Most mental health counselors rely on a theoretical foundation that they put into practice. For yours truly, I leaned heavily towards cognitive intervention. That is not to say that improvements cannot be made to one’s surroundings or the impact that their behaviors have on the environment. Personally, I always felt that our thoughts were the one part of us that we have the most control over. Our mind generates them. The tone of our inner voice plays a huge role in our feelings. Our thoughts direct how we act in situations and how we interact with those around us. It made sense to me to work from the inside out rather than vice versa.
However, human beings inherently do not like change. Our species thrives on consistency. Knowing the results grants a sense of control. Once we enter the realm of unknown, things get frightening.
This is why it is so damn hard to break a bad habit. We feel a compulsion. There is the urge. Regardless of the involved risk, we often follow through without even thinking about it. It feels second nature. We know what to expect. We know the outcome. Whether it is good or bad, we usually do it anyways. Impulse satisfied.
It is one thing to study these ideas. It is another altogether to live it.
I bite my nails. I bite my cheek. I like to have sex.
That last one easily has been the most problematic. It is no secret at this point. I discuss it at great length with my therapist. I write about it on this site. I acknowledged its negative impact on my life well over five years ago.
I put so much time and effort into developing my own insight into my sexual compulsions. I took the time to understand how it started, its function, and acceptance of the outcomes. If I had a dollar for every time I talked about it in therapy or with a friend, my student loans would be paid off.
The compulsions subsided for months at a time. I simply went about my daily life without interference from these obsessive urges. Just like a boomerang though, they always came back and usually worse than before. I drove past strip clubs prepared to spend hundreds of dollars. I spent hours each day on dating sites looking for a quick hookup. My jokes became sexually aggressive. All of this to satisfy an impulse and fill a void left by years of trauma.
Every time I followed through, I knew that what I was doing was wrong. I knew it was unhealthy and detrimental to my well-being. I felt comfortable though. I knew what I was getting myself into. If anyone was going to hurt me, it would be me and only me. I controlled the pain. Behind the wheel, I drove myself into oblivion.
After it was all said and done, my bank account dwindled. My temporarily-filled emotional void drained like a sieve from the holes left behind. Loneliness, dread, and guilt loomed overhead. I followed through on the definition of insanity though. I kept doing it over and over again expecting different results.
Logically, I knew the negative impact that followed each time. My behavior wanted to satisfy the urge. The difference between my rational state of mind and desire to impulsively rid the compulsion created an inner state of turmoil. This was perfect!
Huh? How is this perfect?
I was in the midst of experiencing cognitive dissonance. This refers to a situation where an individual’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors conflict with one another. As a counselor with a cognitive-behavioral background, the goal in session is to elicit cognitive dissonance from within an individual. It acts as an agent of change. An individual will hopefully make a change to resolve the internal conflict and bring a sense of inner peace (McLeod, 2018).
Thinking back to my last therapy session, my therapist and I deducted that I needed to challenge my thoughts. It all made sense now. Acknowledging them and letting them be did not suffice. The next step included challenging the compulsions and implementing new behaviors.
I am not going to downplay how uncomfortable even the thought of changing my behavior made me. Even with positive change on the horizon, it was uncharted territory. I experimented with it. Women I met online I spoke to in a different tone. I talked to them about various topics and avoided sex talk. It felt more meaningful and like there was an actual connection. My self-worth gradually improved and that emotional void healed.
Is that to say that the process was perfect or that it is over? Hell no. One young lady I talked to online gave me a sob story about her grandmother having cancer and trying to help her pay for her medications by tricking herself out. She told me how she was in school to become a pastry chef and worked part-time. Her story checked out from what I could look up and in talking to her. I offered to give her a couple dollars as a friend and not for anything in exchange. I met up with her, and the situation seemed legit. She was living with her grandmother, and her textbooks and work uniform were all around her bedroom.
I definitely jumped the gun in giving her money though. It still felt like I was paying for services or as a way to show my affection for someone else. Sadly, materialistic tendencies was a learned behavior from my one parent. My mom often displayed her love for someone by showering them with gifts, especially me. However, in doing so with this young lady, the inner conflict did not ease.
I was on the right track though. This was part of experimentation. An individual develops an educated guess and tests it out by trying it. If it does not work, go back to the drawing board and revise the hypothesis. In this case, I decided to keep money out of it, which has worked out wonderfully.
I am still in the process of feeling comfortable with new behaviors that totally agree with my rational thought. There will be a lot of trial and error. As of right now, I feel that slowing down and getting to know a woman first has worked beautifully. Actually focusing on the emotional aspect and deeper conversations helps. Having confidence in what I have to offer and what I need in a relationship play a huge part. I am certainly proud of the progress I have made in this area, as it is one that dates back almost two decades for me. Challenging one’s self and trying is the only true way to reduce the dissonance.
-The Caring Counselor
McLeod, S. (2018). Cognitive Dissonance. Retrieved October 1, 2019, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-dissonance.html.