We often talk to our clients about investigating the feelings underneath the sexual acting out behavior. Something must be driving the need to act out, right? Often these are called triggers —thoughts, feelings, and situations that push us to seek out an escape via compulsive sexual behavior.
We come to believe that our feelings and thoughts are real — in fact we accept, understand, and trust our feelings. And that may not be such a bad thing, but when it comes to our acting out behavior, a lot of our thoughts and feelings need to be reviewed. Think of it like a checks and balances.
An example may be your boss not responding to your email right away or your spouse not responding to your texts or calls. The mind can play a little dance and conjure all sorts of scenarios — he or she didn’t like my idea; I’m about to get fired; my spouse is mad at me and ignoring me. The emotional outcome of these thoughts brings up strong feelings and you may find yourself worrying about a negative imagined future … rather than reality. When your boss does eventually respond, telling you he was tied up in meetings but really likes your idea or your spouse lets you know that she was too busy and responds kindly to your texts, what happens next for you emotionally? All’s great again, but you’ve invested a few hours on worrying and perhaps suffering over nothing other than a story your mind built up.
A Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging one’s feelings, thoughts, and body sensations. In other words, you notice what you’re feeling, but learn how to put it into proper context. Thoughts and feelings can really hook us and as a person who utilizes acting out behavior as a coping mechanism against these strong feelings and emotions, you put yourself at risk of acting out yet again.
What are some mindfulness tools you can practice and learn?
1. Mindful Breathing
Getting out of your mind’s stories and into your body begins with the simple act of breathing. Sitting in a comfortable chair and learning how to breath in and breath out, following and concentrating on the breath provides a very simple and easy way to ground yourself.
Mindfulness meditation helps us to become aware of what is actually true, moment-by-moment. It teaches you to be present. For example, if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed (common triggers to acting out), doing a mindfulness meditation can help you to get out of that “story” and instead get present. Joining a meditation class or using some wonderful smartphone apps allows you access to a powerful tool for your recovery.
3. Gratitude Journals
Studies show that there are many benefits to the simple act of writing things down that you feel grateful for and to. You can start with each day writing down five things you felt gratitude for. Examples could be spending quality time with a loved one, or something you feel proud of, something you accomplished. Try to be specific and make each personal.
When we act out, we are usually in a low mood and we have learned to remedy that by acting out sexually. Getting to what is actually true, and not taking each feeling or thought you have to be a fact but rather as a passing event, you will likely see a decline in your compulsive behavior.