I always look for patterns in callers’ questions, because I’m interested in what that pattern means in terms of what folks have come to believe…and why. A persistent thought seems to be that impulse is irresistible. That means, if you feel like a burger or a cigarette or a roll in the hay with someone you know you shouldn’t be with, then you have some kind of addiction, which means a disease, which means out of your control.
That’s a darn good rationalization…but it ain’t true. The only irresistible impulse is one which hasn’t been resisted, and that is most definitely (but not simply) a choice.
I say “not simply,” because resisting impulses is difficult and sometimes painful. Generally, such inappropriate behaviors have the purpose of 1) immediate gratification of feelings, and 2) hiding you from other emotionally distressing thoughts and feelings. That means that, if you resist the impulse to drink, eat, or have a sexual fling in the office stationery closet, you will be left with the anxiety or sadness that resides within.
It is clear, therefore, that the emphasis should be on dealing with the not-so-well submerged anxieties and sadness. For example, a man called recently to say that he is mean to his wife, criticizing anything he sees around the house. I immediately suggested that he saw the cluttered kitchen counter as a sign his wife didn’t love him. Now, you’d think that was a ridiculous leap, but it was “spot on.” He (after some nagging from me) offered that his mother had not been, well, “motherly” and loving. To this day, he has his wife do things to prove/make up for the lack of affection and attention he missed as a child. Did he know he was doing this and why? Yes for the “doing;” no for the “why.”
I suggested he go home with a flower in hand and tell his wife that he needed her to hold him. I told him that’s what “his woman” was for. You can always hire a maid, but you can’t hire someone to really love and care about you. He was treating his wife like his mom, when he really needed her to be a wife with loving kindness.
You get love by being open to it, and by being loving in return. You do not get love by eating that cake, smoking that joint, drinking that beer or overpowering those who care about you.
Resist those impulses. Yes, it’s painful and difficult, both physically and emotionally, but the ultimate reward is the very thing you’ve been trying to get (just all in the wrong way), and that thing is LOVE.