Sunday, April 13, 2008

Behavioral Analysis of the Acting out Cycle

A helpful tool in identifying thinking errors, feeling triggers and high risk situations is the completion of a behavioral analysis. This is a step-by-step examination of what happened. The level of detail is on the minutia. The goal is to help identify additional relevant issues to be addressed. I often challenged my clients to tell me how to drive a car. As they do, I will playfully trip them up by asking questions about this or that. What they come to realize is that driving a car is a remarkable complex task, with multiple cognitions, and items to be aware of. psychology the term is automaticity: the ability to complete complex behaviors without active cognitive thinking. Much of the ritual in sexual compulsivity is automatic. The behavioral analysis is a process to slow down and uncover the contributing factors. The following table is helpful.

What happened



High Risk Situation

Woke up tired/Didn’t sleep well

Frustrated that I’m not sleeping well


Not Sleeping Well

Went to work


Boss angry (and not even at me)

Better be careful or she’ll turn on me.

I better not screw up


Fearful that someone is angry

I make a mistake

Oh no. I’m in trouble now.

I should know better. I can’t tell anyone.

I’m going to get fired.


Made a mistake

Not talking with others

Not being honest

I hide the mistake

Maybe they won’t find out

Paranoid/Fearful again


Boss mad at me

I can’t do anything right.


I shut down

Can’t talk to no one.

I’m alone

Sad, depressed, lonely, tired


I head over to the bar after work

Maybe I can meet some of my friends

Lonely, tired. Sad

Bar setting

Drink too much

At least I won’t feel anything for a while



Start Cruising at the bar.

Maybe I can connect with someone.

Lonely. Excited

Cruising behaviors

Bring someone home.

Unsafe Sexual contact (no condom).

Wow. He/she is attractive. Sex will be great.

Excited. Happy. Numb


Unsafe Sex

Not establishing boundaries.

Wake up tired

Frustrated that I did it again

Summary of the analysis



I can’t make a mistake

I’m in trouble

I can’t tell anyone

I’m going to get fired

I’m alone










Not sleeping well

Making a mistake


Being in a bar



Unsafe Sex

In the process of completing the analysis, you now have a number of places to start intervening to stop or interrupt the cycle. Learning to recognize and then contradict thinking errors is part of this process. Challenging negative thinking through corrected thoughts, or affirmations if you’re familiar with the 12-step tradition is a start.

Addressing the feelings are important. Identifying ways that you can connect with others in a healthy way allows you to help address feeling lonely. Perhaps if the sadness and depression is significant enough, and long term enough, medications or therapy might be helpful. Finding ways to engage in healthy “sober” fun is another way to intervene on the cycle.

In each of the high risk behaviors, I talk about an escalating pattern of behaviors that sets the stage for the next trip through the cycle. Working with clients, I call this a “micro-cycle” which suggests that the whole day can be a cycle, but in each attempt to cope or failure to cope, I engaged in a pattern of unhealthy behaviors. The key then is to identify ways that you can interrupt any and all of the aspects of the cycle addressed in this chart.

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