Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Fire of Passion

One's passions fuel the fire of most affairs. The typical scenario is a spouse crosses seemingly innocent boundaries with someone of the opposite sex (or same sex in the case of homosexual relationships), something sparks between them, emotional bonds are created on some level, and the desire for each other ignites. Or I should say, the desire for the feelings the other person is producing in you ignite.

Even in those who intentionally seek out affairs, the action is based upon some driving desire, whether lust or wanting to feel like a stud/attractive. When a guy pays a prostitute, it is because he enjoys, wants, has to have the sexual feelings that experience provides.

Take away passion, and an overwhelming majority of affairs would never happen.

Likewise, this destroys many attempts at rebuilding from an affair. Often the unfaithful spouse will say they want to save their marriage, but they have difficulties letting go of their affair partner. The passions for him are often raging when it is discovered, and the unfaithful spouse finds it difficult to shut that down. Holding to no-contact with one's affair partner is in most cases the hardest part of rebuilding that an unfaithful spouse will deal with. Why? Because passions have to die over a period of not being fed. Unfortunately, we can't easily switch them off.

Learning how to manage one's passions and let the bad ones die a slow and painful death is necessary both for preventing an affair in the first place, and preventing a re-occurrence later, as well as equipping you with more self-control in other areas of your life.

Therefore, not only do unfaithful spouses rebuilding their marriage benefit from this, but also hurt spouses--who, believe it or not, are more suceptible to having affairs of their own after being cheated on,--the affair partner, and spouses who are as of yet untouched by an affair.

To that end, the next series of articles will deal with what the passions are, how they operate, and tactics to managing them in your life, especially as it relates to rebuilding from infidelity.

What Is a Passion?

In English, the word refers to two main concepts. One, "an intense desire or enthusiasm for something." Two, "the suffering and death of Jesus." The word, derived from the Greek and Latin, means "to suffer."

How does desire and suffering relate to each other?

When you have a strong and barely controllable emotion or desire, you are suffering until that desire is satisfied or the desire dissipates. Most unfaithful spouses can verify that feeling in relation to their affair partner. It is the feeling of suffering a lack which drives an individual to fulfill it so as to quench and end the suffering. It is the suffering aspect that defines what passion is.

This suffering is seen clearly in hunger. When the body needs food to survive, it creates a suffering in the body we call hunger. It causes us to be driven to find food and eat. Out of the passions, it is the primary one. We deal with it daily, often multiple times a day. There is not a more base passion we experience for survival. It is one of the first things a baby does upon exiting the womb, and most likely one of the activities we'll do on the last day of our life here.

Some passions, however, take on survival need without actually being a survival need. An obvious example is someone addicted to a drug. Withdraw symptoms are the body's way of creating the suffering designed to motivate you to get more of what your body thinks it needs. But in this case it is not a real need, no matter how much you feel physically and emotionally that you need it for survival.

Because one experiences a desire, doesn't mean it is needed or beneficial to fulfill that desire.

There are many who justify their behavior by suggesting "this is just who I am, and to be fulfilled, I need to fulfill my desires." Since passions can trick the body and mind into believing it needs something that is actually destructive, obviously we cannot depend on the hedonistic approach to life to find fulfillment personally.

If we do something because our body and emotions demand it, we become slaves to them, and will be led into all sorts of destructive behaviors. Infidelity being one of the big ones. Freedom is when your body and mind say, "I have to have this," and you can say "no" and mean it with your actions.

Passions work on two levels: physical and mental.

Physically oriented passions focus on physical sensations and the body's suffering to get them. Most often seen in withdraw symptoms like fever, sweating, shakes, etc. For sexual/romantic type passions, it is more a mental longing to experience a particular feeling. The body responds by getting "horny" using chemicals. Sexual sensitivity is heightened. The least little external stimulation like a visual or mental image can fire off a physical ache to fulfill that "need."

Mentally, passions generate the emotions that motivate us into action. Because they are emotionally based rather than rationally, logic takes a back seat. Once a strong passion kicks in for something, rational arguments rarely dissuade a person from doing what their body and mind are telling them they have to get.

Passions work on two levels: addictive and being an addict.

When a person first encounters a strong passionate desire for something, an addictive quality comes into play in the person's response. The dopamine reward system triggers in the brain that this is a highly desirable experience and needs to be repeated. The higher the dopamine spike, the more desire for a repeat performance happens to the person.

That desire is passed onto the decision making areas of the brain. Initially, the brain can more easily say "no" to the desire. It has an addictive quality in that your mind is saying you want this real bad, but you still have the ability to rationally say it isn't good for you and reject it as a viable course of action, in word, thought, and deed. But not saying no in all three ways leads to eventually fulfilling the passion.

However, as the person decides, "yes, go get it," in either word, thought, and/or deed, it creates a feedback loop. The experience is repeated, the dopamine reward system sends the message to the brain that this need is critical to have. The decision making part of the brain says, "get some more," and the cycle continues.

Once that cycle has been repeated enough times, the addictive qualities of the experience create "ruts" in the brain, making it harder and harder to break free from that cycle. Such a person becomes addicted.

To break free of the addiction requires going through feelings of great loss and ignoring a desperate sense of needing what you are wanting. This often is not something a person can do with their own will power, and will need help, support, and accountability to get through the physical and emotional withdraw symptoms and to convince your body and mind that, no, you don't need this to survive.

But due to the ruts established by the addictive cycle, it is also easier for such a person to fall back into those ruts. Such a person recovering from passion-enslavement will have to establish boundaries far enough away from the ruts, more so than most who have no such addiction.

Passions Are Not All Bad

This is not to suggest that all passion is bad. There are passions that do provide for a true survival needs, like food and procreation. If we are to be moved to do beneficial activities, it will often be because we are motivated by our passion for something.

The English word compassion is made up of two Latin words: com and passio. Literally translated, the word means "with passion," or "to join together with suffering." Thereby you get the English word's meaning: to have empathy for someone who is suffering. Without passion, we are also not motivated to do good and beneficial activities for others either.

This is why I talk about managing passion, not eradicating it. We're going to have passion for something. The question is, will we use that passion to motivate us to beneficial goals and actions, or will we let our passions pull us into destructive goals and actions, leading us around like a dog on a collar?

To that end, I'm planning two more articles at least:

A Christian Understanding of the Passions

How to Manage the Passions

How have you managed or not managed your passions to keep them from ruining your life?

Next article: The Passions in Christianity

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