ALCOHOLICS: The Self-Punitive Personality

It is normal to have aggressive feelings when conditions warrant. In the family, children are gradually trained to express reactions of anger with a moderation making it socially acceptable. If parents admonish their children to oversuppress hostile feelings while they are growing up it can lead to a fear of expressing anger in adult life. The outwardly docile products of such upbringing, even though they possess the intellectual and personality endowments to advance themselves, may be exploited by more dominating colleagues at work, or may be disparaged by a relative or upbraided by a spouse without being able to respond with open anger to the provocations. The man who has to repress anger may at length be driven, by prolonged harsh treatment, to protest but he will castigate himself afterwards, overcome by anxiety that drastic retaliation might follow his spell of self-assertiveness. For the most part he subdues his aggression and seeks to relieve the resultant discomfort. Alcohol offers a method.

It is frequently chosen. The unassertive man we have described is aggressive when he is drunk; the hostile impulses habitually concealed under normal social conditions are released by the disinhibiting effect of alcohol. But that is not the reason why he drinks. He does so to relieve his inner tension. Before he achieves this peace, there is a stage in drinking when social controls are diminished, when intoxication dispels the timidity and caution which customarily confine him. The transformation can be astonishing. While in this state he will vilify, strike and destroy. He is usually aghast at himself next morning, when he wakes to his wife’s disapproval and sees the damage he has done.

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