What is a Nice Guy? Nice Guys and Addictions (Part 2 of 2)

nice guys and addictionsIf you didn’t catch my previous post, you might be wondering, “What’s a ‘nice guy’? A “Nice Guy,” according to Dr. Robert Glover as he writes in his book No More Mr. Nice Guy, is a man who seeks the approval of others so that he can feel okay about himself. Nice Guys tend to believe that if they do everything just right, if they’re good and caring toward others, they’ll be happy, get their needs met, and live a problem-free life.

 

But as we discussed in the post, it doesn’t work out that way. In fact, nice guys tend to have a lot of problems. They have problems in their relationships, with sex, setting boundaries, taking care of themselves, and very often, with some form of compulsive behavior or addiction.

 

Why do nice guys and addictions go together like peanut butter and jelly? If you’re a nice guy, understanding the relationship between your nice guy tendencies and your addictive behavior can really help you get to “the root” of your addiction.

 

So let’s dive in.

What I Realized about How We Change by Going Rock Climbing

how we change

I definitely did not look like this guy yesterday. But I had great fun and enjoyed being with other climbers.

Right around St. Patrick’s Day this year, I was preparing to return to rock climbing, a favorite pastime in college. I dug out my climbing shoes and dusted off my harness. I double-checked my belay device (and that I still knew how to use it). I scrolled through the Ventura climbing gym’s hours and planned my visit.

 

And then the world shut down.

 

I’d not climbed in about 17 years. Even though I was long overdue, I figured I could wait a little longer.

 

Last week, Ventura County moved into California’s Red Tier classification for managing the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant that the local gym could reopen.

 

So yesterday, I booked my two-hour, socially-distanced slot and climbed for two hours. I realized two things:

  1. I’m definitely not 22 anymore, and
  2. The secret to being a good climber is being able to visualize your moves before you do them, which is a lot like how we change our behavior.

What Is a Nice Guy? Nice Guys and Addictions (Part 1 of 2)

what is a nice guy

Nice Guys repress their feelings and needs for the sake of others. It’s a recipe for resentment. Nice couch, though, right?

I’m writing this in the Seattle-Tacoma airport very early in the morning, preparing to board a plane to return home to the Los Angeles area. This past weekend, I participated in a professional certification workshop with Dr. Robert Glover, author of No More Mr. Nice Guy.

 

It was a wonderful experience. I can’t wait to do another training with him.

 

When I first read the book a few months ago, I knew that I had to do some training with him. Why?

 

In writing about “nice guys,” Dr. Glover understands well the toxic shame that many addicts, especially sex and porn addicts, struggle with on a daily basis. Many of my clients have told me that they resonate strongly with his book.

 

But what is a “nice guy”? It’s worthwhile understanding what a “nice guy” is, what they’re like, and why they’re vulnerable to addictions. Especially sexual addictions.

How to Learn from Relapses

how to learn from relapses

You don’t need to go all Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind to learn from relapses. Reflecting on your triggers and the events leading to the relapses with safe people is a good place to start.

In addiction recovery, relapses are inevitable. They’re going to happen. Many who are new to recovery struggle with this. We can hope that our recovery happens in a straight line, especially because relapses are often painful.

 

Whenever we learn to do something new, we don’t do it perfectly to begin with. We make mistakes. Our mistakes, though, can teach us how to improve at what we’re learning to do. This is true with any new skill, from learning to ride a bike to—yep, you guessed it—living an addiction-free life.

 

Relapses are par for the course. In fact, if you’re not relapsing, you’re not learning. Here are just a few of my thoughts about how to learn from relapses.

Got Change for a Paradigm? Understanding the Paradigm Effect

paradigm effectOne day when I was in high school, my stepdad walked into the room where I was studying (or maybe I was playing video games—I don’t know). He was wearing a new sweatshirt. “Read it,” he said, beaming.

 

The sweatshirt’s white text stood out against its black color, clearly displaying a simple question: “Do You Have Change for a Paradigm?”

 

Clever, I thought as I laughed. My stepdad was was a thoughtful guy and constantly challenged my thinking, so the sweatshirt was fitting for him. Because of his influence, I was exposed to many ideas that I would not have been otherwise. Did I have change for a paradigm? Well, yes, I liked to think so.

 

Indeed, many of us like to think that we’re open-minded, reflective, and willing to see the world differently. And often, at least consciously and about some things, we are. We can be open to new paradigms, or ways of looking at and organizing our experiences.

 

But we can’t help but use the lens of our unconscious minds to look at and make sense of the world. That’s where something called the paradigm effect can influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. And that can keep us stuck. But how?

The Secret about How People Change

how people changeEver wonder how people change?

 

Right now, at this very moment, millions of people are in therapy hoping to get help changing their lives. What’s always fascinated me, however, is how so few people really understand what they’re buying when they sign up to see a therapist. They don’t really understand how people change—and how they can transform their lives with a therapist’s help.

 

Of course, most people aren’t terribly interested in how products or services they buy actually work. They buy because they want the desired results at the end. For instance, very few people who buy a car care to know how the engine works. They just want a car that will reliably get them around.

 

I’ve long thought, though, that psychotherapy is especially shrouded in mystery when it comes to how it actually works. Therapists, for our part, don’t generally do a great job of explaining how we help people change, especially because clients don’t often ask directly.

 

But they do ask indirectly. “What’s the next step?” one client asks me. “How do I know I’ve gotten to the root of my addiction?” another wonders. “What do you do to help?” an inquiring caller asks. I think that if therapists can answer questions like these, at least in part and without graduate-school-like lecture, we can greatly reduce our clients’ anxiety and confusion.

 

I’ve already described the process of change elsewhere, especially as it relates to addiction and recovery. I’d like to describe below one way to think about the degree to which we experience change as we move through that process. Before we begin, I need to credit Marty Farash, LMFT, who as far as I know created this useful way of thinking about the levels of change.

Changing Substance Use: Drug, Set, and Setting

changing substance useWhile most of the folks I talk to want to start changing substance use for themselves or someone else, they’re not sure where to begin. Whether it’s abstinence that you’re after, reducing your use, preparing to quit, or wanting to use more safely, you know that wanting to change is only the first step. Learning how to change your substance use is key.

 

Managing your substance use can help you moderate your use successfully. And implementing the model I’m going to talk about in this post can help you learn to quit. As you’ll see, if you’re struggling with sexual behaviors that are out of control, this model can also help you be aware of what makes you vulnerable to acting out and to observe yourself.

 

And learning to observe yourself is the key to successful change. Most of the harm that results from substance use comes from how, when, where, and how much you use. You need to become interested in your habit, its impact on your life, and why you’re using. So try to be honest with yourself and be willing to try new things.

 

In this first post, I’ll talk about the model of drug, set, and setting. Then I’ll talk in my next post about how to use it to change your drug use. But first, a few words of caution: This way of looking at your substance use can help you change, but it’s not a guarantee. I’m also not a doctor, so please don’t take this as medical advice. Also, many drugs are illegal. I can’t protect you from legal consequences of using, so please don’t take this as legal advice either.

Here’s What I Wish I’d Said on My Recent Podcast Episode

alcohol treatment familiesIn early May, I was in Phoenix for the annual symposium for therapists who treat individuals struggling with problematic sexual behaviors and their partners. I was presenting on harm reduction at the conference on a panel discussing alternative paths of recovery that may not include 12-step recovery groups. I was thrilled to bring harm reduction to the field of sexual addiction and recovery.

 

While I was there, I spoke further with Jackie Pack, the facilitator of our panel. She invited me onto her podcast Thanks for Sharing to talk more about harm reduction. A couple of weeks ago, Jackie graciously hosted me and we talked about harm reduction, its benefits and rationale, and how it can help those struggling with addictive behavior and those who love them.

 

We covered a lot of ground, but there are some things we didn’t get to or that I wish I’d said more clearly. Here’s the rundown.

How We Grow: The Stages of Change

stages of changeThis month was the 25th anniversary of the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. I loved Nirvana as a teenager (sorry Mom) and still enjoy “Heart-Shaped Box” whenever I hear it over the airwaves. I remember his tragic end after a long bout with heroin use. It had been quite a while since I’d thought about his story.

 

Now, after all these years and working so closely with addictive behaviors and substance use, I felt sad as I read stories like this one about how loved ones tried to help him. They did their best, as we all do, in a difficult situation, and they were listening to the professionals guiding them.

 

Still, they can’t help but wonder today: What might they have done differently? How could they have reached him? How could they have helped? Could his story have ended in another way?

 

Of course, everyone affected by addiction—including those struggling with addictive behaviors and substance use themselves—asks similar questions not in retrospect but every day they live with their using or acting out.

 

Those struggling with substance use or problematic, compulsive sexual behaviors want to understand how they could possibly return to their addictive behavior of choice, sometimes even after a long period of abstinence. “Why do I keep doing this?” they ask. “And how can I change?”

 

Family and friends want to understand helpful ways to support their loved ones. They’re often desperate to help the loved one find healing and become hurt, angry, frustrated, and exhausted trying to understand his or her behavior.

 

A sound understanding of how people change can provide the foundation for answering both of these questions. If we understand the stages of change, we can give ourselves a bit of grace as we struggle with our addictive behavior. And family members can learn how to better support their loved ones and promote their healing.

How Alternative Addiction Treatment Can Work for You

Koorosh Rassekh, MMFT, is a licensed therapist and founder of Evo Health and Wellness in Venice Beach, California. His mission is to break the stigma around mental health and create a world of healthier people, families, and communities.

 

I recently connected with Koorosh and invited him to share about how he helps his clients change their addictive behavior. Read more about my collaboration with him about sex and porn addiction here.

 

1) Evo’s website states that you respects “where you are and where you want to go.” What does this mean for how you think about and treat addictions?

 

Taking inspiration from one of my mentors and one of Evo’s key advisors, Dr. Gabor Maté, I would say that Evo understands that addiction is never the primary issue. It is a secondary response to something deeper happening for a person – trauma, marginalization, the impact of being different, bullying culture, rape culture, etc. When people suffer, they turn to whatever is available to address their suffering. With substances, people often use as a coping mechanism, and this coping mechanism becomes a problem within itself.