“Father, forgive me, for I have sinned—again, and again”

How do priests respond to penitents who come into the confessional or seek counsel in the office saying, “I feel like a hypocrite. I come to confession every (day, week, month), and I confess the same sin” (gambling, drinking, pornography, masturbation, overeating)?

In the March 22, 2021, issue of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, I published an article on a pastoral approach for the Catholic spiritual director and confessor when dealing with the addictions of penitents. My purpose in writing that article was to offer an experiential perspective on addictions “in the hope it may bring some direction to other priests either dealing with their own addiction or assisting others in counseling or in the confessional.”

Over the last year, a number of priests have asked me how these addictions or habitual behaviors come about and why they are so resistant to change. Within the mental health profession, these “social” addictions, for example, gambling and pornography, are hotly debated as to whether they should even be classified as addictions. For the purpose of this article, and as I will explain later, I believe these habitual behaviors can rise to the level of addiction because of the physical effects they have on the brain.

Further, I believe that as priests, we should have a working knowledge of the bio-psycho-social-spiritual interplay in which addictions of these sorts might come about so that we can offer some insight and practical assistance to our penitents and spiritual directees. Prayer alone might sometimes provide a resolution. I fully acknowledge that true miracles can and do occur. However, in my own years of experience as a priest and psychologist, I have not yet personally witnessed a case in which prayer alone eliminated the addiction and no relapse occurred.

The working model I describe in this article is not my own. It is a combination of various explanations that have come from social scientists, mental health practitioners, neuroscientists, pharmacologists and ministers regarding various aspects of “physical” and “social” addictions. In this article I present a working model I have found successful for communicating with patients and penitents in a way that helps them understand their habitual and addictive behaviors, and which can help them reduce the intensity of the drive that motivates the behaviors. Some authors within the scientific literature make a distinction between habitual behavior and addictive behavior, but for the purpose of this article, I will use these terms interchangeably.

In his famous work The Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales writes that we should maintain patience with all things, but especially with ourselves.1 He suggests that we not lose courage when considering our own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them. He says that we ought to begin this task anew every day. Elsewhere he writes that we should not be disheartened by our imperfections, but always rise up with new courage. We must be at peace with the proverbial “one step forward and two steps back,” the “two steps forward and the one step back.”

St. Francis de Sales is recommending that we strive peacefully and calmly to attain a certain homeostasis in our lives. Mental health practitioners believe that homeostasis is achieved by sustaining a relatively stable balance between interdependent elements. In other words, that we maintain a stable internal environment despite changes in internal and external conditions.

Although unaware of the scientific terminology in use today, St. Francis de Sales possessed an incredibly acute understanding of the human condition — particularly the emotional and psychological subtleties that affect our behavior. He understood how our thoughts affect our feelings, how our feelings affect our thoughts, and how an imbalance in either of these areas can eventually result in inappropriate behaviors. He compared negative thoughts and feelings that could lead to negative behaviors (finding oneself in the “near occasion of sin”) to encountering a bear in the woods. His advice to “run from the bear immediately and without hesitation” may be ineffective (and even disastrous) in confronting a literal bear. However, it is most effective for avoiding the near occasion of sin — and interfering with habitual and addictive behaviors.

Allow me to explain. What follows is a basic but necessary explanation of a part of our nervous system, the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This neurological system is central to the development of habitual and addictive behaviors. In order to effectively unravel and replace these addictive behaviors, it is important to understand the basic physiological and emotional mechanisms of addiction. The ANS is intimately involved with our body’s attempt to maintain a physiological balance within itself. When the brain senses some real or perceived threat, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated and triggers a “fight or flight” response that helps quickly mobilize energy and resources to cope with the emergency situation — usually by running away from the danger or by preparing to fight. When the danger has passed, another part of the nervous system activates. This is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which calms the body and facilitates the return to a state of rest and relaxation.2

Balance is important. As we all recognize from our own experience, when we are frightened, hurt or angry, our heart rate increases, and our blood pressure rises. When such a “fight or flight” reaction is triggered, stress hormones and substances such as adrenaline and cortisol are released and circulate throughout the body. Mental agitation and confusion may arise. This state of “fight or flight” is normal, healthy and adaptive — a very effective way of dealing with occasional, short-term emergency situations. However, the human brain and body are not designed to remain in this emergency mode of operation very long. If this state persists too long, this begins to create significant negative effects on the body, emotions, thought processes, sleep, and even digestive processes.

In order to return to a state of rest and relaxation, we must engage the PNS and begin to restore calm. However, balance is necessary here as well, for if we remain perpetually in a state of rest and relaxation, we may never accomplish any goals or achieve any of the objectives we have set for ourselves.

Volumes have been written and entire courses designed to describe methods to balance the activity of the SNS and the PNS. My intention in the article is only to point out that when we perceive a threat, whether real or imagined, our SNS engages, and we prepare to fight or to run. A threat to our safety or well-being is often perceived without conscious awareness. People have been conditioned to react to these internal and/or external stimuli because they have associated a similar situation, feeling or thought with a negative experience. The response is initiated when the person is first exposed to that particular type of trauma or stressful situation and develops a pattern (neural network or chain) within their brain. When later faced with a similar situation, their brain interprets this as meaning the person is in danger again, because it had previously experienced that similar pattern of events to be life-threatening. Consequently, their brain and body react autonomically with the “fight or flight” response to keep them safe.

This automatic association becomes deeply embedded in the brain, and a biological (chemical) reaction is triggered before conscious awareness. I have often heard patients and directees report, “I can’t tell you exactly why, but I just started to feel anxious” (substitute feeling anxious with uneasy, or upset, or lightheaded, or frustrated, or apprehensive, or afraid, or had a nervous stomach).

The Amygdala Hijack

A part of the brain known as the amygdala is intimately involved in these processes. The amygdala is a neurological structure located deep within the brain which contains a fast-acting emergency response system. The amygdala strongly influences the generation of emotions — especially those associated with danger, threat, vulnerability, and the perceptions of being under attack. It also preserves memories and attaches specific emotions to those memories.

When the amygdala perceives a threat and reacts, this triggers an immediate imbalance in the emotions, physiology and cognition of the person. In his ground-breaking book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, psychologist Daniel Goleman called the maladaptive overreaction to stress/threat the “amygdala hijack.” He explains that this happens when a situation causes the amygdala to “hijack” control of the brain’s response to stress/threat, effectively bypassing the frontal cortex and other higher brain centers where high-level reasoning and sophisticated thought processes occur, and where finely crafted responses are formulated. In contrast to the higher brain centers such as the neo-cortex, the amygdala seems to be designed to generate “quick and dirty” emotional reactions and behavioral responses — actions that can be formulated very quickly, with a minimal of information processing, and which will effectively deal with the current emergency, but which, by their very nature, may lack concern for subtleties and long-term considerations that the slower but more elegant mode of processing by the neo-cortex would have created.

The amygdala helps to define and regulate emotions. It also preserves memories and attaches those memories to specific emotions, from joy and pleasure to sadness and despondency. Goleman calls these “emotional remembrances.”

When this “emergency mode” is triggered, the amygdala and associated circuitry are designed to respond by drawing upon whatever memories it can quickly access regarding previously successful response to such similar crises. During World War II, in reference to responding to an unforeseen military crisis, General Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “A good plan right now is better than a perfect plan two weeks from now.” The amygdala seems to operate on a similar assumption that a workable response that can be formulated instantly and implemented immediately with minimal discomfort is better than a more elegant response that requires extensive reflection and thought and that might require enduring many hours of discomfort. This “quick-and-dirty” sort of approach often generates an effective response to a short-term emergency, but by using it, considerations such as the long-term health and happiness of the person; concerns about long-term negative consequences; the well-being of one’s children and family; the rights, happiness, and feelings of others; etc., tend to be lost in the shuffle in favor of a solution that will bring immediate relief — right now.

People typically later describe this state of “amygdala hijacking” with statements such as: “I just lost control. Later I realized what I did; I couldn’t believe I acted that way.” As Goleman says, although the amygdala is designed to protect people from danger, threat, and imminent death, when the amygdala is triggered, this can interfere with functioning in the modern world where threats are often more subtle in nature, and thus call for more nuanced responses than the “quick-and-dirty” type of behaviors the amygdala is specialized to generate.

The brain seeks homeostasis. Once out of balance, its prime goal is to restore its balance as quickly as possible. Its goal is to remove whatever the perceived danger or threat is so that the person can feel safe again and regain a sense of well-being as rapidly as possible. Even before we are fully aware of what is happening, our brain has already begun attempting to “fix” the perceived imbalance by drawing upon whatever memories of similar emergencies it may have — and drawing upon its memories of whatever the person did in similar past crises which effectively allowed them to calm down, feel safe, and restore homeostasis. Then it uses such memories to formulate a course of action that will deal with the present perceived crisis. Anticipating an event or activity that allowed us in the past to calm down and remove the uneasy or painful feeling releases dopamine in the brain. This expectation or anticipation of a reward increases the level of dopamine in the brain, providing a feeling of pleasure and safety. This is the same dopamine that creates feelings one can derive from sex, shopping, smelling your favorite food. Dopamine is often called “the happy hormone”. Dopamine assists in recalling things that are pleasurable and motivates us to repeat behaviors that will keep us alive and happy.

Everyone is vulnerable to feelings of disappointment, guilt, regret, loneliness, insecurity, inadequacy, depression, grief, sadness, pain, and boredom. When these feelings create significant distress within the person, whether from unsatisfying social interaction, conflict with a spouse, stress at work or some other cause, the amygdala is unconsciously triggered, which results in the “disquietude” about which St. Francis de Sales wrote. These are the feelings of anxiety, panic, desperation, and depression which mental health practitioners hear from patients, as well as the frustration and shame confessors and spiritual directors hear about from penitents and directees.

Situations and circumstances similar to experiences from the past that resulted in fear, distress, embarrassment, pain, and misery (such as physical or emotional abuse; a sense of inadequacy; failure, incompetence or disappointment; loneliness) mobilize the brain into action, triggering the amygdala and associated circuitry. Cortisol and adrenaline course through the body preparing for fight or flight; and you experience rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, clammy skin, and “goosebumps.”

How did someone “calm” themselves when these feelings arose in the past? How did they learn to quiet, soothe and reduce the disquietude, the upset, the fear, the anxiety, the dread, the terror? Perhaps they did so through drinking, overeating, viewing pornography and masturbating. Perhaps they did so with an angry outburst or violent reaction. After these responses were made, the cortisol and adrenaline dissipated, and more calming chemicals such as dopamine and acetylcholine were introduced into the system, which calmed their nervous system and the rest of the body, deactivated the emergency-mode neural circuitry, and brought everything back to norm. At this point, the perceived threat had been removed and negative emotions and feelings faded.

This deactivation of amygdala/emergency-mode circuitry and reactivation of the PNS accompanied by a release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, acetylcholine, and endorphins tend to create feelings of pleasure, well-being, or euphoria. For many years psychologists have understood how any activity repeatedly associated with relief of distress and/or experience of pleasure tends to create powerful neurological associations in the brain that function automatically and exert powerful influence upon behavior. The retrieval of memories that are pleasurable motivates people to repeat those same behaviors connected with those memories.

However, this process, engaged over and over again, creates a neural pathway in the brain, repeating each time the brain detects a threat — whether real or imagined. This was no doubt a very effective system for dealing with life in a primitive environment. However, in contrast to prehistoric times when people experienced imminent dangers to their very existence on a daily basis, most threats perceived by modern people are of a more abstract nature. Even so, a stream of modern-day threats nevertheless confront and assault our psychological well-being. They may be triggered by real or imagined rejection, betrayal, unjust treatment, challenged beliefs, loss of control, being excluded or ignored, feeling unwanted, or any number of other sources. However, such abstract threats might still trigger memories of past physical threats, such as physical or sexual abuse.

These neural networks that have been created and reinforced over many years form strong, robust, and durable links in a chain within one’s brain. The longer these associations exist, they are more resilient and resistant to change, rendering them more difficult to break. A key component of this model is that activity within these neural pathways is triggered very rapidly. Once the amygdala perceives a threat and the SNS is triggered, homeostasis is disturbed, and the brain seeks to restore and reestablish a feeling of safety. The brain is readily able to accomplish this return to equilibrium, but this is sometimes attained at a high cost: through inappropriate and destructive behavior — which eventually acquires addictive quality through chronic repetition. Many individuals resort to overeating, gambling, pornography, masturbation, etc. because these behaviors calmed their nervous systems in the past. A destructive and vicious cycle has been established and is enabled in the brain even prior to conscious awareness.

The Process

Three seemingly unrelated examples common to the confessor or spiritual counselor along with a discussion applying our model of habit formation and addiction follow.

Scenario 1: A middle-aged man relates the following in a pastoral counseling session: I find myself craving sweets. I just ate a full course dinner only an hour ago. I can’t be hungry. I tell myself I made a resolution during Lent not to eat between meals. My physician reminded me that as my triglycerides continue to rise, I’m courting type 2 diabetes. Am I sinning against the 5th Commandment? If my wife or children see me eating that piece of cake I hid behind the milk containers, they’ll berate me for my lack of will-power. But I know it’s there. And I need that cake! I don’t just want it, I need it! I ate it! I snuck to the kitchen and satisfied my need. I know that I really didn’t have to do that . . . and the more I think about it, the worse I feel about myself.

Scenario 2: You have been counseling a young, well-educated married couple for several months. They come to you every two weeks. The recurring complaint is that Mary and John have difficulty resolving conflict. Under normal circumstances, they act lovingly and with great understanding of each other’s perspective. However, they agree on one point: There are, as John points out, “certain topics trigger Mary’s almost uncontrollable anger. I don’t understand why she becomes so defensive and resentful.” Mary agrees. She, too, does not understand her lack of control. They go to bed angry, but the following day, they are back to their normal, loving relationship.

Scenario 3: A 32-year-old college-educated young man seeks your counsel. He has been referred to you by his elderly confessor because you are the younger priest in the rectory. The confessor believes this young man would feel more comfortable talking with someone closer to his own age.

This young man has engaged in pornography and compulsive masturbation since adolescence. He believes each time he views pornography and masturbates he “commits a mortal sin, and if I die, I’ll go right to hell.” He is anxious, guilt-ridden and moderately depressed. He has a demanding job in human resources and frequently works long days. He lives alone and feels somewhat lonely, especially following a long, intense day involved in conflict resolution. During the subway ride home late, he is tired and thinks about the empty apartment he faces. As he gets closer to home, his thoughts turn to a pornographic image he experienced fleetingly during the day but was unable to attend to at the time because of his busy schedule.

He arrives home, enters the kitchen and prepares his dinner. Intrusive pornographic images come to mind. “I said to myself that I shouldn’t be thinking about this . . . it’s a sin . . . I know where it’s going to lead.” It does lead to the computer, to masturbation and to an immediate release of tension and an experience of pleasure. However, after this the experience of guilt and disappointment soon follows.

In the above scenarios, we observe a cycle of addictive behavior: An individual has unconsciously formed a chemical link in their brain that is triggered by something that makes them feel emotionally, psychologically or spiritually threatened, distressed or painfully anxious. This could involve any significant amount of sadness, anger, boredom, exhaustion or fatigue. Within the same midbrain where these feelings reside are also memories of actions that made them feel comforted, relieved, reassured, and soothed in the past. The very purpose of this limbic system, located in the midbrain, is to protect people, avoid pain and search for something pleasurable to relieve any pain they might be experiencing. Once engaged, the neurons in the limbic system fire quickly and intensely. This rapidly advancing series of links must be interrupted if the individual is to reduce and extinguish this habitual behavior. At a certain point along that neural pathway, it becomes extremely difficult to stop. If the person waits too long, and they reach a point of inevitability — the behavior will occur. If they wait too long, their will power is simply not sufficient to interrupt this strong progressing chain of events.

People do not seem to be able to “will away” nor even “pray away” these triggers and consequent behaviors. This process within the brain has become too deeply ingrained in the functioning of our neural network, and we are now chemically dependent on them. So, what can a person do about this?

There is a combination of factors that can help us diminish the strength of the bonds between the triggers and behaviors, thereby reducing the frequency of acting out.

Long before modern science discovered the neurochemicals that create the bonds between triggers and behaviors, St. Francis de Sales intuitively recognized this important and dynamic relationship, and suggested mechanisms to assist people in reducing inappropriate behavior. In his insightful writings, St. Francis de Sales speaks of acceptance, living in the present moment, humility, personal accountability, personal responsibility, visualization, accepting and engaging in the “struggle” of life. Prayer, scripture and the sacraments also play an important role in this process of recovery.

What I am proposing is a combination of principles of Salesian spirituality and modern psychology and neuroscience. This combination of principles can assist spiritual directors and confessors when dealing with individuals attempting to achieve greater control in reducing and terminating inappropriate and sinful behaviors.

This approach involves several interrelated components: recognition of one’s emotional state, the willingness to relinquish control, engaging the process, mindfulness, imagination, accountability, virtue and prayer. As confessors and spiritual directors, we can be part of a team of professionals to assist our parishioners. This article is not intended as a recipe book for priests on treating individuals with destructive habitual behaviors. Rather it is written in the hope that when encountering behaviors that are very resistant to change, understanding how and why these behaviors may have occurred might assist in supporting individuals in their struggle.

Depending on the degree and intensity of the presenting issue, it may be a great value to work with one or more other professionals. As I mentioned in a previous article, we should have a list of psychiatrists, psychologists, and clinical social workers whose approach is consistent with our Catholic teachings and values. Two sites where priests and spiritual directors can turn in order to locate Catholic mental health professionals are the Catholic Psychotherapy Association (https://www.catholicpsychotherapy.org/) and Divine Mercy University (https://www.divinemercy.edu/). These organizations may be helpful to the priest/spiritual director in locating a therapist whose approach is consistent with Catholic teaching.

Recognition of one’s emotional state: In each of the examples above, the individual was emotionally, biologically and psychologically unbalanced. Stress is a normal part of life and can be adaptive: it motivates one to change. In healthy doses, stress urges people to behave in such a way as to correct or mitigate the cause of the stress. However, if not handled appropriately and in a healthy manner, stress can be very destructive. St. Francis de Sales writes:

Just as internal commotions and seditions ruin a commonwealth and make it incapable of resisting its foreign enemies, so if our heart be disturbed and anxious, it loses power to retain such graces as it has, as well as strength to resist the temptations of the Evil One who is all the more ready to fish in troubled waters.

Bad habits and various addictive states have one thing in common: The person is out of control, lacking balance in their life, increasingly less able to change or “to resist the temptations of the Evil One.”

Relinquish control: Having once recognized they are unable to alter their harmful behavior, sometimes only after “hitting rock bottom,” their intellect and will tell them they need assistance; they cannot do it alone. This is an important step that is based on their recognition that all their attempts to solve the problem have either failed or resulted in very limited success. Often penitents and directees are spiritually and emotionally tortured over the fact that for years — in spite of how much as they have tried, prayed and confessed — little or no improvement in their behavior has taken place. In my own journey with addiction, I sometimes feel as frustrated as Plato’s Sisyphus: no sooner do I feel I am finally in control than a slip occurs.

During this process, the person accepts that their brain has adopted a harmful, dangerous pattern of behavior to cope with the stress and imbalance in their physical and emotional lives. They recognize that prayer and fasting is a very important — but not sufficient — part of the resolution. Combating the amygdala, the seat of the problem, cannot be accomplished with the will alone.

It is within the amygdala and associated circuitry where memory holds the triggers that cause discomfort and the behaviors that have been used to calm the battle. Recognizing this biological dynamic helps the individuals to move from the frustration that leads to discouragement and depression toward developing strategies to weaken and diminish the strength of the immediate gratification of the amygdala.

Engage the process: Many years ago, a teacher of mine who taught a course entitled Clinical Psychology and the Therapist stated: “We don’t cure a person; we don’t change who the person is. What we can do is offer the person strategies and plans to recognize feelings accurately and honestly and then choose alternative behaviors to respond in a healthy and mature manner.”

Mindfulness: Be aware of what is going on internally. Stress, anxiety, boredom, anger and frustration can all trigger a series of cascading events in the midbrain that lead to habitual behavior. St. Francis de Sales is quoted as saying, “couper court,” French meaning “cut short,” meaning to cut the thought short! St. Francis de Sales admonishes his readers: The longer a person persists in thinking about or entertaining an inappropriate thought, the more likely they are to act on it. Understandably then, it is best not to allow that uneasy feeling to begin that triggers the neural pathways to inappropriate behavior. Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment. It is being aware of where you are and what you are doing . . . and not becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around you. It is important to be aware of your own body and bodily reactions to stress, discomfort, and anxiety.

Imagination: St. Francis de Sales wrote that when one is distracted by anxiety, worry, disquiet, the skillful response is to imagine a scene of joy, serenity and calm. Even without the benefit of neuroscience, St. Francis de Sales realized that when one is upset (which triggers the SNS) this can lead to unacceptable, objectionable, and even sinful behavior. Thinking and fully engaging in a calming, sensual image downregulates the SNS, resulting in composure and equanimity (PNS).

Accountability: Knowing that we will be held accountable for our behaviors helps to keep the goal in clear sight. Staying mindful of accountability prevents people from rationalizing their inappropriate actions. In our Catholic tradition, regular interaction with a confessor or spiritual director can serve our need for accountability. As St. Francis de Sales points out, a good friend who is knowledgeable, virtuous, spiritual, reliable, and realistic can also serve in this capacity. Such an individual will encourage the person to reflect on the process outlined above (beginning with the uneasy feeling or boredom or conflict, etc.), and guide them to become conscious of how they could have short-circuited the addictive cycle. The person will be encouraged to focus attention on such questions as where the habitual behavior takes place, what time of day it happens, how do they feel when it happens, are other people involved when these feelings occur, and does it occur following some identifiable event?

Virtue and Prayer: It is vital to remain aware that we are in the presence of God! St. Francis de Sales teaches that when we approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation even with serious and mortal sin on our soul, it is His grace that calls us to Himself. We could not even approach the sacraments without His desire to make us whole. St. Francis de Sales recounts the parable of the Prodigal Son. His father runs to him and embraces him before the son has even reached the father’s house. So it is with our loving and compassionate God. Always begin and end a thought or discussion with the knowledge that God loves you. The “ups and downs” people experience in life are truly a struggle. St. Francis de Sales writes that it is in the very struggle that we find holiness. Accept the struggle and engage it with the strength that God offers: “Take my yoke upon you.” The Lord is with us in the struggle. We are never left alone. St. Francis de Sales asks us to be patient with everyone, but especially with ourselves. These thoughts and reflections are intended to impress upon them the great love God has for each of us.

St. Francis de Sales counsels us to practice the “Little Virtues” of gentleness, charity, joy and graciousness, humility, and tenderness toward our neighbors — being patient with their imperfections. By being conscious of performing “small acts of love” throughout the day, we maintain a spiritual connection with God and with our neighbors. These acts of virtue can offer us a spiritual and emotional grounding.

Practical strategies: As we know, each person who comes to us for spiritual counsel or direction is unique. The above components will apply to the struggle of each person. But where each person is within that struggle will determine how his or her plan is developed.

It is important for people to understand how habits and addictions are formed. Details of the explanation can be adjusted to the capacity of each person to understand these concepts. I have found the above chart (The Process) to be helpful in explaining how the “thinking” brain is hijacked during in habitual and addictive behavior. This model helps people understand that breaking a habit is a long process which requires a commitment to the plan. Even when repeated failures are experienced, it is perseverance in the struggle that is critical.

De Sales asks the confessor and spiritual director to explain, suggest and support the use of sacramentals such as a crucifix, holy cards, the rosary, holy water. They can be used to recall the presence of God throughout the day. Placing them next to the computer, in the bedroom, taped on the cellphone, can assist in reflecting on the Lord’s presence and the continuous offer of his grace.

It is crucial to continually review the process with a person who will hold this individual accountable if that person is different from the individual’s confessor or spiritual director. The person serving as the guide must be non-judgmental — but firm. They must also be supportive and challenging. I concluded my last article in HPR (March 2021) with the proposition, “Fear-based faith increases and reinforces the cycle of addiction, but love-based faith drives out the many fears the addict has lived with for years.” I close this article with a famous saying of St. Francis de Sales: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”3

  1. Unless otherwise stated, references to the words of St. Francis de Sales are taken from The Introduction to the Devout Life, translated by John K. Ryan, (Image Books, Doubleday, 1972).
  2. For a greater, in-depth explanation of the role of the limbic system in the development of habits, I refer the reader to the following articles:






  3. St. Francis de Sales, Selected Letters, trans. Elisabeth Stopp (Faber and Faber, London, 1960), p. 104.
Fr. Anthony J. Pinizzotto About Fr. Anthony J. Pinizzotto

Fr. Anthony J. Pinizzotto, PhD, is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington (VA). Ordained for over 40 years, he holds advanced degrees in theology, psychology and psychopharmacology. Assigned to St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, VA, Father continues to work as a consultant in Clinical Forensic Psychology.


  1. Thank you for this excellent invitation to pursue a greater understanding of the spiritual and biological need for integration to address human frailty. Tenderness and gentleness are so needed to listen from the heart to minister to addictions of any sort. I highly recommend Priests and lay counselors consider a course that addresses this at Seton Hall University called the IThirst Initiative. CME credits are available. I have completed the course and it was invaluable in assisting others. Take a look here: https://www.shu.edu/academics/ithirst-spiritual-companionship-training.cfm

    I’m a Benedictine Oblate, Catholic Theologian, trained in psychoanalytic studies and now retired from Lecturing and Teaching. The IThirst training addresses this integration and has been very helpful, as you point out in accompanying others with addictions, in their journey to become who God intends them to be.

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  3. Avatar Yoshiko Tsuda says:

    Thank you so much for letting me know the part of your work.
    Thank God.
    Some times I need your advice.