Recovery Workshop: Lesson Twenty-Six

Mapping Compulsive Rituals

Mapping a compulsive ritual involves 'mapping out' the specific elements that make up any given behavior. Writing them down so that you can see how they all work together to generate the stimulation that they do.

As you transition towards a healthier life, you will come to separate the emotions associated with compulsive behavior from the behavior itself. By learning to break down the elements of your existing ritualistic patterns, you are providing yourself a concrete, objective means for seeing the role that your compulsive behavior plays in your life. In other words, what you have previously accepted as natural, can now be experienced as artificial. What you once believed to be an internal process that was beyond your control, can now be accurately perceived as an external means for controlling yourself. Using self-medication as a metaphor: by seeing the functional roles that each compulsive element plays in manipulating your overall emotional state, you are then free to choose what medication you will take (value-based versus emotion-based); the dosage (by further increasing/reducing the individual elements associated with your ritualistic patterns); and finally, you are able to make rational decisions as to whether or not the side effects of addiction are worth the temporary relief it provides (in other words, you will have the ability to weigh the consequences of each element, prior to your engagement in them). Once you have mastered the ability to 'map out' your behavioral patterns — and have combined this skill with the ability to use arbitrary measurements to represent the emotions that are generated (e.g. "measuring the behavior"), you will have developed a necessary ingredient for isolating and removing the addictive process from your core identity.

Take a moment to examine an excellent example of a ritual developed by a workshop participant. Note how each element provides for some type of emotional stimulation:

"Whenever i look at a woman of 15 to 55 years age whether in functions,meetings,while traveling,shopping,those working with me, pictures of women in books,magazines,movies etc the following elements are noticed.

1. I initially look into their face.
2. I appreciate their beauty.
3. Though it looks obvious, i make sure that they are present and i very much enjoy their company.
4. I try to pick up conversation with them.
5. If the discussion is on intellectual lines i prolong it further
6. While discussing,my mind will be exploring their body naked
7. If its a frivolous discussion i imagine performing a sexual act with them.
8. I try to touch their hands, legs or breasts-while walking past them
9. If there is no opportunity to talk to them while traveling etc
a. I stare at them if they are reasonably good looking.
b. I look at their chest and visualize them naked
c. If there is time and opportunity i role play a sexual act with them
d. In shopping areas and other places i try to follow them without their knowledge.
e. Whenever i go out on some work or shopping if i come across women i will be preoccupied with them and my work gets neglected.
f. Only in few occasions i tried to touch stranger's hands,breasts and felt high and masturbated immediately.
10. While chatting with known women also there are times i masturbated
11. When i get very excited while chatting erection takes place
12. I look for a place to masturbate depending on the situation.
13. While stimulating the sexual organ i imagine touching the women's body mostly breasts
14. After reaching orgasm through masturbation i relax for sometime and after 30 minutes the whole thing starts again.
15. If there is not proper place to masturbate i control myself there and after reaching home before going to bed i masturbate
16. I do it more relaxed in the night before going to bed.In my fantasy i visualize in depth the naked body of women. I imagine a full length sexual act with the woman i met or saw during the day."

While this particular style might not be the one you are most comfortable with (detailed, expanded); ensure that as you continue to master your own rituals, you develop consistency in how you document each element of the ritual.

Mapping a Compulsive Ritual

As you learn the skill of mapping compulsive rituals, do note that it is considerably easier — and more effective — to work with previous behavior patterns that you have experienced, rather than 'made up' ones. Another important aspect of this skill is to recognize that merely developing the ability to map these rituals is not in and of itself beneficial — and in fact, developing such a skill can actually be detrimental — providing you with the impetus to actually enhance your compulsive experiences. The key is in your motivation. Those who are motivated to truly leave their addiction behind can use this skill to do just that. Others who are not as sincere can use it as a tool for manipulating the high that they experience.

Your first step in mapping a compulsive ritual is to select a single, specific behavior pattern to work with. As you consider the first element of that ritual, consider the emotions that were experienced just prior to the 'urge' to act out. For some, it might be boredom, or arousal, or anxiety; for others, it might be success, anger or failure; and for still others, it might be rejection, monotony, pressure, depression or any number of feelings. And, of course, for most, it will be any number of these. The only consistent property of acting out is the invariable presence of some emotional trigger just prior to experiencing the 'urge'.

The next step is to consider the urge itself. This is a key element in understanding rituals, as it is often the breaking point for the chains that follow. In fact, it will be your recognition of this urge that will serve as the point in decision making — and it is why you have been instructed to take out your values list and read through it at this point with EACH urge experienced...whether you go ahead and act on the urge or not. More on this later.

After identifying the urge, the remainder of steps involve an accurate and emotionally self-aware representation of the different points throughout an act where your actions (i.e. behaviors, thoughts) have caused a change in your emotional state. This change can involve either increase or decrease in either positive or negative emotions. The key is that they produce change in the current emotional state.

The following is an example of a possible ritual for someone who has exhibited multiple affairs/promiscuity:

Element #1 Meet an attractive woman (could be visual attraction, mental attraction, etc) — become emotionally aroused (sexually, intellectually, humanistically — the type of arousal doesn't matter here)

Element #2 Urge to communicate with her is felt

Element #3 Fantasize about what it would be like to be with her romantically

Element #4 Fantasize about how I could approach her

Element #5 Wonder if she would be interested in me

Element #6 Try to get up the nerve to approach her

Element #7 Send her flowers, card, cute notes "anonymously"

Element #8 Become "innocent friends"

Element #9 Get to know each other in a "safe" environment

Element #10 Begin flirting

Element #11 Create a situation where sexual activity is possible...

The ritual can go on and on...depending on the particular patterns that are involved with any given behavior.

Let's look at another possible ritual: this one for pornography.

A ritual for someone who has exhibited behaviors associated with Pornography:

Element #1 Home alone; husband asleep in bed; feeling 'blah'

Element #2 Experience urge to masturbate to pictures on the Internet

Element #3 Tell myself I shouldn't look at the pictures and that it is wrong

Element #4 Decide to look, but make a promise to myself that I won't masturbate while looking at the pictures

Element #5 Spend time searching through hundreds of pictures looking for the "right one"

Element #6 While looking at the pictures, have many fantasies that go in and out of my head

Element #7 Begin masturbating several times, but stop before climaxing so that I can keep my promise

Element #6 Find a picture that produces an exceptionally strong fantasy

Element #8 Masturbate to orgasm

As you can see, rituals are rather subjective...though the more objective you become at identifying them, the better off you will be. There is no need to become overly concerned with whether or not a particular element is "right or wrong" for any given ritual...or if it occurs just before, simultaneously or just after the inclusion of another element. Also, it is common for early rituals to miss many subtle ways in which your emotions are being stimulated. Don't worry about such things. Simply try to identify every element that you can. The overall goal here is to identify the elements themselves, recognize how they influence your emotional state...and then to use that information to help in decision making down the road.

Lesson 26 Exercise:

In the previous exercise, you were asked to label the elements involved with a particular ritual. In this exercise, you will be delving deeper into your awareness of that ritual. Here, you are asked to 'map out' one of your rituals. Make sure that you choose a specific ritual that you have engaged in (as in, last Thursday before work, I looked at porn); rather than a general compulsive behavior (as in, in the past, I looked at porn).

The main difference between what you did in the previous exercise and this is that you are no longer listing the elements of the ritual. Instead, you are listing the behavior associated with that element. For example, in the past exercise, it was sufficient to label a voyeuristic ritual with the element 'sensory stimulation — visual'. No longer. From this point forward, all rituals should be identified in terms of the specific thoughts/behaviors associated with the elements. And so, today, your 'element' will read something like this: "I would focus my eyes on her and inconspicuously follow her around the store."

Post this more advanced ritual in your recovery thread.

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