Building a good life
This module will help you to build a fulfilling life where you no longer feel the need to offend!
Changing your lifestyle
Many abusers and potential abusers describe lifestyles in which much of the exciting, fun and self-indulgent things in their lives are associated with the inappropriate/harmful behaviour. By contrast, other aspects of their lives are about duty, responsibility and routine.
If you recognise this as being a feature of your life you can still go for long periods without engaging in any unhealthy behaviour, but if there is an imbalance in terms of fun and duty e.g. the things you ought/need/should do vs the things you want to do and enjoy for enjoyment’s sake, you may begin to feel resentful. Such feelings can feed into negative self-talk and cognitive distortions which could trigger unhealthy/offending behaviour, e.g. ‘I work really hard and I deserve to enjoy myself, it’s not hurting anyone.’
It is important to achieve a balance between the things you know you are responsible for and have to do (e.g. going to work to provide for your family) and engaging in activities which you enjoy because you want to and they are fun. If you want to avoid abusive behaviour then your healthy abuse-free life needs to be important and valuable to you. In other words the lifestyle has to be more rewarding to you than the negative behaviour.
It is important to identify what you want from your new life. These can be things based on your previous experience, but also based on new ideas. Once you have identified these you will need to outline how you will achieve this – this will involve goal setting and planning. It can be helpful to think of planning as being like a ladder taking one rung at a time. It is important that your goals are SMART- specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound for you to have the best chance of success. Goals can involve activities, relationships, employment, education, training, changes in behaviour and attitudes.
Good Lives Model
A really good approach uses the Good Lives Model developed by Tony Ward (a psychologist) and his colleagues. The model breaks down the states of mind, personal characteristics, activities or experiences that are sought by people and, if achieved, they are likely to increase psychological well-being.
He calls these needs that people try to achieve primary goods. The primary goods are personal to the individual and therefore will differ according to the kind of person the individual would like to be.
The diagram to the right shows the primary goods Ward has outlined.
Here are the full descriptions of each box:
It is important that we have activities in our lives that we feel good at. In order to feel good about ourselves, we need to have a sense of achievement. This can also help with our self-esteem. This doesn’t mean actually being ‘the best’ in comparison to others, but feeling that we are doing the best we can in whatever we do.
Excellence in work
This can also involve feeling like we have ‘mastered’ activities and skills-training that are important to us in the work place. Additionally, it can include creativity, i.e. being able to create/make new things, come up with new ideas, or be artistic or practical in some way.
Excellence in play
This is about how people spend their time and the range of activities in which they are involved. It is important for people to see that all activities are worthwhile and for people to have activities which offer elements of fun, excitement, challenge and achievement. This might involve hobbies, work, and exercise. This also about balance of activities (e.g. work / life balance).
Whoever we are, it’s important for us to feel like we understand our purpose in life. This could stem from religion, but it doesn’t have to. This could be something like ‘being a good friend’, ‘being a good brother / sister’ or contributing to your community in some way.
This is about feeling peaceful and comfortable. It means that we should feel free from difficult feelings, and that we should know how to deal with these feelings if we have them. This also means feeling safe; physically and emotionally.
This is about how we live our lives in terms of our physical health (exercise, diet, feeling comfortable with our appearance) and emotional health (looking after ourselves inside).
This is about having intimate, romantic and familial relationships.
Excellence in agency
This is about feeling like we can manage and control our lives. The ability to make decisions and to feel as though you have a say in your life is very important. This is also about being able to manage the way you behave and the way you feel (e.g. knowing what to do if you have had a bad day). This is also about being able to make decisions and solve everyday problems in life.
This is about having knowledge and understanding so we feel informed about our world, so that we feel we understand what is going on around us. Knowledge can come from life experience, what we learn at school, from books or from the media. It does not mean ‘being clever’, but feeling as though we know what we need to in order to feel ok in the world.
This is about having a sense of belonging and responsibility to the social group you live in. This also includes a sense of fitting in. It is important that we have a group of people where we feel we ‘fit’. Belonging might stem from friends, family, colleagues, a religious group or another group of people.
Feeling good in the here and now.
You can find out more about the Good Lives Model from the following book: Ward, T., Laws, D.R., & Hudson, S.M. (2004) (Eds.). Sexual Deviance: Issues and Controversies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Alternatively, you can go to www.goodlivesmodel.com (a website that Tony Ward has created to provide information on the model).
Use this worksheet to help you complete the next two-part exercise.
Exercise – part 1
This exercise will help you to identify some of the things that are important to you, the needs that your offending might have been trying to meet and start the process of identifying the parts of your life you want to improve.
- Consider your lift right now. Scale how well your essential needs are being met by giving a rating for each question between 1 and 7. (1 = the need is not being met; 7 = the need is well met).
- For each question, write down one specific example that justifies your response.
- Make a note if you feel that this need is/was in some way being met through your illegal online behaviour.
- Do you have a sense of achievement? Do you have activities in your life that you feel good at? What is your general feeling of accomplishment from day to day?
- Are you satisfied with how you spend and divide your time? Are you satisfied with your job? Do you have a range of other worthwhile activities in your life that you enjoy and give you a sense of fun, excitement and challenge?
- Are you spiritually connected? Do you feel secure with an understanding of your meaning and purpose in life?
- Are you at peace and feel comfortable with your life? Do you feel free from difficult feelings and know how to deal with these feelings when you have them? Do you feel physically and emotionally secure?
- How healthy do you feel? Do you take care of your body physically? Are you emotionally healthy?
- Are there people who are important to you and to whom you are important? Is there at least one person with whom you can be yourself? Do you have a sense of belonging and fitting?
- Do you have a sense of autonomy and control? Are your views heard and do you feel that you have a healthy influence over events? Can you manage the way you behave and the way you feel?
- Are you secure in your knowledge and understanding? Do you feel as though you know what is needed in order to feel ok in the world?
Exercise – part 2
Although all of these needs are important, some will be more important to you than others. Part 2 of the exercise asks you to identify which needs you feel are priorities in your life.
- Take a look back at the above needs. For each need, write the number 1, 2, or 3 with 1 being a high priority and 3 being less of one.
- Select your highest priority need. What specifically makes this need important in your life?
- Do you have any ideas about how you could meet this need without engaging in any harmful sexual behaviour or putting yourself at risk of engaging in harmful sexual behaviour?
Ward also describes the role of secondary goods. Secondary goods are the means in which the primary goods are obtained. For example, a primary good example of happiness may be achieved through the secondary good of a positive personal relationship.
People who have sexually offended were often trying to meet primary goods but in a harmful way. You need to identify the need (primary good) that is important to you and healthy ways (secondary goods) of meeting those needs.
For example, consider Tony, he is a man who has previously been convicted of internet offences. Tony lives alone and is quite isolated. However, he places great emphasis on the ‘primary good’ of social contact/activity which he used to meet through online chat. Tony has decided to meet this need through volunteering to undertake work in a community garden where he would meet a lot of new people.
Beware of obstacles!
Sometimes it can be really hard to meet your needs and there can be things that get in the way.
If this is the case then it increases your chance of trying to meet them through unhelpful ways – particularly if these are things that you have done before (we often revert to old habits, particularly in times of stress!).
Continuing with the example of Tony – if his way is blocked; for example restrictions due to previous convictions means he can’t volunteer in the garden because a lot of young people spend time there. Tony has the potential to relapse into inappropriate use of the Internet in order to meet other people again. However, Tony was aware this might be a problem and had planned ahead, so he had a back-up plan. He thought that if he was unable to do voluntary work in the garden he would be able to do work for the local animal shelter. Tony was able to start walking dogs for the charity and met other volunteers so still got a chance to meet his need for socialising, plus he started doing more exercise so felt healthier.
How do I plan for obstacles?
Some obstacles are easier to overcome than others, and to overcome some you may need to get help or support from professionals or specialist organisations (such as counselling to deal with grief or other negative life experiences). Some obstacles can take a long time and will be hard work to overcome (for example building self-confidence) but obstacles can be beaten and it is important to keep positive when tackling obstacles. See the problem solving section for advice on how to overcome obstacles.
- What ‘goods’ are important to you
- Which ones you tried to meet online
- You can meet them in other ways
- How to start generating ideas to overcome obstacles
But you also know:
- Some goals take time and perseverance
- And you’ll need to continue to review and set goals in the future to continue building a ‘good life’.
So think about what you have achieved and focus on what changes you need to make. You might need to go back through some of the self-help modules a few times, or seek support from other people or places, but you are here now and therefore clearly motivated to make changes. So use the skills you have and what you have learnt to be the person you want to be and have a fulfilling and good life!