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Will Fritzl be seen as a victim of an addiction?

If last week's documentary on the unspeakable acts of Josef Fritzl left you feeling nauseous, get ready to throw up. Because, when I heard Fritzl's line of defence -- "I was addicted to abusing my daughter" -- a chill went up my spine.

As unacceptable as this rationalisation might be, the truth is that anyone familiar with the unconscious mapping of addictions knows he could link a cogent argument here.

And the legal commentator interviewed knew this. "Addiction is not a defence!" he erupted.

Addictions are not an acceptable defence for criminal behaviour, but lawyers know that crimes committed by those in addiction can win leniency, and many think Fritzl knows this, and is already on the case.

As a master manipulator, Fritzl claims his motives were good, while he cast a powerful spell of denial around him.

Behind a mask of unholy deception, this architect of darkness robbed the hopes and dreams of so many, including the ultimate innocents -- his children.

How they survived this ordeal will add significantly to exisiting psychological theory.

Meanwhile, Fritzl's extraordinary cunning and capacity to beguile those around him will be testing the psychiatrists and lawyers preparing for the trial.

And while many will want him convicted as a criminal, with the promise that he will never be free to act out his sadistic primitive urges again, there is no guarantee of this.

The Austrian State has already proved itself to be the primary colluding force in allowing Fritzl's savage behaviours to go uninvestigated -- the Justice Minister admitted his officials had been "gullible" in accepting Fritzl's reasons for the disappearance of his daughter -- so we have no reason to believe that it won't continue to indulge him, or fall prey to his deep narcissistic wounding.

There is a strong mental health argument outside the obvious Freudian one. (He has said that he lusted after his mother -- which is the case for addiction.)

If the defence succeeds in defining his behaviour as an addiction, it could claim he had no control over his impulses, which could mitigate any possible charge against him. The defence could argue that Fritzl's powerful desire to sleep with his mother began as a compulsion, which led to a sex abuse addiction. Addiction counsellors know that when a compulsion becomes an addiction, self-will runs riot in the unconscious mind of the addicted person.

The key for the prosecution will be to prove Fritzl was aware of what he was doing and knew that it was wrong. Meanwhile, Fritzl's defence team will be studying the complex definition and nature of addictions.

Patricia Casey, the psychiatrist interviewed on the same programme, stated Fritzl will have trouble defending an insanity plea because his behaviour fails to exhibit the chaotic presentation of a psychosis eg: schizophrenia/ bi-polar disorder -- which is true, but she was not asked to comment on the addiction argument. Or maybe she was, and wisely stood back from commenting on it.

Because Fritzl's behaviour can be framed in the context of an addiction.

Of course, his repeated abuse of his daughter bears no comparison to the addictions we're used to dealing with -- alcohol, food, drugs and/or gambling -- but that doesn't mean his behaviour is not an addiction. His crime doesn't even compare with the behaviours of serial killers, but in terms of the unconscious pathways that addictions travel, there is a pathological map Fritzl's lawyers can, and will, undoubtedly use.

As unsettling as this is, I'd say Fritzl has already researched this subject and knows what boxes need ticking to flag his defence and has already laid the foundations for this argument.

In his limited statements so far, he's told reporters that he had a difficult childhood, with a dominating mother who regularly beat him.

This statement prepares the ground for a "learned sadistic behaviours" defence.

Addictions are defined by thought patterns. Fritzl's legal team could find experts to map their unconscious pathways to their client's pathology.

In terms of the definition and nature of addiction, the jury could well be presented with some version of the following: Addictions are sophisticated systems of denial requiring subtle but sustained attention for the addicted person -- Fritzl's highly organised attention to detail beggars belief.

Another definition states addictions are unstable states of being marked by a compulsion to deny who we are in favour of a new or desired experience. If the defence does its homework, they'll note that addictions focus on issues of control. Addictions, however harmless, make us feel in control, however illusory or momentary that is. Every "fix" soothes us with the statement "all is well" whether it's a hit of heroin or a high from hoping -- our drug of choice is only the vehicle we use to fast track its good feeling.

Fritzl's team could argue that, as a result of his experience of powerlessness under the sadistic reign of his mother, he unconsciously sought power by controlling all around him.

This argument should lose weight, as he seems to have been aware that what he was doing was wrong (the elaborate planning to hide his behaviour and a host of other arguments will support this), but the addiction argument has grounds.

More theoretically, Fritzl's behaviour is striking in its stunning metaphor for addictions. Our addictions hold the secrets of our most primitive desires in the cellars in our minds, and to keep these yearnings alive requires incredible planning and attention to detail, however unconsciously that is. The keys, the locks, the steel doors and dungeons we build, make up a labyrinth of unconscious locking systems which protect and propel our bad addictions, however hidden and harmless they may seem to be.

Indeed, some therapists would argue that some of these spaces are necessary to protect what is precious, as well as unhelpful to us. At the end of the documentary, the commentator remarked on the irony that Fritzl's years of imprisoning his family now had him under lock and key, which is the ultimate metaphor for addiction.

A Japanese proverb relating to alcohol addiction and how it imprisons the alcoholic states: The man took the drink, the drink took the drink, then the drink took the man.