Fighting Your Own Impulses

Or Imposing Self-harm

Max Vakhtbovych

This is a difficult topic for me. I am strong and for the most part able to resist many of my impulses, but I have been fighting urges to act on the negative ones all of my life. Some impulses are positive and should not be ignored. For example when you see hunger and pain outside of your own community and you have an impulse to help, you should act on it. Warning: I may be a bit preachy in this blog.

Impulse defined: a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act (Google)

The Impact of Impulse Decisions on our Lives

The world is made up of a vast array of different personality types; some strong with good intentions and others, out-of-control and divisive. We have various tools at our disposal that help us to control aspects of our personalities that might cause harm or pain. For the purpose of this blog, I’d like to discuss impulses that have an impact on our own future, not necessarily the future of others. Obviously, our decisions affect and impact those around us as well; however, it is the more personal variety I am exploring today.

Decisions About Where to Live

Acting on impulses regarding where you live can have long lasting effects. How many times have you heard a friend say, “I could live here,” better still, how many times have you thought it or said it yourself?

Where you end up residing is by far one of the most important decisions of your life. Granted, wherever you decide to live, it is possible to leave; however, the amount of details that one has to attend to in order to relocate, are cumbersome to say the least. So much of your happiness depends on your external environment. This is one impulse that should definitely be checked and kept in control. Do your homework, visit and spend some time there, ask people who live there, write a pros and cons list, work-up a budget, and have a plan.

Don’t overthink it.

Health Decisions

Our impulses often take us to dark places that are difficult or impossible to resist. For example, no one likes pain: psychological pain, physical pain, and or emotional pain. Our instinct tells us that we should do everything we can to make it go away. Unfortunately, many of today’s remedies are harmful to us and may have long lasting effects. So when you turn to the bottle for relief and escape, your mind tells you that it’s a temporary escape; you only need one cocktail and you won’t need it again tomorrow. I know too many alcoholics who went down that slippery slope with little or no awareness that it was happening, while it was happening. So many people die due to alcohol abuse and the casualties of abuse, every day, yet it’s hardly ever a part of the public conversation. You know why that is and it’s time to face the horrible truth. We mandate the wearing of masks, ban smoking indoors, and we keep transgender people out of certain bathrooms, but we allow excess drinking almost everywhere. No one has the right to put others in danger.

Relationships

Regrets are usually a waste of time, but I have one regret which will haunt me my entire life: my marriage. My ex-wife was perfect in every way: beautiful, smart, trustworthy, loving, and devoted. We were never compatible because she was straight and I was closeted. How could she have known when I hid it so well? But my impulse was to snatch her up because she could provide the life I “thought” I wanted and should have. I could be a husband, a father, and we could live happily ever after. In what universe? When will people stop judging one another and start opening up to the many faces of love.

If you’re one of those people saying, “But isn’t it much better than it used to be?” shame on you.

I take full responsibility for the farce of my marriage, but I also blame the world around me that taught me to discard any other possibility. I have apologized to the woman I married many times; still, the pain I caused her will never be fully forgotten. I appreciate her love and forgiveness, because that and my integrity, are all I have.

Giving Birth to Children

I know that human beings, like all animals, are naturally meant to procreate and I’m certainly not advocating that we stop bringing children into the world.

However . . . I firmly believe that some make the decision to have children without thinking it through. Most of what I feel comes from my own experience of having a mother who had seven children in a very short period of time. She had little or no concern about how she would care for and feed her babies. My father probably had even less concern, sadly, I never got to ask.

I have a couple of female friends who consciously decided not to mother children. They gave it a great deal of thought and came to this very sound conclusion. Both have told me that they have been getting grief for their decision for years; some people think there is something wrong with them for not wanting children. I think our grief is misplaced, we should be focusing on those who decide to give birth and then either abuse their children and/or put the burden on others to care for them. Obviously there are exceptions, I don’t feel the need to explain what those are.

The Impulses I Fight Daily and How I Control them

I’m happy to share the impulses I have that I believe could be problematic in my own life. I view these urges as a weakness; controlling my destructive behavior has always been challenging. I know that I am harder on myself than I need to be, but the alternative is not an option. My intention is to let you know you’re not alone; fighting one’s demons is an uphill battle. Yes, the things I share are extremely personal; however, I hid my true self for over 20 years and that didn’t do anyone any good. Counseling has helped me over the years; however, I suspect my story includes a fight to the end. Giving you a glimpse of my journey helps me to try harder and heal from past mistakes.

Alcohol Abuse: I often mention alcohol in my blogs, therefore, I thought I should address it. I have been fortunate when it comes to alcohol. As I have said before, I occasionally enjoy a late afternoon cocktail and a glass or two of wine with my evening meal. If it’s a special occasion, I might have a second cocktail, but this is very rare. I have never had a problem with alcohol abuse, however, there are several reasons I limit my alcohol intake:

  • I like being in total control — my somewhat compulsive personality dictates my behavior
  • I prefer not to pay the high price of alcohol in a bar or restaurant.
  • There are times when I am out and driving (certainly not of late); alcohol and driving cannot happen
  • I drink slowly and enjoy my cocktail or wine.
  • I do not drink to become inebriated and can honestly say I never have (except at that one Bar Mitzvah when I was 12 years old).

I mention alcoholism now and again because I have several individuals in my life who are alcoholics. I do would not and do not judge those who have a difficult time controlling their alcohol intake; I am aware that addiction is a disease . It is painful to watch someone you care about spin out of control due to substance abuse. I have seen a tremendous amount of success with Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics/Marijuana Anonymous. To be honest, quick rehabilitation programs seem to be less effective. It is my understanding that alcoholism is linked to genetics. I’m not a professional abuse counselor and my opinion is just that. Please challenge me if you believe I have a problem with alcohol abuse.

Gambling: this vice is an entirely different story. There is no doubt in my mind that if I did not control my impulse to gamble, it would become a problem. Both of my parents loved and abused gambling. My mother incurred a massive amount of debt due to her habit; I believe my father was able to keep his impulse under control, but I have no doubt that he lost a great deal of money in his life; horse racing was his vice.

The most I have ever lost at one time, was about $1800 on a cruise ship. It was my birthday and stupid me was thinking: you have to win, it’s your birthday. Any smart person will tell you that you cannot gamble expecting to win. In this case I visited the ATM machine on the ship three times in one night. I told myself that I could go to the machine once and that would be my limit. Ha, that never works. Because I was so angry for losing that much money, I convinced myself that it could not and would not happen again. This is how I control my gambling:

  • I limit myself to three casino visits per year (I usually come closer to five or six visits).
  • My bank has a daily withdrawal limit on my ATM card.
  • I put a certain amount of cash in my pocket and I leave my credit cards and ATM card at home (harder to do on a ship, but even leaving the cards in my cabin, is a deterrent.
  • I do not live near a casino and that was always a conscious choice.
  • If the impulse is strong, I will often treat myself to a nice dinner instead.

Gamblers are judged harshly in our society, therefore, it is seldom discussed with friends or family. Instead, it is divisive and draped in shame. Even writing about my own battle with it is shame filled and upsetting.

Overeating or Impulse Eating: this too has been a lifelong battle for me. I love food; not just sweets, I enjoy savory food with as much fervor. I’ve written several blogs about my struggles with eating; to be frank, I have for the most part conquered this addiction. Portion control, meditation, and vanity, have prevented obesity. At this point in my life comfort is essential. If I eat too much, I am uncomfortable and in the end, it’s not worth the limited pleasure I might have gotten from two more ribs or that second piece of cake.

All of these impulses, although personal, affect the wellbeing of others in your life. Acknowledging you might have a problem, monitoring your behavior and seeking help, are all essential for success in overcoming these difficulties. As I write about my own struggles, there are a few realities that come to mind: the impulses I speak of effect many of us; more than society cares to admit, we cope with most of these difficulties on our own because of the stigma attached to them, and lastly, to be flawed and challenged is to be human. Never give up the fight; giving in or giving up, is the worst thing you can do. If you need help, ask for it.

I realize that I did not cover every impulse we struggle with in our lives. Admittedly, the stress most of us are under during this pandemic, only make resisting negative impulses more challenging.

I'm really not good with impulse control Picture Quote #1

Resources:

When Loss of Self-Control is Really an Impulse Control Disorder, Family First Intervention, March, 6, 2019

Is Impulsive Behavior a Disorder? Healthline, May 12, 2020

Alcohol Abuse, Harvard Health Publishing, December 2014

If you don’t mind sorting through some bullshit and aggrandizing, there is some great stuff on Goop (sample below):

Question of the Week:

Have you acted on an impulse that ended up being a disaster? How did you fix it or are you still trying?

Caring Too Much or Too Little

Developing a balance between empathy and good health is a formidable goal and this is a good time to work on it.

 

65 Compassionate Empathy Quotes (2019)

 

I have always been a bit too sensitive. I was bullied as a child because I cried easily (and I liked playing with girls . . . and I hated sports). I get the crying part honestly, my dad wept without shame. The problem with feeling intense empathy is that you often feel as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Managing these feelings and mitigating your health and well-being are essential.

 

What it Feels Like

I have been reluctant to look at the number of deaths around the world due to the Coronavirus. Denying a problem exists or refusing to acknowledge it, has long been a defense mechanism. However, in this case I believe empathy matters. I need to be able to experience what is happening all over the world so that I can do my part to help. I’m forcing myself to look at the numbers and think about what people are going through. It’s surreal, it’s painful, it’s difficult and it’s morbid, but it’s necessary. We’ve been told what we can do and we need to listen, learn, and hold ourselves accountable. Doing your part helps you to be empathetic without drowning in sorrow.

A brief story of too much empathy — very recent and still fresh:  When I adopted Paco in January, he had only been found on a country road two weeks prior. He weighed just over five pounds and his bones were protruding everywhere, his fur was extremely matted, and he was deathly ill from a virus. When I saw him for the first time, I wept. Each time I thought about him fighting for his life, alone and abandoned in the woods, I wept. Admittedly, this extreme sensitivity went on for weeks. This is the reason I had to leave my volunteer position at a pet shelter; I had too much empathy. Learning how to compartmentalize my feelings and thoughts was and is, necessary. By the way — Paco has fully recovered and he’s out of danger. I still worry, but it’s under control. The crying has stopped.

 

 Family

The reality of family members who are not as strong as I am or who might be struggling with emotional and/or financial issues is ever-present. How much of their worries are my worries? How much of their suffering can I or should I take on? What can I do to ease the anxiety I impose upon myself? There are a number of considerations when discussing problems with family members. First and most importantly, in some cases, they have families of their own. Therefore, when you get involved, there may be others in your family that are also affected and that complicates matters further. There is a risk of alienating family members who may be embarrassed or who may see things differently.

Most people prefer privacy, even if it means not sharing with their own family. This could be the topic of a whole other blog. I’ll leave it at this:  there are times when it is best to keep family problems at arm’s length. You may have to be clear about that when approached. “Sue, I think it would be better to discuss that with Greg; your husband is my brother-in-law and one of my favorite people in the world, I don’t want him to be angry with me for taking sides.” Sue doesn’t exist. Just an example of the language you may have to call upon when communicating. Remember, most people prefer candor and authenticity. Those who don’t may not deserve your time or energy.

There is always the advice that is unwelcomed. Family members who are not ready or willing to face their problems will sometimes push you away and resent you for getting involved. In these situations, you have to be either willing to handle the confrontation or in some cases ignore the radio silence.

 

Friends

Our friends are our chosen family. We love them dearly and sometimes that love might cause us great pain. When you see a friend in trouble and you cannot help them, it can tear you apart. Two of my friends are alcoholics. One of these individuals will no longer speak to me because I tried to help and he does not want to acknowledge his problem. The other is in treatment and doing well so far. The only way I can live with myself in situations like this (be it a friend or a family member) is to try to help in some way:  support, resource, friend, caregiver, etc. Doing nothing makes me feel useless and more like a failure. On the other hand, if I reach out numerous times and the friend refuses my help, I have to be able to accept that I’ve done all I could do and walk away. Speaking from experience, I’m not insinuating this part is easy; in fact, it may be one of the more difficult things in life you will have to do. Friendship is like any other relationship, empathy is imperative and it must be conveyed delicately. People who are suffering emotionally cannot always handle empathy when you’re feeling it, they may need time to process and prepare. As a friend, you need to understand boundaries and know when it’s the right time to help.

 

Our World

We live in complicated circumstances with over seven billion people inhabiting the planet.  Unfortunately, 734 million of the world’s dwellers are considered to be living in absolute poverty (wikipedia); that’s a lot of people. Horrible reality like this can keep you up at night. The number of people with cancer and no access to care, the number of people in abusive relationships, the number of children without food, the number of refugees without a home, self-serving politicians, and on and on. It is important to consider the difficulties all around you and do what you can to help; however, it is equally important to consider all that you have to be grateful for.

 

How to Manage it So that it Doesn’t Take Over

Meditation is a self-help practice I mention regularly. People often think of it as a waste of time or new agie. For me, it is a way of keeping things in perspective. Sometimes I make life too much about me and I have to remind myself that it is not at all about me. At other times, the weight of everything around me is so difficult to manage, I have to shed some of it by logically thinking it through.

Exercise is one of my top three ways of sorting through life’s difficulties. When you’re overly concerned about everything, you have to have a way to balance the gravity of all of these concerns or it will consume you. Exercise is like a release valve. There is no doubt in my mind that I have developed an addiction to working out. Exercise and chocolate are the only two addictions I can honestly say I embrace without guilt or self-punishment. I do not often give myself a free pass to indulge; therefore, I am grateful for the freedom to just enjoy these two gifts.

Volunteering your time is not a panacea for solving the world’s problems. However, it is a way for you to feel empowered. Everything you do to help will yield rewards.

“Volunteers are not paid — not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

— Sherry Anderson

 

You know as well as I, that no matter how thoughtful you are or healthy you may try to be, your emotional state of mind (mood), often determines how you feel. You might have a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling so much better than the night before. On the other hand, you might do everything right and have a restless night’s sleep and wake up angry at the world. I have learned to just go with it. If you try to push it away or sweep it under the rug, you are likely to either experience it with greater angst or have it rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time. If you breathe and treat yourself kindly during these difficult periods, you will come through the difficulty with less collateral damage.

 

Talk Through it With Someone You Love and Trust

For some, talking through your worries is a learned behavior. Some of us are hesitant to burden others with our problems or confused thoughts. We’re quick to want to help others, but when it comes to our own issues, we retreat and suffer in silence. I’m a big fan or running things by people who are not directly involved and I believe, can be objective. Be sure to ask if it is okay to share. Do not judge or dismiss an individual’s thoughts. You can be certain that if you disrespect a generous listener, you will never be able to solicit advice again.

 

 

“Empathy is the medicine the world needs.”

— Judith Orloff. M.D.

 

Resources:

How to Be More Empathetic (NY Times)

Importance and Benefits of Empathy (Very Well Mind)

 

I hit a milestone with 100 blog posts last week. I wish I had been aware of it, I would have celebrated sooner.