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Dealing With Urges

In the past, even though I’m not Catholic, I’ve given up chocolate for Lent. I’m not the biggest chocolate eater, but I do often find myself reaching for it on a stressful day or out of sheer laziness when I’m so hungry I could chew my fingers off. Wherever I am, it seems to have a lot of wheat-based products (I’m wheat free), so chocolate can appear to be the “easy” option. I kid you not when I say that there were a few times during Lent when I paced the kitchen or stared longingly at the chocolate, yet I’ve not only made it through but tended to be off chocolate for as much as three months. Basically, I fall out of the habit. I’ve noticed that each year, I find a substitute for the awful days and that I plan ahead.

Going No Contact with my ex-with-the-girlfriend while having to work together and be in the same social circle was a serious test of my restraint.

Sometimes I paced my flat resisting the urge to respond to his texts. In the end, I’d go for a walk, go to the gym, call a friend or sit down and have a rational conversation with myself. After telling him all about himself numerous times, biting my tongue was a challenge. I began to recognise the signs (feeling like my head wanted to pop off) and my head filling up with my ‘evidence’ and what I’d say. I’d practically be holding my breath, and so I would have to force myself to walk away.

I also watched series 1-4 of 24 in five weeks, read a lot of books and would pour my thoughts into writing. These were all more productive uses of my time. I also noticed when the urges happened: When I was having a tough day (so then trying to distract myself) or having a thought like “Why couldn’t he leave her?” and then chasing after it with “Woe is me!” and berating thoughts. Facing stresses or relieving stress as well as pulling myself back to the present and reminding me of the list of offences pinned on my wall quickly neutralised the urges.

Like the chocolate situation, I fell out of the habit of responding in the same way to my ex. Eventually, just like I can eat chocolate and stay off wheat, I was able to be around my ex in social situations and even have him make comments or give me that look, and it didn’t matter.

Sometimes there’s been an urge, for example, to call up certain family members and give them a piece of my mind but I don’t act upon them. And you will get urges. It’s natural.

Urges to fall into old habits are life’s way of testing us.

In much the same way that life will keep throwing us the same types of situation until we heed the lessons, urges will put you to the test in an attempt to distract you from your goal or path.

Urges are often misinterpreted as signs that you ‘should’ go back to the old way or that you’re “weak” or doing something “wrong” and that the work you’re doing is of no benefit. Actually, you can make plenty of progress and still get urges.

My friend has given up greasy food, alcohol and cigarettes and has become quite the marathon runner and loves what’s it’s done for her sense of self and wellbeing, but she regularly craves the old stuff. Not so much the cigarettes but the greasy food and boozing. But then she remembers her overall goals, which includes raising money and not falling into the same health pitfalls that have cost the lives of some family members. It means that she needs to keep her focus. She also allows herself to drink sometimes – she just doesn’t go crazy or drink every time she’s out or close to a marathon.

Remember the list of what you want to do and if responding to the urge takes you away from this, fighting the urge is the better option instead of fighting your own true needs and desires that you’ve previously sidelined.

Every time thoughts drift into your mind that distract you from meeting your own needs, desires, and expectations, you need to bring your attention back to these.

Each time you do something that’s counterproductive to you realising who you are and making your life happen, you’re just creating more work for you. Practising refocusing on what you’re trying to achieve in your life helps you to make more considered choices that serve who you are, not who you’ve been unconsciously being.

You can listen to and observe the urge without responding in the same way. If you understand where the urge is coming from, it’s a lot easier to respond differently, even if your response is just to let it pass.

When I felt tempted to call a certain family member, I recognised that I didn’t really want to call him; I just wanted him to know how I was feeling or to let off steam. I was looking for validation that I wasn’t giving myself. At that particular moment, I felt hurt and disappointed. Acknowledging my own feelings and sharing them with, for example, my husband and other loved ones helped to calm the urge. It soon disappeared. I’m not saying it might not pop up again in the future, but if and when it does, I’ll handle it.

Where does the urge come from?

A distraction from something else that’s happening?
Avoiding another feeling?
Chasing a feeling?
Numbing a feeling?
Not knowing how to self-soothe you?
Feeling rejected?
Feeling afraid?
Feeling incapable?
Feelings of grief?
Lack of focus / forgetting what your direction is?
Fear of having to let go?
Fear of being forgotten?
Trying to hide that you’ve made a mistake?
Fear of failure?
Needing to be heard?
Fear of starting over?
Wanting a quick fix?
Fear that you’ve misjudged something that in truth you know that you haven’t misjudged?
A need to talk?
A need for support?
Trying to control someone or something? This includes monitoring on social media.
Hoping that someone will change?
Fear of using your power and trying to get someone else to step in?
Trying to right the wrongs of your past?

When you understand what’s behind your urge, you can choose a different means of responding to it because defaulting to a habit that’s not working for you means that you’re using the wrong solution. It’s addressing what’s behind the urge instead of slipping into autopilot. Ultimately this will lead to a deeper understanding of you.

As someone who has done some strange stuff off the back of boredom, hunger, tiredness, and rejection, I found that aside from the fact that there were far better ways of attending to the first three, if I wanted to feel less rejected. I could stop 1) agreeing with the rejection (because that’s self-rejection), and 2) opening myself up to further rejection by doing something for short-term gain and an ego massage.

When you, for instance, feel envious, you can recognise that it comes from a realisation that someone who is in some respects similar to you has or is doing something that you want. Instead of responding with your default response, such as giving you a hard time or picking a fight with them, you recognise that you have that desire for what they have and look at how to bring that about in your own life.

If you feel that your urges are compulsive, I recommend that you consider therapy or other professional support to help you through breaking your habits, or that you look for appropriate support groups.

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