Have you ever felt an imperative need to go shopping? Have you found yourself cleaning the house without even realizing it, and without thinking about it?
or did you start eating everything you saw without knowing why?
Don’t worry, I think that at some point, we have all behaved as impulsively.
Impulsive behavior is an action done based on an impulse, which DOESN’T involve reason.
Gestalt therapy explains this type of impulsive behavior based on the experience cycle and believes that interrupting cycle, can cause an unmet need (or broken or incomplete Gestalt), that will drive you to complete the cycle.
In this article I’ll try to explain how blocking your needs, makes you behave impulsively.
A push is a desire or emotion that drives you to do something without thinking.
The curious thing about these drives is that, normally, you don’t know that you’re having an impulsive behavior, until you’ve already done it.
You don’t know exactly what’s wrong, you just need to:
- Do a sport
- Have sex
And all happens impulsively… you need it now!
Haven’t you ever wondered what causes this impulsiveness?
Gestalt, defines this experience based on the organism’s control cycle, it’s the sequence through which the organism satisfies its needs.
The cycle has 8 phases, and I’ll explain it in a very simple way with an example:
- Phase 1 – Rest: imagine you’re on the couch, sitting quietly, without any specific or particular need.
- Phase 2 – Feeling: you note a little dryness in your throat
- Phase 3 – Realizing: you realize you’re thirsty
- Phase 4 – Energy: you use your energy to get up and go to the kitchen
- Phase 5 – Action: you fill a glass of water
- Phase 6 – Pre-Contact: you take a sip and you wet your lips
- Phase 7 – Contact: you drink the entire glass of water
- Phase 8 – Retreat: you go back to the sofa, to the same calm state, once you’ve satisfied your need.
Thus, you complete the entire cycle.
You have a need, You’re aware of it, you use energy to carry it out and satisfy it.
With that example, it’s really easy to understand.
But, what if instead of being thirsty you need love?
Need for Care
Asking for love or hugs, isn’t a very common thing, perhaps because …
- Nobody taught us to,
- society considers that “needing affection,” makes you weak (big mistake)
- when you were a child, they didn’t give you the hugs or affection you needed and you learned to survive without them
There may be many reasons, but not knowing how to ask for it or not allowing it, doesn’t mean that you don’t need it.
How does impulsive behavior emerge
Let’s use the need for care or hugs and review the experience cycle’s phases.
The phases remain, more or less, like this:
- Phase 1 – Rest: You’re quietly on the couch
- Phase 2 – Feeling: you feel a little sad
- Phase 3 – Realizing: you realize that you need some care
- Phase 4 – Energy: you think about calling a friend and asking him for a hug
- Phase 5 – Action: you call John and meet up with him
- Phase 6 – Pre-contact: John comes, you talk and have a coffee
- Phase 7 – Contact: At some point, you think about explaining to John that you feel sad and that you need a hug, but then your mind interrupts your action because it starts thinking something like:
- “How will he interpret that hug?
- “What if he misinterprets it and thinks that I want something else?”
- “He’ll think I’m weak”
- “I don’t need it at all”
- Etc. etc. etc.
While trying to find possible answers to these questions, you re-think and end up blocked.
John has his coffee and leaves. Your contact or Gestalt is interrupted or unfinished, so you CAN’T continue to the rest phase.
And it’s precisely at that moment, when the impulsive behaviors appear.
When the drive takes over you
Your need still isn’t satisfied, you still need a hug, but you’re unable to ask for it, so you start feeling anxiety.
To avoid anxiety, impulsive behavior appears almost automatically. Without knowing why, the need to go shopping, cleaning the house or opening the fridge to eat as much as you can grow inside you.
It’s irrational, because your drive has taken control.
So you go along with it.
Once your belly is full, you’ve done your shopping or the floor cleaned, your anxiety seems to decrease… although I warn you, it won’t last long.
You reach a “semi-sleep” state, because your need for a hug or affection, will re-appear from time to time, until you complete the cycle.
Do you understand why it’s USELESS to use impulsive behavior to fill a need?
If you’re aware of it, you’ll be able to understand what’s happening.
Interrupting the experience cycle
Notice that, in the previous example, I interrupted the Contact phase, but this interruption or block can appear at any moment in the cycle, for example:
- When feeling: you don’t know what you’re feeling so you can’t even start the cycle
- When realizing: you feel bad, but you aren’t able to identify why
- During energy: you recognize the emotion, but you don’t have the energy or, your mind starts to disturb with negative thoughts at this phase, and prevents you from making a move.
- During pre-contact: you move, but instead of calling someone to help you to satisfy your need, you call someone who won’t.
- During retreat: you get your hug, but you don’t want to stop, you can’t separate yourself from them and, therefore, you “get emotionally hooked” to the other.
There are a thousand and one ways to NOT get what you need.
How to avoid impulsive behavior
Satisfying your need BEFORE getting carried away by your drive may be difficult, but if you succeed, if you can “stop” for a moment, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I feeling?
- Am I blocking an emotion?
- What do I need?
- What am I thinking?
- What’s behind this drive?
If you can ask yourself these questions, and find the need that is driving your impulsive behavior, you’ll be able to avoid it.
You just need to do it.
But, even if you don’t get it, it’s Ok.
The important thing is that once you let yourself be driven, you still investigate your need.
Try to see what you needed, and when in the experience cycle, you got stuck.
Once you find what you missed or your inner need, then you need to figure out how to satisfy it.
If you don’t dare to ask John for a hug to John, do you dare ask Sofia? And if you don’t dare ask Sofia, can you ask your brothers and sisters/mother/father… for it?
Depending on the phase you blocked, you’ll need to use one or another strategy.
With some practice, identifying what’s behind your drive will get easier over time and, little by little, you’ll be able to choose doing something different and avoid that impulsive behavior.
If you have any questions, ask them by leaving a comment.