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Emotional-Behavioral Connection in Recovery

Chapter 5: Emotional and Behavioral Connection in Recovery

Section 3: SEA's Tools for Recovery Lifestyle 
Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous -

The SEA's Program of Recovery
By James J. Messina, Ph.D.

The Emotional/Behavioral Connection in Recovery

What is the connection between your compulsive low self‑esteem‑based behavior and your emotional/behavioral state?

  • Compulsive behavior is often linked to your emotional state or your response to a specific situation, event, or belief.
  • You are most likely to act a compulsive way when your emotional life is in turmoil or out of balance.
  • Binging or compulsive patterns of acting are often directly attributable to how you are feeling or reacting to yourself, to a situation, or to a belief.
  • Certain kinds of activities become more attractive to you at times of emotional stress or turmoil.
  • The rate at which you consume a meal, a drink, or smoke a cigarette is in direct relationship to the emotional tone surrounding the place in which your behavior is occurring.
  • Compulsive behavior patterns are often a result of the emotional state in which you find yourself, e.g., (1) closet eating, drinking, or smoking can result from guilt feelings about the behavior, (2) eating or drinking in a car or while on the run can result from feeling overstressed and under pressure, (3) skipping meals can result from fear of gaining weight or a lack of proper time management, (4) snacking, drinking, or smoking can result from feeling bored or just looking for something to do.

What common emotional cues lead to your unhealthy, compulsive behavior?

DIRECTIONS: Write down the emotions and feeling clusters which are most likely to lead to your compulsive behavior. It is important once you identify these emotional triggers to be on the look out for them and take preventive actions to block your typical compulsive behavioral response to them.

Boredom: listless, unoccupied, restless, uneasy, a need for novelty, change, or excitement


Anger: rage, hate, cheated, infuriated, spiteful, mean, mad, or envious


Guilt: ashamed, miserable, remorse, blamed, distraught, or pain


Tired: exhausted, overworked, drained, not enough sleep, run ragged, drowsy, numb, listless


Depression: left out, ugly, empty, powerless, victimized, suffering, useless, low, sad, helpless, discouraged, or troubled  


Anxious: overstressed, out of control, nervous, overwhelmed, uneasy, tense, pressured, panicked, troubled, confused, or shocked


Lonely: unwanted, unappreciated, left out, ignored, unloved, alone, hurt, neglected, ugly, or rejected 


Fearful: afraid, tense, anxious, nervous, weak, worried, skeptical, frightened, threatened, or panicked


Excited: eager, driven, energetic, capable, turned on, enthusiastic, motivated, or clever


Comfortable: proud, refreshed, appreciated, satisfied, accomplished, useful, respected, content, confident, full, calm, or relaxed


Happy: good, nice, glad, loved, pleased, wonderful, delighted, or beautiful

How can you combat unhealthy, low‑self‑esteem‑based compulsive behavior?

Any of the following healthy activities could be substituted for the unhealthy compulsive behaviors.

  • Be watchful for emotions which lead to unhealthy behaviors.
  • Do deep breathing exercises.
  • Take a walk.
  • Get involved in an exercise program.
  • Read a book.
  • Block out desire to act compulsively by thought stopping.
  • Pay more attention to the people and activities with whom you are currently involved.
  • Remember the goal to attain a recovered lifestyle.
  • Use a stress‑reduction technique to reduce tension.
  • Ignore the desire to eat, drink, smoke, abuse drugs, gamble, shop, etc.
  • Work out emotions which lead to unhealthy behaviors.
  • Use emotional release activities to rid yourself of unhealthy emotions.
  • Make a telephone call to a relative, friend, or a SEA's Buddy.
  • Avoid the settings that arouse negative emotions.
  • Talk out feelings with a relative, friend, or SEA's Buddy.
  • Use rational thinking to problem solve an irrational belief that would lead to unhealthy, compulsive behavior.
  • Alter the way food or drinks are used in social and celebration events.
  • Establish a fixed pattern of times and places for meals, exercise, rest, leisure and reading.
  • Establish times and places for eating, drinking, or interacting with others that are not emotionally provocative.
  • Use the TEA System to keep an eye if your actions and thoughts are consistently healthy and in sync with healthy emotional responses.
  • Use the ALERT System to deal with stressful, anxiety‑provoking and panic emotions.
  • Use the ANGER System to ventilate and release negative emotions.
  • Use the LET GO System to free yourself of the compulsive need to control people, places, and things which are the uncontrollables and unchangeables in your life.
  • Use the CHILD System to deal with feelings of boredom, loneliness, isolation, and abandonment.
  • Use the RELAPSE System to get you back on track if you succumb to emotions which lead you to unhealthy behaviors.


Remember: to have a recovery lifestyle, enjoy everything in moderation.


NOTE:   For more information on this section, look at the Tools for Personal Growth and Tools for Anger Work‑Out by James J. Messina, Ph.D.