Recovery Workshop: Lesson Thirty-One

Emotional Balance and Stability

To understand emotions and values is one thing. To put them into use is quite another. The purpose of this lesson is to begin teaching yourself how to actually use this information in your day-to-day life.

Values and Balance

Recall the story of the two students who received less than perfect grades presented earlier in the workshop. Both had initial stress reactions, yet the girl whose only values were food and grades had a much more devastating reaction to the same event than did the girl who had many different values to rely on. Why is this? The answer lies in human nature.

Each of us have our own innate desire to maintain a feeling of emotional comfort (or to minimize discomfort). We have each developed, quite naturally, our own ways of balancing whatever threatens or disrupts that feeling of comfort. In other words, each of us have developed our own ways of balancing stress. In a theoretical state of perfect emotional balance, your emotional scale would look as follows:

There are several things to know about this scale: First, note the absence of stress. In reality, of course, such a state can never be reached as stress is a constant in our lives. If we do not create it by our action (or inaction), others will provide an ample supply from their's. Even if we maintain a completely isolated existence, away from all external sources of stress — which is also an impossibility — we still must acknowledge the effects of physics — gravity, environmental stressors, physiology (aging, hunger, disease). Not to mention the effects of change in any form — be it positive or negative change. Stress, therefore, is a constant. Second, realize that each bar on the graph represents a separate value (like family, sexuality or self-respect). When we begin adding stressors to this scale, realize also that each bar on the Stress side of the scale will represent a separate stressor in that person's life. Finally, note the numerical values assigned to the set of values. These numbers represent the ongoing amount of stimulation that is provided to an individual when such values are fulfilled. (For those who are thinking back to the values assigned as a result of the Wheel of Sexual Compulsion...they directly relate to these numbers assigned here. In the Wheel, the numerical values assigned to the ritualistic chains represented the amount of stimulation a person was able to produce via compulsive thoughts and behavior. Here, the stimulation is produced by a foundation of values. The number "150" is arbitrary, but represents a perfect state of emotional well being.

"How can the scale be balanced, when there is nothing on one side, and something on the other?"

Everyone requires some sort of stimulation to be emotionally satisfied, and to attempt a life with no stress and no values (and thus producing a visually "balanced" scale), is to misunderstand the role of stimulation in your life.

Because stress cannot be avoided, and people are forced to manage that stress in order to maintain a state of emotional well being, the following scale is more reflective of reality:

Note that the total stimulation provided by this person's values is "180". The total amount of Stress (or negative stimulation) is "30". Subtracting the negative stimulation from the positive leaves the person with a total emotional score of "150" — the level needed for emotional satisfaction. Let's take a look at a scale of someone who is experiencing mild stress:

See that the total amount of stress ("80"), when subtracted from the overall stimulation provided from their values ("160"), creates an overall emotional score of "80". This is not enough to achieve absolute emotional comfort, and so the person would be classified as mildly stressed. Review the following table for a complete understanding of the score interpretations.

Interpreting Emotional Scores

Emotional Score Emotional Comfort Level
150 and above Actualization (complete emotional comfort)
149-100 Emotionally Comfortable
99-50 Mildly Stressed
49-1 Moderately Stressed
0 and below Severely Stressed

As you can see, the greater the discrepancy between a person's values and their stress, the greater the need for compulsive behavior to assist in managing that stress. Because there are not adequate life skills developed (e.g. personal values) to balance this stress, the person must then turn to artificial sources. But because such artificial means are temporary, as their effects subside, the addict finds himself even more out of balance — a direct result of the additional time spent neglecting the very values which are already lacking.

Take a look at the following scales of someone who is Severely Stressed:

Notice how the amount of negative stimulation ("210") cannot be managed with the significantly deteriorated values that they posses ("50"). This equals an emotional score of "-160", which represents a Severely Stressed person.

In each of the above examples, we viewed how a relatively healthy individual attempts to balance stress with a foundation of values. Now let's look at a typical scale from someone relying on compulsive behavior to manage their stress:

The green represents the amount of further stimulation needed in order to obtain emotional comfort (e.g. to achieve a level of at least "150"). Because these people have no other values to provide this stimulation, they are forced to produce the stimulation through artificial means. That could mean through, among other things: alcohol, drugs, eating, gambling or sex (enter the stimulation produced from the Wheel of Sexual Compulsion).

When a person achieves emotional satisfaction through such artificial means, they have achieved what is known as "Delusional Actualization". In Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs, at the top is self-actualization — the feeling of complete self-awareness and control. Compulsive behavior allows an individual to temporarily believe that they are approaching such actualization. Of course, this is a false belief, which triggers the need for the term "delusional" in this concept. Delusional Actualization occurs when a person uses artificial stimulation to produce a feeling of emotional perfection. No matter how threatened/deteriorated your values become, your compulsive behavior will always provide you with the temporary feeling of comfort — with the temporary feeling that your life is in a perfect state of emotional balance (delusional actualization).

Note how the person's values can not possibly balance the stress that they are experiencing. The only way of achieving emotional balance is to produce it through other means...like developing their own "cookies" from the Wheel of Sexual Compulsion. But what happens when a person's values have become completely eroded? The scale would look as follows:

In such a state, the person's addictions/compulsive behavior will have actually replaced their values. When this happens, their identity will have fused with their addiction...and they will believe that they are indeed powerless to control their behavior. They will believe that these compulsions are a natural part of who they are. They will believe that they cannot exist without these behaviors in their life.

To summarize, your values create your identity. When you artificially replace those values with addictive behaviors, your addiction becomes your identity. The goal, then, is to redevelop your identity by forming a foundation of values that represent who you want to be. That represent the person that you know you are inside.

But how?

To simply choose values at random — or worse, have them chosen for you — is not the answer. If it were that easy, you might have done it long ago. What it will take is for you to begin a relationship with yourself. Talk to yourself (I don't suggest doing this in public...‹smile›). Be the first person that you will commit yourself to being absolutely honest with. Consider what your values were, may have been, are... Somewhere along the line, some or all of the values that you had begun to develop as a child were knocked off course. It may have started with one or two basic values (like Safety and Sexuality), but for many of you, it has since infiltrated your entire foundation (again, based on the severity of the addiction). These values must be identified by you, then strengthened. They must be developed (or redeveloped) to the point of having the ability to provide strength and stability to your life. Of providing value to your life.

Lesson 31 Exercise:

In learning to effectively manage your life (e.g. maintain relative emotional balance), it is important to develop an ongoing awareness of where the majority of your energy is being exhausted and where it is being derived. In your Personal Recovery Thread:

A. Make a list of all identifiable stressors that have affected your emotional health over the past week. For each, document whether it is a mild, moderate, severe or extreme stressor. Example: 1) Facing Possible Divorce: extreme; 2) Lost respect among friends and family: moderate

B. Return to your values list created earlier in the workshop. In a healthy life, the majority of energy being drained (e.g. stress) should be related to the pursuit of your highest prioritized values (top fifteen or so). Do you see this pattern in your life? If not, what do you think this means in terms of the way that you are expending your energy?

C. Likewise, in a healthy life, the majority of meaning and stimulation that you gain should also be related to your highest values. Do you see this pattern in your life? If not, what do you think this means in terms of the quality of life you are living?

Share any insights in your Personal Recovery Thread.

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