The world is overflowing with theories and, more so in the last 50 years, tools and strategies to get out of your own way and get what you want.
Still, so many billions of people simply do not put what they already know into practice. Why not?
Given my fortunate position in life, I have had the opportunity to ask this question to some of the best minds in modern psychology and personal development.
None of the answers were satisfying.
Some of the answers I got:
Life is just difficult. (It would be much less difficult if we applied what we already know. Why don’t we just do it?)
People are afraid of success. (Why be afraid of something that makes you happier, though?)
People prefer to indulge themselves more than make the sacrifices of time and personal discipline required to be happy. (Still, why? It is more than worth the sacrifice, since the pay off is so positive.)
People lack the tools. (But they so often don’t use the perfectly good tools they have. Why? What good is adding more tools?)
At long last, I stumbled upon a satisfying answer that turned my own world right side up and made sense of everything I’ve observed during my lifetime.
The answer has to do with psychological attachments.
Psychological attachments are the most important and overlooked issue in psychology. This post explains what they are, how they affect you and why you should care.
We’ll do this FAQ style.
What is a psychological attachment?
A psychological attachment is a pervasive, largely subconscious tendency to seek out the negative or do things that cause you to be unhappy.
When you unwittingly and consistently behave in ways that cause you to be unhappy or unhealthy, it can be said that you are psychologically attached to something negative. Attachments are most often experienced passively – even though they are an active process.
When you have an attachment, you do not feel you have a choice or control over your own feelings and behavior. You feel at the mercy of something more powerful than you, even though you might also be forced to admit it originates within your own mind.
Attachments are the root of self-sabotage.
You can be attached to anything, really, but it is helpful to put attachments into categories. Three helpful categories are control, deprivation and rejection.
Control: You are attached to feeling controlled.
When you have a control attachment, you live your life feeling out of control (anxiety, worry, helplessness) or that someone else is trying to control you (authority issues, rebellion, feeling oppressed, power struggles).
Deprivation: You are attached to feeling deprived.
When you have a deprivation attachment, you lead an unfulfilled life, feeling empty and unloved, or emotionally numb. You may feel a void inside you, which you can attempt to fill with addictive substances and relationships that do not actually fill the void, ultimately, but only sustain the attachment. The deprivation attachment seeks to avoid getting real needs met.
Rejection: You are attached to feeling rejected.
When you have a rejection attachment, you often feel dismissed, disregarded and hurt. You anticipate being criticized by others and feel compelled to seek approval (social anxiety), often in ways that only lead to feeling more rejected (seeking approval from someone who will never approve, such as a critical parent). The rejection attachment often features a harsh inner critic that demands perfection or will not cease to judge.
Where do attachments come from?
They originate in childhood through the infant and child perspective. To grow and develop into a functional adult, regardless of the family of origin, a child must endure what the child perceives as an excruciating sense of being controlled, deprived and rejected.
No, you can’t do that.
No, you cannot have that.
No, I cannot feed you now.
No, you cannot sit on my lap right now.
Given where the child comes from (the womb) these common occurrences are experienced negatively, thus the child’s tantrums and anger.
Being raised in a dysfunctional family, with parents who are less than loving and attentive, only exacerbates the child’s problem (often extensively). Various forms of common abuse, authoritarian parenting, neglect and plain horrible parenting just intensifies the child’s situation.
Get out of my face!
You’ll never amount to anything.
Why should I do anything for you?
Do what I say or else!
I don’t have time for you.
There is no escape. The only option a child has is to learn to tolerate the perceived control, deprivation and rejection. In order to function, the child must familiarize – or even learn to find a strange satisfaction in the control, deprivation and rejection.
We suppress the fact that we have turned displeasure into pleasure and familiarity, and end up unconsciously seeking out in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways what we grew accustomed to – being controlled, deprived or rejected.
The attachment has become “home” or a default state that you want to return to again and again, in part because you don’t know anything else.
Life becomes a battle between your conscious desire to be happier and your unconscious desire to maintain the status quo. You are in a battle with your attachments. This is why life is so difficult.
Is everyone affected by attachments?
Yes, this is a universal phenomenon. If you are a human being, you are affected by attachments to one degree or another.
How do I know if I have an attachment?
You have a critical inner voice that keeps you feeling bad.
You have negative feelings and behaviors that you cannot consciously control.
You sabotage yourself.
You do things that you know aren’t good for you.
You attract unhealthy people into your life and keep them there.
You know what you need to do, but can’t get yourself to do it.
You resist change.
You make excuses to stay the way you are, even though you’re unhappy.
You have self-destructive tendencies.
You are sick and tired of living the way you live, but keep on living that way.
You unwittingly set yourself up for failure.
And so on…
How come I have never heard of attachments?
Modern psychology has not embraced the basic idea that we unwittingly seek what is not good for us.
This is a radical concept that turns most personal development efforts inside out. Essentially, attachments suggest that you seek what you do not want in life and do it over and over again, then hide this fact from yourself.
Most people don’t want to hear this, even though it has potential to free them from their self-inflicted bondage.
Who came up with this concept?
Edmund Bergler, MD. Bergler was a colleague of Freud’s who published over 300 scientific research papers in medical journals and wrote 25 books. Ever heard of Edmund Bergler?
Why should I care about psychological attachments?
Because your attachments contribute more to your unhappiness than anything else. Imagine, you are unconsciously seeking the very things in life you consciously hate. You do this because, long ago, you became attached to those old, unpleasant yet familiar feelings.
As a result, you recycle your angst day in and day out. Once you see it, you gain unprecedented choices – things you never had a choice about now become optional in your life.
Can I get beyond my attachments?
Yes. It requires a re-education about how your psyche works. The education is simple and straightforward, but very different than anything you have heard before.
This is the purpose of the AHA Solution. The AHA Solution is a revolutionary program that helps you identify and access your attachments so that you can begin to have choice in your life where you’ve never experienced true choice before. It is the solution to self-sabotage.
Bergler, Edmund. (1949). “The Basic Neurosis”. New York: Harper and Brothers
Bergler, Edmund. (1959). “Principles of Self-Damage”. New York: The Philosophical Library
Bergler, Edmund. (1961). “Curable and Incurable Neurotics”. New York: Liveright Pub. Co.
Michaelson, Peter. (2011) “Why We Suffer: A Western Way to Understand and Let Go of Unhappiness”.