How to extinguish negative conditioning?

My most basic problem is that whenever I think of sex, intoxication, tobacco, or marijuana, I have an immediate, instinctive, almost subconscious negative feeling. Since before I could walk or talk, my parents and community taught me, perhaps without even much conscious effort, that those things were repulsive and should be avoided. Now, like Pavlov’s dog trying to learn a new trick, years after the formative experiment, I struggle to eliminate those subconscious impulses, those subconscious negative views of otherwise normal, modern human activities.   

As I grew through childhood and adolescence, I learned from television, literature, music, films, peers, and other sources that most modern adults, at least most in the cultural milieu where I wanted to live, view sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana more objectively. They apparently see those things more matter-of-factly, without judgment, the same way I had viewed common activities such as eating caloric foods, luxuriating in a steam bath, or appreciating a work of art. By the way, I can understand now how some people can learn to be judgmental about other activities that I consider mundane, things such as coffee or certain types of art. Back to my point, I grew up to have an internal conflict, with one part of my mind having learned to be judgmental about sex, intoxication, tobacco, and marijuana, and another part of my mind simultaneously drawn to those forbidden fruits.

Problem one was that I went on to abuse each of those four things in a self-destructive manner. While an inner voice told me sex was bad, another component of my own mind rebelled against those thoughts and indulged in adultery, porn, and masturbation. Similarly, I sought out intoxication and fell to unspoken peer pressure to use marijuana during my twenties. Similarly, I used tobacco at several points in my life. I’m confidently and comfortably beyond all those problems now. Marijuana is, as it once had been, simply uninteresting to me. I might have a cigar again one day, maybe; but the thought of it is not very appealing now. I drink alcohol in moderation. And, I am faithful and moderate regarding sex now.

Problem two was that, despite my hypocritical behavior, I struggled to stop myself from judging other people unfairly when they engaged in those things. I used to be terribly critical of other people for engaging in smoking, getting drunk, or having premarital sex, despite my own awful history with those things. Even now, when I encounter talk of or hints of smoking, intoxication, or premarital sex, I am forced to have a quick internal dialogue in my head. “They’re doing something immoral and shameful,” says a voice in my head. “No, dammit, stop thinking that,” says another voice, recalling the words of our first marriage counselor who said those thoughts were “sick obsessions.” “That’s unhealthy, self-destructive thinking,” I now tell myself. It works well enough. However, it’s still necessary, even after all the evidence that my moral judgments are harmful. And, the temptation to judge not only pings in my head when I am faced with real examples of smoking, intoxication, and premarital sex. It also pings when I encounter references in film, music, literature, and pop culture.

My personal mental and marital health objective is to eliminate my conditioned negative views of those four things. I don’t really know how. Is it possible to extinguish those impulses to judge other people? Or, is managing them the most realistic goal? I don’t feel they will drive me to again commit adultery or deceit. But, the impulses to view those four things critically are irritating.


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