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Notes- When Society Becomes an Addict - Anne Wilson Shaef

Updated: Apr 18, 2020


Anne Wilson Shaef, is an addiction expert and author who believes we are brainwashed living in an addictive culture. She writes about 2.categories of addiction:

- Process addictions include sex,worry, shopping, money, gambling, social media use, religion, tv watching. 

- Consumption addictions include food, sugar, nigotine, alchohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs. 

I was drawn to this book after thinking about the demonisation and ostracisation of drug/substance addicts. Having read a lot of the work of Gabor Mate, who talks about the deeply set childhood trauma ALL addicts have experience, I got thinking. Addicts are traditionally (within what Anne Wilson Schaef calls the addictive system) thought to be self destructive and destructive to society (as the legal system shows). Thinking on a more personal level and also about the people around me, I've noticed (even in myself) addictive behaviours, which aren't necessarily harmful on the surface, but what about in the long term? There is the heroin addict (totally ostracised from society), the alcoholic, the person (many of us) who spend hours and hours scrolling through Instagram, the person who persists in dating people who are clearly harmful or bad for them. The categorisation of 'addicts' lets many of us off the hook, because our behaviours 'aren't harming anyone', but if so many of us are behaving 'addictively', this must be having a huge affect on many of us and society as a whole. Drugs and alcohol give people (unfortunately with the flawed drug system not nearly enough) the physical push to change. But what about those who don't experience obvious harmful effects?

Gabor Mate talks about how all forms of addiction are a coping mechanism, where traumatised people are trying to stop the pain. However what happens for people who are engaging in addictions, which aren't obviously harmful? or for (most) people who don't even realise they are addicts. All addictions share a common function, which allows people to shift subjective experience or 'self'. What does addiction look like now in a world which offers so much 'quick-fix-pleasure' in so many different forms?

Schaef doesn't compare, but highlights the similarities between 'addicts' and elements of what she calls the addictive system culture we live in (society).

"Our work as human beings in this life is to bring as much as we can of our unconscious so that we know what we're dealing with and have the opportunity to heal it." - this is a complex process and easier said than done when you're addicted, as many of us are 


1. you feel powerless to stop

2. you have health issues

3. you have strained relationships/friends/family

4. you neglected aspects of your life eg. finances/commitments

5. both your work and home life suffer from the inibility to meet expectations

6. you are easily irritated or become angry when you don't have your fix

7. it's hard to avoid cravings

8. when you try to be without your fix, you feel anxious.



- The White Male System

- The Reactive System         


- The Emerging Female System 

- The dynamics and patterns are the same for those infected by the 'addictive system' as they are for an alcoholic.

- It 's rare for someone to have only one addiction. The addict or the individual operating within the addictive system usually has multiple addictions - These trap the person in the addictive system.

These secondary addictions can keep one functioning as an addict.

-Addictive characteristics are extremely complex- similar to the white male system. 

-Addictions keep us afraid and out of touch with ourselves and too busy to challenge the system or to even notice. 

What would it take for a whole society to recover from being an addict?

We need to put the pieces together and treat the problem as a whole. 

- There is far too much concern with specifics- the norm within a fragmented society such as ours 

- characteristic of the tunnel vision of the alcoholic/addict.

- To perceive the addictive system one must be in it but not of it. One must be recovering from it's effects. 

- Recovery - addict must hit rock bottom. So when will society hit the rock bottom?



2 types of addiction: 

       -Substance addiction

       -Process addiction

Wilson asserts that the system is a closed system in that it presents few choices to individuals in terms of roles they may take and directions they may pursue. 

She goes on to segment the types of 'Process Addictions'


- Addictive Relationships

- Codependence

- Self Centered'ness 

- Illusion of Control 

- Dishonesty

- Abnormal thinking processes

- Confusion

-Frozen Feelings

-Ethical Deterioration



Each part of the addictive system is not just part of the 'whole'.

 The Holograph has the entire pattern and way of embedded in it.                                                         

"The new holographic paradigm is an approach to science and understanding the world that is nonlinear; it is coming out of the new work in physics and brain psychology. The essential feature of a hologram is that each piece of the hologram contains the entire structure of the entire hologram; each piece is not just a part of the whole, it has the entire pattern and way of functioning of the whole embedded in it. The system is like the inidivudla and the individual is like the system. In other words the addictive system has all of the characteristics of the individual alchoholic/addict. and because we live in this system, every one of us, unless recovering by means of a system shift, exhibits many of these same characteristics. " - Anne Wilson-Schaef. 



Characteristics of the Addictive System 

- The Illusion  of Control 

- Dishonesty

- Abnormal Thinking Processes 

- Confusion 

- Denial 

- Perfectionism

- Forgetfullness

- Dependency 

- Negativism 

- Defensiveness

- Communication and Countercommunication 

- Responsibility and Blame 

- Tunnel Vision

- Frozen Feelings

- Ethical Deterioration 

- Fear

Processes of the Addictive System 

- The Process of Promise

- The Process of Absorption/ Psuedopic Ego 

- The Process of Illusion 

- The Process of the External Referent

- The Process of Invalidation 

- The Process of Trashing/Fabricating "Personality Conflicts" 

- The Process of Dualism

The Process of Absorption/Pseudopic Ego

The Pseudopic ego of the addictive system absorbs another system until it becomes indistinguishable from the Addictive system. 


- maybe an example of the pseudo pic ego of the Addictive system absorbing the spiritual system- the healin,  caring, honest, gentle system used to perpetuate itself. 

- Infusions of life from the Living Process system that keep the Addictive system in spite of itself 

- This perpetuates the system just as the codependent keeps the alcoholic going. 

-The addictive system deals with differences by making them non-existent. 

The Internal Referent vs The External Referent

- We have been so thoroughly trained in the process of the external referent that we are not even aware than an internal referent exists.

- Listening to your internal referent whilst still considering external referents

- The process of the external referent is closely related to the Addictive System, characteristic of self-centeredness.

- The self centred person recognises no bounds between the self & the other

The Process of Invalidation

The process of trashing/fabricating personality/conflicts.

- calling individuals credibility into question.

- destroying someone's influence within a group.

- Trashers concentrate on character deformation

- To render someone ineffectual, a nothing.

The Process of Dualism

- right or wrong

- in or out

- black or white

- on or off

- good or evil

Thinking dualistically within the Addictive system.

This oversimplifies a complex world, giving us the illusion of control over what is infact a universal process.

Self-centered dualism confuse us and keep us stuck in the system & effectively prevent change and evolution. In the Living Process System such choices and setups are irrelevant and simply do not exist because choices are made consistent with one's inner process, one's spirituality.

How Dualistic thinking affects us-

Wilson-Schaef's 'Lincoln Log Theory'

CONTROL ISSUES ---- POWERLESSNESS both come as a pair

- Women for example are conditioned to feel powerless.

- 2 methods with men: - avoid them

- be seductive with them

- avoiding intimacy

The Lincoln Log and Self Centeredness

- self centeredness seems to imply being over-occupied with the self.

- Wilson suggests that it has nothing to do with being aware of the real self

- If one has no boundaries and does not recognise other's boundaries then there is no real self.

- One must give up both self centeredness and non existence to have a self.

"the Addictive System is morally and spiritually bankrupt"

- the 7 deadly sins are inherent to the system and actively work to perpetuate it.

- They are not, however, inherent to human beings.








These are all traditionally deemed fatal to spirtual progress.

- These 'sins' are woven into the very fabric of the Addictive System.

- They are also seen as character defects in the treatment of an addict. They must be worked through for recovery.

- We are inured to the moral and spriritual bankruptcy we see and know all around us.

"We have become so accustomed to the flagrant lying of public officials that we no longer have the skills we need to discern honesty from the truth"

Wilson believes these skills reside not int the 'rational mind', but the 'solar plexus', a 'gut feeling tells us when we're being lied to.

How can we receive these messages from our built in lie-detection centre when we live in a system which perpetuates the need to numb these skills with drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, money-making, workaholism.

The Addictive System:-

- Exploits the bodies of women, children and men to sell products.

- That sets up increasingly elaborate & complex agencies to control and regulate dishonesty- agencies which prove to be dishonest themselves

- We find excuses to overlook & explain the lies of political leaders: just as co-dependents in an addictive family would.

- Moral deterioration: The system has redefined morality to fit in it's behaviour.

The addictive system is wrong about the human condition

The addictive system has a 'non-living' orientation. It requires us to relinquish our personal identity, power, awareness and knowledge in order to belong.

Ingestive addictions - on a personal level

Process addictions - on a wider social level

Process addictions on the other hand have more far-reaching effects: they cause us to lose our moral and social compass on a global scale.

"The process addicts are the builders of bombs, the proponents of apartheid"

​3 Perilous Processes -
- Dualism
- Dishonesty
- Control

- if we succumb to any of these 3 processes we are immediately are back into behaving addictively.

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