One of the biggest challenges in personal development and personal life coaching is that of helping people deal the final death blow to destructive habits in their lives. It does not matter whether the client is a superstar in achievement or someone that is in a habitually destructive lifestyle and knows it, learning to overcome destructive habits and the triggers that cause them to resurface is a big challenge for many.
Trigger mechanisms are rooted in painful emotions. These emotions are not often identified accurately and can… no, WILL inevitably lead to compulsive thought processes and the outworking of them in that of addictive behaviors. Addictive behaviors are the tension reducers of the painful emotions. Before you go beating yourself up over these realities in your own life, it’s important to know that this sort of behavior is widespread in today’s highly stressful, overly objectified materialistic and sexualistic culture. Everyone looks for releases of stresses in their life.
These releases have many faces – some good and acceptable for your overall mental and physical well-being, and some not so good, if not very destructive. For some, going to the beach and taking a run along the ocean, going surfing or weight lifting solves most of the need for stress release. Others may find themselves buried in a novel or watching a comedy on TV. Still others may just chill out in a Jacuzzi, whirl pool or get a massage. All of these are healthy tension reducers, and for the most part as for overcoming destructive habits, whether in one’s personal life or public life, legitimate.
This said, I must temper this with saying that any good thing when taken to an extreme can become unhealthy. In the course of every destructive vehicle that one uses, whether it is fighting, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, or some other violent act, VERY CLOSE ATTENTION should be paid to the trigger mechanisms that serve as stimulants to addictive cycles.
As humans are creatures of habit, we all can break free of just about any… NO, every hindrance that besets our normal ideal lives. As such, by an act of our free will, we can choose to find alternative ways of responding to our feelings, emotions, or impulses when destructive triggers happened. I know of one example of a woman who was continually abused by her husband emotionally (and sometimes physically). Her trigger was his action towards her, and it launched her into eating… not just eating, but EATING! Her gained weight from this destructive habit that was triggered by her husbands insults and discouraging words led her to feel even more worthless and unloved, which perpetuated the destructive habits.
The advice given to her was simple. Next time it happens, simply tell him in a calm and assertive voice, “I do not receive that. It is not based on any truth, and I will not allow it to continue.” She was then told her to quietly and calmly walk away from the confrontation, and instead of giving into the tendency to eat, go to her room, close the door, and do sit ups and push ups, as many as she could at one time, alternating between the two exercises, until she was in a full sweat, then drink as much water as she could drink.
She called her counselor crying about two weeks later and thanked him for the advice, saying that, would you believe it, she had lost 7 pounds in the last two weeks, and her husband was so taken by her calm resolve not to react or lash out at him, or to find her with a ‘quart of ice cream or potato chips’ in front of her, that he had almost totally stopped his daily criticisms of her. How cool is that? My point in this is to say that she had chosen to change the reaction to the destructive triggers that made her lash out at him, and cause her to turn to food as a way to satiate her pain. Over that next year she had lost 38 pounds, had gotten her husband to agree to marriage counseling, and would you believe that jerk of a husband arranged a recommitment wedding ceremony to re-exchange their vows, then took her on a second honeymoon on their anniversary? What had happened here was that this compulsive eating wife had found a suitable escape route to her habitually destructive behavior by not allowing the emotional triggers to send her into a tailspin.
FINDING YOUR ESCAPE ROUTE
Negative emotions are tricky business for most and especially compulsive people, because most compulsive people have not developed how to redirect our thoughts and feelings, i.e. our feeling skills.
• When we can’t tolerate feeling depressed, we tend to seek relief (fantasy thinking)
• When we can’t tolerate feeling isolated, we tend to seek stimulation (unhealthy relationships)
• When we can’t tolerate feeling like a failure, we tend to seek control (entitlement thinking)
• When we can’t tolerate feeling anxious, we tend to seek tranquility in self destructive things like drinking which leads to alcoholism.
• When we can’t tolerate feeling criticized, we tend to seek self-mastery (perfectionism)
STAYING WITH THE FEELING
When an alcoholic experiences a negative emotion he generally fixes it by taking a drink in order to medicate the feeling. Most addicts have not had any experience from their family of origin in the area of how to have and share feelings. Dealing with feelings is a skill that you can develop and acquire levels of mastery over, once you have practiced it. It’s kind of like growing up and not learning how to maintain a car. It doesn’t mean that you are less intelligent or worthwhile because you can’t fix a car. You’re simply untrained. If you were to take a class on car maintenance, you would probably be a good mechanic. The difference is that the skills you are exposed to and have learned will dictate how you handle your emotions. Now, expressing feelings in recovery is very important for several reasons.
• In your acting-out days, if you had a feeling, you probably would not know what it was. But if you acted out in some way, the feeling would go away. In this process, you may not have learned to identify feelings and hence can not meet your own real needs.
• In your early recovery, between usually the third to sixth week of abstinence from your acting out behaviors, you may begin to start recognizing feelings. This can seem almost like a thawing out of emotions. It is best to have already begun to identify your feelings so that they don’t confuse or overwhelm you and activate the cycle (unidentified feeling leads to acting out which allows feeling to disappear). In recovery, you get to feel without acting-out.
• As relapse prevention, if you can identify your feelings, you may better know how to handle or manage these feelings in order to prevent relapses. I personally use a spiritual technique of taking my thoughts captive to my Creator’s will. When a thought comes, I say out loud, “I take that thought captive to the obedience of God, and will not allow it to influence me negatively.” Then I normally send it back to the pit where it came from. (Any of you who like to read the Bible can find this Scripture reference in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
• If a slip or relapse occurs, you may be able to track down what emotion(s) preceded it and move forward in your recovery process (identified feeling > corresponding need > needs met).
TALK ABOUT IT WITH A TRUSTED FRIEND
It is important that you begin to communicate your feelings to a safe person. A safe person is one in your recovery group or a person to whom you are accountable. The person’s role is simply to listen, not really give feedback. When sharing your feelings, it is important to maintain eye contact with the person you are sharing them with. This eye contact with a person may feel uncomfortable at first, but will eventually be comfortable to you. This is part of the benefit of this exercise.
1. Identify a feeling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lonely
2. Generate the need present in that feeling . . . . Connect with a safe person for counsel (your life coach or mentor) to work through it if need be.
3. Act to legitimately meet that need . . . . . . . . . . Call an accountability partner for support and encouragement, and do not allow yourself to be alone if the destructive habits you are dealing with are self-destructive like that of alcohol or other addictions.
If you have found this post helpful, let me know in your comments below and share it with your friends!
WORTH THINKING ABOUT
If you desire to have a man of integrity in your life, you must be willing become a woman of integrity yourself. Good men are hard to find, but easier to find if you become a woman of integrity.— Lisa Zagnoli
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