Next, Recovery Nation said: Consider one of your own compulsive rituals. Identify circumstances when each of the three filters (time, habituation and intensity) have come into play.
Again, I have to figure out which compulsive rituals are best suited for this exercise. What of, for example, my lifelong and ongoing compulsion to pick and play with my finger cuticles? I hate it when I do that. Really. How does the filter of time apply? Well, it seems to fill up idle time, or more accurately, time when my mind is busy listening while my body and mouth are idling. The compulsive behavior expands to fill that kind of gap in time.
Regarding habituation, do I become accustomed to the activity to a point where I need a new element in order to get relief? No, this activity has remained unchanged for nearly half a century. How about intensity? Do I get more and more relief from the activity by becoming more efficient at it? No. Again, the amount of relief and the way I obtain it have been the same for half a century. I guess this means that the compulsion to pick at my fingers is relatively mild, or at least that its trajectory is relatively moderate.
Okay, let me look at a past behavior that may have been a compulsion and that caused me considerable trouble. I suspect my previous use of porn would qualify. How did that behavior interact with the time filter? Over the course of about three decades, there were periods when I used porn more frequently or spent more time with it in a given sitting. There were other periods when I used it less frequently and for less time. Those periods came and went. It wasn’t a steady upward or steady downward trajectory. Instead, those periods of more use and of less use cycled up and down, like a sine wave. It makes sense that the reason was time. I think that when I was more engaged with my family, my job, and other activities I had less time and energy for porn. When I was bored or disengaged with family, work, and activities I had more time for porn.
The intensity filter would mean that I became more efficient at it. Really, I’m not sure what that means in this case. Or, perhaps it’s that I don’t quite see the difference between the intensity filter and the habituation filter. The former entails innovating and modifying the compulsive behavior to get more and more stimulation from it, I think. The latter has to do with boredom and becoming so accustomed to the activity that it is no longer enough for stimulation, I think. If I understand these concepts, the visible effect on the person with the compulsive behavior may be the same, or at least similar. It means I would have gradually added more and more new elements to my routine of masturbating to porn.
That is basically what happened. First it was just masturbating to imagined images. Then I was able to add in pornographic magazines. Then a steady and sexually-active girlfriend came into the equation, and I used her for compulsive sex. Then, in a separate story line of my life, I got married. I tried using my wife for compulsive sex. She, naturally, was not happy with my behavior. So, the secret masturbating to porn continued. When the Internet became easily accessible to most of us, I started using porn sites and chat rooms. The chat rooms led to meeting people for sex. Each step along the way, I was becoming increasingly desensitized to the stimuli and increasingly open to taking things a step further. When I found a co-worker who was an easy target, I traded the chat room-based encounters for full-scale affairs. When I worked in a place where prostitutes were commonplace and seemingly affordable, I added them to my repertoire. So, if nothing else, I understand how time, intensity, and habituation affected my compulsive behavior.
What of my belief that my root problem was self-pity and that masturbation, porn, and sexual impropriety were just symptoms? That could still be true. Self-pity may or may not have had all the elements needed to define it as a compulsion itself. (See my discussion of Lesson 17.) But, I think I used it as an excuse for allowing my compulsive sexual behaviors to continue.
Can I apply the filters of time, intensity, and habituation to my self-pity problem? Time was certainly relevant. When I was busy, with work or a social or family life, I often was more able to resist self-pity. When I had too much alone time or unstructured time, self-pity was more compelling. I find it more difficult, however, to apply intensity or habituation to self-pity. The nature and intensity of my self-pity didn’t change noticeably over the course of four decades.