Elements of compulsion 

Recovery Nation said consider a particular compulsive ritual, and identity the elements of it.

First, I have to identify what, for purposes of this exercise, is a relevant compulsive ritual. I have a few rituals today that I’d like to stop: picking at my cuticles, scratching inside my ears, and scratching my butt during the night. I’m not sure those are topics for this exercise. They don’t really address the greater problem: my long history of adultery and lies.

Alternatively, I could go back in time, five years ago, and consider my previous compulsive rituals: viewing porn, masturbating, and having sex with prostitutes or other abnormally available women. I am skeptical that those behaviors would be relevant for this exercise because I have not engaged in any of those behaviors for over 50 months. I believe I have extinguished those behaviors.

Just to be thorough, did I derive pleasure from those behaviors according to any of the nine common elements of sexually compulsive behavior suggested by Jon Marsh?  How about sensory stimulation, orgasm, power, or accomplishment? Yes, sadly, I did enjoy stimulation of all the senses, as well as the orgasm, sense of power or control of the situation, and feeling of accomplishment. Was I motivated by my past? Yes, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, I did use my feelings about my religious upbringing and perceived lack of experience to justify my adultery.

Was I motivated by poly-addictions? No. Did I derive pleasure from the fantasy? Maybe. I was leading a double-life, and that seems to me to be an example of being motivated by fantasy. What about danger or suspense? I did not consciously seek nor enjoy those aspects of the experience. Did I seek them subconsciously? Possibly.

Finally, it makes more sense to me to examine the compulsive behavior that was at the root of the problem for me, and the one that has haunted me more recently than 50 months ago: self-pity. Is that a compulsive behavior, for purposes of this exercise? At the very least, it was a self-destructive habit. My past was clearly the prime motivator for that behavior in me, as I thought, wrongly, that God owed me a life with more freedom and experience than what I had.

What other elements of compulsion might have been involved? Did I get any sensory stimulation or orgasm from self-pity? Definitely not. Did it give me a sense of accomplishment or address a desire for danger or suspense? No. Was it aimed at fantasy? Maybe. It was a form of escape into an alternate world, a world where wishes and beliefs were the coin of the realm, as opposed to goals, plans, commitment, and responsibility.

Was it related to any poly-addictions? At first, it was not. As I got older, I think it may have paired up with compulsive use of porn and masturbation. I eventually paired it with compulsive use of prostitutes and other abnormally available women, as soon as they became available. After D-day, I struggled for one year with compulsive smoking. I lied to hide it, perhaps because I knew it was an unhealthy compulsion. Looking back on that, I think perhaps I can say that the smoking became a poly-addiction paired with self-pity.

Did self-pity satisfy a desire for power, perhaps meaning control? Maybe. Perhaps it’s a method of self-soothing, in the absence of better habits that should build resilience. One counselor said maybe I used the self-pity to rationalize adultery and smoking. Perhaps so. But, in the context of this exercise, what did I want from self-pity? Why did I seek it, or create it? What did I think it would do for me?

It allowed me to blame something for my unhappiness or dissatisfaction, something other than my own inaction, hesitation, cowardice, and unwillingness to exert effort. In a way, I perceived self-pity as the easy way out, the path of least resistance. Why put effort and commitment into fitness and self-improvement when I could just tell myself those goals were unobtainable and that fantasy, anger, and adultery were acceptable? Why, before marriage, bravely and patiently get to know a girl, or, after marriage, make my wife a real priority as a person, when I could just give up and turn to self-pity? Why push myself to be more flexible and more persevering, when I could just blame God for life’s challenges and wallow in self-pity. Self-pity was my teddy bear, my blanket. It also became my weight, dragging me down and stopping me from reaching my full potential, giving me an excuse not to try.

Too often in life, I’ve been too lazy, afraid, or inflexible to try. So, perseverance, bravery, and flexibility may be my best antidotes to self-pity


2 thoughts on “Elements of compulsion 

  1. Hi MC

    Your post encouraged me to do some more reading on the various Dxs listed in the DSM.
    Obsessions and compulsions are often confusing. The DSM-5 is of no help as OCD is seen as unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that need to be fixed with some sort of compulsive act.

    Obsessive compulsive personality disorder (cluster c) are lifelong (traits) focusing on orderliness and neatness to an extreme, among other things.

    The new DSM has made it even more confusion than the former edition. OCD is seen now as a disorder in itself rather than part of anxiety.

    Despite what people experience, sex “addiction” is not part of addictions in the DSM, and many have seen a compulsive component in it, but that is also in shopping “addiction”.

    The problem is the unwantedness of thoughts…as in “sex -addiction” these thoughts are not unwanted but sought. Meaning that OCD does not fit. In short, the DSM has no answers…to refer to extra dyadic sex that is frequent and ongoing for years. To refer it as some sort of disorder might not be correct either. To me it is no illness as I do not see mental health appropriately explained by medicalisation, meaning diagnosing and giving a medication (prescriptions). Sex as an addiction…yeah…to some extent, but not if you see addiction as an illness…the definition of an illness does not work for a self-inflicted addiction type of behaviour but the AA will disagree, and has received criticism exactly for that statement.

    So, here is the issue:
    People who experience the issues try to find help, help is based (or should be based on research), research falls short, as there is no helpful framework, leading to people feeling lost and try to find out what helps for them…This is not bad…but highly personal. When people find out what works for themselves, they think all should follow that approach….the world and people in particular are too complicated for that.

    In short, ignore my confusing stuff and do what works for the both of you.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks. I’m certainly no expert. I do find it inaccurate, or at least unsatisfying, to say that years of adultery could be attributed to a medical or clinical condition. Going back to my earliest post-D-Day thoughts on the question, I did choose to commit adultery. It was not beyond my control. It resulted from a series of negative, but conscious, decisions on my part, not from some pre-set condition in my physiology.

    Frankly, I’m not satisfied with Recovery Nation’s use of terms like “addiction” or “compulsion.” I find those words imprecise and distracting. For now, I’m just using Recovery Nation as a way of organizing my thoughts. But, I’d welcome a better method, one that doesn’t treat my long series of bad choices as a medical or clinical condition.

    Really, I believe my problems were moral and spiritual, not medical or clinical. But, I hesitate with using the terms “moral” and “spiritual” too, because I see too many people approach those terms from the perspective of religious rigidity that I find oversimplified. That religious rigidity can, in my view, lead people to switch from going overboard with sex to going overboard with religion. I think both are problematic.

    Still, in my own nuanced use of the terms “spiritual” and “moral,” those terms fit better than “medical” or “clinical” in describing my problems. I mean I was decades behind in developing an appreciation for integrity, meaningful relationships, and healthy priorities. I do believe I’ve made progress on those topics in recent years. And, now that I think of it, I’d thank my recent attention to morals and values for that progress, not a bunch of talk about “compulsion” or “addiction.”

    Does that make sense?


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