It’s a human sign

when things go wrong…

And temptation’s strong…

But it’s no sacrifice

No sacrifice

It’s no sacrifice at all.

(Elton John song ‘Sacrifice’ 1989 )


Unlike this sentiment expressed by Elton John, in the area of addictions, sacrifice may be called for. Sacrifice means to surrender something wanted, for something else, considered to have a more worthwhile claim. The word sacrifice is derived from Latin and can mean ‘to make holy’. Holiness can be associated with wholeness in terms of self integration.It is in this sense that it may apply in working to overcome addictions.

The reason for this is that different levels of the personality can be associated with different motivations or agendas. Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, coined the terms Child Ego State, Adult Ego State and Parent Ego State as a three-part model of personality. The Child Ego State is said to be characterised by behaving, thinking and feeling as you did when you were a child. This Ego State contains core beliefs about self and the world. The Adult Ego State is said to be involved in direct ‘here and now’ responses to current events using grown-up abilities. The Parent Ego State represents behaviours, thoughts and feelings copied from parents or parent (authority) figures.

Often, working with addictions is confined to strategies involved with the Parent Ego State or Adult Ego State. In short, the message is ‘you should or should not do this or that for these obviously bad consequences which you don’t want’. Various cognitive and behavioural strategies can be devised to these ends. However, these approaches may miss some important features of how addictions appeal to the Child Ego State. Addictions can often be enjoyable and fun when doing them. They can help ward off awareness of  painful feelings. They can release tension. They can involve ‘secondary gain’ derived from their ‘bad’ ultimate consequences. These consequences may justify avoidance of the risks of closeness, intimacy, social exposure, or taking responsibility for oneself as a grown-up. These are ‘advantages’ to the Child Ego State that struggles to be part of a mature functioning grown-up unit. Alongside this can be negative core beliefs about oneself that invite unaware self punishment or painful consequences — a ‘just’ reward for being who one is. Freud termed this ‘psychic masochism’. More latterly Callan and others (J.Personality and Social Psychology 2014) have found support for the idea that some individuals feel they deserve bad outcomes in their life because of their low self esteem.

So, in treating addictions it may be important to include the Child Ego State and its motivations. Rather than just treating addictions as a terrible affliction, illness, or deficiency, it maybe useful to acknowledge how enjoyable and ‘useful’ they can be at one level. Then ‘sacrifice’ can come into the equation in terms of the surrender of something ‘wanted’ at the Child Ego State level, for benefits valued at a more integrated level.The core of ‘sacrifice therapy’ involves the conscious surrender of dysfunctional (but ‘useful’) behaviour promoted by the Child Ego State, for behaviour that is more functional overall. This requires mature adult choice with strategies to replace or modify the sometimes hidden ‘advantages’ of addictive behaviour. This involves a non-victim, non-forced choice rather than a ‘should’ , or  ‘shouldn’t’  message. The latter can be secretly resented and sabotaged by the Child Ego State which does not want to surrender its ‘advantages’. It may seem odd to ‘miss’  the behaviour that causes so much trouble. However, conscious and non-victim mourning for the lost ‘advantages’ of dysfunctionality could be seen as an appropriate and necessary rite of passage. Psychotherapy may be required to decontaminate dysfunctional beliefs from childhood and to alleviate associated painful feelings.

Sometimes in cases of drug or alcohol addiction, a medical detox is required because of the physical nature of the addiction. In addition, sometimes individuals are self-medicating some mental health problem, which may require more appropriate medication as part of a treatment program. 

To summarise: 1.Discover your Child Ego State motivations and acknowledge them.

                         2.Honour them by addressing and sacrificing their overt/covert ‘advantages’.

                        3. Substitute these ‘advantages’ with more functional ones as part of a change, skills development  and growth process.


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