To be helpless is to be powerless, and powerlessness is a state devoid of hope. The addict, someone who at times feels helpless in addiction, will in time experience powerlessness. Such an experience can bring forth material from the unconscious. Though helpless, the addict may be unable to interpret such loss. When discussing helplessness, I am looking at what it symbolizes, and I acknowledge that there are varying nuances of what symbolizes helplessness for each individual. The question of control, or lack thereof, seems significant when discussing a state of helplessness, a loss of hope and volition.
“Trapped, physically or emotionally, he or she will sooner or later feel a great anger—a rage, really, at being helpless” (Dodes, 2002, p. 5).
The quote I have chosen from Dodes (2002) is a short and to-the point expression of what helplessness might symbolize for someone within the throws of addiction. I can also appreciate the approach towards the experience of addiction that he has proposed as a whole. To be trapped and helpless is a source of intolerable anxiety. Dodes explained that our attempts to breach the depths of our helplessness and regain some degree of control can evoke a narcissistic rage. Kohut links narcissistic rage with aggression and destruction, and described it as a state that brings forth “the need for revenge, for fighting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and a deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims, which gives no rest to those who have suffered” (Kohut, 1972, p. 380). Yet such a response is the ego grasping at a fragment of psychic control that is disintegrating through the desirousness of addiction. The concept of narcissistic rage refers to an addict’s experience of omnipotence and grandiosity, which enables them to feel as if they are in complete control of themselves, their actions, and the world around them. It is a state that creates barriers within oneself from what is experienced as unmanageable, or intolerable.
I can imagine rage in response to the intrapsychic experience of being helpless. I can imagine a state comprised of gleaming fragments, and a wanting to once again be in control, yet overwhelmed in chaos, helplessness and determined by the desirousness that governs volition. In addiction, the individual is helpless and is repressing affect, and all the while projecting the shadow upon the environment when such emotionally charged material manages to emerge. This appears not as a state of self-reflection and discernment, but of being overcome and governed by what procures a psychological entrapment.
Dodes, L. (2002). Heart of addiction. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Kohut, H. (1972). Thoughts on narcissism and narcissistic rage. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 27, 360-400
© All Rights Reserved
Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex