“Surf the Urge” to wipe out kleptomania…
Kleptomania is the inability to refrain from the urge to steal items, and is done for reasons other than personal use or financial gain. Similar to substance use disorders, which are characterized by a fierce struggle to resist drug and alcohol cravings, kleptomania is an impulse control disorder characterized by an impulse, growing tension, pleasure on acting, relief from the urge and finally guilt. Denial, justification and regret are also common in people struggling with kleptomania. Perhaps it’s time to stop fighting so hard.
Many of us often are on automatic pilot mode much of our lives. We are very vulnerable to reacting to urges, trying to meet our needs in ways that are not useful in the long term. Urge surfing is a mini-meditation that can help people cope with impulse control disorders and relate differently to the experience of urges.
Urge surfing teaches people to mentally detach from their experience and to commit to sit and stay with uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings; calmly, without reacting. It’s about developing the ability to take a pause, step back, “lean in” to what we’re feeling, to be present with it, curious about it, open to it, and to visualize the impulse as an ocean wave. Specifically, it teaches people how to stay with the urges and ride the wave as it starts to ripple, then rises and crests, and eventually falls, instead of being wiped out by it.
Ideally, through the practice of urge surfing, people learn how to relate to their experiences of urges more skillfully and peacefully so that they don’t judge or categorize how they feel, but just curiously observe and learn something about where they are and what sensations they are noticing in their body. Urge surfing also encourages people to be mindful and present withtheir discomfort, without being threatened or overwhelmed by it. So rather than trying to eradicate the urges or avoid triggers, people learn alternative ways of coping with their urges, so that when an urge does arrive, they can recognize what’s happening without engaging in reactive behaviors. Thus, by practicing just being with the urge in the present moment, people learn that they have some choice. Eventually, they will have the understanding that no feeling is forever, and that the worst thing that these feelings can do is make us feel them. So although we stay with feelings that are maybe somewhat uncomfortable, we realize that they are actually not threatening to us in any other way. Often times, our reactions to these urges are what is most harmful not the urges themselves.
From my experience, people really find it helpful to know that the internal struggle is what feeds the urges and amplifies them. I remind my people that all they have to do is allow the urges to pass and non-judgmentally notice them from a detached and curious perspective. The practice of mindfulness also helps people undo patterns of defensiveness and aggression. People start to realize that no matter how others behave, they can nurture themselves and come to a place of inner balance and well-being.
HOW TO PRACTICE URGE SURFING
Urge surfing has the potential to help a lot of people struggling with impulsive control issues such as kleptomania, pyromania and substance use disorders. Learning the technique is easier with professional guidance. Here are a few of the basic principles:
- Acknowledge what is happening.
- Acknowledge your reaction to what is happening: e.g., I like this experience/I don’t like this experience.
- Pay attention to and describe to yourself the changes that occur in the sensations.
- Notice how the urge comes and goes.
Many people, when they urge surf, notice that after a few minutes the urge has vanished. The purpose of this exercise, however, is not to make the urge go away but to experience the urge in a new way. If you practice urge surfing, you will become familiar with your urges and learn how to ride them out until they go away naturally.
Sending you much love and light.