Recovery Workshop: Lesson Fifty-Two

Decision-Making: Isolating the Emotions

You have already learned about isolating emotions in the urge control lessons, but let's put that concept into practical play in the context of decision-making.

Emotions Skew Perceptions; Perceptions Distort Values

The single greatest obstacle you face in overcoming your addiction is not the triggers that you face; it is your emotional response to those triggers. How they skew and distort your reality to the point where you make some pretty irrational and destructive decisions. And so, one of the keys to effective decision-making will be your ability to isolate the emotions that you are experiencing at any given time and focus solely on the values in play.

In society, this is a skill that most do not possess. And given its complexity to learn, most never need to. But you do. And it will be harder for you because your emotional management skills are deficient to begin with. What you will need to learn to do while engaged in a compulsive urge is to separate your emotions from the situation you are in, isolate those emotions from your decision-making process, then manage those emotions from outside of the very situation that they were triggered. If that makes no sense to you, that's okay. If it makes perfect sense...then you are well on your way to a permanent recovery.

Imagine you are walking through an apartment building late at night and you look up to see an attractive woman showering on the second floor with the window to her bathroom open. Immediately, you are filled with a rush of emotion. Excitement. Euphoria. You are flooded with it. Now, if you were able to stop time...extract all emotion from the situation...and act based on your values alone, you would likely conclude that this woman has the right to her privacy. That it is a violation of her boundaries for you to watch her showering without her permission. You might also conclude that this violates your own boundaries that protect the trust and intimacy in your marriage. And so, the decision is simple. Because you know that your values are what drive fulfillment in your life, you make the decision to strengthen those values. You walk away. Knowing that you could stay and watch and nobody will know but you, you still choose to walk away because it is the right thing to do.

But extracting those emotions in such a situation is not realistic. The 'normal' person does not have this ability and so, the emotions become a part of the decision-making process. That may lead to a skewing of one's perceptions (e.g. "She left the window open on purpose...she wants me to see her"); and a distortion of one's values (e.g. "This isn't hurting anybody").

As a person who has allowed their emotions to guide them into making irrational and destructive decisions...you do not have the option of not learning this skill. You have the responsibility to learn it. And, to master it. Thankfully, while it is complex to understand, it is not difficult to master.

Isolating the Emotions from a Compulsive Situation

When you become aware that you are engaged in a compulsive event, you must learn to do the following:

  1. Recognize that a compulsive event is upon you
  2. Recognize that this event is triggering emotions that will affect your decision-making skills
  3. Commit yourself to finding a values-based solution to managing this event (note: Reactive Action Plans are a better alternative to trying to find a solution on the fly, but you will not be learning about those until next week)
  4. Recognize that with this values-based decision, you will be left with unresolved emotions that will likely feel intense (this is the isolation of the emotions from the event aspect. It doesn't eliminate the emotions, it just extracts them from the decision-making process)
  5. Remind yourself that the intensity of these emotions are finite...and manageable. That the worst you will face in the aftermath of your values-based decision is emotional discomfort triggered by self-denial, grief, lost opportunity, etc. This discomfort is just that — uncomfortable. It is not life-threatening.
  6. Consciously derive as much stimulation as you can from the values-based decision that you made. The intensity of this stimulation will not compare to the intensity of acting out, but it will provide some relief.

Remember, your goal in isolating your emotions from the decision-making process is to put yourself in a position to make rational, values-based decisions. You are not expected to simply ignore your emotions but rather, acknowledge that they are a potential threat to your value system and act accordingly. Separate those emotions from your decision-making. Make your decision. Then anticipate and manage the emotional aftermath.

At first, this will likely be difficult. But, with just a little practice, it gets significantly easier...and in just a short period of time you will be an absolute master at isolating your emotions during a compulsive urge. When you get to this point, the 'aftermath' will be little more than a nuisance — easily brushed aside. But again, it won't feel that way at first.

Lesson 52 Exercise:

This exercise may be difficult for certain types of thinkers, so simply do your best.

Consider a situation in life (outside of addiction) where this 'isolation' of feelings/emotions has been known to occur and/or might prove beneficial. For instance, certain Eastern practices where people can isolate the physical pain they are experiencing from their spiritual selves and thus, manage that pain with ease. And no, you can't use that as your example! There are thousands of such potential applications — albeit not as dramatic. Share this in your thread.

What I am looking for is your skill in understanding the concepts involved with isolating emotions and what it will 'look like/feel like' in real life application. If you can't think of anything, say so in your thread and I will provide you with an example.

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