Recovery Workshop: Lesson Forty-Four
Urge Control: Your Core Identity
The most important concept to understand when developing the skills necessary to control urges is to develop a solid grasp of your "core identity". We have brushed upon this subject several times in the workshop already, in relation to how addiction permeates the core of who you are...but just what is this core identity?
Early n the workshop, you were asked to spend fifteen minutes alone, with your eyes closed. In that time, you were to try to move past your physical identity and grasp the concept of your 'soul'. Your meta-physical experience. Your consciousness. You were to experience your emotions, feelings, reactions, etc. after they had been processed by your physical self (e.g. your sensations, your brain). What you were experiencing was your core identity. It was the part of you that no one else could ever experience but you. The part of you that you can only describe to others, not show them. And because it is your core identity that provides the very foundation for your existence, the processing of your values, the identification of your boundaries...it is here that we begin learning how to deal with destructive urges.
Throughout the past 40+ lessons, one of the primary goals for you has been to build a foundation that will allow you to effectively develop and manage a healthy core identity. Until now, it has never been referred to in such a way, but you might find it useful to begin doing so. By now, you should have reached a level of self-awareness that developing a working knowledge of the 'core identity' concept should not be difficult. I will summarize it here, though please feel free to expand upon this summary in the forum — asking questions and offering insights/examples as desired.
The Role of the Core Identity
Physiologically, anything and everything that you consciously experience is first processed through your senses. Your senses transmit the information to your brain, which interprets it and assigns an emotional reaction to the experience. Occasionally, a physical reaction will be assigned as well...as in the case of putting your hand on a hot stove. But in all cases, some type of emotional reaction (including a combination of reactions) will be attached to the event. That is where your core identity comes in. It takes this information that is stored in the brain and forms judgments and rules and boundaries to live by. It processes those events again and again...filtering them through the existing values and boundaries that they have available.
Most often, when events are determined to be pleasurable, and they fall within the existing boundaries of a person's life...they are often repeated...further strengthening those values and boundaries. When events are determined to be painful, they are often avoided. Again, further strengthening those values and boundaries. It is the person's existing values and boundaries...in continuous development since infancy...that provide the structure for the decisions that they make in life. But what happens when that structure is not there?
As we have already seen, when a healthy set of values/boundaries are not developed, it opens the door for addiction (or some other extreme emotional consequence). And we are not referring to an intellectual understanding of values, but an actual integration of specific, personal values into the 'core identity' of that person. They must know how to use their values to assist them in making decisions, not just know what they are. They must know how to use their boundaries, not simply imagine what they would like them to be. And, they must have a variety of boundaries/values so that they may effectively manage all of the highs and lows that come with life, as well as to feel confident in making decisions that will promote satisfaction and fulfillment.
When this structure of boundaries/values is not developed...the brain processes events in the same manner as described previously, but once an emotional reaction has been attached to the behavior, it is processed somewhat differently by their 'core identity'. Rather than filtering the behavior through a structured system of checks and balances (e.g. values and boundaries) that will either accept the behavior as healthy and appropriate, or spit it out as unhealthy and destructive...it is processed on an immediate pleasure/pain principle. If it is pleasurable, say, masturbating...then it is processed as something to repeat. And values begin to develop surrounding this pleasurable, yet destructive behavior. If it is processed as painful, it is something to be avoided...and again, the developing value system will reflect this. Honesty is a good example.
When honesty is based on emotions as opposed to values...say, when the decision to be dishonest is made in an attempt to avoid shame, anger, guilt, conflict, etc., dishonesty is then processed as an effective tool in managing your life. When a value-based decision to be honest is made...say, when the decision to be honest is made based purely on the fact that you have chosen to value honesty in your life...it is your values that are processed as an effective tool in managing your life. And, when these decisions are coupled with a positive emotional reaction (e.g. pride, confidence, strength), the desire to repeat them will develop. It's human nature.
Now, one thing I do not want you to do is to engage in a little 'all or nothing' thinking. We are discussing general patterns...and trying to develop a working knowledge of the 'core identity'. In reality, such values occur in variations, fluctuating frequently in strength. There is no need for you to think in terms of scientific fact, or of the 'core identity' being an actual biological entity...it is not. It is merely a psychological construct that has been devised to allow you to deal with urges on a logical, rational basis, rather than an emotional one.
Also, be sure not to think in terms of one or two behaviors causing significant changes to your core identity. We are talking about years of repetitive processing that has taken place, including the expansion of 'physiological events' to 'psychological events' (e.g. fantasy) that may involve the senses. This last concept will be expanded upon in the fifth stage as it provides us with one of the most effective ways of eliminating addictive patterns
Returning to how the core identity functions...
In a healthy person, their core identity involves the development of multiple values and boundaries — each of which have been reinforced and refined by experience. In an unhealthy person, such a development has also occurred, except that the values and boundaries that have been developed focus on immediate gratification, rather than long term stability and fulfillment. Their values, to put it bluntly, are immature. And because one of the main purposes of the core identity is to feed information back to the brain regarding decision-making, this skill is often immature as well — something that will be remedied shortly.
For a moment, imagine your life apart from your physical being...apart from your possessions...apart from your friends, your family and every other living being. What you are left with is your core identity. It is who you are. It is this identity that then allows you to relate to your physical self, your friends, your family... As you know by now, part of the role you must fulfill in transitioning away from addiction is to rebuild your core identity. This core identity — and your ability to isolate the addiction from it — is critical to urge control.
A. Describe in your recovery thread the role that your core identity will play in helping you to establish/maintain a healthy life.
B. Describe the role that value-based experiences will play in further developing your core identity.
C. Take some time to examine the current state of your core identity. How in tune with it are you? When you engage in activity that is destructive, what role does your core identity play in that decision? How is it affected by the consequences of that decision?