A fundamental skill most of us need to work on is recovering from something we did or said impulsively, that may have temporarily set us back. 

Everybody has problems with impulse control sometimes. 

I don’t care if you are extremely smart, extremely disciplined, or extremely well-intentioned: you sometimes have problems controlling what you do or say on impulse. 

It may be the case that people who are a little further along in their recovery have lapses of impulse control that are fewer and farther between than people just starting out…but it’s absolutely the case that even people who are extremely advanced in their recovery still have moments where they do or say things that temporarily set them back. 

It’s DEFINITELY not a matter of only “bad” or “immature” having trouble with impulse control. 

EVERYBODY has at least periodic problems with impulse control. (Even me!) 

The reason why we never fully get past having impulse control problems is, no matter how disciplined we get, no matter how developed our coping skills become, no matter how stable our moods and behavior becomes as a result of dedicated therapy work, we still have these sympathetic nervous systems that can be triggered into “fight, flight, or freeze” reactions when we feel threatened. 

When we do or say something on impulse, it’s usually because we’re feeling threatened on some level. 

The way this works neuropsycholoically is, we’ve been blindsided by a trigger that we haven’t fully had the opportunity to process on a conscious level— it’s registered on what cognitive psychologists call the “preconscious” level, outside of our ordinary “top level” awareness. 

We’ve been exposed to something that our brain recognizes as a threat that needs to be dealt with RIGHT NOW— something that we do not have the luxury of thinking through and responding to in a measured way. 

Very often, after we’ve reacted to the perceived threat— after we’ve said or done something quickly and emphatically—  only THEN do we have the opportunity to analyze and really consider what has ACTUALLY happened, and what an appropriate response would ACTUALLY look like in the real world…but by then, we’ve already done or said the impulsive thing. 

And we’re often kicking ourselves for it. 

So how do we deal constructively with the fact that we’ve said or done something inappropriate on impulse? 

First thing’s first: extend yourself understanding. 

You didn’t mean to do or say something hurtful or counterproductive. 

You reacted in the moment to what your nervous system was telling you. It’s not as if you sat down and made a considered decision that reflected your goals and values; you literally did the opposite of that. 

Give yourself a break. You do nobody any favors by beating yourself up for having said or done something impulsive. 

But, after you’ve given yourself a break and met your own behavior with understanding and compassion: it’s vitally important to own it and own up to it. 

It’s vitally important to repair any damage you might have inflicted. 

It’s vitally important that a lapse of impulse control be framed, understood, and responded to as exactly that: a lapse in impulse control…not a definitive statement of your goals and values. 

In this thing called recovery, you’re going to get your brain and nervous system sending you lots of signals— and it’s important to understand that many of those signals are a response to trauma you’ve been through. 

Your brain and nervous system are trying to do you favors. 

The fact that sometimes they don’t is a bummer…but it’s super important you develop the willingness and ability to compensate for when your symptoms send you off on the wrong path. 

Don’t beat yourself up for having problems with impulse control. 

Rather, get in the habit of acknowledging it when it happens, owning it, repairing damage when necessary…and getting back on track. 


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