Recognising and dealing with feelings

This module help you to understand:

  • How your thoughts and feelings can influence your behaviour
  • How your perception of situations can influence your emotional and behavioural responses to those situations
  • How to identify your common thinking errors
  • How to positively manage negative thoughts and feelings

Some of the common reasons identified by individuals who have sexually offended include dealing with negative emotions such as stress, loneliness, frustration, depression, and anxiety.

They often describe using sexual fantasy and masturbation as a way of coping with negative feelings and situations – a form of self-soothing, escapism and stress relief.

They may be aware that running sexual fantasies about children is not an appropriate coping strategy but for a variety of reasons struggle to identify other more positive ways of dealing with these feelings. Improving your ability to regulate and manage your emotions and deal positively with problems in your life is likely to reduce the probability of engaging in problematic sexual behaviour and escalating this to offending.

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An example of how our thoughts, feelings and behavior are all linked:

You hear a loud bang in the middle of the night – what do you think caused the loud bang? How would you react?

  • If you have a dog you might think something has been knocked over, feel annoyed but turn over and go back to sleep
  • If you live alone you might think it was a burglar, feel scared and call the Police.

It is you thoughts that have affected how you feel and react in that situation.

How you feel about yourself and your feelings towards other people will also affect how you feel and react. For example, an individual who feels powerless may lose motivation and believe that there is no point in trying, as he will not succeed. He may withdraw and isolate himself. Similarly an individual who ruminates on problems and focuses on negatives is unlikely to see the positives in other people or situations and this can increase his feelings of isolation.

What is positive and negative thinking?

Positive thinking encourages healthy behaviour. Negative thinking comprises thoughts in which you see the worst in everything; they reduce your expectations by expecting the worst. Negative thinking tends to manifest itself in patterns of behaviour characterised by stress, worry, anxiety and frustration.

Exercise

  • Write down a list of your most common negative thoughts.
  • With each of these, identify the associated feeling.
  • Now list your behaviour that resulted from the thoughts.

Here is an example:

  • Next, identify how negative thoughts and feelings could contribute to the decision to view sexual images of children.

An example of this might be:

Negative thinking

This is often triggered by thinking errors which fall into one of three main categories:

Catastrophising/Awfulising

making things seem worse that they really are; seeing things out of proportion

Generalising

taking one occurrence and thinking it will always apply e.g. believing you will never pass your driving test because you failed the first time

Negative focus

always focusing on the negative aspects of a situation rather than looking at the positives e.g. rather than be pleased about passing an exam, being upset that you did not get a higher grade.

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This page will help you to deal with two common negative emotions, but these management techniques can also be applied to others.

Worry

Worry tends to involve lots of thoughts that come one after another, which involve events in the future or in the past. Worry thoughts typically begin with things like “what if… if only I had”… or “I must remember to…”. Sometimes worrying can help make us do helpful things such as checking that we have turned off the oven, but they can also become significant problems.

If you answer “yes” to the following questions, then worrying might be a problem for you.

  • Do you spend a lot of your time worrying?
  • Does worrying make you feel really upset and anxious?
  • Does worrying stop you getting a good sleep at night?
  • Does worrying prevent you enjoying yourself and getting on with things during the day, at home or at work?
  • Do you feel that your worrying is “out of control” or that once you start you just can’t stop?
  • Do you feel worrying has affected your health (for example given you stomach aches, headaches, or diarrhoea)?

Worrying about things can make you anxious. Many people suffer from anxiety without realising what it is. When you are anxious you may notice things like:-

  • Heart rate speeding up, sweaty skin or going pale
  • Feeling upset, irritable angry, or on edge
  • Feeling that something terrible is about to happen
  • Dry throat or mouth
  • Muscular aches and pains and headaches
  • Feeling tired, lacking energy
  • Poor digestion – stomach aches
  • Concentration problems, mind racing, sleep problems

The more anxious you get, the more you worry and the more you worry, the more anxious you become! It becomes a vicious circle, this is why it is really important to learn how to manage your emotions in a healthy way.

Notice It

Notice when you are worrying or feeling anxious. If you recognise the signs of anxiety mentioned above, or you notice you are thinking thoughts like those outlined, take notice of them- don’t ignore them.

“Stop!”

When you notice you are worrying, say “STOP!” to yourself, and concentrate on a different thought and/or do something else to actively distract yourself. Try to think/do something that is positive, relaxing and/or enjoyable e.g. reading, watching TV, cooking, calling a friend, doing a hobby, or playing a sport.

Worry time

Think about identifying a certain time in your day when it would be okay to worry -but limit the amount of time you spend worrying – no more than ten to fifteen minutes is needed. This is your “worry time” when you can focus on what it is that is causing you to worry and try to generate some solutions. If you find yourself worrying at a time when you have other things to do (such as when you are at work or at bedtime, or while you are trying to concentrate on something else), tell yourself to stop and put off the worries until later. This is not about avoiding problems but is about putting what is worrying you into perspective and dealing with it when you are not distracted by other things.

Self-talk

If you find yourself worrying about the same thing over and over (for example, “I’ll start my new job and no one will like me”) then write down the opposite, “positive” thought (for example, “People will like me- I’m a nice person”). Every time you notice yourself worrying about this thought challenge your thinking. Use the ‘questioning yourself’ strategy identified earlier in the module and counter your worry with the positive thought. You could even write the positive thought or statement down on a small card and carry it with you to remind yourself of it.

Problem solving

This is something you can try by yourself, or with another person. A problem shared is a problem halved! If you can tell someone you trust what your problem is, they can often help you with solving or coping with it. See the module on problem solving to learn how to improve this skill.

Anger

People express anger in different ways; it can take many forms. Below are some of the ways that anger can be experienced.

  • Head in the Sand – Some people find anger scary and frightening. They shy away from admitting they are angry and avoid expressing angry feelings. They try to convince themselves that they are not angry. This can be problematic as consequently they do not let go of and express their feelings which can result in a build-up of pressure, frustration and unhappiness.
  • Retreating to the cave – Some people find anger too hard to deal with, and they do everything they can to avoid it. The escape into their ‘cave’ when they feel angry or when other people around them become angry.  – Consequently they do not learn to manage their own or other people’s anger.

 

  • Bottlers – Other people find it difficult and scary to express their angry feelings so they stuff them down deep inside. This might be because they worry about getting into trouble or saying or doing the wrong thing. Whatever the reason, bottling up angry feelings can feel like a pressure cooker or a champagne bottle in which the pressure is building. Over time, if the angry feelings are not released they can result in an explosion.
  • Exploders – Some people shout and scream and blow off steam when they feel angry. They lash out physically and/or verbally. In the short term this can produce an immediate release but such outbursts of anger can have negative long term consequences for themselves and their relationships with other people.

What can you do about it?

Below are a number of techniques that can help with managing angry feelings. Anger is a normal emotion, but it is important that it is managed appropriately.

Recognise your emotions

Try to recognise when you are feeling angry. Pay attention to how anger feels physically (in your body) and use this knowledge to help you put techniques in place before your anger becomes overwhelming.

Count

Try counting to 10 when you feel yourself getting angry – this can give an opportunity for anger levels to reduce and avoid acting impulsively.

Breathing

Try breathing deeply and slowly repeating a calming phrase or word to yourself, such as “relax” or “calm down”.

Exercise

Exercise – this can help to reduce stress and manage escalating angry feelings. If you feel your anger escalating, go for a brisk walk

Relaxation

Try relaxation – such as progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. You might want to try yoga, or perhaps mindfulness techniques.

Self-talk

Use self-talk – this can help restructure your thoughts to be less angry and more rational. See the section on Self-talk for more guidance.

Problem solving

Use problem-solving to help with managing anger that stems from life difficulties (see Problem-Solving section of the self-help).

Space

Give yourself some space – sometimes our environment can escalate our angry feelings. If this is the case, allow yourself a ‘time out’ from the situation, or give yourself some ‘personal time’ on days that are particularly stressful.

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Consider what you have learnt so far.

  • How do I know when something is wrong? What are the clues?
  • What can I do to manage negative feelings?

If you want to discuss anything covered in this module, you 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 Stop It Now! Helpline for confidential support from our trained staff.

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