Defending Against Sudden Urges to Act Out
In our practice working with Sex and Love Addicts, clients often ask us how to defend against sudden, overwhelming urges to act out. One way is to “Surf the Urge.” We will discuss that in our next blog. But in this blog, we will give you five methods, five tools, five arrows in your quiver to defend against sudden urges to betray your commitments and to stay sober.
1. CORE VALUES: Keep a small, business-size card in your wallet on which you have written, in bullet-point form, your core values. Many people include things like “Integrity,” “Honesty,” “Love of Family,” etc. When temptation strikes, reach for the card and read it aloud as a reminder of what you most cherish in life.
2. MILLER’S LAW: Also known as “The Magical Number Seven Plus or Minus Two.” (You can see why most people just stick with Miller’s Law.) Named for the Princeton psychologist who published a paper by that name back in 1956, it is based on the idea that the human brain can only hold a certain number of things (7 +/- 2) in consciousness at one time. Thus, when an intrusive thought comes into consciousness (an urge to act out, for example) Miller’s Law suggests that you consciously try to think of seven other things (“Name the Seven Dwarfs,” “Name the last seven Super Bowl champs,” “Name seven things in the room that start with the letter ‘R’,” etc.). By the time you have named seven other things (or five or nine, depending on your personal capacity), you will have forgotten your original obsession. Try it. It actually works.
3. FAMILY PICTURE: Put a picture of your family (or spouse, or beloved, or Mom) on your phone (or carry one in your wallet). When tempted, pull out the picture and focus on it. Ask yourself, “If I don’t want to stay sober for me, am I willing to do it for them?” or “If I act out, what pain could it potentially cost them?” That thought alone is often enough to put the intrusive thought into perspective.
4. POLLUTE THE FANTASY: Fantasies are just that, fantasies. They rarely contain elements of ‘real life.’ In fantasies, everything is wonderful, nobody gets hurt, and there are no tears. The idea here is to intentionally introduce some elements of reality into the fantasy. Instead of imagining a carefree romp, imagine your spouse or beloved catching you in the act (it happens). Instead of a few minutes of surfing for porn at work, imagine the I.T. department calling you in and firing you on the spot (it happens). Instead of visiting a massage parlor on the way home, imagine a colleague or friend seeing your car in that parking lot and reporting it to your beloved (it happens). In other words, polluting the fantasy is simply “getting real” about the potential real-life consequences of your “perfect” fantasy.
5. LETTER TO SELF: There’s an old saying from the world of blacksmithing, “Strike while the iron is hot.” In other words, hit the iron while it is red-hot and malleable. There is a similar saying in the psycho-social world, “Strike while the iron is cold.” In other words, make plans and prepare yourself when you are clear-headed and not in the heat of passion. This strategy is to simply write yourself a letter about what your addiction has cost you. Be brutally honest about the people you have hurt and what your behavior has cost them and you. Be equally honest about what further acting out will do to your family, your career, your self-esteem. Leave the letter on your phone as a text file or, as some do, print it out and keep it in your wallet. Take it out and read it every once in a while, or especially when you are tempted to act out. Listening to yourself in your own words can have a powerful effect.