RAIN is an acronym for recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture. It is a mindfulness therapy technique that is helpful for any negative emotion: anxiety, sadness, loneliness, anger, betrayal, and addictive cravings. I first learned this from Tara Brach in her book Radical Compassion. This article is specifically focused on applying RAIN to sex and porn addiction treatment, but it is an effective method for dealing with all types of negative emotions and overcoming unwanted behaviors..
The first step in the mindfulness exercise RAIN is to “Recognize”. This step involves understanding what is happening within us, identifying our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and acknowledging them without judgment. This is a critical step for individuals recovering from addiction as it promotes self-awareness and encourages a more logical and rational response to triggers and urges.
Recognizing involves asking ourselves key questions such as: What is happening inside me now? What am I experiencing? What am I feeling? What am I thinking? This process helps us to observe our automated thoughts, core beliefs, and internalized shame, which are often stored in our subconscious, and bring them to the forefront of our consciousness where we can address and resolve them more effectively.
Recognizing also involves understanding the connections between our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. For instance, a thought may trigger an emotion, which in turn may cause a physical sensation such as chest tightness or stomach pain. Recognizing these connections allows us to better understand our triggers and responses, thereby enhancing our ability to manage them.
In the context of addiction, recognizing can be particularly challenging due to the trance-like state that often accompanies addictive behavior. For instance, one may find themselves browsing dating profiles without even realizing what triggered the behavior. Cultivating mindfulness and presence can help break this trance and increase our awareness of what is happening within us at any given moment.
It is important to note that recognizing is not about judging our thoughts, feelings, or behaviors as good or bad. We don’t have control over our brain. It’s constantly creating thoughts, feelings, and triggers that are outside our conscious control. So, we observe them with curiosity and openness. This non-judgmental approach can be empowering and healing, as it allows us to confront and address our vulnerabilities without shame or fear.
Research has shown that individuals seeking treatment for hypersexual behavior often struggle with recognizing their feelings, a condition known as alexithymia. This difficulty in identifying and describing feelings can be a significant hurdle in recovery. However, with practice and patience, the ability to recognize can be cultivated and strengthened.
Recognizing also involves understanding the difference between primary and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are the ones we feel first and are often more uncomfortable and require more vulnerability to feel. Primary emotions might be sadness, fear, shame, or rejection. Secondary emotions, on the other hand, are the feelings we experience after the primary emotion and are often more intense and protective in nature. Secondary emotions might be anger, frustration, irritation, anxiety. Recognizing these emotions can help us understand our triggers and responses better.
Allowing is a crucial step in the RAIN mindfulness exercise. To “allow” means to permit ourselves to feel and acknowledge our emotions and thoughts without judgment or resistance. It encourages us to be open and accepting of our present moment experiences, regardless of the discomfort they may bring.
As a sex addiction therapist, I see that a big issue with my clients intially stems from an inability to cope with uncomfortable feelings or situations, leading to the seeking of instant gratification or escape. However, the practice of allowing teaches us to face these feelings head-on, to sit with them, and to acknowledge their existence without trying to change or avoid them.
Acceptance is another word for Allowing, and this concept is at the root of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which RAIN is very much aligned with. Sometimes acceptance is the word most often associated with this step. I prefer the term allow over accept, because acceptance has a connotation that this is a permanent action, ie I am just going to accept the fact that it’s always going to be like this. I have even heard good therapists that I respect say very damaging things about porn and sex addiction like “we just have to accept this about ourselves”, ie accept behavior in our lives that is self-destructing and harms our spouse or loved ones. No! Allow is a better word because it goes together with the Buddhist concept of impermanence. The very reason I can easily allow this negative emotion or feeling, is because I know it’s going to go away eventually, usually within 15 minutes at the most even for the strongest of urges.
To fully allow, we might ask ourselves “what am I resisting?”
Allowing also does not mean accepting the harmful behaviors or actions that led to addiction. Instead, it is about accepting the feelings and emotions that come with recovery. It is about saying yes to the process of healing, even when it is uncomfortable or painful. It is about acknowledging the presence of these feelings and emotions without letting them control our actions or define our self-worth.
Feelings of shame, anger, or sexual urges may arise. Instead of suppressing these feelings or acting on them impulsively, we acknowledge them, “Hello shame. Hello anger. Hello sexual urge. You’re here again. Welcome. Stay as long as you need.” This practice of acceptance can be empowering. It helps us understand that emotions, even negative ones, are part of the human experience and not something to fear or avoid.
The practice of allowing can be transformative. It creates a space between our feelings and our reactions, giving us the freedom to choose how we respond. Instead of acting on impulse or out of habit, we can make conscious, thoughtful decisions that align with our recovery goals. This space is where our power and freedom lie.
Investigating, the second step in the mindfulness exercise RAIN, is a crucial component in the journey towards recovery from our negative thoughts, emotions, and addictive cravings. It involves a deep dive into the thoughts, emotions, and body sensations that arise in response to triggers, with the aim of gaining a clearer understanding of their origins and their impact on our behavior.
When we investigate, we become detectives of our own minds, scrutinizing our reactions to stimuli and dissecting the cognitive distortions that fuel our addictive behavior. This is not a passive process; it requires an active engagement with our internal world, a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths, and a commitment to challenging our deeply ingrained beliefs and assumptions.
The process of investigation involves two aspects:
- A pure mindfulness approach. This entails a thorough exploration of our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. It requires us to be fully present, to be aware of what is happening within us at any given moment, and to be open to whatever we discover. We are tracking fusing thoughts and curious and inquisitive when we notice ourselves ruminating. We are paying close attention to our bodies, is the sensation getting stronger or weaker? Does the urge to act to suppress or control this negative thought, feeling, or sexual urge get stronger, stay the same, go up and down, or is it slowly dissipating? We’re not trying to control. We’re simply investigating.
- A CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) approach where we might explore the fusing thoughts or ruminations. We might kick back against the cognitive distortions. In it we might use a Byron Katie approach “is this thought I’m thinking about myself true?” “Is this thought useful?” “How do I feel when I believe this thought?” I use logical processing to talk back to my brain to understand why the cognitive distortion might not be helping me. Example: “My wife doesn’t believe I’m working hard in my recovery, I might as well act out.” In pure ACT and mindfulness, I’m simply aware. “I’m having the thought I might as well act out. I’m having the thought this urge is irresistible.” and then I go back to my breath and noticing, not worrying about taking the time to argue back with my brain. In a CBT approach, I kick back against the thought: “is it really true that I might as well act out? What would happen if I did? Would it really be just as good as not acting out? What would the consequences be? How would I feel about myself after? Is it really true this urge is irresistible?” This process can help us to challenge and change our negative thought patterns, and to develop a more balanced and realistic view of ourselves and our situation.
Investigation also involves a willingness to confront what we are not allowing or accepting. This could be feelings of shame, guilt, or unworthiness, or it could be the reality of our addiction and its consequences. By investigating these areas of resistance, we can begin to understand why they exist and how they contribute to our addictive behavior.
I like to use IFS (internal family systems) or parts work when I do a CBT-style investigation. We’re looking for the positive intent the part has that wants to act out in anger or defensiveness or in addiction. And what negative emotion it’s trying to cover up, and why that negative emotion feels especially triggering.
I have seen several words for the final “N” in RAIN: note and non-identification are a couple, but the one I love that I got from Tara Brach is “nurture”. For me this turns RAIN into an attachment-based exercise, and now I am applying it as an attachment-informed mindfulness therapy.
The nurture step is about showing compassion and care towards oneself, acknowledging the struggle and pain, and providing the emotional nurture that is often overlooked in the process of recovery. When we recognize the urge to indulge in addictive behavior, we need to understand that it doesn’t make us bad or unworthy. It is just an urge, a strong one perhaps, but still just an urge. It doesn’t have to dictate our actions or define us. We can welcome it, investigate it, understand its roots, and then, most importantly, nurture ourselves through it.
Nurturing is about being kind to that part of us that feels like a failure. Thich Nhat Hanh says that when anger comes, we say “hello anger”. Then we nurture it. Imagine it’s a baby and we are caring for it tenderly, like a mother cares for her child. Tara Brach says to take the negative emotion and imagine wrapping it in a blanket of compassion and love it. She quotes her client after doing this with intense anxiety. “Fear was still there, but being held by love it was notably less intense.” This is the power of nurturing. By holding our addiction in our arms and loving it, we can lessen its intensity and its hold over us. By breathing compassion into our pain and sadness, we can begin to heal.
Ask the part of you suffering with the negative emotion or addictive urge what it needs right now. It might say “to act out” or “for the negative feeling to go away”. But on further investigation it might say it needs to feel loved. That part is looking for love and connection in all the wrong ways. We can be that source of love for that part. Tell the part: “I love you”, “I’m sorry you’re feeling this pain”, “I’ll be with you”. This is where we meet our suffering with love, where we take our fear, anger, self-loathing, or urge to act out and wrap it in love, not to smother it but to care for it.
Often, our addiction is a misguided search for connection, for love. We look for it in porn, in sex, in short-term relationships, but what if the love we crave can be found within us? What if we can be the ones to provide that deep, meaningful connection we seek? By nurturing ourselves, we can provide five key elements of attachment security: felt safety/protection, attuned understanding of our emotions, comfort, expressed delight, and unconditional support.
Nurturing is not just about words, it’s about actions too. It’s about treating ourselves kindly, rewarding ourselves for the small victories, and showing ourselves that we are worth the effort. It’s about taking the time to relax, to laugh, to enjoy life. It’s about taking care of our physical body, through massages, yoga, or even just a relaxing bath.
Nurturing is also about patience. Recovery from addiction is a journey, and it takes time. It’s important not to rush the process or to judge ourselves harshly when we stumble. Instead, we should show compassion for ourselves, acknowledging the difficulty of what we’re going through, and reminding ourselves that we’re doing great.
In conclusion, the RAIN mindfulness technique is a powerful tool in the journey to recovery from addiction, particularly sex and porn addiction. It provides a framework for understanding and addressing our negative emotions and addictive cravings, promoting self-awareness, acceptance, investigation, and self-nurturing. By applying these principles, we can confront our vulnerabilities, challenge our cognitive distort, and develop healthier ways of dealing with our feelings and emotions. In doing so, we not only enhance our ability to overcome addiction, but we also cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves and a stronger sense of self–compassion and self-love. Remember, recovery is a journey, and with patience, practice, and self-nurturing, we can navigate this path successfully.
Rob Terry is a therapist for clients in Utah and coach for clients outside of Utah and across the globe. He specializes in sex addiction recovery for individuals and couples. He integrates the CSAT, OCSB, and Minwalla models for individual recovery and Gottman Method, RLT, and ERCEM for couples recovery. He is betrayal trauma informed. His therapy modalities are IFS, ACT, CBT, EMDR, and Attachment Theory.