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Emotional Debtor
Episode 8916th May 2021 • Thrive Beyond Pornography • Zach Spafford
00:00:00 00:21:38

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Emotional debt

We’ve talked about this on the podcast before – we bought a house.

It was super exciting for us to buy our house here in st g because, for about 18 months we lived in Milwaukee and missed all our friends and the life that we had here in st g. 

We are super excited to have the chance to buy our house.  But when I look at the amortization table, which is the thing that tells you how much you end up actually paying for the thing you just purchased I cringe a little.  In the end we’ll pay 2x the amount that we purchased the house for.  

When we talk about buffering we often just call it a behavior that creates a net negative in your life.  

While buying a house is probably not exactly a net negative in your life, in fact, hopefully it is a net positive, loans and money offer a great analogue for what we do when we buffer or really how we manage our emotions.

Let’s talk about how we are both borrower and lender for our own emotions and how we can better manage that process by using some very simple math. 

I like to talk about emotions as the math of our lives for a couple of reasons.  

One is, I’m usually speaking with men and we men like to think of our life’s journey as a series of solvable puzzles and problems.  Unfortunately, the men and women I work with often think that the emotional struggle that is often part of leaving pornography behind is a foreign land of mush and gush.

Second, it really gives us some powerful perspective on what is happening and what it costs to choose certain ways of dealing with our lives.

Here’s what the emotional loan process looks like. 

Let’s start with a really simple example.  

When we feel stressed and choose to turn to pornography, we feel arousal.  

Now if this is where the emotional exchange ended then we would be fine.  That would be the end of it. 

The problem is that this is usually not where it ends.  

First, feeling arousal doesn’t actually deal with the reason why you might be stressed.  So, if I’m stressed because of work, then turning to pornography won’t get my work done any faster.  

Second, that stressed feeling is now going to be compounded by additional negative feelings that I’m going to have to deal with as well.  

Just like interest, when we borrow a positive feeling from ourselves, like arousal, that doesn’t fit into our moral compass, we are creating an emotional loan that will be paid back with interest. 

So now, we have stress, guilt, shame, frustration, and maybe even more stress that wasn’t there before because we’ve spent time doing something that didn’t help us get work done and we are now even more behind. 

We’ve just created a 4 or 5 to one exchange. 

Imagine if someone walked up to you on the street and said, hey, I’ve got a nice crisp new dollar bill.  I’ll give it to you for that crinkled up old 5er.  

You’d say, no thanks.  

But that is exactly what you are agreeing to when you take the emotional loan of arousal or overeating or checking our phone.   

We are taking an emotional loan from ourselves, short changing ourselves and paying back at a 5 to one ratio, sometimes more, in order to feel good right now.  In the moment. 

When we feel a negative emotion, often times we look to mitigate it by using a good feeling emotion, like arousal, which is what we feel when we look at pornography. 

So, in that moment we have done what I like to call, taking an emotional loan.  Meaning we have now borrowed a positive emotion from ourselves which we will need to pay interest on over time.  

The interest that we usually end up paying is a compounding of the negative emotions that we feel.  

So, just like buying a house, we take out a loan, we feel good, excited, and even comfortable when we use a buffer to enhance our emotional state in the short term. 

Then, once that emotional high point fades we have compounded our negative emotional state by layering in additional negative emotions like frustration, guilt, shame, and discomfort. 

Let’s talk about what being an emotional lender looks like.  

Why do banks and lenders give people loans?

It isn’t because you are a nice person or even because you are a good credit risk.  

They do it because they want the interest.  They want to get more out of the transaction than just their money back.  They want to get the interest. 

This is a risk, by the way.  this can be scary.  Our lender gave us a big, huge amount of money up front so we could buy our house. They took a risk on us.  

We are going to have to be willing to take a risk on ourselves and believe in our ability to earn dividends and interest over time. Rather than needing to take the positive emotions up front. 

When that feeling of stress comes along, we don’t run from it, we don’t fight it, we don’t act like we have to avoid it.  We process it.  When we just go through the process of feeling our emotions, and then doing what we need to do anyway, we begin the process of giving our future self a loan.  

That means that we feel stressed, even when we don’t want to.  

But there is a huge payoff after we feel all the way through our negative feelings.  That huge payoff comes, just like interest on a loan.

After the negative feeling is processed and we choose not to view pornography or overeat or some other buffering behavior, we get to feel satisfied, maybe proud, maybe more capable, even self-confident. 

We get this whole menu of feelings that are more subtle and that we can keep getting time and time again. We get to feel good about who we are, who we are being, and how we are living in integrity with who we want to be. 

And I don’t think it is a one time thing.  When we get good at feeling the negative feelings up front, I really do think that we get more dividends over time.   When we are emotional lenders, rather than emotional borrowers we are receiving interest instead of paying it. 

And we are the only person we can borrow or lend to.  

There isn’t some where we can borrow from emotionally, because those feelings are inside us.  

So, we have to decide how we want to spend our lives.

Do we want to spend our lives in perpetual emotional deficit or do we want to have an emotional surplus that will keep paying us dividends?

Let’s talk about how to do this.  

I teach this to my members and my individual coaching clients in depth, and they love being able to go back to the training videos and workbooks available to them inside the membership. 

The process is really simple, but it is extremely important.

First, you have to notice. 

Most of us really aren’t there at all. 

We go from moment to moment and think that whatever comes into our heads and the actions that we take are just happening to us.  When we start to notice, we begin to step out of our unconscious, reactionary mind and bring to our concious mind all the actions and beliefs that are happening.

This takes practice. 

Next we, say yes and no. 

Say yes, we can do whatever it is that our mind offers us to do so that we can feel good now and then we say no, thanks, I’m going to observe what’s going on here.   

This is different from using willpower because we are not fighting with our brain. We are observing while withholding action and questioning what is happening. 

This combo of yes/no is a lot like when someone says to us something like, “oh, you’re a Mormon, you can’t drink” and we say, I can but I choose not to. 

It is an acknowledgement that we are masters of our agency and able to choose either way. 

After that, we observe. 

We just watch, ask questions, and take notes. 

You can take mental notes or written notes, but just like an anthropologist we are looking at the behavior, thoughts and emotions that our brain is offering us and we are learning what is happening.  

Last, but essential to the process. 

We breathe.  

Deep breaths that help us fuel the body and mind while we become the watcher of our brains.  

This process, that we all need to learn is essential to being an emotional lender rather than an emotional borrower.