced and below par.

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You Can Never Get Enough Of What You Don’t Need

You Can Never Get Enough Of What You Don't Need

I’m talking about how we can use money here. If we have unmet needs on a deeper level, and we don’t acknowledge and identify these, we can walk around with a subtle or not so subtle persistent, feeling of ‘hunger’ or lack of fulfilment which is actually a deeper sense of deprivation. Attempts to fill the hole of deprivation can take many forms such as over-eating, drinking, partying hard and excessive working but one of the most common ways I have seen it play out with clients in my decades practice is financially.

If a sense of inner personal security is what is missing from your life, no amount of internet shopping will make up for that. If you’re craving intimacy excessive gift buying won’t meet that. In a nutshell: if you’re not getting the proper ‘nourishment’ you need from life you can’t make up for that no matter how many hand-bags you binge-buy! You can never get enough of what you don’t need.

There is a big difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’, our needs are deeper and are often to do with our growth, our creativity, our path in life and our connection to our ‘self’, our life and others.
You can tell if something is a ‘want’ as it’s usually accompanied by a ‘I must have it right now’ feeling!

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The ‘Control / Release’ Cycle

The 'Control / Release' Cycle

The control / release cycle is talked about in John Bradshaw’s excellent book ‘Healing The Shame That Binds You’.

The control / release cycle is this: a period of rigid control and boundaries around an area of your life – stringent dieting and exercise for example, followed by a period of release – when you fall into a ‘binge’ pattern: eat all of the foods you forbade yourself in the ‘control’ period and avoid the gym like the plague!

The control / release cycle means you either have total control ‘compulsivity’ or you have no control ‘addiction’, they are interconnected and set each other up as the more intensely you control, the more you require the balance of release and the more you self destructively release (undoing all your hard work) the more intensely you require control and so on.

If there are feelings of low self-esteem, shame and self-punishment from childhood underneath the control / release cycle it seems to intensify both sides of the tension: extreme control followed by extreme release.

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.