Last week, I wrote about the Godfather and the parallels of his life of addiction and real people’s addictions, such as addictions that clients often suffer from who seek therapy. The addiction is not the only issue to address in someone’s life. Addictions point to deeper, underlying issues within a person and influences families and loved ones. The person who is suffering from addiction can still be intelligent, highly functioning, financially successful, and gain approval from peers. A person does not have to lose everything to understand that they are suffering from an addiction or an addictive personality. Losing everything that matters to a person is simply part of the final stages of an addiction once it has taken over. Noticing the addiction at this time is very late in the game. Having denial about masking or pain killing real feelings such as abandonment, shame, guilt, and other emotional struggles allows the addictive behavior ro run out of control.
Once an addiction is unraveled, understood, and accepted, the process of understanding the feelings that trigger the need to pain kill can be seen and felt more clearly. The type of addiction, the details and frequency are critical to understanding yourself. Abandonment, shame, and guilt can create a cycle that feels unending, helpless, and hopeless. When the Godfather abandons his needs for real love that he feels for his girlfriend and trades this for approval from his father and his family, he does so out of guilt and shame. A client recently began unraveling his addiction to approval from other people and more poignantly, of other women. In last week’s blog, I shared the Godfather’s family influences that pushed him further into addiction. As he grew further and further away from his own identity, essentially abandoning himself, by abandoning his needs, his new life provided opportunities for him to latch onto activities that recreated his pain and fed his pain killing activities. Similarly, my client recreated a life that mimics his childhood, even though he consciously knew he never wanted some of those events to be repeated. But the little boy in him, that feels hurt by the losses he felt as a child is all too familiar with seeking out relationships that are empty and void of love and affirmation, feeding the beast even more into a cycle of shame and abandonment.
There is a scene in the Godfather during a family dinner, where the Don (Marlon Brando) and all his sons are eating together. The youngest son, Al Pacino, has no interest in getting into the family business. He had fallen in love with a girl, was disgusted by his father’s behavior and saw himself as different from his brothers. However, his conscious desire to have something different in life, different from a mafia family, wasn’t big enough to overcome his childhood woundings. Something begins to chip away at his ability to self-differentiate, his ability to choose to be himself, true to his needs and his gifts, to be different. Each time he felt pressure from his family, such as the time he gets a call from his family to join them for a holiday. He ditches the family holiday to instead spend time with his girlfriend. This comes back to haunt him as he hears about his father’s illness and he is triggered by shame, guilt, and remorse for being so distant from the family, especially from his father. It is in these moments that he begins saying things to himself that pull him away from his own needs. Needs that are healthy and self-differentiating and he instead chooses to become closer to his family through guilt and shame. His desires are not based in a healthy honesty about himself and his experiences, they are built on a foundation of shame and abandonment. He learned this type of abandonment and shame from his father, played by Marlon Brando, who watches his mother be killed by a Don mafia leader in Italy. The revenge and power his father needs is built-in from the his real feelings of loss of power and abandonment of his family. His triggers were based in his young boyhood.
The sins of the father were certainly passed down, generationaly, in this family even if the events were never discussed or shared with the children. Guilt, shame, powerlessness, and severe abandonment are the triggers that drove the Don to become such a power-hungry person. The addictions they both shared as the Godfather and the Don, were all a cover for losing family members and growing up without real intimacy.
After his father passes away, we see the Godfather making different choices. There is a sudden change in character. He can no longer feel intimate with his wife, the woman he fell in love with, the woman he married. He changes his path in life to include everything his father wanted from him, instead of being his own person. Eventually, his life spirals out of control with affairs, power, and corruption. He loses his wife, his unborn child, and most of all, he loses himself. This is what abandonment, shame, and guilt can create and destroy in a marriage and in a family.