Sunday, January 27, 2008

Feeling Triggers

This post continues the conversation expanding the acting out cycle, and in particular the top box. As you can see from the previous posts, I place a significant amount of emphasis on thoughts and the associated thinking errors that we use to understand our world. On an equal level, it is important to understand our behavior, including when you engage in sexually compulsive behaviors in response to the feelings. It is my opinion that every acting out encounter has an associated thinking error, feeling trigger and high risk situation (which will be reviewed in the next post). The following list of feelings is far from exhaustive; it is provided to help you begin identifying the feelings associated with an acting out event. The key is that each person is different; you need to identify the feelings associated with your unhealthy behavior. The feeling triggers vary from person to person. I listed some feelings and asked a few corresponding questions for you to consider. From the 12-step tradition, there is an acronym “HALT” that highlights four feelings (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) that are often associated with compulsive/addictive behaviors. It seems appropriate to start there.

Hungry: When was the last time you consumed food/nutrition/water?

Angry: How do you express anger? How intense is your anger? Who/what are you angry about? Are you angry and trying to hurt someone?

Lonely: Who do you connect with? How do you connect with someone in a way other than sex? When was the last time you experienced this sense of connection? Are you comfortable being by yourself? What are your thoughts when you are alone? Am I manipulating this person to spend time with me? To like me?

Tired: When was the last time you rested/slept? How adequate is the amount of sleep? How long has your day been? What kind of tiredness are you experiencing (i.e., physical tiredness, emotional)?

Depression: Depression exists on a continuum from extreme clinical depression (i.e., suicidal) to sadness associated with daily living. What is your level of depression when you are acting out? If you are on medications for depression, are these medications current? And taken at the prescribed level? If you’re not on meds, should you be evaluated for medications? What is relationship between your acting out behaviors and your attempt to feel better, connected, or appreciated?

Manic: Surprisingly, people will act out in response to feeling good. Similar to depression, mania can range from extreme manic where people stay up for days, and often require hospitalization to feeling good for an accomplishment and seeking a reward. What accomplishment did you just finish? What are two or three positive things that happened today? recently?

Anxiety: How worried, nervous or preoccupied are you? What is the focus of the worry? Does the behavior increase or decrease the worry/anxiety?

Shame: How might your sexual behavior be an attempt to cope with shame? How might your sexual behavior reinforce your shaming messages? What are the sources of shame?

Fear: How is fear associated with your behavior? Are there payoffs associated with risky behavior? To what degree are you being intimidated/forced into behaviors?

Guilt: How is guilt associated with your sexual behavior?

Horny/Aroused: What are healthy sexual outlets? How is this behavior healthy/unhealthy? Are these behaviors congruent with your values?

Again, these are simply a list to start with. I'm hoping that you'll be able to take this list to jumpstart the questions to ask regarding other feelings that may be present.

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