Recovery Workshop: Lesson Fifty-Nine
Evolving Reactive Action Plans
Evolving Reactive Action Plans
To this point, you should have developed the ability to construct reactive action plans that are structured as follows:
1) Initial awareness of ritual engagement
2) Automatic behavioral response (predetermined through values-based decision-making)
3) Anticipated lingering emotions
4) Anticipated mind games to get you to abandon your values-based decisions
5) More specific behavioral plan for managing lingering emotions/mind games
But this is just the beginning of developing effective reactive action plans. There are three additional areas of reaction plans that you need to master. One involves expanding the initial assumption that your initial awareness will occur early in the ritual. Another involves the expansion of reactive action plans to include both proaction and postaction. And finally, a multi-tiered approach to behavioral response should be included.
Expanding Your Awareness
To expect that your awareness of all future compulsive rituals will begin with the first objective element experienced in that ritual is naive. Ideally, this would be the case; but rarely is it actually so. Especially when we are talking about the more subtle rituals associated with love addiction, objectification and the like. We used that initial element as the base of awareness in learning how to develop and implement the structure of reactive action plans. That is all. Your responsibility in practically applying reactive action plans comes in preparing to manage all potential stages of awareness — early, middle and late. And so, this awareness/reaction must be added to your existing action plan.
There are several ways of including this awareness. One would be to separate each into a different action plan entirely. And so, if you are developing a strategy for managing a ritual involving Internet porn use from your home computer, you may develop three or four separate action plans. For example:
Action Plan #1: Awareness of objective thoughts to go to the computer to look at porn, but are not yet at the computer
Action Plan #2: Awareness of being on the computer looking at a pornographic image
Action Plan #3: Awareness of having spent the last thirty minutes abusing pornographic images, but not yet having started to masturbate
Action Plan #4: Awareness of having spent the last thirty minutes abusing pornographic images, and have started masturbating
Note that the immediate behavioral response and follow-up to each of these would be different — yet, they are all based on the same ritual. You are being irresponsible to believe that you only need to prepare yourself to manage situation #1 because "I would never allow myself to get to #2, #3 or #4".
The other way would be to create one long, complex reactive action plan for the ritual that is separated into different stages of awareness. Which you choose is a personal preference — they both require the same information to be processed. Personally, I chose the separate action plan route in my own recovery because most of the practice that I engaged in took place in five minute, spontaneous increments — not extended training sessions. The individual plans served this purpose well. It also helped me to develop success in developing reactive action plans — as opposed to perhaps getting overwhelmed at the prospect of thinking of developing a single, complex plan.
Just as foolish as preparing only for a single point of awareness, is to wait for that point to occur before taking action. These 'proactions' need to be included — when appropriate — in your existing action plans. For instance, if you are going out of town, it would be responsible of you to do the following:
Proactions to take prior to trip:
- Identify all potentially destructive rituals that I may be exposed to while away
- Discuss these situations with my partner/coach/counselor prior to leaving for trip
- Identify strategies for managing each and review these with my partner/coach/counselor
- Pack two 'safe activities' that I will default to should I lose control over my emotions/safety (e.g. a particular book or project to work on)
Finally, whether you successfully manage a ritual or not, there is much to be learned from the processing of how you managed that ritual. Most often, that processing will be unchanged from ritual to ritual and so, your real goal here is to define an assessment routine that you are comfortable with. Taking the situation laid out above, the postactive assessment may be something like this:
Postactions upon return from trip:
- Process any threats that arose during trip with partner/coach/counselor
- For all threats that were successfully managed, assess whether the existing reactive action plan was effective in that management process
- For any threat that was unsuccessfully managed, review the existing reactive action plan(s) to determine where the weaknesses lay. Were they in the plan itself, or the willingness to implement that plan?
- Adjust the existing reactive action plan accordingly — to help you prepare better for the next time you find yourself in that situation
Multi-Tiered Behavioral Response
Just as it is not enough to prepare yourself for reacting only to your early awareness of a ritual, it is also not enough to believe that your initial response to that awareness will be effective 100% of the time. Instead, you will want to expand your existing reactive action plans to address multiple-tiered rituals. As in, those rituals where your initial response has a temporary, but limited affect on that urge. For example, you have prepared yourself for handling a potentially threatening situation where you find yourself flirting with a coworker and these flirtations are beginning to cross boundaries involving sexual fantasy. You engage in your existing reactive action plan and it allows you to temporarily suspend your behavior. But, the urge and fantasies do not stop. Instead, you find yourself rationalizing that 'it's okay to flirt — as long as we keep it there'. Or, 'fantasizing about her isn't cheating'. You have to prepare yourself for this second wave of behavioral response.
Then, under the umbrella of personal responsibility, you should prepare yourself for a third tier. Or possibly, a fourth. These tiers might involve you moving beyond the rituals of objectification and fantasy and into those associated with actually having an affair. You need to prepare yourself both for becoming aware of these expanded rituals and what to do should you find yourself engaged in them.
Important threat notice
Preparing yourself for these expanded rituals is NOT intended to serve as a safety net for not fully taking responsibility for managing the early rituals. As in, “I don't really have to take action now on these simple fantasies, because I have more stringent protection laid out for protecting me from having an affair. So, it's safe to continue.”
Lesson 59 Exercise:
There doesn't need to be an exercise associated with this lesson. At this stage of your transition to health, you should be seeking out ways of strengthening your foundation on your own. And so, just by reading the above, you should already know what to do with it. How it should be applied to your existing reactive action plans. If you want to share your more complex plans in your thread, feel free to do so. If you are in professional coaching, you must. These are essential skills in advanced urge control.