Recovery Workshop: Lesson Thirty-Three
Developing Emotional Maturity
When I first began offering this workshop, the reaction of many initially referred to as 'emotionally immature' was not pleasant. But to a person, once they came to understand their addiction in practical terms, they also came to understand that 'emotionally immature' is exactly what they were. And, if you are struggling to manage any type of compulsive ritual...it is what you are as well.
And this is a good thing.
Much healthier than say, believing that what you are experiencing is some mystical force that compels you to act in such ways. Or, that you suffer from some disease over which you have no control. To those who have no real answers, this is an understandable conclusion...but it is wrong. Tragically wrong.
Master Your Emotions; Master Your Addiction
How nice it would be if this entire workshop consisted of only one sentence:
"Master Your Emotions; Master Your Addiction"
Because ultimately, that is the answer. At least to ending addiction. There is much more to know for developing and maintaining a healthy life, but for you to permanently end your addiction, you only need to become a master at managing your emotions. Right now, you are far, far from that mastery. At least you are if you continue to struggle with fear, panic and uncertainty in the face of a compulsive urge. The bright side to this is that, no matter how far away you may currently be from achieving emotional mastery, you can make up 75% of the ground by embracing a single concept: the concept of 'finite emotions'.
Understanding Finite Emotions
If you were to put all emotions on a scale of intensity from 0-100, you would find terror at the top with a perfect 100. True panic attacks would typically register between an 85-95. Compulsive urges, even the most extreme compulsive urges, would struggle to reach 70. Think about that. You are dealing with an experience that — at its extreme — registers about a 70 on an emotional intensity scale. Yet, you have ingrained a perception of this intensity as nearing 100. That it is beyond your ability to cope. Beyond your ability to manage. That, like terror, you are reduced simply to biological response. To survival. It's bullshit. It is a game that you have played in your head for many, many years...and while you haven't done so intentionally, you have avoided seeking the reality. No more.
The reality is, every emotion that you experience is finite. You may feel as if you experience certain things (like sexual urges) with more intensity than others, but you are wrong. Well, you are right in that certain stimuli may trigger a more intense response in you than in most; but you are wrong in believing that this response is extraordinary. All human behavior exists within a finite experience and within a relatively small range. Think of it in terms of time. Time, for what we can conceive, is endless. Yet, all humans live anywhere from 0-120 years within that concept of time. In the grander scope, that is infinitesimal. Yet, from an individual's scope, there is a tremendous difference between living a life of seventy years and living a life of one hundred years. The intensity of your emotions are the same way. As a concept, that intensity is boundless. But in reality, because of our physiological limitations, we all experience the same emotions within a relatively small range of intensity. Understand this. Accept this.
The person struggling with a lifelong sexual addiction does not process their emotions that differently than a person who has experienced lifelong sexual health. They may perceive their emotions differently — and those perceptions will have had a major impact on their life, their values, their decisions, etc. — which will have further skewed their perceptions (note the ongoing pattern of circular digression that takes place to one's values, perceptions and decisions). But the emotions themselves are not extraordinarily different. A higher intensity to these emotions? Absolutely. Especially when these patterns have become ingrained. But so high that it falls beyond human capability to manage? Nonsense. Human beings experience all stimulation within a finite human response.
This is what is meant by sexual addicts being 'emotionally immature'. They experience relatively the same finite intensity as all other human beings, but they do not know how to manage this intensity efficiently. Now, it can be argued that because emotional intensity is subjective, this principle of finite emotions cannot be proven. Who cares. In this instance, where the concept itself can serve as a functional tool in understanding one's compulsive behavior — proof is irrelevant. When you can take 10,000 people who have experienced similar events (say, the uncontrollable urge to view porn)...and 9,900 of them go on to describe the intensity of their urges with the same delusional uniqueness as the others, you do not need scientific proof to use this information effectively. If you can't grasp this concept with 'emotional intensity', replace the variable with a color. Say, red. You ask 10,000 people to describe the color red and let's say 9,900 of them offer similar descriptions. How can any of those descriptions be scientifically proved accurate? They can't. They can only be collectively assessed and an inference gained. What's more, one person's perception of red may be different than another's-perhaps because of the shape of the eye. The RANGE of red is what is at issue. Just as it is the RANGE of emotional intensity is at issue in compulsion. We are not looking for exact...we are looking for a collective understanding that allows for practical application. This is it: every emotion you experience is experienced within a finite range of intensity.
Applying the Knowledge in Practical Terms
Knowing that you are no longer dealing with emotions that are beyond your ability to manage, and knowing that you're continuing to struggle in managing the more intense emotions, you must accept that, for now...your emotional management skills are inadequate. They have not been developed to the point of being able to manage a healthy, mature life. Well, duh.
But the first step in developing this maturity is to gain confidence in your ability to recognize that your emotions are finite. In doing so, you can immediately put an end to the fear and anxiety that accompanies the unknown in a compulsive crisis. There will be no more unknown. With some experience, you will know what is coming. You will know the limits of the intensity that you will be facing. You will be able to reduce the entire compulsive event NOT to managing the behavior (say, whether or not to masturbate), but rather, to managing the finite emotions that will accompany that behavior. Or, that will accompany the denial of that behavior.
Lesson 33 Exercise:
1. While you have no doubt already deepened the awareness of your emotions...you now want to begin the process of mastering them. You want to make it a goal of yours to turn what was once a debilitating fault into one of your greatest strengths. That can't be done by reading. It must be developed in your day-to-day life. And so, that is your assignment. To take this next week to seek out opportunities to deepen an awareness of your emotions — both as they occur and as they can be anticipated. Each day, find at least five opportunities to assess your emotions. Don't do this retroactively...as in, you are about to go to bed and so, you review the day's activities and how you felt about them...this must be done in the here and now.
Additionally, add a few opportunities for developing this awareness by anticipating, role playing common rituals surrounding your past behavior. Or possible future behavior. Consider your emotions at the height of a compulsive urge. On the death of a loved one. On the experience of a child's birth. Think of the extremes.
The insights you are searching for throughout this exercise will be in relation to the finite qualities of emotion; the lack of fear/anxiety that comes with developing confidence in being able to anticipate emotional intensity; and the confidence that comes with the same.
2. Each day over the next three, share a few insights relating to these topics in your personal thread. Insights that you have gained from that particular day's focus.
3. At the end of the week, assess the level of effort you put into this task. Did you remember to consciously seek out such developmental opportunities each of the seven days? Post your assessment in your thread.