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Free Therapy - Addicted? Self-Compassion

Want Free Therapy For Addiction? Try Self-Compassion

What is self-compassion?

Multiple therapies can work together to overcome addiction. One of those therapies, which is free and can be used at any time, is self-compassion. While self-compassion by itself will not end an addiction, it is a useful tool for living a happier, healthier life and for changing the brain patterns associated with sexual addiction. Here, essentially, is what it is: treating yourself as you would treat a dear friend or loved one.
What would you do if your friend lost his job? What about if a significant other left him? Or what if he learned he had a debilitating disease? Would you chew him out or tell him that he shouldn’t feel bad? If he made a mistake, lost his temper, forgot something important, or wrecked the car, would you call him names and tell him he’s the only one in the world that does such things? Would you tell him over and over what a horrible or stupid person he is? Most likely, no.

Stop for a moment and think about what you would do.

Would you recognize how your friend might be feeling and feel some of his hurt yourself? Would you try to cheer him up? Would you remind him of the times he’s done things right or express confidence in his ability to get through the situation? Would you want him to be happy? This is compassion. When you feel and do these things for yourself, it is self-compassion.

How can I apply self-compassion in my life?

The age-old adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” applies not only to how we speak of others, but also how we speak and think about ourselves. Just as we have healthier relationships with others as we extend compassion, mercy and grace, overlooking their faults and focusing on their strengths, so too can our relationships with ourselves improve as we forgive ourselves and highlight our own strengths and accomplishments.

Thus, one way to apply self-compassion in our own lives is to be aware of and intentionally modify how we talk and think about ourselves. Choose to think positively. Choose to speak positively.

This is not about being blind to what you are going through or pretending you aren’t feeling your emotions. Rather it is about choosing where to put your focus. For example, if you don’t want to get out of bed and you feel as though you no longer want to exist, but you get out of bed anyway, you could (A) berate yourself for how you feel, or (B) congratulate yourself for having the strength to get up when you don’t want to. (Or, if you didn’t get out of bed, you could (A) berate yourself for how you feel, or (B) congratulate yourself for at least recognizing that it is healthy and beneficial to get up.)

Besides verbally and mentally being self-compassionate, you may want to try journaling or writing yourself a letter. First, write down your negative feelings or thoughts. Then pretend that those are the feelings or thoughts of a best friend or loved one. When you’ve done this, write down your encouragement and support. Here are two examples:

I became angry at my son today and yelled at him. I know you didn’t want to yell at him. You’ve been working on that. And it’s been a week since you last yelled. That’s awesome. A lot of people have trouble controlling their temper. That’s not an excuse, but hopefully you realize that you’re not the only person trying to be better.

I’m not where I should be in life. My friends earn more money than I do and my debt’s getting bigger and bigger. It’s tough to be in debt. It is. And some of your classmates do earn more than you. But you earn more than some people. It really doesn’t matter how much you earn compared to other people. You know you need to learn to live within your means. Perhaps you can take a community education class on budgeting or personal finance.

In summary, whether you do it in your mind, speak it out loud, or write it down, pretend that you are talking or writing to your best friend and offer yourself compassion. Objectively empathize with how you are feeling, remind yourself that others go through hard times too, and help yourself see the positive aspects of the situation. Look for your own strengths and successes. Focus on offering yourself support.

If you want help overcoming your pornography addiction or sexual addiction, call Paradise Creek: (855) 442-1912.

Mindfulness -- How it affects addiction treatment

How Does Mindfulness Affect Addiction Treatment?

Mindfulness As An Addiction Treatment

Mindfulness is an addiction therapy that is proving to be successful at preventing relapse, and that can be integrated into other treatment programs.  It is something that can learned and performed anywhere.  One of the reasons mindfulness may contribute to sobriety is that it provides a healthy way to deal with and reduce stress1 and can increase self-acceptance2.  

What is it?  One definition describes it as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”3.  Essentially, it is consciously being aware of how and who and what you are right now, and doing so without judging yourself.  Other ways of describing or thinking about mindfulness are “objectivity”, “neutralness”, “observing without judgment”, and “self-observing”. In mindfulness, you become an objective observer or scientist, consciously becoming aware of yourself, your experience, and your surroundings.

The idea of what we now call “mindfulness” is not new. Hundreds of years ago, Leonardo da Vinci stated, “An average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”  In other words, the average human is not mindful.  When we become mindful–when we become aware of what we are doing and experiencing–our human experience becomes richer and more meaningful.

Non-Judgmental Observation

While there are multiple elements of mindfulness–including observing, savoring, meditating and breathing–conscious, non-judgmental observation is its core.  Whether you are at a party, at work, out with friends, or at home, you can choose to intentionally notice the sensations you are experiencing and the thoughts you are thinking.  How does your food taste?  What do your fingers feel as they move around the keyboard clicking keys?  What is it like being with your friend?  What emotions are you feeling?  Simply be aware of what is going on, without passing judgment.

You can use mindfulness to examine how your own addiction works or relapse occurs, and to stop them.  In an article in The Fix, Jenifer Talley says, “The process of becoming nonjudgmentally aware of the components of a compulsion weakens its power. That’s why increasing numbers of clinicians are eagerly incorporating mindfulness into the treatment of substance use disorders, eating disorders, sex addiction and other compulsive behaviors.”4

Observe Instead of React

One of the ways this works is by helping the person become aware of what is going on, and instead of reacting, to continue observing.  Since cravings are temporary, by watching, one can become aware of what triggers the craving, of the craving itself, and then of the craving’s abatement without actually giving in to the craving.

Judson Brewer M.D. Ph.D. puts it this way, “mindfulness helps individuals pay careful attention to their cravings, such that they can see what they are made up of – thoughts and body sensations. Importantly, with this awareness, they can notice cravings as they arise, see how they change from moment to moment (instead of lasting “forever” as some of my patients have described), and as a result, stay with them and ride them out instead of acting on them.”5

You can practice mindfulness throughout the day by asking yourself intentional questions such as:  What emotions am I feeling?  What sensations is my body experiencing presently?  What am I thinking?  As you observe your thoughts, you can intentionally decide whether or not to believe them.

Mindfulness is one of the therapies that Paradise Creek teaches at its recovery center for sexual addiction.  Call (855) 442-1912 to learn more.

Sources:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2818765/
  2. http://www.naadac.org/mindfulnessandaddiction
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2818765/
  4. http://www.thefix.com/content/mindfulness-addiction-therapy-cravings-awareness8712
  5. http://www.rehabs.com/pro-talk-articles/is-mindfulness-an-emerging-treatment-for-addictions/
Neuroplasticity and Addiction Treatment: picture of red brain followed by an arrow and a blue brain, indicating how neuroplasticity allows the brain to change

What Role Does Neuroplasticity Have In Addiction Treatment?

Neuroplasticity, neuro (brain/nerve/neuron) and plasticity (moldability), is what neuroscientists refer to as the brains ability to change and adapt at any age. As we make decisions, think about something, make memories and feel emotions, neural pathways in the brain hold and store this information which can occur on different levels.

A great deal of research went into patients that suffered from disease and brain injuries as they realized that over time the brain found ways of rewiring itself to other parts of the brain, actually going around the injured area to reconnect with other neurons and compensate for the injury. This new finding created a positive response as doctors and therapists began looking for changes in the patient’s rewiring skills, as this ‘flexibility of reorganization’ was taking place and patients found that they could improve and recover.

Another important aspect to understand is realizing that addictions have 4 components:

  1. Using a behavioral action with the body
  2. Thinking thoughts before or after the behavior
  3. Feeling emotions that are generated as a result of the thought such as sadness, guilt, disappointment, shame, or depression
  4. The brain has a physical response to thoughts, feelings, and actions that causes neurochemicals to be released into the body as it responds to the behavior

Understanding these 4 components is crucial in treating addiction because it’s about the pleasure centers in the brain being seized and taken over. People create habits that generate different neural pathways in the brain which allows them to become accustomed to their new source of pleasure. The brain is now wired to link this sensation to feeling good from the pleasure they receive. Soon, the need for more creates an obsession to experience the euphoric sensations they previously had that ultimately creates an addiction. But this can all change, and here is an explanation why:

With the continued study of neuroplasticity, scientist realize that the brain is structured to change and can respond to certain stimuli over a person’s lifetime. Besides the way a brain can make changes when new information is presented, our behaviors are another way our brain and body react to certain stimuli like emotions, stress, and other physical senses. A person, addict or not, can walk into a room and smell something delicious baking in the oven that triggers a memory that they hadn’t thought of or remembered for a number of years. This stimulus recalls on cellular memory groups, and can be activated from this type of inducement, making it easy to remember or respond to the stimulus that was previously known. But for addicts, this is especially hard as it triggers the same feelings and images that they are trying to avoid.

Understanding behaviors and how closely they relate to our senses, memory, and cognition is important to comprehend when dealing with neuroplasticity and rewiring the brain. Since they all rely on repetition and other challenging activities, the brain is able to make changes and literally rewire new pathways to improve its performance. And the best part is that the more you practice this new way of thinking, new skills can be developed to create happy connections among neuron pathways in the brain.

Now that we understand that humans have the ability to change behaviors, those with sexual addictions can literally retrain their brains to make new pathways that will reconnect them to a healthier way of living.

Sexual Addiction Explained

The criterion to screen addictive/compulsive behavior is “loss of freedom to choose whether or not to engage in a behavior (compulsively), continuation of the behavior despite adverse consequences related to the behavior (consequences, and obsession with the behavior” (Cooper, 2002, p. 148). There are various behaviors that can be considered sexually compulsive or addictive. These include masturbation, repeated affairs, pornography, cyber sex, phone sex, multiple anonymous partners, unsafe sexual activity, objectification, strip clubs, prostitution, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and other paraphilias.

How many people deal with Sexual Addiction?

Patrick Carnes, a leading researcher in the sexual addiction field, in 1991 did a study in which he stated that 3-6% of the general population has a problem with sex addiction (Ragan, et al, 2000, p. 164). This is a significant amount of people.

Consequences of Sexual Addiction

Sharon Nathan said “What appears undeniable is that there are people who are troubled by a sense that they cannot curb, control, or modify their sexual behavior, even when they are aware of the negative, social, medical, and or financial consequences that attend their inability to do so” (Ragan, et al, 2000, p. 162). Consequences include legal problems, isolation and loneliness, neglect of family and friends, financial problems occupational impairments, STI’s, shame, and anxiety. In a study by Donald Black, M.D. et al, 36 subjects who reported sexually compulsive behavior were asked the question “Why they felt their sexual thoughts, behaviors, or urges were a problem? 61% listed guilt, 47% listed feedback from others, 14% listed health problems, 11% listed financial consequences, and 8% listed the amount of time consumed” (Black et al, 1997, p. 247).

Sexual Addiction is a process addiction

A process addiction is when a person is addicted to a process rather than a substance ingested in their body.

Sexual Addiction as Emotional Coping

Sexual addiction is a way of coping with depression, anxiety, or any other uncomfortable emotion. “The addiction is an altered state of consciousness in which “normal” sexual behavior pales by comparison in terms of excitement and relief from troubles” (Carnes, 2001). There are not many things that can compete with the immediate gratification and pleasure the one feels while sexually acting out. It then becomes a cycle, in which the addict feels emotionally uncomfortable and relieves the discomfort with temporary relief and pleasure. Patrick Carnes said “within the addictive system, sexual experience becomes the reason for being, the primary relationship for the addict” (2001). Sexual addiction is lonely. It is a place of toxic shame and worthlessness.

Sexual Addiction and Treatment

Sexual addiction becomes a person’s automatic response to any kind of uncomfortable emotions or stress. The goal of treatment is to bring an automatic or unconscious response to awareness and find a new corrective process to deal with stress. This takes time but there is hope. The person must make the decision everyday to engage in recovery and find new ways of soothing. The condition for healing is created by following the principals of consistency, duration, and frequency. Every time an individual chooses to engage in something healthy rather than their addiction, they are changing. As they make these choices consistently, frequently, and for a period of time, they heal. Treatment includes concepts of toxic shame, empathy, relationships, forgiveness, healthy sexuality, relapse prevention, stress management, and emotional regulation. Treatment is a comprehensive look at the person’s life to help make lasting change.