I have been interested in how societal interpretations regarding the individual, the addict, might be constructed in addition to the concept of compassion towards those who are addicted. Mooney (2005) informed, “public compassion matters even if quantified evidence to prove this point is scant” (p. 140). Yet when does an individual ever hold compassion towards, or for, the people who are addicted? It is not too far reaching to assume that there are some who view addicts as undeserving; undeserving of help, and undeserving of compassion. Those who are addicted often experience great amounts of toil, and chaos. This chaos may also affect those whose lives are entwined with the addict. I am choosing to briefly acknowledge a probable tension of compassion and addiction.
I find myself interested in how the addict is viewed, how the addict may view themselves, and how society as a whole view the addict. The perspective we hold has a great impact on how we treat others. The complexities of addiction make it very difficult to account for all facets of the addictive experience. The focus here is on how we might view those who are addicted. Davis (1992) stated that the more addicts are treated as a “domain of inadequate, sick or helpless people, the more people will present themselves within that framework, and the more we will produce and encounter drug users who fit that description” (p. 23). The more addiction is viewed as a domain of moral weakness, a causal excuse of rationality, and providing a foreseeable demeanor produced through the addiction, the more likely we are to view others through this narrow framework. Might the various models of addiction be an attempt to locate social influence in the behaviors of addiction; are then the socialization factors likely to predict the potential of use? How society chooses to define an addict may be the way in which an addict is led towards an identity or truth that is bound not to an encompassing reality but to a biased ideal (Davis, 1992).
“When all poor are undeserving, there is no need for public compassion” (Mooney, 2005, p. 140).
In a previous post, June 24, 2012-Devoid of Hope, I briefly discussed the role of helplessness and powerlessness in addiction. Being able to hold compassion for those in the throws of addiction seems essential. Addiction is a vast landscape of personal experiences. What happens if the perspective we take moves to a more moderate, or neutral stance? By neutral I am speaking of the potential of understanding, and the ability to hold onto meanings that are both positive and negative. What messages are being sent to the addict who might feel hopeless and overwhelmed with affect? It may be difficult to discern such experiences when we are aware of the exhaustive manipulations prevalent in addiction, and we might be persuaded and inclined to pull away for self-preservation as we can only give so much. Might holding compassion towards addiction be influenced by both individual and societal variables? To what degree an individual chooses to hold compassion to those in a state of psychological helplessness may reflect to what degree a societal structure can be compassionate. Compassion may be difficult to truly embrace, just as it can be equally challenging to bestow compassion onto others.
Davies, J. (1992). The myth of addiction. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Harwood Academic.
Mooney, G. (2005). Addictions and social compassion. Drug and Alcohol Review, 24, 137-141.
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex