Indoctrination and Recovery from Addiction

Today at lunch, a conversation about the difficulties of quitting smoking cigarettes and of persuading smokers to quit, about possible strategies for inducing smokers to leave their habit behind, and so on led quite naturally to a discussion about the nature of addiction and so-called ‘addictive personalities’ (and subsequently, a discussion of why some strategies for recovering from addiction work and some do not.) This discussion reminded me that recovery and rehabilitation from addiction can be thought of as a kind of indoctrination into new modes of behavior. In that regard, the following description of indoctrination, taken from Erik Erikson‘s Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History, from the chapter ‘First Mass and Dead Ends’ describing Luther’s initiation into monkhood, is of much interest:

Indoctrination is charged with the task of separating the individual from the world long enough so that his former values become thoroughly disengaged from his intentions and aspirations; the process must create in him new convictions deep enough to replace much of what he has learned in childhood and practiced in his youth. Obviously, then, the training must be a kind of shock treatment, for it is expected to replace in a short time what has grown over many formative years; therefore, indoctrination must be incisive in its deprivations, and exact in its generous supply of encouragement. It must separate the individual from the world he knows and aggravate his introspective and self-critical powers to the point of identity-diffusion, but short of psychotic dissociation. At the same time it must endeavor to send the individual back into the world with his new convictions so strongly anchored in his unconscious that he almost hallucinates them as being the will of a godhead or the course of all history: something, that is, which was not imposed on him, but was in him all along, waiting to be freed.

Note: I have quoted previously from Erikson on this blog and will do so once more. And on a related note, Freud himself was an addict who recovered: from a habit of conspicuous cocaine consumption, one that he transcended by (among other things) a rigorous work schedule.

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