During the summer of 2001 a series of six seminars that focused on special
topics in addiction and recovery were held at the Center for Inquiry–West
and the SHARE! Facility in Marina del Rey, CA. 5. This SOS special series
will be repeated at the new Center for Inquiry–West facility, Hollywood, CA,
in 2002. SOS conveners are free to utilize this published material in SOS
meetings as they see fit. In the current issue of the newsletter we offer
the fifth installment of this continuing series of six seminars entitled
"Recovery and the Dynamics of Aggression and Addiction." The topics for the
series of six seminars are:
1. Nature and Nurture in the Cycle of Addiction
2. Understanding the Underlying Dynamics of Addiction
3. Brief Biological Review of Addiction and
4. The Mind, Its Function, and Addiction:
The Psychoanalytic View
5. Recovery and the Dynamics of Aggression and Addiction
6. Resolving Conflicts and Lifelong Recovery
Recovery and the Dynamics
of Aggression and Addiction
by Manijeh Nikakhtar, M.D., M.P.H. and Louis F. Markert, Ph.D.
In our last article, we discussed the psychoanalytic view of the
structure and function of the mind. We said that the mind, both conscious
and unconscious, consists of three "systems" (id, ego, and superego) that
vie for control or dominance. Healthy individuals live meaningful and
productive lives by maintaining these systems in a state of balance or
equilibrium. Unhealthy individuals fail to maintain such a balance. We will
now expand this discussion by exploring the dynamics of aggression and
assertiveness and their role in addiction and recovery.
Classical psychoanalytic theory holds that there are two classes of
biological instincts or drives that govern motivation and behavior: Eros, or
the life instincts, that push us toward self-preservation and pleasurable
activities; and Thanatos, or the death instincts, that push us toward rest,
inactivity and energy conservation. Eros includes sex, defined broadly as
all pleasurable activity, and Thanatos included aggression. Both of these
instincts provide biopsychic energy that must be guided or directed through
the balancing function of the ego into socially adaptive and appropriate
behavior. When the ego (the rational, realistic self) is effective in its
function and leads the individual to appropriate goal-directed behavior,
needs are met, anxiety and tension reduced, and a state of
biological-psychological homeostasis achieved.
Aggression as Goal-directed Behavior
Contemporary psychoanalytic theorists, however, view basic "instincts"
(e.g. aggression) more as psychological wishes and desires than strictly
physiological drives. Thus, aggressive behaviors are seen as outlets for
personal, social, cognitive wishes more than just biological drives. They
explain the manifestations of aggression, such as rape, suicide,
self-destruction, some cases of drug use, some acts of religious fanaticism,
and high-risk gambling as ways of coping with and adjusting to life.
Individuals are aware, consciously or unconsciously, of their "present
state," but, on encountering life situations, perceive a more favorable or
"ideal state." For example, a man might wake up in the morning and go to
work routinely, feeling happy and no animosity toward anyone. At work,
however, he is insulted or ridiculed, or worse, finds out his company is
going bankrupt and he’ll shortly be out of work. The mismatch between his
new "present state" (anxious, angry, insecure, upset) and his "ideal state"
(happy, relaxed, secure, confident) moves him to wish for the present state
to be closer to the ideal state and to act on this wish. He has a number of
aggressive options, including removing his inhibitions by use of alcohol or
drugs, assaulting his boss or co-workers, or committing suicide. And he has
some prosocial options, such as standing up appropriately to those who
insult him or beginning to update his resume and mount a job search to keep
his career going.
Have you ever found yourself in an "undesirable present state" and sought
through aggressive behaviors to change your situation to a more "ideal or
Aggression is a hostile reaction triggered by anger or frustration
resulting from obstacles we encounter in our effort to achieve our goal.
Psychologically, our goal is usually to feel good, to not feel bad.
Aggression is evoked by cues, such as social injustice or someone cutting in
front of us on the freeway. Some aggression is instrumental in the sense
that we act aggressively to achieve a goal. For example, we assault someone
so we can rob him, or we inject heroin so we don’t have to feel stress.
If the conflicts of life are severe enough, major changes in behavior may
occur as indirect expressions of instinctual aggressive needs. The
perception of others and situations as dangerous or threatening can increase
our tendency to develop defensive behaviors to diminish unpleasant feelings.
Failure to achieve an appropriate sense of "success" and recognition in
childhood, for example, can be a major source of anxiety, which may then be
compensated for through competitive and mastery behavior. This
competitiveness may progress from childhood experience to adulthood as
aggression when one anticipates situations with feelings of inadequacy,
failure or rejection.