Alcoholism and Other Addictions
Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D. MFT
Alcoholism, Alcohol Addiction, and Other Addictions
Getting drunk or if you prefer; inebriated, is not the same as alcohol addiction. Youthful party time is part of the excesses that some young people engage in when they wish to have a good time or celebrate. Such behavior probably represents a more immature level of consciousness that gradually disappears when a person graduates to higher and more sophisticated levels of consciousness. Some people never seem to graduate to this higher level of consciousness and may even succumb to the potential dangers of alcohol addiction. Let me make the point that alcohol addiction is not the real disorder; it is the neurotic manifestation or tip of the iceberg meant to cover up a vast underlying universe of blocked, amnesic, repressed and dammed up devastating emotions. For the alcohol addicted, alcohol is simultaneously used as self-medication, escape from reality and an erroneous cure for disordered emotions that are unacknowledged and violently repressed. This is a vastly different application than casual usage, religious ritual or recreational lubricant. Alcohol cannot cure deeply denied pain. That is not to say that small amounts of alcohol could not be used therapeutically if administered in the right context by a trained professional who understands the mechanisms of repression and the power of released feelings.
In fact, the underlying universe of devastating emotions is so powerful that if unleashed all at once would totally destroy the individual. It is the sheer volume of repressed emotions that requires an equal amount of defensive denial and self-medication that causes such a self-destructive and relationship destroying approach as alcohol addiction. The alcoholic, with her addiction is trying to cure her underlying pain by neurotic means. This type of neurosis follows the irrational method of trying to cure something without having to become consciously aware of what the pain is that one is trying to heal and repress at the same time. The irrational consequence of this destructive faulty life plan manages to repress and momentarily ameliorate the underlying deep despair and overwhelming disappointment, without providing a real cure. In fact, it creates a sideshow, a focus of attention, a bogus disease called alcohol addiction.
It even fools the alcoholic, who refuses to acknowledge his addiction and its devastating destructive effect on his life and those who are dependent on him for love, sustenance and emotional nurturance. This disorder is so destructive to self and others that the alcoholic is driven to vigorously deny his own self-destructiveness, inadequacies, inferiorities and ferocious, impotent anger toward self and others. After all, when one is inebriated, she does not have to take responsibility for or be aware of how destructive she is to self and others. Alcohol provides the means for acting destructively towards oneself and others without the addict acknowledging awareness of such behavior. It is a neurosis of violence.
Most alcoholics will not seek out the assistance of a trained psychotherapist because they fear that the therapist will disentangle the defenses of repression and expose the underlying intensive childhood disappointment, despair and feelings of failure. Because of this fear, the alcoholic will violently oppose, denigrate and devalue any person, group or object that threatens to punch a hole into his wall of armor. Alcoholic irrational thinking characterizes helpers as being anywhere from crazy to ineffectual. The litany of irrational thoughts that get aimed at groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and the psychotherapeutic professions is filled with excuses, justifications and rationalizations to avoid receiving help. The neurosis of alcoholism fill the addict's mind with unreal ideas that repressed feelings should remain buried and that one's troublesome symptoms can be grandiosely self cured. This harkens back to the devastating childhood experience that no one was there to help when the child was being driven into the ground and became resolutely molded into a being of destruction.
Because of the failure of caretakers, the alcoholic to be child had to slowly retreat into a dark shadow world of self-destruction and destructive rage towards all future caretakers and love objects. Whereas most people may have difficulty remembering childhood events before the age of 5 to 7, the alcohol addicted person may have a fear induced defensive amnesia towards anything before the age of 10. If a catastrophic loss of a very important love person/caretaker is imposed on a child of that age, the trauma may be a participating factor in the later development of alcohol addiction. If this devastating and traumatic experience of loss, perhaps through death or separation, is coupled with a remaining parent's compulsive and defensive use of alcohol repression, the child may internalize this defense and become an alcohol addict later in life. That is why alcohol addiction may run in families. Such a neurosis could be passed on by the family emotional transmission process; or the alcoholic coping mechanisms may get genetically imprinted. I would question this latter probability until conclusive genetic experimental evidence can be provided. As for now, I accept the proposition that this destructive disorder can be permanently healed by careful, diligent and confident professional psychotherapy.
Charlie was a diligent and heavily practiced alcohol addict who had been married twice. Both relationships were considered failures by the examining therapist. Hostility, arguments and some violence marked both relationships. There didn't seem to be alcohol addiction in the first marriage and it is interesting to note that a son was produced who did not grow up to be an alcoholic. The second marriage was marked by turmoil, nicotine addiction, compulsive gambling and alcoholic addiction. It produced a daughter who grew up and became an alcoholic. Charlie's father was a very popular and successful member of the community who was idealized by his children. But, he was an alcoholic who never succeeded to fully bond with a woman. In fact, his wife died when Charles Jr. was only 11 years old. Charles Jr. loyal to his father's failure to successfully connect and align himself with a nondestructive female, continued his father's legacy of alcoholism, cigarette addiction, compulsive gambling and relationship destructiveness. This legacy was passed on from grandfather, to Charles Jr. and then to his daughter, who recapitulated alcohol addiction and relationship dissatisfaction. Both Charles Jr. and his daughter were admitted to a psychiatric hospital at some point in their lives.
Charlie expressed an intense fear and reluctance to look deeply inside of himself for the causes of his life difficulties. But, it became evident to his therapist that he was running full speed away from his deep inner feelings. His defenses against looking at and experiencing his deep inner pain and despair approached phobic proportions. It was obvious to see that he preferred suicide through the self poisoning of alcohol and cigarette smoking. As with all forms of neurotic repression, buried feelings press for emotional expression and outlet. As the pressure for upsurging emotions mounted, Charlie had to press into action further destructive compulsive behaviors. His third choice for self-destruction was gambling. But, as with all addictions, failure to triumph over self-destruction kept contributing to Charlie's ruination. In order not to feel the agony of his early losses and failures to get his needs met, he chose to take the slow suicide route to agonizing death and destruction.
Eventually, Charlie gave up his self-destructive and suicidal drinking, smoking and gambling. But the years of self abuse, conflict and struggle never allowed him to deal with and resolve his real disease; a lost and destroyed little child. He never reclaimed the lost and damaged little boy who deserved to be loved and cared for by "fully there" parents and caretakers. He cured his symptoms, but he never fell in love with the little child who was buried deeply inside of him and waiting for him to come and claim him from the emotional orphanage of lost babies. Charlie eventually died before the average age of death of men from his generation. He died from lung cancer that eventually spread to his brain and his liver. He achieved his neurotic wish to kill himself before and instead of reclaiming his lost soul. He eventually eliminated his addictions, but rearranged his cellular functions into a cancer solution.
On his deathbed, he expressed that he did not want to die. Obviously, life still had an attraction for him; but his original, primordial life instincts were seriously damaged and thwarted early in his life. How ironic it is that from the moment of conception we are traveling on two paths at the same time. One path is towards life, eros, self-preservation and creativity, while the other is the road to death, self-destruction, addiction hell and a possible unkindly and unacceptable early grave. Alcohol addiction is a self poisoning, slow suicidal, destructive journey. Along that journey, many related people suffer because of this addiction. It is not a victimless crime against the self. Other people are deeply affected by an addicted person and the addiction reverberates down through the evolutionary, ancestral chain.
It is the murdering self that simultaneously murders the self that agrees and participates in its own slaughter. The murdering and murdered self participate in a conspiracy to choke off and kill one's own feelings while engaging in symbolic erotic oral activities. The memory of intense pleasure and gratification from the stimulation of the mucous membranes in the mouth, while feeding at mothers breast, persists throughout a lifetime without awareness. Neurosis is a failed attempt to recapture the bliss of such early bonding and attachment. The bottle, cigarette and compulsive gambling can never recapture the transcendent bliss of being unified with a loving parent. Only by systematically going back down through the feeling chain, can one recapture the lost feelings and experiences that were deprived during the most vulnerable time of life. By reconnecting to these feelings, a person can experience the type of life bliss and happiness that can never be produced by any psychoactive drug, alcohol, nicotine or any other substance that is used for the wrong and neurotic purposes.
Obviously, it is possible to eliminate the surface manifestations of self-destructive addictions and other addicted behaviors. In many instances, this can be accomplished by symptom substitution, religious conversion, psychiatric medication, incarceration and hospitalization. But the repressed emotions that drive self-destruction are still reverberating around inside of a neurotic and chaotic system. The therapy that includes a systematic talking through the problems and repressed emotions can progress into more experiential and expressive forms of treatment. The focus must always remain on feelings and if enough armoring can be relaxed, catharsis and emotional release can lead to connecting a person to her bottom-line. An empathic therapist allows the addicted person to explore and express feelings within the safe confines of a therapeutic relationship. This first-time experience allows for the complete restructuring of the personality and the life force towards a more creative and constructive pathway. The emergence of the once denied real self permits the creation of a more holistic individual who is no longer driven to repress feelings that once were terrifying. Demons that are confronted vacate the premises and allow for the occupation of Angels.
All addictions are based on the individual's suffering vulnerability to an irresistible impulse to throw away all obligations, responsibilities and opportunities, while bringing the house tumbling down by getting drunk. There is no home that is affected by alcohol addiction that has not been filled with despair and bitterness. When alcoholism enters a household, at least one of the children will be denied any kind of life force. The spirit of death sucks all of the life out of people who desperately need loving nurturance in order to grow, flourish and be successful in the world, both occupationally and in love. Paradoxically it is peculiar that a substance, such as alcohol, when used for giving pleasure, stimulation and relief could become a tool for self-destruction, death and eventual disease (sclerosis of the liver, alcohol induced psychosis, diabetes and disorders caused by vitamin deficiencies). Stable personalities who drink sociably will not become alcoholics. An unstable person, programmed by trauma and inadequate love supplies in childhood, will progress through social drinking into the dark netherworld of addiction.
Facing reality can be very painful for most people. Emotional conflict and trauma needs to be directed towards the relief of and resolution of pain. So why is it that some people believe that alcohol, drug and other addictions are some sort of self cure and answer for life's problems? Many addicts, including alcoholics, minimize their jolly little excursions into troublesome and tiresome messes. These people cannot understand why other individuals, including their loved ones, are so perturbed by their messy little behavior. An alcoholic is a little baby masquerading in a full-grown adult's costume. This masquerading adult diligently wishes to be treated like an infant. It is easy to treat a two-year old with indulgence when that child throws a temper tantrum or expresses extreme aggression. After all, such displays of instinctual aggressive responses are not very threatening to adults. But, they can be very scary to smaller and weaker siblings. Such murderous aggression coming from a grown-up body poses a real danger to the welfare of those affected by it. Any therapy that denies or ignores the murderous rage contained within the alcoholic personality will never be effective.
Such rage and its accompanying pain vacillates between overaggressive acting out or extreme turning against the self as hatred, depression, suicide attempts and self-destruction. Experiential expression of these two extremes, within the therapeutic context, can give enormous relief and release from such terrifying and dangerous expressions. One only has to witness the extreme self-destructive and destructive expressions of rage and violence when a group of people or someone is under the disinhibiting power of the alcohol induced death instinct. Some of these individuals after having drank themselves into a stupor, will become so depressed and dejected that they will turn their murderous instincts upon themselves in the form of suicide. Other forms of drunkenness create uninhibited feelings of bravado and challenges to fighting. I have seen an alcoholic walk into a peaceful restaurant and threaten the customers with extreme violence. I also noticed that this man was also trying to provoke punishment and violence from other people towards himself. My own defensive reactions initiated my flight/fight instincts. Fortunately, my instincts for self-preservation and safety prevailed and I left the establishment without any harm coming to myself or the perpetrator. Alcoholism creates an irresistible force.
The Alcoholic Driver (drunk driver)
Society creates a euphemism entitled; DUI-driving under the influence. You'll notice how this phrase is made to be politically correct. It's an attempt to clean up, minimize and make palatable the act of putting a very destructive person behind the wheel of a car that is used as a weapon of murder. Once again, society blames the disastrous acts of drunk drivers on alcohol; while ignoring and denying the underlying feelings of carelessness, irresponsible instant gratification, blatant disregard for disastrous consequences to self and others. There is another euphemism called vehicular homicide, which once again infers that the cause of destructive death is a car. No one in our judicial or psychological world will make any kind of statement that directly points to the alcoholic's internal destructive impulses, which leads to self murder and the murder of others.
The abuse of alcohol and the automobile is just another cover-up, a disguise, a repressive façade that hides the latent destructive tendencies of the alcohol addict. There are killers and suicidal self murderers driving cars unconsciously waiting to destroy themselves and their innocent victims. DUI is a wake-up call to all families and society as a whole that we have suicidal murderers in our midst who are in potentia acting like time bombs about to go off. We cannot help these people unless we have some sort of mandatory and extensive assigned uncovering therapy that addresses the chaotic underlying emotions of the alcohol addict. The legal system can do society a great service by establishing a mandatory system for compulsory treatment that requires compliance enforced by legal consequences.
I treated a compulsive stalker whose addiction was ruining his life and destroying his marriage and profession. The legal system imposed a mandatory therapy requirement which he successfully completed. His therapy was so successful that he ceased his illegal addictive stalking and repaired his marriage and business to the extent that he was rewarded with the birth of a new child. Perhaps the threat of legal consequences can be enough to motivate most addicts to seek mandatory treatment. Whereas, without such pressure most addicted people would not voluntarily accept professional help. Alcoholics and other addicts need help not only with their addictive behaviors but with the resolution of the underlying causes. They need help in spite of themselves. They are so destructive that it is very difficult for them to see their own will to survive, adapt and creatively grow into a constructive lifestyle. The eros life enhancing, creative force is greatly diminished by the death instinct in these individuals.
It was Christmas Eve. Joan and her mother Phoebe were driving home from their holiday shopping. Two blocks away from their front door a drunken driver behind the wheel of a gigantic construction vehicle slammed into their car. Phoebe was killed instantly. Joan survived unscratched. Phoebe left behind her two grieving daughters and a brokenhearted husband. The drunken driver was charged with vehicular homicide and sentenced to 25 years in prison without any treatment of his underlying destructive instincts and feelings . In many of these cases these tragic deaths are seen as unfortunate accidents. Since these accidents happen all too often and are alcohol related, we need to understand that there is something deeper happening here that goes beyond unfortunate road experiences. Alcoholics and other types of addicts are very thwarted in their ability to care for and love others. They leave a trail of broken lives, relationships and business ventures. Is this just some accident? The same destructive instincts that cause destruction of personal lives also creates the same menace on the streets where the alcoholic does not care enough to control his life destroying instincts. By caring and loving his real self more than trying to extract false and destructive love from alcohol, he can love and care for others instead of destroying them.
John had just finished driving all of his drunken friends home from his bachelor's night out before his wedding. John prided himself on his ability to hold his liquor. That evening he certainly did not appear or act as if he had been negatively impacted by alcohol. But on his way home he found himself in a race with the highway patrol. Ordinarily, when sober, John obeyed all traffic rules and did not drive extremely fast and recklessly. On this evening his drinking put him slightly over the edge to where his judgment, self-preservation and inhibitory functions were impaired. He succeeded in out racing the patrol cars. But they were successful in apprehending him in his driveway. John's little party escapade could have caused serious damage. He ended up paying a hefty fine. The experience was enough to teach him that alcohol is a very dangerous drug even though it created such a pleasant party atmosphere.
During another drinking episode in a high-class bar, John and his friends found themselves in a fist fighting brawl; something that was uncharacteristic of John when he was sober. John had seen many of these kinds of drunken brawls in bars when he was a member of the Armed Forces. Is it coincidental that alcohol and alcohol environments can be associated with having a good time and violence? I guess the disinhibitory effects of alcohol can facilitate fun and good times while also having the potential for releasing destructive aggression and other destructive behaviors. You can't have it both ways. Where alcohol is concerned one can be jolly and playful and when overdone, one can be obnoxious, unempathic, insensitive and dangerous.
With alcohol addiction the pleasure principle attaches itself to the death instinct while overriding the reality principle. What does this mean? In street warfare, crime and family abuse, alcohol addiction plays a very important role. Many street gangs, criminals and family abusers ritualistically tank themselves up with alcohol in order to activate the courage to achieve pleasure and satisfaction from harming and even killing other people. Many an armed robbery for very little profit of a small neighborhood business, ends in murder because the deep need to destroy is fueled by alcohol. How many times have police been called out to a domestic dispute where alcohol has been involved. Invariably, family and spousal abuse, physical attacks and murder have seen a connection to excessive drinking. Ordinarily, most people when sober can keep rational checks on their destructive instincts and may even be able to resolve family conflicts in a calm and rational way. There are those people who unconsciously desire to be released from destructive impulse controls and act out their murderous rages on themselves and others. Alcohol is the vehicle for breaking down cognitive barriers to activating instinctive death wishes.
Normal people value their ability to maintain cognitive defenses against destructive rage. The addict unconsciously wishes to harm himself and others and alcohol is the weapon of choice. Addiction will kill the sense of morality, universal love, concern for one's fellow human being and the ability to think through the consequences for one's actions. Alcohol is a slow form of suicide and a slow method of relationship murder. The careful therapeutic investigation of the mind of an addict reveals a strange distortion of reality. Discussions seem to appear as rational and logical, but a therapist can detect the surrender of reality to the pleasure principle and the need to self-destruct.
This does not overlook the existence of deep guilt and fear in the addict. Addictive substances are perfect for the suppression of guilt and the fear that one may be unworthy of being loved based on early childhood feelings of trauma and deprivation. The pleasure that should have been given to the child just for existing never took place because caretakers were too distracted by other things that may have included gambling, workaholism, nicotine addiction, drug addiction, marital problems, loss, death, divorce and deception. If the baby could not get enough love from the real person, it will try to extract love and pleasure from a symbolic substitute, such as alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, destructive sexual relations, compulsive overeating and any other potential addictive activity.
In many cases, an addictive pattern may form because a person is erotically drawn to any object, person, substance or activity that represents a turn on filled with pleasure and pain. Addiction represents an emotional hook to something or person that represents intense pleasure, erotic satisfaction and self-destruction. All self-defeating behavior involves a full psychobiological addictive response to something or someone that represents a childhood caretaker who aroused fear,need, rejection, abandonment and intense libidonal feelings. This early experience leaves a deep neurochemical imprint on a developing brain and personality. Is there any wonder why addiction is so difficult to heal?
Carmen was a street thug. He obtained great pleasure, satisfaction and feelings of power when he could hurt someone else and not be harmed himself. In therapy, he expressed intense rage and hatred towards his childhood caretakers. At the beginning of therapy, he denied having destructive feelings towards people that he thought he should love, admire and idealize. As he began to melt into his pain, he cried deeply for how much he needed to be loved, nurtured and held. He recalled memories of being enormously aroused and happy when his mother rocked him in her arms and fed him from the breast. He said it was the happiest and most fulfilling time of his life and he could not understand why it ended so abruptly and without warning. His life became more angry and unsatisfying beginning at the time when his needs were no longer being met.
He claimed to have grown up to be an angry young man and he received symbolic love, respect and admiration from his peer group for his aggressive macho cruel behavior. His street gang became the breast, mother and father that he lost early in his infancy. Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, uncaring sex and brutal violence became a creed for him. He devolved into a narcissistic and feared big man in the eyes of his admirers. Eventually, he got involved in a huge nightclub brawl and later his near dead body was found in a ditch by a road. He had been beaten nearly to death. The reality principle was almost completely destroyed and distorted by Carmen's life experiences. His life (Eros) enhancing, pleasure seeking instincts merged with his death instinct and he found himself completely swallowed up by an existence filled with addictive pleasure/pain activities. His encounter with the homicidal instincts of other people coupled with his own self-destructive tendencies proved to be serendipitous.
His near death, self-destructive encounter with reality awoke Carmen to the realization that he must get help in order to live. His instinct for life kicked in and he began therapy with a strong motivation to rid himself of all of his self-destructive motivations and addictions. I told them that drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, uncaring sex, violence and crime were symbols of addictive love. I explained that all of these things were like a very attractive woman who promises to give great pleasure, love, sex and caring while at the same time she also carries the seeds of poisonous destruction for him. Addiction carries the promise of transcendent love and ruination through self-destruction. I used the symbol of the addictive female love object as a metaphor for the substitutes of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and all of the other activities that created a very dangerous libidinal rush for him.
I went on to explain that a true soulmate, unlike an addictive object or substance, delivers true love, passion and trust without suffering, hurt and pain. Such high eros love is completely caring, productive and ideal and almost perfect in every way. Such love knows how to build and construct instead of destroy and burn. I then asked him if he knew of anything or anyone that had matched this concept of a soulmate. He said, "No!" Everything inside of him and in his world had a hook and a fix. His world consisted of pleasure and satisfaction before everything else, self-directed selfishness, instant gratification and absence of real love, commitment and contribution to the world. He was a taker and a destroyer, a pleasure seeker and a happiness destroyer. I said, " Would you like to help people or hurt them?" He answered that he recognized that within him was the desire to hurt others, seek revenge, retaliation and "get even." Then, he began to cry and reveal his deep need to be loved and to love, to create, help others and make the world a better place.
His crying continued as he struggled with his deep inner rage and hatred for everything and everybody. He wanted to hurt and get revenge on a world that had mistreated him and neglected to notice how lost, neglected and unloved he felt as a child. He repressed and carried his pain with him into adult life and became hooked on anything that would quell his agony and make him feel strong and superior. I said, "it would be difficult to give up all of your love and pleasure pursuits and objects and allow yourself to feel the reality of your deep feelings. It would take some time for you to recapture enough feelings before you would feel free from your addictions. Can you stick to it? After all, it took you many years to become sick and destructive. Do you have the perseverance to work through and feel what you need to feel? There will be many distractions and temptations along the way. But, after enough therapy you will have enough of yourself that she will no longer need to seek love and pleasure from things and objects that will eventually destroy you."
He said, "What do I have to do?" I said, "We will begin by talking and we will talk and talk until you are ready to feel your feelings, if that ever happens. Let me know when you feel comfortable and safe enough to let your pain out in front of me or at home." Carman understood that therapy was not a quick fix and that he would have to work hard and be honest. He talked and talked for many months and I confronted, interpreted, empathized, supported, taught, reflected feelings and reality tested with him. Gradually, he began to experience real pleasure, optimism, creative thoughts and productive plans for the future. He even started having dreams of a fulfilling family life with a soulmate with all of his previous fixes conspicuously absent. His near death experience served as a turning point to a more positive and constructive lifestyle. Before therapy, his mind was filled with thoughts and impulses about drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, crime, compulsive sex, destructive relationships and violence. He was affixed to the Royal road of destruction. The bottom-line experience of his own death awoke him to the life enhancing, bright side of his consciousness. He was now headed down the path of self recovery, productivity, love and the betterment of society. He wanted to be a contributing and participating member of the bright side of life.
As a footnote to this story, I remind the reader that many of the people that were fixated to a similar destructive lifestyle such as Carmen's, never made it to the bright side. Many found an early grave or a hellish lifetime of brutal addiction. For some, death is what they were seeking all along as a means of escaping from repressed unacknowledged emotional agony. Death certainly releases some people from the terrible despair, disappointment and terror of unacceptable feelings. Death is also the ultimate painkiller. But, whatever happened to the reality of feelings never felt, accepted and integrated?
As with all addictions, no one notices the silent suffering of those who have been directly and indirectly affected by the disease and the underlying feelings that fuel the disease. Parents and relatives of alcoholics, drug addicts and other disorders of love, are sometimes incapable of seeing the silent suffering of their addicted child or relative. The converse is also true: the addict almost never sees the silent suffering of those around her who bear their pain without open protest or expression. A child from a broken home who has been separated from a very important parent may suffer in silence while secretly getting inebriated. He may be a superstar at school, in the social arena and on the athletic field. He may even achieve great honors, awards and scholarships to the finest institutions while suffering in silence and taking drugs and alcohol. Upon getting free of family controls and entering into the academic world of college, she may become enveloped by a world of excessive drinking, dangerous sex and psychotic inducing destructive drugs.
Most parents, friends and relatives hold an idealized view of these children, based on their enormous accomplishments, social charms and magnetic personalities. They find it extremely difficult to understand and accept the possibility and the reality that their superstar offspring has been desperately engaging in self-destructive addictive behavior. What got missed? Did something get overlooked in the long evolution through childhood and adolescence? Why is it that parents, friends and relatives over idealize these children and believe that they can never do any wrong? Does such a perception of these children put upon them the expectation that they are perfect and will always have to live up to the inflated images that others have created of them?
The answer lies in the fact that all human beings are born with an instinct for self-preservation, erotic love needs, sublimation and self-destructiveness. For every life instinct there is a corresponding death wish instinct. It is part of the evolutionary genetic makeup of human beings. To pretend that it does not exist is to engage in wishful thinking. All parents start out attempting to do the best job that they can in order to raise a healthy and productive child. This does not cancel out the heavy organic opposing drive towards self-destructiveness. Mothers little perfect genius at age two may likely grow into a 23-year-old brilliant head of a major corporation while at the same time drowning himself in liquor and cocaine. And that's not to mention the effects that this self-destructive instinct may have on family life and physical health.
To raise children who are emotionally pain free and foreign to suffering is unrealistic. Every living being in order to live, survive and thrive will have to go through the fires of being born, breathing, eating, being loved and expressing the real self; not to mention the challenges that face the development and salvation of the soul.
Addictions resemble normal psychic functioning in that the ego and the libido attaches itself to the thinking process that leads to the fusion with the object or activity of the addiction. I will try to explain this as we go along. When the ego attaches itself to a complex of ideas, substances, people or activities that creates pleasure and a sense of well-being for the individual, she will develop tunnel vision and be unable to be aware of and entertain alternative ideas and ways of conducting the business of life. There is always a process of self limitation and self-preservation with this peculiarly human phenomena. When the ego attaches itself to the pleasure principle within the life force, things can go pretty well. However, when the death wish attaches itself to eros and the ego, then we have the ingredients for engaging in pleasure seeking, painful and even destructive activities.
There are degrees of death and life. One can see this in the emotional, spiritual life force of an individual. In a clinical sense, a person may be alive but may be more energy dead than another person. Emotional power comes from the ego and the life instincts. A diminution of this power through repression creates a person who is physically alive, but emotionally more restricted and dead than his more alive, emotionally energetic fellow humans. Physical death is just the end result of the life force leaving the body. Throughout a lifetime, circumstances will dictate the relative quantities and quality of one's life/death energies. The more that the life force is thwarted, blocked and discouraged, the more the individual will appear to be less alive. If enough life force is snuffed out of an individual, the more the ego will transport that person towards self-destruction, slow suicide and eventually death of some sort.
If one has suffered through many major emotional setbacks, she will have lost most of her life force and will experience more deflating depression, self-doubts, excessive guilt, anxiety and self recrimination. This unfortunate state of affairs points to the reality that even though the person may be close to death of varying degrees, he is still attached to the very same ideas that contributed to his downfall. Because the ego attaches to growing death instincts, while experiencing diminishing life forces, does not mean that the ego can see outside of its limited view of reality. That is why it is so difficult for people to change to more constructive life activities. It's as if they cannot see the forest for the trees.
The same is true of people who are very successful and experience very powerful life forces and energies. Because they become so ego attached to their own ways of thinking about and doing things, they cannot acknowledge and accept that there are just as many effective ideas and methods of doing things as their's. This makes them slow to accept or even to entertain the ideas and contributions of other people; especially friendly rivals and competitors. This peculiar activity is part of the substantive ingredients for all forms of resistance. It's difficult to change your thinking and ways of doing things, when you're ego has become somewhat attached to part libido and death instincts. Very few people are willing to admit that their way of thinking about and doing things could possibly limit their influence and activity in the world.
Many influential psychotherapists become extremely attached to their own psychotherapeutic creations. Freud was one of those people. But, there are many other brilliantly creative people who fuse their egos to their own school of thought and practice. They invest so much erotic, libidinal energy into their creations that they tend to idealize their form of therapy while devaluing the libidinal, creations of other equally brilliant psychotherapists. This type of competitive turf warfare resembles sibling rivalry where one psychotherapy offspring wishes and fights to be at the top of the heap, the number one son, the preferred child; in some cases, even supplanting the father.
The problem with this cubbyholing of one's own creative offspring, is that different patients require different forms of therapy. You cannot raise each child in exactly the same way. Each child is different and requires a different approach towards maturation and development. Freud's baby was his form of psychoanalysis. Carl Jung, Wilhelm Reich, Abraham Maslow, Arthur Janov, and many others too numerous to mention here, created their own therapeutic babies in their own unique, brilliant and effective way. And, just as there are at least over 250 different types of therapy as well as thousands of different therapists, there are even more patients who greatly benefit from many different types of therapeutic approaches. To become erotically and ego fixed to one's school of thought may create difficult problems for the many different types of people who require different ways of looking at life.
The addicted person is fixed in his thinking and his way of expressing his creative and destructive impulses. His ego and libido have become so attached to the love object of choice, which may be alcohol, cigarettes, food, gambling, work, sex, certain relationships, that he cannot see that this addiction with its limited world of thinking, leads to self-destruction. When the alcoholic decides that something is wrong and needs changing, she is in the position of rearranging her life towards a more constructive, loving direction. Alcohol addiction, as with any other addiction, is an ineffective strategy that leads to only one goal and that is down and out. It works by presenting a lesser evil that covers up a deeper more painful evil. Therapy addresses the destructive aspects of alcohol addiction and the deeper, more powerful pain that underlies it. Most people are so afraid of the underlying pain and despair, that they prefer the painkilling destruction of addiction.
Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D MFT w PsychotherapyHELP
Chatsworth, CA 91311 w 818.882.7404 w firstname.lastname@example.org