Therapists often like to use the onion metaphor for depicting feelings as layers that need to be peeled back to expose the truth…or in California we opt for the artichoke as we eventually expose the heart! If you are struggling with an addiction to sex or pornography, perhaps you too are looking for the root causes. “What gets me to act out?” “What are my triggers?”
In an earlier blog on considering an addiction cycle to a formula, I gave examples of feelings, thoughts, and actions that often precede the act of acting out sexually. To simplify, the core feeling at the root of most of these behaviors is fear. Fear. Something is scaring us.
Fear, in its simplest form, is a base emotion. Think of it as sort of like salt and pepper in a meal…a base ingredient. Fear is a “rational” and necessary tool as well. We should afraid of certain things—such as fear of fire, crossing a busy street, or anything else that can put us in physical danger. But what about “irrational” fear? When does fear manifest itself as something else? Anxiety, stress, anger and procrastinating to name a few.
Fear As Anger
To quote Yoda from Star Wars, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” Men are usually quite adept at accessing and identifying their anger but to consider that it is coming from a place of fear? Think of ways of how anger is linked to your compulsive sexual behavior. When you’re angry with your spouse, or your kids, or your boss? Or perhaps you’re angry at a situation and not someone specific…what do you do with that angry energy?
Fear as Anxiety
Anxiety is forward thinking. Making (negative) predictions about future events that either have not yet occurred or will never happen. Yet, we build the case for them and embody the stress. How come? Think of ways of how stress and anxiety are associated with your acting out behavior.
Fear as Procrastination
Putting things off, avoiding…sound familiar? Often times fear of failing or finishing result in procrastinating. Then the “should” story begins—we SHOULD be doing this or we SHOULD be taking care of this. Think of ways of how procrastinating and acting out sexually are related.
When I work with my clients who struggle with compulsive sexual behavior, I teach them how to dialogue with a specific feeling or thought—as if it is a real person. Actually talk directly to anger, to anxiety, to the procrastinator. It helps to differentiate the thought so that you can actually gain objectivity and learn from it, rather than unconsciously act it out. Remember, we act out what we don’t feel.
I encourage you to try this. The next time you feel a trigger or the addictive piece of you rearing his head, start taking notes. Explore the experience. You may find a practical solution or next steps to do rather than acting out sexually…or you may just see it’s much ado about nothing. Either way, the practice and skill of noticing that behind all of this is likely just fear may set you in a more positive direction.