This week we tackle the very essence of our unwanted behaviors. Whether you are an addict or simply find yourself not behaving the way you would like to, there is a root spiritual and human nature reason.
This enigma is even revealed in scripture where Paul writes:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” – Romans 7:15
In our human nature this relates to concupiscence and our original sin and tendency to sin versus our spiritual nature to do good. In the human experience this ties directly to our emotional brokenness that we teach so closely in the road purity mission and programs.
This spiritual battle vs the human battle creates the dichotomy of Paul’s statement of “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” – so why do I do the thing I hate and why do I not do the thing I want to do….
The River under the River
This is the core of the battle for all humans, especially addicts. At Road to Rurity, we call this the river under the river.
Our behaviors, all of them, happen for a reason. They are a response to an outside stimulus and are chosen based on life experiences and our beliefs. We are all, to a large extent, formed by social interactions, childhood events, and basic life experiences. It’s the nurture part behind ‘nature versus nurture.’ Our parents, siblings, other family members, teachers, and so many more people and happenings shape our ideas, our emotional reactions, our impressions, and our beliefs about our-selves.
In certain circumstances, these events and people (basic life) can begin to slowly compromise our self-worth system. Virtually 100% of the time the people who cause these harms are not intending to inflict pain and turmoil in our lives. Frequently, it’s simply people reacting out of their own flawed self-worth that influences someone else. These behaviors and their lasting effects are typically transparent to both parties at the time.
Many of our behaviors are unconsciously designed to protect this fragile self-worth system. Feelings of insecurity, insignificance, incompetence, worthlessness, powerlessness, and so on are protected when we act out with anger, aggression, defiance, overachieving, underachieving, materialism, narcissism, withdrawal, self-mutilation, dishonesty, integrity issues, arrogance, fear, and anxiety, just to name a few self-destructive behaviors.
Every one of us (yes, including you) is a good person at the core. Our actions, beliefs, decisions, and responses to life around us may not be the perfect choices and can frequently hurt those around us, sometimes intensely. But at the core, we are created by God and are good people. We are created in His image and therefore are designed for perfection. Our choices and behaviors, and even our self-image, are what’s flawed.
Our behaviors in everyday life make up what we call “the river”. The reasons we behave the way we do (habits, poor self-image, flawed beliefs, insecurities, and so on) are what drives this behavior – thus the “river under the river.” The key to success in your journey of recovery is revealing what is in your “river under the river.”
Changing a behavior, particularly one that has become a compulsion or an addiction, requires a process of learning a new habit as well as revealing and healing the flawed internal beliefs and emotions that drive the behavior – the river under the river.
Additionally, there is a biological component to any unwanted behavior. This relates to the historical neural pathways which include tendencies to repeat behaviors when a certain stimulus is presented.
This particular aspect of changing behavior is beyond the scope of this article.
However, here we will address the root causes of these behaviors.
(Note: The Restoring God’s Foundation program address this topic in depth)
A key to the River under the River concept is looking at underlying pain. Every human, without exception, has internal emotional pain, or brokenness. This includes pain developed over the course of our lives as a result of what I spoke of a few paragraphs ago. The behavior, or way of reacting to this pain, is in fact transmitting this pain. If we don’t transform this pain (in other words, heal it), we will transmit it to others.
Many of the concepts discussed here may be unfamiliar to you. This is perfectly normal, and even expected, that this information has been difficult to follow. Because it is critical and a cornerstone in understanding, what follows are a few examples of how this “river under the river” theory reveals itself in real life in relating to porn or sex addicts (as that is what ou rmission is).
However, you can extrapolate the concepts and apply to nearl any behavior.
John grew up in a family where both parents worked. His parents provided everything John needed materially. He always had the best clothes, newest model of bikes, his own room, all the video games he wanted, and more. John’s mother, however, was an insecure person who focused nearly all her attention on her career, as she needed to achieve to feel worthy. As a result, she was self-focused and didn’t give John the loving affirmation he needed growing up. She was never mean or denied John his basic needs; she just wasn’t there in an intimate motherly manner. Although John wasn’t aware of it, this led him to feel rejected and unimportant or insignificant. He actually felt unworthy of being loved. John developed emotional walls to protect this inner pain of unworthiness and insignificance. As an adult, he experienced failed relationship after failed relationship, as he was unable to connect emotionally with women. John had an unconscious fear that they would ultimately reject him. Keep in mind that John had no awareness of this – he simply lived his life not understanding why he was unhappy. He longed for personal connection, personal intimacy, but he was also intensely afraid of true intimacy, for fear of it being taken away and being rejected. Again, he was completely blind to this internal fear.
At fourteen, one of John’s friends introduced him to pornography. It was his first exposure to sex, as his father had never had the traditional “sex talk” with him, nor had he had the opportunity to learn what healthy sexuality was about. Porn was exciting to John, and something inside him said, “This is what getting love looks like.” As his life progressed, John did not learn what authentic love and intimacy were, but porn became a regular experience for him. It fed him, though in an unhealthy and misguided way. It was all he knew.
This porn habit followed John into his relationships. He was unable to connect with his partners emotionally because of his childhood experience and woundedness. He turned to porn in an unconscious attempt to find connection – after all, relying on porn was safer because it would never reject him like a real woman likely would. However, viewing porn created an unrealistic idea of what sex should be like. In his mind’s eye, sex was an act that was void of true intimacy: the giving of one’s self, an authentic emotional connection. The result was horrible sex experiences for his partners who felt objectified and used rather than loved. The relationships ultimately failed.
This same pattern occurred in relationship after relationship. The rejection and insignificance John felt as a child was repeated as an adult, but now abandonment was added to the pain. John ultimately felt extreme despair and became suicidal.
John transmitted the pain of rejection and insignificance he felt in his childhood to the women in his relationships by not being able to be emotionally open to connect with them. His being emotionally unavailable to them caused them to feel rejected by him! In this way, he was transmitting his pain to his partners. This pain that allowed him to accept pornography as a representation of love also contributed to the pain of objectification he transmitted to his partners. John’s feel-ing of rejection and insignificance were the river under the river of his behavior of being emotionally unavailable to women, as well as the behavior of reaching out to porn for intimacy (alt-hough this was false intimacy, it was a form of intimacy, nonetheless).
The lies of rejection and insignificance from John’s childhood must be transformed before John can have any real success with authentic relationships.
If you don’t transform your pain, you will transmit it!
Bob was an angry person. His anger was his way of protecting himself, a pattern of behavior resulting from many poor experiences and abuse from his father, growing up. Bob frequently turned to pornography to experience a sense of connection, as well as a release of inner stress caused by the constant anger. (Note that the connection he achieved from viewing porn was a false connection – and thus for only a few minutes the stress was released due to the surge of serotonin after ejaculation, a process that induces the addiction cycle, as learned in earlier lessons.)
Here’s how Bob transmitted his pain:
Bob was driving to work when another driver needed to make a quick lane change to exit. Bob perceived this action as a personal attack, as if the other driver had no regard for him. This triggered intense anger and feelings of revenge within Bob. The anger was disproportionate to the situation, but it was fueled by Bob’s inner feelings of rejection and shame from his abusive father. As a youth, he felt disregarded, belittled, and dismissed as a person and now anytime someone ignored or rejected Bob, he felt intense anger. Anytime he experiences anger, it is compounded by the pain and woundedness he experienced from his father. Angry, Bob now sped off the next exit toward his usual stop at Starbucks. Bob was now in a foul mood. While placing his order, he snapped at Jennifer, the barista, making her feel incompetent. He was an-gry inside and was transmitting that anger to those around him. Barista Jennifer ultimately had a horrible day, experiencing feelings of rejection herself.
As you can see, Bob has woundedness from his youth. This unhealed woundedness causes Bob to overreact to events in life that trigger the same deep feelings of rejection, belittlement, and dismissal. His reaction is typically anger. These feelings are triggered by seemingly minor life experiences, like being disagreed with, a waitress making a mistake on his order, someone not listening to him, and, obviously, a driver cutting him off on the freeway. Bob has not transformed his pain (emotionally healed) and, therefore, transmits it frequently. This untransformed pain that causes Bob to behave the way he does is the river under the river. The reaction of feeling incompetent that Jennifer, the barista, experienced, is a ripple effect of Bob’s untransformed pain. This untransformed pain spreads to those around us.
Lisa grew up with a mother who was very critical. Lisa’s mother was much like Bob in the previous story, as her mother (Lisa’s grandmother) had belittled and rejected her daughter (Lisa’s mother). The constant criticism of Lisa’s mother made Lisa feel very insecure and unworthy. In Lisa’s case, this caused her to be a person who was always reaching out to friends and neighbors to offer help, almost in a compulsive way. Lisa was the type of person who always jumped in to help at parties. While it may seem like the criticism of Lisa’s mother led to a very admirable personality trait in Lisa, the deeper result was that Lisa was starving for acceptance, and to be liked. Unfortunately, Lisa was a very unhappy person and felt deeply unworthy of anyone’s love. She had many medical problems stemming from intense anxiety and her constant seeking of approval. People who didn’t know Lisa well simply thought that she was a wonderful, giving person. Yet it was transparent to most that she was starving for the love and acceptance that she never received from her mother. Note: It is this lack of love and worthiness that causes women like Lisa to seek false intimacy with men through various forms of sexually promiscuous behaviors, in an attempt to fill that void of being unloved or invalidated.
Lisa’s story is much subtler that the previous two stories. It is an example of how untransformed pain can be transmitted to multiple generations. In fact, the pain that Lisa transmits is not visibly harmful to the outside world but is certainly damaging to herself.
This last example is more subtle and is a personal behavior of the founder of Road to Purity and author of Restoring God’s Foundation. This example may be easier to apply to more “generic” situations.
“This behavior developed later, after I had learned to manage and heal from my main addiction of sex and pornography. At that point, I began to see that there were other behaviors in my life that were not necessarily harmful to others or even unethical, but nonetheless were behaviors that had hidden, underlying causes – the river under the river.
I had a job that required me to spend a lot of time driving around scouting for products to sell on the internet. Typically, I would eat fast food for lunch. It was quick and cheap. However, I noticed that at times, I would go to more expensive or “nicer” places to eat – something like Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings. These weren’t high-end restaurants, but much nicer than McDonalds and a place to sit and chill for a bit. In my self-awareness search, I noticed that there was a pattern for this behavior. I chose a better place and allotted more time for lunch when I was having a bad day. Anything could trigger it – bad sales day for my business, argument with my wife that morning, car problems, and so on. I found that the days I wanted to splurge a bit were when I was experiencing feelings of incompetence, unworthiness, or insignificance or when I wasn’t in control of the day’s events. These feelings had once triggered a choice to act out in an unhealthy and destructive way, but now they were redirected so I made other choices. While, those feeling still came up, my unconscious reaction was to intentionally choose something that I was in control of, that brought me pleasure, and that made me feel deserving – sort of a reward to convince me that I wasn’t that bad or unworthy.
The exercise made me see that this simple decision to eat lunch at a nicer place was actually driven by something deeper. Since realizing this motivation, now, every time I feel like I want something nice (food, things, etc.), I ask myself, “What’s behind the desire?” I find out what’s driving the urge, address it (using methods we will discuss in later weeks), and do my best to seek healing of the river under the river. I must note that even though I was working through this process, since the choice I was making was not harmful, destructive, or unethical, I may still choose the behavior. I may still eat at the nicer restaurant, but I do so while fully realizing that the decision was driven by something; it was not a mere whim. While this was no longer working towards recovery from sexual sin, it was however, an acknowledgement in working towards further healing and recognizing internal brokenness that still caused certain behavior choices – the river under the river.
There is an additional component you need to be aware of that will be critical in this journey, something that can sabotage your very efforts for change if it is not addressed.
Looking inside oneself is a very scary prospect. The reason you are struggling with this addiction or other behavior to begin with, is that you are either unaware of the underlying causes or you are consciously or unconsciously choosing to avoid them. The exercises and discussions we will present in the coming weeks will likely unearth some very unpleasant memories, feelings, and experiences.
The prospect of knowing this can, itself, trigger fear and can trigger the urge to act out. It is perfectly normal to have thoughts like, “This is going to be too hard – I can’t do it,” or, “I’ll do this at a later time, when I feel more ready, when life slows down a bit.” These thoughts are not yours! Yes, that’s what I said: They are not yours! They are suggestions planted by the enemy, Satan. He does not want you to heal. Your woundedness that triggers your destructive behaviors are his play-ground, and he uses those suggestive thoughts to contaminate your soul. Simply be aware of this and if you are a student of the Restoring God’s Foundation program, use some of the exit strategies discussed lesson 7.
Even make some of the “out loud” statements referenced in that lesson when you feel any apprehension or fear triggered by these thoughts. Prayer, while obvious, is also commonly overlooked. Make it a priority. Spend some time in adoration and ask Jesus to reveal the sources of your fear. After receiving Holy Communion at Mass, say to yourself, “Jesus, I receive you into my entire body and existence, please take all fear that exists within me and replace it with your peaceful presence.”
For some, the content of this article will stir up some powerful emotions. The last thing we want to do is leave you hanging. Talk to a friend or spouse if you can. You can also reach out to me at the below link for a phone appointment or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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