Recovery Workshop: Lesson Forty-Five
Urge Control: Isolating the Emotions
By now, you should have a little better idea of what your 'core identity' is and how it functions. Remember, it is not an actual entity, but rather, a conceptual one. It is the virtual command center for your thoughts, values, feelings, emotions, etc. Its purpose is to allow you to manage your life based on the information currently being stored there. Learning to communicate with your core identity is the ultimate tool in developing a healthy decision-making process.
The Role of Emotions in Urge Control
Earlier in the workshop, you were introduced to the concept of 'measuring your compulsive behavior'. What you were doing, in fact, was measuring the emotional stimulation that that behavior provided. If you recall, you were asked to assign arbitrary values to any number of common elements involved in compulsive behavior (recall the Wheel of Sexual Compulsion). Although you were asked to use numerical values, the actual unit of measurement was irrelevant, as you could have assigned apples just as easily as numbers. The idea was to allow you to begin visualizing a concrete perception of how the compulsive elements work together to produce varied changes in your emotional state. The goal of today's lesson is to identify the emotions that are associated with those elements.
We will begin by identifying an actual compulsive ritual in your life. If you would like, feel free to use a ritual that you have already 'mapped out' in a previous lesson. Or, create a new one based on more recent behavior. The more experience you gain in mapping rituals, the faster you will master the skills for managing urges...and the faster you will move away from the concept of mechanically measuring your behavior. If you decide to use an older ritual, remember that it should represent each step of your compulsive behavior — when that step involves some type of emotional simulation. So if you have since gained more insight into that behavior, take the time to update the map of that ritual to reflect your current awareness.
The following is an example of a mapped compulsive ritual:
- element 1: partner says she's 'not in the mood'
- element 2: pout, feel sorry for myself
- element 3: begin thinking about masturbating
- element 4: make the decision to masturbate when it is 'safe'
- element 5: wait until she falls asleep
- element 6: surf the Internet for pornography
- element 7: begin masturbating
- element 8: select one or two images to focus on
- element 9: begin fantasizing intensely with these images
- element 10: achieve orgasm
Again, this is a basic ritual — focusing on the functionality of the behavior. You may benefit by mapping out a more complex ritual (or if you are really ambitious, an entire chain that involves all of your behaviors/fantasies), but it is not necessary for this lesson. For instance, the masturbation example used could have been broken down into the use of fetish objects, anal penetration, types of sensory stimulation, etc; a fantasy example could have been broken down further into types of fantasies...you get the idea.
Once you have mapped out a personal compulsive ritual, your role shifts to identifying the emotions that are produced by each element of that ritual. For instance, using the ritual from above, the emotions would be as follows:
- element 1: frustration, disappointment (e.g. emotional imbalance)
- element 2: self-pity
- element 3: mild comfort
- element 4: control, more comfort
- element 5: impatience, frustration, anxiety (further increases the emotional imbalance; thus setting up a greater opportunity for relief)
- element 6: excitement, achievement, success (in obtaining access to images); worry (about being caught by spouse/children); guilt/shame
- element 7: excitement, comfort; worry (about being caught)
- element 8: excitement (from anticipation that orgasm is drawing near)
- element 9: extreme comfort (from trance-like state); peace; serenity
- element 10: complete peace and serenity; success, relief, pleasure
Keep in mind that there are no set emotions for any of the elements. One person may experience intense feelings of achievement upon orgasm; another may experience feelings of failure. Which leads to guilt and shame. Which leads to further emotional imbalance. Which leads to... It is YOU who needs to identify the emotions that YOUR core identity has attached to these elements. No one else can do it for you.
Once you have mechanically identified these emotional elements, consider the practical role they play in the development/continuation of your compulsive behavior. Forget for a moment the technical side (e.g. measuring them) and focus only on the more general, personal role they play. Focus on how your emotions guide the decisions that you make. And while I am certain that you have already done this many times by now, this time...do so outside of the context of this workshop. Consider your 'core identity'. Consider how your core identity is used in making the ultimate decisions in your life. Then consider your emotions and how they influence that core identity — which influences the decisions that you make.
Why do this? Because it is only in a practical awareness of how emotions influence your core identity that you will be able to isolate those destructive emotions from your identity — which is the focus of the next lesson on urge control.
Lesson 45 Exercise:
I. Identifying the impact of emotions in compulsive urges is essential to objectifying that urge. In previous exercises, you have identified compulsive rituals that presented a linear look at your emotional state across a single action. In this lesson, you are being asked to isolate those emotional elements to the point where action can be taken that will break the chain itself.
A. Map a compulsive ritual that is based on your unique behavior. Ensure that you identify at least five elements that are involved in stimulating your emotions during this act. If you would like, use the following worksheet to help you: Mapping a Compulsive Ritual
B. For each element, consider the likely impact that removing that element from the chain would have on the remainder of the event. Remember, decreasing immediate emotional pleasure (through guilt, fear, suspense, anxiety) is a technique used to ultimately increase the overall pleasure experienced during the act.
C. At what point in the chain is the 'point of no return'? The point where you know that you will be completing the act. Share this in your recovery thread. In the previous exercise, you were to reinforce your ability to identify separate emotional elements in a single compulsive ritual. Here, you will begin to isolate those emotions from your core identity.
D. Consider the element identified just prior to 'the point of no return'. This is the element that you will want to isolate and use as your primary trigger for breaking a compulsive urge. Eventually, you can isolate multiple elements, and thus create multiple points where a compulsive event can be effectively stopped, but for now we will focus solely on this one element.
E. With the element isolated from the ritual, begin to see this element in terms of the role it plays in perpetuating the compulsive event. For instance, if the element is 'an attractive woman smiled at me in a public place'...and this element triggers the fantasies that lead to stalking, then it will be the emotional elements experienced with the woman smiling at you that will be your focus. This is the element just prior to 'the point of no return' — which in this case, happens to be the fantasizing. The role, then, that this element (the woman smiling at you) plays is to trigger fantasy.
F. Once the role of the individual element has been identified and isolated from the whole of the experience, it is time to evaluate what is the best action to take in response to this trigger. That will be the point of the next lesson. For now, begin intellectually putting all of the pieces (emotions, values, ritualistic chains, artificial stimulation, etc.) together to solve the puzzle of your addiction. Because it will be when you have mastered the integration of these parts into a functional life management strategy, when you will have put yourself in a position to eliminate the pattern of addiction from your life.
II. Document A, C, and D in your recovery thread, but feel free to write your thoughts on any other part as well.