Taking responsibility and control

This module aims to help you explore and gain understanding of:

  • How much control you have over your current sexual behaviour(s)
  • How you may have used denial to allow your problematic behaviour(s) to continue
  • How to make immediate changes and start the change process

When we feel like we have lost control, we often attempt to regain it. When we fail, we feel a deep loss and our anxiety starts to build. This feeling can be overwhelming. It causes us to feel uneasy, discontented, and lost because we are always looking for something else to make us feel better. We often turn to short term fixes such as alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex to feel better. Sometimes these behaviours then start to feel like they are out of our control.

Exercise

Read the statements in the table below and circle the number that you most relate to in terms of your past and current levels of control (1 = very little control; 2 = some control; 3 = strong control).

  1. Has your control changed from when you first started having sexual thoughts of children until now?
  2. Why do you think this has or has not changed?
  3. How does feeling out of control affect your mood?
  4. How in control would you like to be in a years time? How are you going to get to this point? Or if already at that point, how can you maintain your level of control?
My behaviour when I first experienced sexual thoughts of children. 1 2 3
My behaviour as my problem progressed. 1 2 3
My time spent now having sexual thoughts of children 1 2 3
My time spent using adult pornography now 1 2 3
My time spent on accessing indecent images of children now 1 2 3
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Here are some suggestions which can help increase your feelings of control:

Changes to your environment

  • changing your route to or from places if you know it is likely to bring you into contact with children coming out of school;
  • moving your computer to a high traffic more public area of the home to make it less likely that you will access anything inappropriate;
  • changing your employment if your current job brings you into contact with children;
  • having a photo of loved ones on your person so you think of them and what you are risking by engaging in sexual offending

Changes to your computer

  • having security software installed on your laptop so that you cannot access pornography;
  • having a picture of a place you want to visit or prison bars as your screen saver or wallpaper (this can act as an incentive not to offend or a reminder of the consequences if you do);
  • entrusting PC password to another person to limit access;
  • set your password to be a reminder of something you would lose if you offend

Changes to when you go online

  • only use computer when others are in the room or in public places where you would not access the material;
  • only use the computer for specific purposes such as internet banking, do not allow yourself to ‘browse’;
  • unplug your wireless router at night so you have to make more effort to go on-line and therefore have more time to think about and stop what you are doing;
  • get a mobile phone without internet access

Changes to your behaviour

  • use techniques to manage any inappropriate sexual thoughts, such as distracting yourself;
  • try and spend more time with others, giving you less time to spend on inappropriate thoughts;
  • put things in place to avoid having unsupervised contact with children if you are concerned about your thoughts and behaviour;
  • contact a support if you are finding it difficult to manage your thoughts, or call the Stop it Now! Helpline

Exercise:

Make a list of three things you can do to immediately reduce your risk of sexual offending (online or offline). For example, someone concerned about online and offline offending who engages in part-time work and enjoys participating in swimming might make the following changes:

  1. Install security software on computer
  2. Leave work later to avoid coinciding with school run
  3. Change to adults-only swimming evenings

NOW TAKE ACTION!

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Denial is the confused kind of thinking and reasoning used to avoid the reality of your behaviour or the consequences of your behaviour.

It is a way to deflect attention and responsibility. Here are some examples of excuses that represent denial. As you read through the list, make a note of any that sound familiar to you.

  • “It was only once in a while.”
  • “I needed to get my needs met somewhere.”
  • “We are all adults.”
  • “I am just being a man and I have a high sex drive and men are more sexual than women.”
  • “At least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.”
  • “My situation is different from everybody else’s.”
  • “Just this one last time and then stop.”
  • “Just this second time more and then stop.”
  • “Well, I’ve already started so what the hell.”
  • “A reward for lasting a certain period without accessing porn, so this time is ok.”
  • “I need to wean myself off rather than quit cold turkey.”
  • “I’m dealing with a lot of stress and need to unwind.”
  • “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
  • “My wife (husband or partner) isn’t responsive to my sexual needs.”
  • “I deserve this.”
  • “It doesn’t hurt anyone because…”
  • “It’s just my way of relaxing.”
  • “I only do this in private so it isn’t affecting anybody.”
  • “I can stop any time I want.”

If you identify with the statements in the list then denial could be helping you to keep doing a behaviour (whether this is indulging in sexual fantasies about children, masturbating to sexual thoughts of children, or sexually touching a child) that you know is problematic. This, combined with feelings of a loss of control, can be risky for you.

You can take some simple steps to reduce your potential for engaging in risky behaviour.

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The underlying key to risk prevention and risk management is:

  • understanding what is risky for you
  • anticipating risky situations and identifying the signs of a possible risky scenario
  • making plans to deal with such situations e.g. through avoidance

A risk factor is any of the below that lead you to engage in sexually abusive behaviours:

  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • behaviours
  • places
  • situations

As previously indicated, these risk factors can be internal or external. Having a risk prevention and risk management plan in place allows you to plan ahead and have a strategy in place regarding how you respond to risk. 

Interventions

These are techniques you can use to stop unhelpful and inappropriate thoughts, feelings and behaviours, before acting on them. They can be both specific (comprising particular techniques to manage the risky behaviour) and more general (linked to lifestyle issues which although not directly linked to the behaviour are influential in the development of the behaviour and are therefore important to address in terms of helping to avoid/manage risk).

However, interventions are not solely about stopping abusive behaviour. They are also about identifying and engaging in positive healthy activities which can assist in interrupting the cycle.

Environmental

These include changes to your environment to reduce your potential for engaging in risky harmful behaviour. These can involve:

  • changing your employment if your current job brings you into contact with children
  • moving your computer to a more public area of the home to make it less likely that you will access pornography
  • having security software installed on your laptop
  • changing your route home from work to avoid walking past a school.

You will already have considered your environmental risk factors and have an idea of what would be useful for you to employ in terms of environmental interventions.

Cognitive

These focus on how you think.

By identifying inappropriate thoughts, you can change how you think and feel.

Cognitive interventions usually take time to work and require awareness, patience, practice and determination but it is possible to change your thinking and in turn your behaviour. Some examples of cognitive strategies are listed later in this guide.

Behavioural

These focus on what you do. Such interventions can help you in two ways: to stop inappropriate behaviours and to start healthy ones. They are linked to cognitive interventions, because in order to maintain behavioural changes there has to be a related change in thinking.

Interventions can be either short or long term.

Short term interventions can be employed to provide an immediate and temporary solution to a situation.

These are sometimes referred to as ‘first order changes’. An example would be taking ‘time-out’ if you are angry. This is a short term solution but a long term intervention may involve attending an anger management course.

Similarly avoiding walking past a school when children are coming out is a short term intervention.

However a long term intervention would be for the individual to recognise the role that sexual thoughts about children have played in their life, and to challenge their thoughts and beliefs about sexual behaviour with children which involves cognitive interventions

Long term interventions are sometimes referred to as ‘second order changes’ and usually involve attitudinal and behavioural changes over a longer period of time; sometimes assisted by specialist intervention such as attendance on a treatment programme. These interventions usually occur once a risk crisis has passed and an individual is in control of their thoughts, feelings and behaviour and is aimed at maintaining positive changes.

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Examples of specific intervention techniques

If you are aware you are having inappropriate thoughts you can take positive action by changing and replacing the thought with an appropriate one or through practical strategies such as actively distracting yourself, by getting up and going out, engaging in an activity which will occupy your thinking – for example doing a cross word puzzle, reading a difficult book or talking to a trusted friend.

Also if you are aware that there are places or situations which prompt such inappropriate thoughts it might be best to avoid such places or situations until you feel more confident about your ability to manage the thoughts.

For more information about specific techniques please click here.

Examples of general intervention techniques

The techniques described below are ones that you can use on your own. Some are relatively simple and some can be quite complicated. They include techniques aimed at stopping thoughts, active distraction and thinking about consequences. In order to be most effective they need to become part of your thinking and be practised regularly. They are also more likely to be successful if used in combination with other positive things/actions in your life.

Being honest with yourself; accepting responsibility for your behaviour and being open and straightforward in your communication with your friends and family is a technique which will help you to manage your risky thoughts and feelings – especially if you recognise that secrecy, isolation and difficulty in expressing emotions are factors which were influential in your problematic behaviour.

Being aware of your general thinking errors – how they influence your behaviour, e.g. how expecting too much of yourself can lead to unrealistic expectations which in turn can prompt feelings of failure and frustration. For some individuals these thinking errors and the feelings they trigger can lead them to consider escaping into things that have comforted them in the past including sexual fantasy and problematic behaviours. It is important to counter these thinking errors with more appropriate realistic thoughts combined with some of the specific techniques outlined above.

Learning new responses – self-talk; how you talk to yourself in your mind, affects your attitude, your feelings, your self-image and your behaviour. What you say to yourself in your mind is called self-talk. You talk to yourself in positive and negative ways. Self-talk can be very powerful and it determines how you feel and your view of the world. This will be discussed in more detail further on in the modules.

Now, consider the following questions:

  1. What have been the most positive changes you have made?
  2. Why?
  3. Has this module raised any further questions for you or made you want to explore any ideas further?
  4. What steps do you plan to take to seek out this information?

If you want to discuss anything covered in this module, have struggled with working through the self-help material or just want the opportunity to work through the self-help site with a practitioner to guide you then please call the Stop It Now! Helpline on 0808 1000 900 for confidential support from our trained staff.

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