Behavior Chain Analysis is a method used to make sense of the sequential events, thoughts, and feelings leading up to a specific problematic behavior.
Behavior analysis is used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy for those with self-harming behaviors and also for those with substance abuse as well as ‘process addictions,’ such as sex and love addiction, binge eating or purging, gambling, compulsive spending, or other problematic behaviors.
Note: I have a background in mental health and have received training on how to do Chain Analyses. Others may benefit from reading more on the topic. Here is a wonderful article with examples of how to complete a simple Chain Analysis: Mastering the Art of Chain Analysis (Rizvi & Ritschel, 2014).
Describe the specific problematic behavior.
Did you violate your sobriety or was it a ‘slip?’
It was a ‘slip.’I didn’t sleep with anyone. I didn’t really even ‘stalk’ my ex… except I did, but only technically.
All I did is sit in my car outside his house for ten minutes, eating an apple. I’m not CRAZY.
I have this problem where I sometimes drive out of my way (and in last night’s case, I made a trip just for this purpose), to park on the street outside an ex-boyfriend’s house. I usually don’t stay more than five minutes for fear of being spotted.
Describe the specific PRECIPITATING EVENT(S) that started the whole chain of behavior.
Start with the environmental event(s) that started the chain, even if it doesn’t seem to you that the event(s) “caused” the problem behavior. Possible questions to get at this are:
- What exact event precipitated the start of the chain reaction?
- When did the sequence of events that led to the problem behavior begin? When did the problem start?
- What was going on the moment the problem started? Before it started?
- What were you doing, thinking, feeling, imagining at that time?
- Why did the problem behavior happen on that days instead of the day before?
I was sitting here, feeling like I was in a pretty good place. I had gone to my first 12-step Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous Meeting earlier that morning and had met and talked to some really nice people. That gave me some hope, although I also noticed that many of these people were still struggling and unable to maintain healthy relationships in their 60s and older (but I realize that there may be others who no longer come to meetings regularly if they manage better).
In the afternoon, I chatted with my roommate about the meeting (yes, I am very lucky to have such an awesome roommate) and then I practiced my guitar for awhile. Then I wrote a blog post here and created a list of my bottom line behaviors and signs of slipping/red flags. I gave some thought to what sobriety would look like for me and how much personal development I could probably accomplish in a year of sexual sobriety/celibacy.
In honesty, this idea scared me (and seems almost impossible) because I have never gone without sex or dating for more than 2 or 3 months at most since I was 17 years old. Even as I wrote my blog post about it, I imagined being embarrassed later when/if I failed at sobriety and I imagine that I’d just give up on this, too, like I give up on “everything I try to do.” That idea made me feel pretty shitty.
At this point, it was getting to be dinner time on Saturday night. The kids were not home (but only because I literally lied to their father, saying I was going out of town for the weekend so I could avoid having them for a few extra days – something I have not done before – another source of shame). My roommate had plans, but as luck would have it, a guy friend offered to meet up and tell me all about the disastrous first date had today. That sounded like fun, but some part of me knew I might be flirting with danger because I saw him two nights ago and I know he has at least previously been interested in me and we even made out once a couple months ago. But I told myself that it would be safe because I had been honest with him a couple days ago, opening up to him about my problems with compulsive sex stuff. If that’s not a turn-off, what is? (This guy happens to be a ‘nice guy,’ so a sex addict is not hot.) I decided to watch a couple Netflix shows on my laptop while I waited for him to come over and rescue me from myself (the thought that I thought of it that way is probably also not good).
An hour and a half later, he canceled. He didn’t feel well, and he felt grumpy on account of the disastrous date. Could he have a raincheck, he asked. I wrote back, “Aw, rats” and passively-aggressively ignored his request for a raincheck. I paced around and considered going out to a bar by myself, but I was not only uncomfortable doing that (I feel like it looks desperate) but I knew it was a terrible idea. Instead, I called a girlfriend (the only other real-life person who also knows about my current struggles). She said she might be up for meeting me for a drink after some family time spent decorating a Christmas tree. I said I’d wait. Another hour and a half later, I send her a message: “Don’t worry about it. I’m staying in. I hope the tree shapes up nicely.”
Then I pulled on my stalking hat (it was cold), grabbed an apple for a snack, and hopped in my car to drive the 15 minutes to my ex-boyfriend’s house.
Describe in general VULNERABILITY FACTORS happening before the precipitating event. Areas to examine are:
- Physical illness; unbalanced eating or sleeping; injury
- Use of drugs or alcohol; misuse of prescription drugs
- Stressful events in the environment (either positive or negative)
- Intense emotions, such as sadness, anger, fear, loneliness
- Previous behaviors of your own that you found stressful
- I was hungry. I didn’t have anything palatable in the house and I wanted to go out for dinner. I have an ongoing problem of and not grocery shopping or meal planning, setting myself up for failure at times like these. This is related to chronically disordered eating, ADHD, and an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
- I was bored and I wanted to get out of the house. I spend too much time alone. I worked from home for the last year and a half and now I’m doing full-time school from home. I have accepted the pattern of being home alone all day, every day, but weekends and especially weekend nights are times that I start feeling sorry for myself. I start getting restless and like the clock is ticking before my the school/work week begins again, meaning that everyone (myself included) will buckle down and then socializing will be more difficult. It creates this frenzied feeling, like “this is my chance! I have to get out of here and be with people!”
- I was lonely. I had the idea that because it was Saturday night, everyone who was single was out in town having fun and I was sitting alone at home and I felt sorry for myself.
- I was having doubts about recovery. Having just written a blog post about sexual sobriety and not dating for a year, I was feeling very uneasy. Some part of me wanted to sabotage it in a big way by going to a bar and picking up some guy before I had much sobriety to lose.
- I was craving comfort and reassurance. Even though my guy friend and I do not date each other, there is some degree of interest on his part (and some interest on my part, at times) and I wanted attention and (what I thought might be safe) affection.
- I felt rejected. Even though I am not dating Z and even though all the other reasons that I should be able to recognize that this was not a rejection of me as a person, I am hypersensitive and my ‘rejection’ button was pressed.
- I was horny. Lately, I get this aching. Masturbation doesn’t fix it. I need something intense, something overwhelming.
Identify exactly what you did, said, thought or felt when engaging in the problem behavior(s)
Describe the intensity of the behavior and other characteristics of the behavior that are important.
Okay, OKAY! Fine… I noticed some thoughts. And there were some fff…fFFFfff….feelings.
- I was playing the denial game. I think I wanted to fantasize about being in the relationship again, just to see how it felt. The ex I decided to ‘visit’ was the one with whom I had my last sort of healthy relationship (for awhile, at least). I imagined that he might see me outside and talk to me and end up telling me how silly I was to think I was a sex and love addict. Then we’d reconcile and it would turn out that we was right and I’d stop acting so weird and we’d live happily ever after.
- I wanted to see if he was still “hooked.” Last we spoke, he told me that he couldn’t get over me and that the previous time I had called him, it had ‘set him off’ for weeks. He cried, he mourned, he couldn’t stop missing me and ‘what we had,’ yadda yadda. I say that flippantly, but you have to understand that our relationship didn’t seem that important to him when he was in it (always the same story, just different people). Anyway, last night, I wanted to see how he was doing. Would he be sitting at his kitchen island, weeping over a photo of me? That would be ideal, obviously.
- I felt angry. There was a Mitsubishi in his driveway. He drives a Volvo. I knew it was unfair for me to be upset; we broke up months ago. Part of me was glad that he isn’t hung up on me (he shouldn’t be, for so many reasons). But another little part of me wanted to text him and say, “Who’s fucking car is that in your driveway?” A tiny part of me delighted in imagining that he might even feel a tiny bit guilty for a second (which he should absolutely NOT feel!). I’m a fucking sicko and I’m not proud of it.
- I hurt. Sitting outside his house, staring at the mystery woman’s car made me feel… well, I don’t know how to describe it except that it hurt me. It hurt deep in my stomach. It was similar to the pain I remember feeling when I imagined my step-dad remarrying and having children of his own, children he would love more than he ever loved me; the pain of being replaced and forgotten; discarded, like yesterday’s trash…. Or like the pain I felt when I dropped my children off on Christmas eve with my ex-husband and
my friendthe woman he had an affair with and then married; I drove home to spend the holiday alone for the first time in my life with a hollow pain that made me feel sick. It felt similar to that, but thankfully, milder.
What were the PAYOFFS or CONSEQUENCES of your behaviors or actions?
Describe the anticipated and the actual physical, financial, or emotional results of your behaviors and how they affect you or your relationships, both positively and/or negatively.
- I wanted to “secure my supply.” I hate to admit this to myself, but if he had seen me there and we had talked, I might have told him something like, ‘I’m confused’ and ‘I miss you.’ This would have had the effect of making him believe that I have feelings for him and that we have a chance, while in truth, it just means that I have a love addiction and that I have a dependence on codependent men (like him). I can’t even be sure if I really loved him at all or if I just loved how he enabled my addiction! The fact that I am aware of this and that I drove to his house anyway is fucked up. I have read about this concept in articles about narcissism; it’s called, “securing the supply.”
- I could have ended up getting into a relationship I don’t really want to be in. This almost happened with this same guy just a few months ago! It’s definitely not fair to him and it’s not good for me.
- I felt like a loser; I guess that was shame. I sat in my car like a weirdo, eating an apple and listening to 80s music. I knew this was self-defeating behavior. It reinforced to me this image of myself as an unlovable outsider who stalks her exes. It had little or no payoff and it actively undermined my recovery.
- I was disappointed in myself. I was angry at myself for being upset with him and for wishing ill of some girl I don’t even know and for hoping she was ugly and fatter than me.
- I wasted money on gas. I drove there and back for nothing. I’m already in debt and then spent a bunch more money on lingerie on my recent sex binge.
- I wasted time I could have spent doing anything else!
- I risked alienating friends. I told my a mutual friend and visited her right after so I’d have someone to talk to. She was super supportive because she’s obsessed with an ex, but there’s always the risk that she’ll hit the end of her patience. And she is his friend, too.
- I could have been discovered by my ex-boyfriend. This could result in him spreading gossip and/or cutting ties with me socially. This would be pretty bad because he’s a public figure in the community and he has a lot of social influence. Even if all he did was describe me to others as someone with “problems,” it would make it very difficult for me to date in the future (when I have the ability to do so in a healthy way).
- I could be reported to the police one day. I’m not there yet, but I can’t develop a habit of doing this.
How do you feel now? Did the behavior(s) have the intended effects?
I feel embarrassed that I slipped on the night I attended my first 12-step meeting, and right after writing a blog draft that defined my bottom line behaviors. But I feel like I redeemed myself by doing the Chain Analysis.
The behavior did not have the intended effect, but I knew it wouldn’t, really. That’s what made it really stupid! Next time I am tempted to sit outside an ex-boyfriend’s house, I will review this post first.