Ideas can seem very potent when they're infused with lust.
"Check out those legs!"
"Is that really a video of...?!"
"Wow, what an image!"
When we buy into ideas like these, we fall into the trap of temptation. Even if we only entertain them briefly and don't go completely off the rails, we've shifted momentum back in the direction of compulsion and addiction.
In an attempt to steer clear of the risk of succumbing to lust, we may fall prey to a complementary hazard. To make doubly sure we don't give in, we put up a big fight against lust-infused ideas.
"Arghh! No! I was doing so well!"
"Oh my, that's intense. Better brace myself!"
"Hold on! Hang on! Don't give in!"
Unfortunately, we may then become like the driver who jerks the wheel to avoid the telephone pole on the right only to swerve into the lane of oncoming traffic on the left.
The problem is, by ratcheting up our mental resistance, we give our urges and cravings even more energy. Our tug-of-war with temptation keeps escalating into a full-blown nuclear arms race.
Perhaps you're saying, "Sure, that sounds familiar. But if I'm going to stop gearing up for all-out battle against lustful thoughts, what else can I do? How should I handle them? I can't let temptations go unchallenged. I don't want to take a casual approach to dealing with them. I've tried that before and seen where it got me--giving in more often than ever!"
Here's what I suggest instead: work to develop the ability to simply see thoughts as just thoughts. Practice pulling back from them far enough to recognize them for what they are. They're not power-packed, dangerous things. They're simply ideas, and they don't have much power over us, in and of themselves.
Once we see a thought as just a thought, we're less likely to buy into it. We can simply notice it and let it go. After all, that's what the vast majority of our thoughts do: they go the way they came. Pop in, drift out. Good, bad, and ugly thoughts; useful thoughts and useless thoughts, that's what they do. After they come, they typically go. And when we don't buy into them they tend to go on their own without our making a big fuss over them. Even the most unproductive, unsuitable thoughts ultimately remain inert unless we get caught up in them--or caught up in fighting them.
So here are three ways you can help yourself see your thoughts as just thoughts:
1. Dialogue with the less mature part of your mind that generated the thought.
One afternoon Richard was driving past the high school on his way from work to pick up his daughter. He noticed a strikingly beautiful young woman. He smiled and said to himself, "Ah, there you are again fifteen-year-old mind. So you think that might be someone you could really hit it off with, huh? Interesting idea, for sure. And it might be a good one, if I were actually still 15 and looking for a sexy young girlfriend my own age. But remember, I'm 36. Yes, an interesting idea. But not very useful, thank you."
2. Personify your thought generator.
See it as a slick salesman; a fascist dictator; one of the judges on beauty pageant panel; a radio announcer who's always yammering on about the same, tired topic; a master storyteller; or a bully.
Jared was late getting home from work. He was exhausted but not yet very sleepy, and everyone else in the house was already in bed. It occurred to him that he could easily go check out some porn and get a delightful sexual fix before he hit the sack. That would be such a relief. "Oh," he shrugged, "there's that same old talk show host making his case again on opportunity radio. Hello old friend. Still on the air, are you? Still going on and on about how great porn is, huh? Sometimes I pick up your prerecorded, ever-looping show, sometimes I'm tuned in to other stations, but I know you'll always be broadcasting, either way. Thanks for your untiring efforts. Thank you, but no thank you."
3. File your thought in a folder your mental filing cabinet.
On a news website, Paul saw a link promising a scandalous photo of a celebrity. "Shoot, I really like her music," he thought. "She seems like a decent person. I can't believe that even she has stooped to that level. I wonder how bad the picture is." Then, realizing where his mind was going, he imagined opening the drawer of a filing cabinet and pulling out a folder labeled CURIOSITY. He imagined a piece of paper with the celebrity's face on it with this caption: "You gotta check out just how raunchy she's let herself be." Other papers in that folder had captions like, "Whoa, is that something I shouldn't look at?" and "Just how bad is the trash they allow on mainstream websites these days?" Other files in the drawer had labels like, NOT PORN, JUST LINGERIE; YOU'VE WORKED HARD AND NEED RELIEF; YOU'VE ALREADY BLOWN IT, SO WHY NOT GO ALL OUT? Some of these files were bulging with papers. There were still plenty of folders, empty and unlabeled, to be filled as he discovers new angles lust takes to try to draw him back into justifying unwise behavior.
Try out one of these techniques and see if, over time, it helps neutralize some of your seemingly supercharged thoughts.
And, as always, if you find that this way of handling your thoughts makes a difference in your recovery, we'd love to hear from you!