Saturday, April 30, 2011

Relationship Health Exercise

An exercise to help you identify strengths and weaknesses in your relationship is to graph topics on to a target.

On a LARGE piece of paper, start by drawing a target with three circles. You are essentially drawing a target that you might use for a bow/etc. The outer circle should take up the entire paper. Within that circle, center a mid-size circle. And within the middle circle, draw another smaller size circle.

The outer circle is where you will write the “red” topics (see below). They represent the concerns furthest from the “bulls-eye.” These are the topics that are most out of balance, and represent your biggest concerns in the relationship.

The middle circle represents the “yellow” topics. They are the one’s you might modify with “It depends.” The yellow topics could also represent what is getting better (a red moving toward green) or getting worse (green moving toward the red). Also, the yellow circle might represent issues you will address later. Finally, they yellow circle may represent issues that you simply never thought about before, but you recognize as important for you.

The inner circle represents the “green” topics. These are the topics that you have a lot of satisfaction with in your life. They are topics that reflect the joys, hopes and desires that are in agreement with your values and what you want.

What follows are a number of topics that you will graph into one of the circles. Chart any/all of the following as appropriate. Focus on how you perceive the topic, and not on how you think you should perceive it. This is YOUR list, not your partner’s list. Your partner will be invited to do his/her own list. If not a concern or issue, simply cross it out and leave it off the graph. Remember:

RED: Unhappy, problem, concern
YELLOW: Depends, sometimes, getting better/worse/Don’t know but should.
GREEN: Strengths, likes, happy about.

First, let’s address your frame of reference.

Your comfort in talking about sex.
Disclosing your sex history
Your cultural values regarding relationships
Your feelings of shame
Your feelings of guilt
Your sexual identity/sexual orientation
Your sexual functioning
Your sexual skills
The types of sexual contact with your partner
The frequency of sexual contact
Your safer-sex behaviors (risk for pregnancy/HIV/STI)
Your sexual compulsivity behaviors.
Your sexual avoidance behaviors
Your Alcohol Use
Your other chemical Use.
Your eating behaviors
Your spending behaviors
Your mental health diagnosis(es)
Your experience of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
Your level of internet/technology use.
Your level of online sexual behavior
Your types of online sexual behavior.
Your body image.
Your partner’s view of your body
Your frequency of Masturbation
Your ability to engage in assertive communication
Your personal boundaries
Your Desire for intimacy
Your most important types of intimacy
The type of Touch/physical intimacy
The frequency of touch/physical intimacy.
Your ability to talk to your partner
Your spiritual values
Your religious beliefs

Next, let’s address your partner’s frame of reference. Chart YOUR view of the following. Again, this is what YOU think, not what you think your partner thinks you should think. Your partner will graph his/her perception of you.

Your partner’s comfort in talking about sex.
Disclosure of our partner’s sex history
Your partner’s cultural values regarding relationships
Your partner’s feelings of shame
Your partner’s feelings of guilt
Your partner’s sexual identity/sexual orientation
Your partner’s sexual functioning
Your partner’s sexual skills
Your partner’s desired types of sexual contact
Your partner’s desired frequency of sexual contact
Your partner’s safer-sex behaviors (risk for pregnancy/HIV/STI)
Your partner’s sexual compulsivity behaviors.
Your partner’s sexual avoidance behaviors
Your partner’s Alcohol Use
Your partner’s other chemical Use.
Your partner’s eating behaviors
Your partner’s spending behaviors
Your partner’s mental health diagnosis(es)
Your partner’s experience of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
Your partner’s level of internet/technology use.
Your partner’s level of online sexual behavior
Your partner’s types of online sexual behavior.
Your partner’s body image.
Your partner’s view of your body.
Your partner’s frequency of Masturbation
Your partner’s ability to engage in assertive communication
Your partner’s personal boundaries
Your partner’s desire for intimacy
Your partner’s most important types of intimacy
Your partner’s type of Touch/physical intimacy
Your partner’s frequency of touch/physical intimacy.
Your partner’s ability to talk to you.
Your partner’s spiritual values
Your partner’s religious beliefs

The list is far from exhaustive (although it is long). Are there any topics you’re happy about that are not on the list? What about any topics you’re worried about, or are a major concern. Add them to your chart.

What’s next?
You can use this list to highlight treatment issues for your progress. After you complete your project, you might review your target with your partner and vice-versa. You can learn a lot about each other by recognizing similarities and differences in the perception of the topics. Discuss the areas where you are different in respectful ways. The differences may trigger additional reactions for additional therapy. By the way, where you are in agreement with positive aspects, congrats and enjoy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sexual Health

It's now available for purchase. WOO HOO!

Click the title of the blog to the eStore.

What I say is not what I mean

One the of the applications in understanding the power of the primary thinking error is the recognition of hidden or unspoken motivations that subconsciously shape our reactions to others. Frequently we are often saying two (or more) things at the same time. It is not surprising that in the end, we get exactly what we mean and not what we say. I have two examples.

Often people say, “I want to be connected to people.” A subconscious thought might be, “I don’t want to be hurt. “ As a result, the hidden thought shapes the behaviors with others. These behaviors might include hiding information, looking for ulterior motives, or otherwise not trusting people. After a while, the fear of being hurt grows in intensity to the point the individual sabotages the relationships confirming how he/she is hurt in relationships. It is an example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The self-fulfilling prophecy reflects the title of the post: What I say (I want to be close to people) is not what I mean (don’t hurt me).

The second example is similar. “I want us to be connected” is the statement, but often underneath is a statement, “but I don't want to fight.” In this second case, the relationship is set up to have conflict simply because of the fear of conflict. It’s as if you look for the conflict in an attempt to avoid it. As a result, the potential of conflict has more power than the statement “I want us to be connected.”

The primary thinking error shapes our behaviors at a fundamental level. In my opinion, one way to step outside of the struggle is to simply not struggle. Somewhere along the line I heard the term, “non-change.” You can’t change the primary thinking error, but simply placing awareness on the primary thinking error transforms it. It is paradoxical. It is about naming and expressing what you mean, and not emphasize what you’re saying. Talking about the amount of fear of being hurt in the first example, and the fear of conflict in the second example is the way to step out of the cycle. Another analogy, “I can’t consciously change my breathing until I am conscious of my breath. “ As the saying goes, “you get what you ask for.” The key to transformation is awareness that the primary thinking error is often expressing what you are asking for. By placing awareness on when we use the primary thinking error (what we mean) to shape our behavior, we can truly choose something else to shape our next action.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Triggers as opportunities

Much of the fear in recovery is around the fear of relapse and the fear of triggers contributing to relapse. Fear is a powerful feeling. It often sets up paralysis, anxiety, and retrenchment. When faced with any fear, individuals will sometimes literally shrink physically and emotionally.

Rather than focus on the fear, I ask you to think of the triggers as opportunities. (And no, this doesn’t mean you have to search out triggers; there are enough that will simply show up in your daily journey!). As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

When faced with a trigger, implementing a pre-identified plan is always helpful (hence the continuing care plan). On a larger level, your response also gives insight into your overall worldview. You “get” the opportunity to examine how show up in the world. For example, are you hopeful? fearful? careless? planful? Are you playing a victim? Are you acting from integrity? Isolating? Or are you reaching out for support?

All of the worldviews are available when faced with a trigger. As your recovery grows, you can sometimes answer these questions in the moment. Other times it may be after the fact that you recognize the patterns in your response. Reviewing your response is a way to continue the journey in recovery.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Working on a Newsletter summary of the Cybersex Workbook.


The overlap between chemical health recovery, sexual health/sexual compulsivity and cybersex is well documented. Too often, clients and professionals don’t examine the role of the Internet as a relapse trigger for sex and drugs. This brief article provides a basic intro to addressing online behaviors.
What is Cybersex?

The term “cybersex” has become a catchall to describe a variety of computer based sex related behaviors. These behaviors can include accessing online pornography (audio, video, text), engaging in sexual chat with others, creating an avatar to engage in sexual acts or chat, using sex toys designed for the online world, or a combination of all the above. More variations of online behavior are being developed as the Internet changes.

When Does Cybersex Become Compulsivity?
It is important to understand that not everyone who engages in cybersex behavior has a problem with compulsivity. Research indicates about 85% of individuals who engage in cybersex behaviors do so without serious consequences. In thinking about your cybersex behavior and determining whether it is problematic or out of control in your life, there are two components.

Subjective – Realization that a Problem Exists
On some level you recognize your online sexual behavior is a problem. Cybersex compulsivity includes many sexual behaviors or thoughts that violate your personal values and boundaries. “I know I did something I didn’t want to do.” The vast majority of people seeking help realize they need help.

Objective – External Notification of a Problem
Some form of external feedback has presented itself to bring the situation to light. This feedback can come in the form of a legal consequence (such as an arrest), a financial consequence (such as money spent on the Internet, or termination from a job) or damage to a relationship because of the violation of boundaries. For some people, the objective component of sexual compulsivity may not always be present.
The basic premise is that you define healthy and unhealthy behaviors in dialogue with others. It will be most helpful for you to pay attention to whether there is a repetitive and consistent pattern to your behavior, and how the consequences of your behavior may be affecting your life and relationships.

Internet Sex Screening Test
One way to help determine if a behavior is problematic is to take a self administered screening test. The Internet Sex Screening Test has been taken by thousands of individuals and can be used to help gauge how problematic your online sexual behavior may be. This screening test is available at

Problematic Cybersex Users
Remember 85% of people don’t have a problem with online behaviors. People who exhibit problematic sexual behavior on the Internet tend to fall into one of the three groups:

Discovery Group
People in this group have no previous problem with online sex and no history of problematic offline sexual behavior. However they often begin using sex on the Internet as a recreational user and become completely carried away with online activities.

Predisposed Group
This group is made up of people who have never acted out sexually until they discovered cybersex. They might have fantasized about exposing themselves or had the urge to see a prostitute or go to a strip club. Until they discovered the world of cybersex, however, they were able to manage their fantasies and urges.

Lifelong Sexually Compulsive Group
People in this group have been involved in problematic sexual behavior throughout most of their lives. They might compulsively masturbate, compulsively use pornography, practice voyeurism or exhibitionism, or compulsively frequent strip clubs and prostitutes. For these people, cybersex simply provides a new option for acting out sexually that fits within their already existing patterns of problematic behavior.

A Primary Assignment to cope with Cybersex.
It is important to assess the specific Internet behaviors that contribute to high-risk situations, or relapse. The final assignment from the workbook follows. In this assignment, you create three circles where you address the following:

Outer Circle Are Acceptable Behaviors
These behaviors are any Internet behaviors that are healthy in your world. The key is that you have to define these behaviors. Others might provide feedback and suggestions, but in the end you MUST clarify and determine what are acceptable behaviors in YOUR world.

Middle Circle Are Cautious Behaviors
These behaviors often have a “depends” linked to them. Sometimes the same behavior at work is acceptable, but at home is unacceptable (or vice versa). Anything you can’t clarify as healthy/unhealthy, needs to go here. As appropriate, clarify the “depends” component of these behaviors as much as possible. One example was a client who could surf the Internet at home until 9 p.m. At 9 p.m., he started to get tired and moved into the trance often associated with compulsive online behaviors. Surfing the Internet until 9 was a cautious behavior, because he had to make sure his plans were in place to prevent surfing after 9 p.m.

Inner Circles are Unacceptable Behaviors
These are behaviors that you have determined are unhealthy in any and all cases. For some people, any explicit sexual online behavior at work is unhealthy. Surfing for porn at work or engaging in sexual chat conversations may fit here. Certain types of websites might fit here. The key is that YOU must agree to any behaviors that are defined as unacceptable.