Love and Addiction
a book by Stanton Peele
(our site's book review)
“Addiction is not an abnormality in our society. It is not an aberration from the norm; it is itself the norm.” So begins (page 6) this treatise on the connection between love and addiction. Kids are dependent on parents, but not addicted to them. When people mature and leave childhood behind in favor of adulthood, those brought up best, who are at cause and not at effect, who are autonomous beings with independent identities, and who have been well nurtured—these people will not be very tempted by addictions to people or substances. They possess themselves and therefore need not possess another to fill the empty spot where their self ought to be. They like their lives and therefore need not escape from them or opt for cheap thrills or oblivion by going in the direction of substance abuse. They are independent.
Addicts lack the desire or confidence to face life independently. They are dependent and oriented around pain and avoidance of same. They haven’t learned how to run their lives so as to have them be naturally pleasurable. Their self-talk is mostly negative and they would therefore benefit from good, positive self-talk and other self-esteem enhancers.
What remained when most social tasks were exteriorized in the 1950s was the isolated ‘nuclear family,’ held together less by the functions its members performed as a unit than by fragile psychological bonds that are all too easily snapped
The author sees other critical factors: “The isolation of the nuclear family has grown wherever the industrial age has left its mark, but it has never before been so extreme as in mid-twentieth-century America.” He points out that Americans are obsessively mobile and have relatively few roots, and little contact with other families. He looks at the steep-gradient nurturance and the way that contrasts with flatter gradients of nurturance in times past when extended families helped out with childcare, and the way this overwhelm between parent and child along with the family isolation that precludes most other significant contacts adds up to a predisposition towards addiction. Philip Slater said much the same thing in his excellent book Earthwalk. Kids are taught that the normal condition for social relationships is an exclusive preoccupation of one human with another. It gives them the idea that a person is half an entity and it takes another person to complete that entity—almost as though individuals have no value alone. (See The Adjusted American.) The culture’s songs exacerbate this misimpression.
“When we find new ways to relate to our parents, our mates and our children—say by making those relationships less exclusive and obligatory—we have an impact on all aspects of our social structure. We give nonsexual friendships more of a chance, lessen the strains of marriage, and, most importantly, modify the way children grow up and learn to see the world. We give our offspring new opportunities for life and love.”
“Psychiatry can never fully substitute for this communication [good emotional support], however, since the only real solutions to a person’s problems are those which become part of his life structure. Among other things, a person has to have regular ways of expressing his feelings to the people near to him.” He points out that even the act of seeking therapy can be part of a potential addict’s pattern of dependency. He looks at psychiatry serving the social function of keeping women in their place, since the Valium designed to keep a woman from feeling when she gets depressed (from having no life outside the home) is positive only if we concur that she should be satisfied as a mere housewife, but negative if it drugs away the lifewish that is keeping her dissatisfied with a life that stagnates her being.
He looks at Urie Bronfenbrenner’s assertion that “a child’s normal lot [in our society] is one of isolation from meaningful human contact as well as meaningful work.” To counter that trend he’d like us to take advice similar to Ivan Illich’s, advice which proposes that we “design into residential and play areas the opportunity to interact with children of different ages and adults at work and leisure.” (Think MCs and hubs. See Why Register for an MC?.)
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The book advocates serious friendships which include opportunities for kids to get attention from nonparental adults. It advises we revamp lifestyles to get social contacts like what used to exist in close-knit neighborhoods. It sees the permissiveness-authoritarian debate in parenting as hollow in that neither work; and it sees that active encouragement of life, growth and responsibility is the real issue. It states that addicted people don’t come from homes in which parents and children show respect for the autonomy of one another, but rather from homes in which enmeshment and codependency patterns prevail. It finds examples to emulate as a key to teaching good behavior; both parents and other adults should be the models here. It encourages kids to adventure and find out things for themselves, and choose among many choices as often as possible so they will feel responsible for their actions because they chose them.
The book advocates serious friendships which include opportunities for kids to get attention from nonparental adults
Peele is one of the few people commenting on David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd ideas that actually understands what Riesman was trying to say. Riesman’s goal was autonomous, self-directed and self-responsible people, not inner-directed, superego-run people or other-directed peer-run people. The autonomous person is the opposite of the addicted person, while the inner-directed is addicted to parent pleasing and the other-directed is addicted to peer pleasing.
“It is . . . nonsense to believe that you can relate to one person in a wholesome way while dealing with everyone else superficially. This is the message the addiction concept has for love. It says that we must aim to expand our honesty, intimacy and trust to include others besides just one person.” Peele realizes that the American Dream has been bastardized by the new isolated nuclear family view where spouses need nothing but each other in a Tweedledum and Tweedledee fashion and neighbors, friends, and community are irrelevant and to be dealt with superficially if at all. He’s clearly letting us know that this was not even close to the original American Dream of the Founders of our republic.
Peele says it's nonsense to believe that you can relate to one person in a wholesome way while dealing with everyone else superficially