What Drives You To Act Out?


From time to time, I thought I would do some follow-up posts to us Sharing Our Story. The purpose of these posts will be to help people who might be struggling with an addiction. I will share some of the things that have helped me in my recovery, with the hope that it could also help others.

One of the diagnostic tools that has helped me the most is something I simply call, “What Is Driving You?” It is an assessment tool for trying to drill down to what the root causes are. In recovery circles, the behavior we’re trying to avoid is often called, “acting out”. This could be defined differently for each person, but would consist of things like drinking (for an alcoholic), using (for a substance abuser), viewing pornography, visiting a prostitute, or having a one-night stand (for a sex addict).

The thing that many people don’t understand is that the “acting out” is not the real problem – it is only the outward symptom of an underlying, legitimate need that is going unmet. (for example, in my case – viewing pornography is not about “sex”. It is about receiving a counterfeit intimacy that temporarily relieves feelings of anxiety, depression, frustration, lonliness, or low self-esteem.)

But most of the time, those of us who fall into these cycles do not recognize when we are in one. (Although the behavior may be very apparent to everyone around us.) Because addicts are capable of unbelieveable amounts of self-deception and denial, we often don’t see the cycle until it is too late. So learning about how the cycle starts, how it manifests, what needs it fills, what purpose it is serves, etc. is vital to overcoming the grip it has on us.

So here is the little self-assessment.

In the hours, days, or weeks prior to “acting out”, which of these “needs” do you feel is driving the behavior?

  • lack of intimacy (connection with another human being; being known and understood)
  • need for acceptance (validation, affirmation, self-esteem)
  • need for nurture (to be loved, cared for, safe, protected, provided for)
  • something to “fill up” the lonliness
  • need to “medicate” emotional pain (ease, salve, dull)
  • relief from stress (anxiety, worry, tension, frustration, anger)
  • simply the need to feel “something” vs. total supression
  • need for excitement (risk, danger, adventure)
  • need for desperate attention (getting progressively bolder, more brazen, possibility of getting caught)
  • Other: ________________________________

If you will answer this little quiz honestly, you will have some huge clues into what the underlying causes of the addiction are. These answers would be an excellent resource to share with your counselor, spiritual mentor, spouse, and 12-step sponsor.

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6 Comments on “What Drives You To Act Out?”

  1. Justin Davis Says:

    Jerm…I love the self assessment! Very helpful from one who is recovering as well! Love the iceberg illustration…just had lunch with a guy yesterday and shared the same truth with him…wish I would have had the picture to illustrate 🙂 Thanks for your friendship!


  2. jermtech Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement Justin! I’ve really been enjoying your recent posts as well.

  3. John Carlson Says:

    ditto on this. this was very enlightening. through what means did you find this tool? (counselor, group, book etc.) if you don’t mind sharing?

  4. jermtech Says:

    I can’t really give you a definitive source for this exact assessment per se, but I’ve been very influenced by the book, “Breaking Free” by Russell Willingham. The inspiriation most probably came from there.

  5. Luke Says:

    Nice picture. Where did you get it?

    Love this iceberg analogy. I think it really gives people an understanding of what drives them deep down.

  6. jermtech Says:

    the pic is completely bootlegged from somebody else. But glad you enjoyed the article!

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