Overcoming destructive emotions and emotional triggers, and dealing a death blow to destructive habits in a person’s life is among the biggest challenges in personal development and personal life coaching. It does not matter whether the client is a superstar in achievement or someone that is in a habitually destructive lifestyle and knows it. Overcome destructive emotions and emotional triggers so that they do not resurface is a big challenge for many, but there is hope.
Trigger mechanisms are rooted in unresolved painful emotions. These emotions are not often identified accurately and can… no, WILL inevitably lead to compulsive thought processes and a person acting out in destructively addictive behavior. Addictive behaviors – at least on the surface – reduce emotional stress and relationship tension, but underneath and behind it all, there are still painful emotions that are the result of wounds inflicted by others.
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 sex-driven 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 message. 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. This is especially true when it comes to having a bent towards sexual compulsions. Sexual compulsions as a way to reduce or manage stress are dangerous to the overall well-being of a person’s self-esteem. Sexual compulsions can even affect one’s physical health should this form of ‘stress reducer’ end up in that of illicit and/or unprotected sex with a stranger, or even that of self-gratification which leads to a general sense of condemnation and shame.
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. 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, sexually, and physically for years.
Her trigger was his action towards her, and it launched her into eating… not just eating, but EATING! The natural consequence to unhealthy eating habits is of course major weight gain. This destructive habit was triggered by her husband’s insults and discouraging words, and telling her that she was not pretty, good enough and lacked any appeal to him. This led her to feel even more worthless, un-beautiful, unloved, and inadequate, which perpetuated the destructive habit of eating.
My advice 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 truth, and I will not allow it to continue.” I then encouraged her to quietly and calmly walk away from the confrontation, instead of giving into the tendency to argue which led to fighting, which led to her husband slamming the door as he left, WHICH led to her eating. Instead of this, I suggested that she 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.
I have never heard of anyone giving this sort of advice to someone struggling with destructive emotions, but at the time, it was what came out of my mouth. How absolutely STUPID, I thought. Did I just tell her to do that? At the time, in the back of my mind, I thought, ‘Man, I will never hear from her again. I have definitely lost her as a client! That was totally dumb! What kind of success coach am I?” Wanting to save face, I didn’t retract what I had told her, and let her go on her way.
She called me crying about two weeks later (we met every two weeks), and thanked me for my advice. I asked her why she was crying if she was thanking me and she told me that she had lost 12 pounds in the last two weeks, her husband was so taken by her calm resolve not to react or lash out at him when he provoked her, that he had almost completely stopped verbally attacking her. While there is much more to this story and its ending, the ‘action’ she chose to implement into her thought processes instead of having a ‘RE-action’ to what was happening with her husband, made all of the difference in the world for her.
My point in this is to say that she had chosen to change her mindset. She had chosen to implement just a few new positive changes in how she viewed marital conflict. In doing so, she radically changed the atmosphere of her home and her relationship with her husband. by implementing positive action instead of a RE-action that once led 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, and her life had changed. By no means was she fully satisfied with her marriage, but she was more hopeful than she had ever been that her marriage was headed towards brighter days.
Footnote to the end of reactive comments and arguments that led her to use food as a crutch for her emotional stress: Over that next year my client lost 58 pounds, had gotten her husband to agree to marriage counseling, and would you believe that ‘jerk of a husband’ (as she referred to him in the beginning) had arranged a small re-commitment wedding ceremony to re-exchange their vows and then took her on a second honeymoon on their anniversary!
How did this all happen in sight of a year? What happened here was that this argumentative, resentful, compulsive eating wife had found a suitable escape route to her habitually destructive behavior by not allowing the external emotional triggers to send her into a tailspin.
Finding Your Escape Route
Negative emotions are tricky business for most and especially compulsive individuals, because most compulsive people have not learned to recognize the processes involved, and disciplined their minds on how to redirect their thoughts and feelings, i.e. our feeling skills. Here are some emotional escape routes that are most common.
• When we can’t tolerate feeling depressed, we tend to seek relief (fantasy thinking, vain imaginations)
• 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 or masturbation which leads to alcoholism and sexual addiction.
• When we can’t tolerate feeling criticized, we tend to seek self-mastery (perfectionism)
Staying with the Feeling
When a sex addict experiences a negative emotion he or she generally fixes it by taking a drink of lust in order to medicate the feeling. It’s the same way an alcoholic takes a few shot of liquor or a six-pack of beer to deal with their negative emotions. Most addicts have not had any experience growing up in learning how to their have and share feelings. learning to deal with feelings is a skill set that is learned. If you are willing, you can develop and acquire levels of mastery over your negative emotions that lead you into destructive cycles. Once you have practiced it, it will be kind of like riding a bike in your head. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Think of it as you growing up and never being taught out to maintain or fix a car. It doesn’t mean that you are less intelligent or worthwhile because you can’t fix a car. You are 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 things in your life – in this instance, how you handle your emotions. This said, learning to express feelings and overcome destructive emotional cycles 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 (actually every thought for me since I have an overactive mind), I say out loud, “I take that thought captive to the obedience of G-d, 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 have a Bible can find this 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 to a Trusted Friend
One of the best ways to make progress is to have a trusted friend that you can communicate your feelings to when in the process of overcoming destructive emotions and emotional triggers that lead to destructive habits. 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.
Retrain your thought processes
Practice retraining your thought patterns and processes to take action instead of reacting. This is an exercise you can try the next time you are faced with a destructive cycle that wants to raise its ugly head in your life. Try it:
1. Identify a feeling
2. Generate the need present in that feeling
Example: I am lonely, so I am becoming self absorbed.
3. Act to legitimately meet that need
Example: I will go out and find someone that I can help or bless in someway that takes the focus off of me and puts it on someone else in a constructively productive way.
4. Get constructive feedback from a someone who has experience and training in helping overcome destructive emotional cycles
Example: I will call my accountability partner for support and encouragement, or schedule an appointment with a personal development coach or licensed psychologist so that I can make certain that I am processing and acting in constructive ways and not RE-acting. This is very important if you have destructive habits you are dealing with like that of alcohol or sexual addiction.