There is a moment when a phenomenon unveils the heavy drapery of time, a moment when the impact of experience will ripple beyond what one may comprehend. I am speaking to the psychological impact of an experience. To a degree one might hold the capacity to empathetically embrace the profound polarities of potential insight and torment percolating from the occurrence of addiction. In mentioning empathy I would like to bring the attention to Rogers (1995) who explains empathy as to be “temporarily living in the others life, moving about in it delicately without making judgements” (p. 142). What I interpret from Rogers statement of empathy is that the conceptualization of personal significance is bound to that which, both the addict and those not succumbed to addiction, may embrace and convey. “I had learned through hard and frustrating experiences that simply to listen understandably…and to attempt to convey that understanding were potent forces for individual therapeutic change” (Rogers, 1995, p. 51).
When I discuss addiction in regard to empathy I am essentially speaking to the individual who would empathize with the addict’s experience. One might sound quite eloquent in stating their attempts to be empathetic towards such an experience, yet to be empathetic towards the experience of addiction, and have empathy towards the addict, one is embracing the paradoxical elements of addiction, the intolerable other of two. Though I began on the topic of empathy I would like to begin a discussion of paradox within addiction.
Roger’s (1995) stated “It is as though a pond had become utterly still, so that a pebble dropped into it sent ripples out farther and farther and farther, having an influence that could not be understood by looking at the pebble” (p. 49).
For the addict, what might have been that pebble? What had rippled away from the origin of impact upon such a vast surface? When discussing addiction we are discussing the ego whose task it is to manage what shall reside within the realm of consciousness and what might exist within the unconscious. Although the complex will stampede such a regulatory function, Schoen (2009) explains that the addiction will allow for the tensions of the shadow to be expressed; that which the ego does not identify with. I see the ripples resulting from the attempts to relinquish from consciousness, whatever it is that one may interpret the ripples to be. The fixation may then be the origin of impact. The interpretive reality that the addict explores is compromised by dissociative states, suggesting that the ripples are not of the individual’s awareness, yet the ripples still suggest an intrapsychic conflict to reside within the unconscious. I can see the fixation to be an issue as the ripples exist, expand, and merge within the greater mass to be all that will be procured and fermented within the shadow.
Even the attempts that might have been made to contain such ripples only produce further origins of impact; additional ripples to move farther upon such a surface. Rogers (1995) appears to be seeking meaning from the ripples more-so than from the pebble, yet I seemed to have latched onto the metaphoric meaning of what the pebble, or origin of impact may signify. The ripples which disperse, assuming the experience of addiction to be the pebble, the origin of impact, might reveal the inability to control and manage the addiction.
When we discuss the addictive behavior which “itself is inherently a matter of being out of control; simultaneously, then, addiction reflects both ego functioning and a loss of elements of ego functioning” (Dodes, 1990, Addiction, Helplessness, and Reassertion of Power, para 4). We are delving into the idea of an addict within the toil of no longer tolerating helplessness. As the focus fixates upon the ripples, the result of impact, or of movement we might see such ripples as the effect or byproduct of engagement which expand throughout the environment. This is an experience that if embraced might be understood emotionally, rather than through an assumption or association from the experience of another.
“The paradox is real, but also may be understood as the result of conflict: between a deeper need to ward off perceived helplessness and powerlessness, and other healthier elements of the personality which become overwhelmed” (Dodes, 1990, Addiction, Helplessness, and Reassertion of Power, para 4). Unknowingly, the addict is within a paradox regarding ego autonomy. For the ego, the shadow will continuously present a paradox. “The paradoxical reality that as much as substance abusers attempt to and succeed in reversing their suffering and distress, they just as much produce suffering as a consequence of their involvement with substances” (Khantzian, 1987, The Psychodynamic Perspective, para 5). The paradox is found in the perceptions being either black or white, of only this or that, the very basis of not standing within the opposites, but acknowledging one of two. The opposite cannot be seen beyond the reasoning for its repression; here is the participation mystique that is encountered the recognition in one of two. Paradoxically, in the metaphors of alchemy the addiction can be seen as an interpretive experience presented through the albedo. The albedo is “paradoxical. . . . Ashes signify despair, mourning, or repentance. . . . They contain the supreme value, the goal of the work” (Edinger, 1994, 40); a poetic intrapsychic process that I will have to delve into at a latter time.
Dodes, L. (1990). Addiction, helplessness, and narcissistic rage. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 59, Retrieved from: http://pgi.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=1991-01513-001&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
Edinger, E. (1994a). Anatomy of the psyche: Alchemical symbolism in psychotherapy. Chicago, IL: Open Court.
Khantzian, E. (1987). A Clinical Perspective of the Cause-Consequence
Controversy in Alcoholic and Addictive Suffering. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 15(4), 521-537. Retrieved from
Rogers, C. (1980). A way of being. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Schoen, D. (2009). The war of the gods in addiction. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journals.
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex