Recovery Workshop: Lesson Twenty-Three
Practical Uses for Measuring
It's one thing to take the time to struggle through what is most likely a boring, confusing and murky series of 'behavior measurement' lessons in the name of 'recovery'. Heck, after three weeks of lessons, your efforts would be better spent working directly with the nuts and bolts of recovery. I mean, who wants to voluntarily return to 8th grade math class? If this has been your experience so far, it would be a crap shoot at best as to whether or not you will derive any benefit from such an important learning experience. Worse, by not taking the time to understand what measuring compulsive behavior is all about, it may actually have a detrimental effect on your own recovery...as you will find it easier and easier to pick and choose the recovery concepts that you enjoy. The ones that leave you emotionally stimulated.
So, with that in mind, the purpose of this lesson is to put the skill of 'measuring compulsive behavior' into real life context. Hopefully, when seeing how this skill is utilized, it will prompt a more clear understanding...and a more positive learning approach...from those whose goal may have been to just 'get through' these more technical lessons. The skill of measuring your behavior is one that you absolutely want to master. And while it may not be a critical skill in living a healthy life, it has proven to be a valuable one for a permanent recovery.
Pulling it All Together
The majority of the work we have done so far in the workshop has been in the area of understanding the patterns involved with compulsive behavior. We began by looking at the role that emotions play in compulsive behavior, we looked at the natural need to experience/maintain emotional stimulation/balance, and we looked at reasons how that balance can get upset. We explored how people can use values to help them maintain their emotional balance, and how others who lack such skills use artificial means to manage their emotions. We then explored the elements that are involved in artificially managing our emotions via compulsive sexual and/or romantic behavior. In this last lesson, we began assigning arbitrary numbers to the elements of this artificial stimulation. In the next lesson, you'll expand the concept of measuring individual elements to the concept of measuring comprehensive chains of elements. This will all be done under the auspices of measuring compulsive behavior.
Uses for Measuring Behavior
There are three areas where measuring compulsive behavior comes into play in recovery. These areas are Assessment, Self-Awareness and Relapse Prevention. Let's explore each in a real-life application.
Assessing Behavioral Patterns
When most people begin to examine the compulsive nature of their behavior, they do so by seeing a single, stand alone behavior. They 'look at porn'. They 'had an affair'. They 'used a prostitute'. They 'frequent strip clubs'. And even when these behaviors are used in combination, it is always with the underlying perception that each behavior is a single entity...as opposed to a complex series of smaller behaviors, ongoing choices, changing perceptions, etc. It is this inability to accurately assess their own behavior that often leads to the "rituals" that are associated with more complex behavioral patterns. The rituals where, once they have experienced one or two elements of that ritual...say, the urge to view porn...and a visit to a porn site...they lose the ability to stop themselves until the ritual is complete. Or, abruptly stopped by some other means. See: wife wakes up for midnight snack. Of course, they really have never lost the ability to make choices along the way, it's just that the patterns have become so ingrained, that having the option of choice is no longer experienced. The ritual...from initial urge to final orgasm (or whatever the particular elements might be for any given individual)...is seen as one single act.
Measuring such compulsive acts forces you to break down that 'single act' into a more realistic, more accurate series of patterned behavior. When you have literally mapped out that pattern into smaller, separate events, and then assigned some measurement of emotional stimulation to each event, what you have actually done is allowed yourself to fully assess your behavior in a useful way. Not only did you address the physical aspects of the pattern, not only did you recognize the elemental aspects, but most importantly, you provided yourself with a means for assessing your emotions — and how they were impacted by each element. And this is a major key to the skills you will be learning in Urge Control.
In the previous lesson, each behavioral element was painstakingly written out, with measurements assigned to both the behavior and the filters to that behavior. You are STRONGLY encouraged to master this process to such a level. Not necessarily for the ultimate benefits that it will provide in measuring, but for the absolute understanding and visualization that you will develop for seeing your behaviors for what they are...and the functional role that they play in your life. In reality, 'measuring your behavior' is significantly less complex...requiring minutes, as opposed to an hour or more. Let's look at a realistic example in action:
Vicki loved her fiancee. They had been engaged for nearly three years, and she had no doubts about her desire to eventually marry him. Yet, she found herself engaging in sexual liaisons with many other men. Complete strangers, some. Her fiancee's friends, others. Coworkers, schoolmates, neighbors...it seemed as if anyone who showed her any attention, or any affection, she would end up in bed with.
She hated herself for what she was doing. Wanted to stop and promised to stop on many occasions. But it never lasted. When she was first asked to 'map out' her behavior, she wrote simply:
A guy would show me attention and I would sleep with them.
That was the extent of her awareness. Sure, she had known enough to connect that the behavior was directly related to her father having abandoned them when she was a child (or she was sexually abused, or...), but such understanding did nothing to help her with ending these destructive patterns. After developing the skill of measuring her behavior, she then offered a new map of the same pattern that she was exhibiting.
1) A man showed me attention — which made me feel good.
2) I experienced a need/pressure to return the favor by sexually pleasing him
3) I thought of my fiancee, and how I've cheated on him so many times and felt guilt and shame; but experience the inevitability of cheating on him again.
4) Man continues to show interest; desire for me
5) Feelings of pressure to not have sex increase. Guilt and shame increase with that pressure — knowing that no matter how hard that I fight it, this is going to end in my having sex with this guy.
6) Man makes gestures of intimacy — (shares story, asks questions about myself, makes me laugh, etc.)
7) Man continues to show affection, interest, desire
8) Realizing that this is going to end in sex anyway, I initiate the sexual gestures/offer
9) He accepts — I'm lost in a flurry of conflicting emotions
10) During sex, I enjoy the experience of feeling needed, skilled, etc.
11) Experience many compliments from partner
12) Man orgasms — I feel a sense of accomplishment
13) Man leaves — I think of fiancee and feel guilty, ashamed
Now, even this example — while significantly more telling that her initial attempt — is potentially lacking in many important areas. And technically, it might not be considered a true ritualistic chain...but such technicalities are unimportant to her. The essence of the chain she has developed will allow her to assess the single act of 'having a one night stand' as a series of separate, yet related emotional elements. In a technically correct chain, other elements of the behavior would have been considered. Elements like danger, past, suspense, sensory stimulation, etc., but this one is useful as is.
Her next step is to assign emotional measurements to each element. Again, in a real life situation, the exact nature of these measurements is unimportant. Ultimately, it is only important that she gains a general recognition for how each element affected her overall emotional stimulation. So, she reviews the elements above and looks for the those that triggered the most significant emotional change. For her, these were elements 1, 2, 9 & 12 — and so these became the elements that she thoroughly explored in her review/assessment of this particular event.
While measuring chains can be an effective technique for breaking down and assessing your specific behavioral patterns, it is in the area of self-awareness where you will use the skill most often. In assessing your behaviors, the focus is mainly on the separate elements that make up a 'single act'. In helping you to develop self-awareness, you will focus mainly on examining the actual/potential emotional stimulation gained from each element. Additionally, you will begin to expand the elements being evaluated from real, previously-experienced ones, to potential, conceptual ones. In other words, it will not matter whether or not you have actually exhibited the elements, only that you develop the ability to gauge the potential stimulation that a particular element might have on your emotional state.
It is this ability that will allow you to set up a direct connection between your actions, your decisions and the emotional consequences that result from those decisions. In other words, your mastering the skill of measuring compulsive behavior — whether you have exhibited that behavior or not — will allow you to take such emotional reactions into consideration as you learn to master decision-making. In essence, you will gain the ability to further develop your own awareness through mental role-playing. And it has proven to be a very effective technique for ingraining change in what was believed to be an ingrained pattern.
Few recovery skills will offer you more assistance in relapse prevention than your ability to break-down and measure your behavior. Why? Because when most people relapse, they do so in a state of mind that is emotionally unstable. They have lost the connection with the roles that their emotions play in their day-to-day experiences...and more importantly — they have lost connection with the role that their values play in managing their emotions. And so, as they begin to return to more artificial means for stimulation (e.g. porn, affairs, prostitution, fantasy)...they are falling further and further isolated from healthy life management skills.
One of the best and most effective ways to reverse this process in its tracks, is for the person who recognizes that they are again engaging in potentially destructive behavior, to take that behavior and intellectually break it down — map out the individual elements involved. This allows them to objectively visualize the role that those elements are playing in altering their emotions, which often triggers the feeling of renewed control over their behavior and increased stability within their life. Most importantly, during times of renewed participation in destructive behavior, their ability to map out this behavior often reinforces the realization that where they go from here is indeed a choice that they must make. And for many, just recognizing that it is a choice — or being reminded of it from time to time — is all that is required for a person to reprioritize their life.
Another role that behavior measurement plays in relapse prevention, is directly related to the skills discussed in the Self-Awareness area. That being, your ability to role play situations and events in an effort to prepare you for the emotional stimulation that you might face. This will be discussed in depth in the Relapse Prevention lessons towards the end of the workshop.
Lesson 23 Exercise:
In your recovery thread, share a brief summary of what practical uses the skill of measuring compulsive rituals can have in your recovery. Don't just copy the headings of this lesson, take a minute to see how you can practically use this information in YOUR life.