When Sophie is overwhelmed she rushes things, engages more, and tries to take control. Eventually she runs out of steam and collapses in a puddle of frustrated tears knowing that everything is going to come crashing down.
When Eve is overwhelmed she turns it off, goes numb, stops and avoids everything around her. Eventually she stops functioning and feels a paralyzed tear roll down her frozen cheek. Everything seems hopeless and lost.
Whatever your response to being overwhelmed, if it isn’t effective, sustainable and realistic, you are headed for a similar problem to Sophie and Eve. Self-regulation is a crucial skill that we all need, especially if we are struggling with addiction; addictions often become our self-regulation, even though it is destructive and harmful.
Why am I Struggling to Regulate?
There is a number of common reasons we struggle to regulate our experience. Some of the most common reasons are that we may have never been taught how to do it, trauma has inflicted overwhelming experiences, or we have been actively directed to diminish our experience.
There is a high correlation between female sexual addiction and trauma, which illuminates how important self-regulation is to helping this population .
If you have experienced trauma, you may already know that it can reduce personal safety, awareness of self, and even the sense that I should, or could dare, to protect myself . Oftentimes the abused won’t feel worthy of care or attention, and therefore choose not to self-regulate. This is a huge problem and leaves the tensions of life to become overwhelming.
Maybe you grew up with stoic parents and a strong message that you should “toughen up” and “get on with things.” In this case, you may adamantly believe you can and should deal with it all yourself—like Sophie.
Or perhaps you experienced others deriding you for experiencing and expressing yourself—you may have experienced feeling too much!
As a result you could decide to squash your experience and thoughts, choosing numbness instead of others’ displeasure—like Eve.
There are many more possibilities; I hope you will consider how you have learned to address your own emotional experience.
What Does Self-Regulation Involve?
There are many ways to discuss self-regulation but, simply, it is a combination of becoming aware of your own experience and then responding in effective, caring, compassionate ways. When dealing with life’s stressors, one option is to cultivate the skills of openness, observation and objectivity.
Siegel discusses these skills as follows : Openness is the receptiveness to whatever comes up in our experience—even when we don’t like it. Observation is the ability to perceive ourselves even as we are in the middle of an experience. Objectivity allows us to have thoughts and feelings without being swept away by them.
When we cultivate these three skills, we become aware of our thoughts, feelings, images, and sensations, and can respond appropriately. This might include relaxing, asking for help, naming our feelings, self-soothing and more.
Crucially, we are built to find self-regulation through human contact. This may be dangerous for traumatized people, or those who are likely to misuse a relationship through addiction. It may be beneficial to start practicing the regulation skills below.
How Can I Practice Self-Regulation?
Mindfulness: Mindfully attending to yourself will allow you to develop openness, observation and objectivity. Try the following:
Sit quietly for 5 minutes. Start to breathe deeply and rhythmically, and notice the feel of the airflow in and out. As your body relaxes, use each of your senses in turn to sense the environment—what you hear, see, etc.
Then turn your attention inwards, and allow your attention to float down your body noticing tension, sensations and movements. Don’t judge them, change them, or control them—just notice. You will grow your ability to attend to your present moment.
Relax: Relaxation is an activity that requires some intention. Tension and emotion are stored within the body—we are holistic bodies—and we need to respond through intentional relaxation.
Take 10-15 minutes to find a relaxed position, close your eyes and focus on your body. Imagine lying in a peaceful place; let those images fill your mind. Slowly tense and relax each muscle group in your body. Notice the relaxing and warm feeling you experience. Take your time and give yourself permission to relax.
Self-care: Finally, it is critical to sleep, eat, rest, exercise and socialize appropriately. When these bodily needs are off balance, it will impact your mental health.
As you begin to practice self-regulation, you will be far more likely to make progress in recovering from a sexual addiction. These are vital skills you will need through all of life, and I cannot recommend them highly enough!
About the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of www.stopsexualaddiction.com where you can find his guide, or contact him.
: Ferree, M. (2001) Females and sex addiction: Myths and diagnostic implications. Sexual addiction & compulsivity. 8:287-300.
: Herman, J. L. (2015). Trauma and recovery: the aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: BasicBooks.
: Adapted from: Siegel, D. (2010) Mindsight: the new science of personal transformation. Bantam Books: NY.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on June 4, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 26, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com