Letting Go Of Our Willfulness: Impulsivity


In some schools of psychology, addictions are considered as impulse disorders.

Certainly addicts are familiar with the seemingly irresistible quality of an urge to get high. In fact, recovery entails developing the skills and self-discipline to restrain such impulses. Without the ability to deflect impulses, the addict is doomed to a miserable life.

But addicts are not the only ones who have trouble with impulses. The whole advertising industry uses our impulses to get us to buy something we didn’t know we needed. And of course the sexual appetite is notorious for getting people to act on impulse. Some people act impulsively when they are bored or feeling bad, just to get a little excitement and distraction. Others behave impulsively when they feel good because they are overly confident they can handle whatever happens.

Our impulses are urges to act quickly without considering all the consequences. While they may produce an adrenaline rush, the ecstatic feeling fades fast and we are left wondering what got into us. How could we have been so reckless? Just look at the mess we have gotten ourselves into. Now what are we going to do? We wish we had anticipated what might happen, but our impulsive desires have betrayed us once again and gotten us into a whole lot of trouble.

In this state of bewilderment, we can observe the different kinds of desires that arise inside us. We might distinguish them by their origin and purpose. Many of our desires are designed to produce elation in our egos. These desires distract us from our loneliness by replacing it with a temporary pleasure or euphoria. But desires oriented towards our egos ultimately leave us frustrated and empty. We also have desires that emerge from the core of our being, the Source of our life. These desires are life fulfilling in that they convey the energy of love to us and they convert us into instruments to radiate this love to all the world around us.

Richard G. Hartnett, MA, MS, LCADC is a former Jesuit priest who now lives with his wife, Kathy, by a lake in northwestern New Jersey. He has served as the chaplain at Hazelden New York, pastoral counselor at the Chemical Dependency Department of the International Center for the Disabled in NYC, and continuing care counselor at the outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of High Focus Centers in New Jersey. Currently he maintains a private practice in New Jersey. He is the author of The Presence at the Center, Renewing Your Fourth Step, The Three Inner Voices: Uncovering the Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, and Sobriety and Inspiration: Entrusting Ourselves to the Source of Our Healing and Creativity.

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