Mindfulness and Finding Life Balance – Part 8 – Compulsions

Conquering Compulsions Mindfully

Compulsiveness affects millions. It gives us a false sense of being content, but ultimately supports our avoidance or escape from a bigger problem or emotional pain. Compulsive behavior is a huge challenge because while it reduces tension, it can lead us to more temptation. Its repetitive nature keeps interfering with our healthy habits.

According to Licensed Psychotherapist Gloria Arenson compulsive behaviors may include shopping, hoarding, eating, gambling or obsessive-compulsive thoughts. She believes we suffer from a compulsion when we are no longer able to control when we begin or stop the behavior. She states that we can become trapped in a repetitive whirlwind of irrational thoughts and rituals.

Some researchers view compulsiveness as outlet so that we never have to confront our real problem. Our addiction to compulsive behavior keeps us stuck. It may lead us toward repeated feelings of guilt and shame.

Compulsive behaviors are typically the result of stress, and eliminating those stresses with the help of the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) developed by Gary Craig or Acceptance Tuning In and Meeting Needs Tools (AMT) developed at BYU may help eliminate the behaviors.

As a Licensed Psychologist I have observed how bad feelings about ourselves may make us keep these rituals as dark secrets and lead us more acting out. If we stop buying into the belief that we are worthless, or bad, just because we have compulsions, we can begin to unravel the cycle.

Regardless, there are no immediate solutions to compulsiveness but knowing that we can’t always singularly overcome our dependence and physical urges can move us toward recovery. Compulsions may, in the moment, help us cope with our stress or unmet needs, but it is a poor substitute for not being productive, proactive and prosocial.

Nonetheless recovery is possible but it will take patience and time.

The Role of Mindfulness in Conquering Compulsions

The cornerstone of mindfulness is that things have a natural progression and we cannot force things along as much as we want.

Acceptance is an important component of mindfulness. So accepting that your compulsion is essentially numbing and distracting you from experiencing upsetting feelings is a critical first step in letting go of its hold on your life.

Compulsive behaviors may only temporarily fill, or distract, us from an unmet need, but it usually leaves us feeling worse. Ultimately, compulsions disconnect us from ourselves and others. Awareness of our inner-most feelings and thoughts is another essential component of mindfulness. Thus, being aware of our negative as well as our positive emotions is another critical step to destructing the rut compulsions gets us in.

Feelings of shame and isolation are very common with compulsive behavior because of the indulgent aspect of the behavior. Shame based behaviors may lead us to a declining sense of control, very low self-esteem and discouraging relationships. When we are in the throes of a compulsive cycle, we need to constantly increase our compulsive cycle to deal with our shame, emotional letdown and secretiveness.

Concealing our compulsions can further deepen our attraction to them and bring about “real self.” Sharing our “real self” is an important feature of mindfulness. It may be impossible to even consider the idea of sharing our compulsive rituals with someone who cares about us or who may help, but this may actually prevent us from acting out again. Thus, that’s why joining an anonymous group can be adjunctively very beneficial.

Those that struggle with compulsions know how powerful and menacing they can be. Most who struggle have tried repeated to restrict themselves by telling themselves they just to more will power or to white-knuckle it. The mindful person knows that they need input and help from others and stops making the assumption that they are just too broken to get fixed.

Here are some helpful mindful tools to break down the denial and assumption making associated with compulsive behaviors:

  • BREATHE & RELAX … rather than let yourself get sweep in by compulsive behavior cycles
  • TUNE IN … rather than let yourself check out of your feelings
  • OPENLY ACKNOWLEDGE … that you are being tempted and pulled into acting out again
  • CONSIDER YOUR CHOICES … before you act out try asking yourself what else can I be doing to relieve my stress or boredom right now?
  • STOP JUDGING YOURSELF IF YOU ACT OUT OR RELAPSE. You are not bad or perverted just self-neglectful.

Stress, restlessness, poor self-confidence, and fatigue can all undermine our attempts to gain self-control.

Forgiveness, setting limits, relying on others as well as making a plan have helped suffers. If you can’t make head way with any of the above, please know that professional help is either a thumb click or phone call away.