“I’m Struggling to Overcome My Pornography Addiction, How Do I Know If I Need a Higher Level of Treatment?”

Working on overcoming an addiction to pornography can be a difficult and shameful experience. However, we often side on doing what is absolutely necessary but not required in treating our addictions.  Unfortunately, denial is one of the primary symptoms of any addict. Any addict wants to believe that they don’t “need” a counselor…or go to a SA group… or tell anyone about their issue. Every addict wants to believe that they can do this on their own.

Sadly, this is a lie all addicts can themselves to avoid looking at the truth of their situation. As long as this lie is fed, the addiction isn’t going anywhere. The behavior might stop but it will most likely transfer to other addictions or problems. In the end, recovery from a sex addiction isn’t really about the sex at all… or the food…. or the drugs…. It’s about learning to live with those things about ourselves that we fear the most to be true. It’s about facing the fear of connecting with others and trusting that others are not going to tell us that we just aren’t good enough…… When it comes down to it, addiction really is just an intimacy problem. The struggle to connect and bond with others. An addict always wants more but within the confines of what they can control. All addicts struggle to embrace accountability and vulnerability.

So to answer the question…. It depends. Not every addict “needs” a counselor, but if you find yourself asking this question to yourself and looking for evidence to support the “I will only do what is absolutely necessary” mentality, then you probably already know the answer to that question. What do you have to lose? The reality is an addict won’t change until they are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to overcome and change. Including…getting the necessary treatment.

What Are Boundaries in Relationships and Why Are They Important?

Boundaries are limits put on a relationship in order to establish the safety of an individual. These limits are for the purpose of maintaining the relationship to the degree that is emotionally/physically/sexually safe for the individual. This part is very important because good boundaries are not walls. Walls push people away and shut them out. When you establish certain boundaries in relationships, you are essentially saying to them, “This is what I need to feel safe in this relationship. If you can’t give me that, I can’t feel safe.” Boundaries are about needs not wants or what is convenient for you. Setting a boundary and telling your spouse that you can’t feel safe unless they put the silverware down properly in the dishwasher is not a healthy boundary. However, stating to them that you don’t feel safe having sex with them as long as they are looking and engaging in pornography and not telling you about it is a healthy boundary. Everyone has boundaries even if you don’t realize it (e.g. you probably don’t tell your pharmacist about your sex life). Healthy boundaries are ESSENTIAL to a lasting healthy relationship. When healthy boundaries are not established or respected in a relationship, emotional and relational distress WILL BE created. There are a number of requirements in order to use boundaries in a healthy way.

1) Good Intentions

The intent of the boundary has to be safety and to maintain the relationship on a level where this safety is respected. In other words, you shouldn’t use boundaries to control the behavior of other individuals or to punish them in any way (e.g. “You’re being a jerk today so you can say goodbye to any chance you had with having sex with me tonight!”)

2) Rational Mindset

Never establish boundaries when in a reactive/emotional state. Boundaries should always be established and expressed in a rational thoughtful manner where there has been sufficient time to think out the decision. However, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be feeling fear and worry when you express a boundary to someone. It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to set healthy boundaries. You have to be willing to take the risks of losing possible connection to get healthier connection for both of you.

3) Follow Through

It is essential you follow through with consequences if your boundaries are not respected. If you are not willing to do this then don’t waste your time in setting the boundary in the first place. For example, if you state to your partner, “Bob, I want to understand how you are feeling, but I don’t feel safe to talk to you if you continue to speak to me with degrading and demeaning language. If you choose to use this language to communicate your feelings then I will have to emotionally protect myself by disengaging in the conversation.” Therefore, it is essential that you follow through with this promise. If you choose to get defensive and use the same language back then you are choosing not to respect your own boundaries and therefore, your partner will not either.

4) Clear and Specific

Boundaries need to be clear and specific. Vague expressions of boundaries can be confusing for your partner and yourself. Spend the time trying to establish specific limits for your safety and the consequences when those limits are broken or not respected by other individuals. What are your non-negotiables in the relationship? Non-negotiable are specific boundaries that will require separation or divorce if ever broken. What are your sexual, physical, and emotional boundaries that you are required to have to keep yourself safe and connected in the relationship? If these boundaries are broken, what would you need to do to continue to create safety for yourself?

5) Expression

Boundaries also need to be expressed when appropriate. We can’t expect people to respect our boundaries if they don’t know what they are. It’s wrong for us to assume people should know how we feel and what we need. This is one of the most common mistakes in relationships.

For more information about boundaries, I suggest reading Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life by Cloud and Townsend. Sometimes it can be difficult to see what boundaries need to be set in our relationship as well as how we should follow through with them. Seek guidance from an experienced counselor to help direct you in these decisions.

7 Things Happy People Do Every Day

We are all seeking for something in life. Some people seek after riches and success. Some people seek after love and relationships. Despite the differences in what we seek as human beings, we all have one goal…. Happiness. Everything we do is centered on trying to be happy. I am not telling you anything that you don’t already know. However, after meeting with many clients who essentially say the same thing, “I just want to be happy,” I have observed seven things that happy people have in common and practice every day.

1) They don’t dwell on the negative

There are many things in life that we can see as a hole that needs to be filled, fixed, or covered up, but what if we could learn to be okay with having some holes here and there in our life. If you want to be miserable all the time, just remind yourself of all the problems you do have and all the things you don’t have. We all have problems we wish weren’t there and things we wish we had, but it’s not healthy for us to constantly dwell on them and the negative aspects of our lives. Happy people don’t avoid problems, they just learn to see the glass half full. They learn to practice gratitude for the things that they have in the center of life’s storms. Unhappy people avoid life storms as they would the plague and see them as a personal flaw. Happy people understand that there will always be storms wherever we go in life. They learn to look at the gifts that weaknesses or problems can give them by seeing an opportunity for growth and development as a person and not seeing themselves as a failure or innately flawed and one who belongs in the “exceptions to the rules” pile. Happy people don’t dwell on their problems or long for the things they don’t have. 

2) They understand the value of pain and emotion

Our society teaches us that emotion or pain is weakness. We learn over time that if we experience pain or emotion then it means that something is wrong with us. We do this so well that it is often unconscious. Happy people learn that pain is a part of life, and emotion is a part of being human. They learn to accept the feelings and emotions that they have and manage them in a healthy way through self-acceptence and connection. Unhappy people use addictions, distractions, or isolation as a way to cover up what they are feeling. Unfortunately, it brings more unhappiness and the cycle just repeats itself. Happy people understand the value of pain and emotion. 

3) They understand the importance of human connection

We weren’t meant to handle life’s problems on our own. We are hard-wired as human beings to connect whether we like it or not. Happy people understand the value of connection and leaning on people for strength and support. Leaning on people is not the only essential part of connection though. Giving and serving is just as important in fostering our connection with others. We feel a sense of value when we are trusted by others and are able to step outside of ourselves to think of their needs. Happy people understand the value of human connection by leaning and serving others. 

4) They learn to surrender

Just as human connection is essential to our happiness, so is a connection with a higher power. We not only need to lean on people for strength and support, we also need to lean on God. Regardless of what or who they call this higher power, happy people learn to stop leaning on their own strength to accomplish the things they need to and learn to surrender to God for power and strength to live the life they are seeking. This process can be liberating for us if we can learn to trust that this higher power will have our backs. Many unhappy people fail to do this because they feel that they need to prove something to themselves and others that they are not weak. They want to believe that they can defeat their personal demons with just sheer will power. However, as Hermann Hesse says, “Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” Happy people don’t feel they need to prove themselves and learn to surrender to a higher power for strength. 

5) They have a purpose in life

Happy people don’t live from day to day just seeing life as a bunch of responsibilities or problems that they need to take care of. They find a purpose and meaning in life. They see their priorities as areas of personal fulfillment. Work is not just work or parenthood is not just parenthood for happy people. They feel that they have something special to offer others in their career or as a parent. It gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. They see their personal value in their responsibilities. They also regularly engage in activities that further develop their sense of value. This might be activities or personal hobbies that can further their sense of creativity and learning such as cooking, arts and crafts, or education. Happy people live their lives with purpose and meaning. 

6) They embrace vulnerability and change every day

Facing our problems and embracing vulnerability can be difficult and quite exhausting. It can be easier to stay stagnant in life and spend our days in our comfort zones. We feel safe here. However, living life without consistent growth and change will make us miserable. Happy people understand that personal growth and change can only happen by embracing vulnerability with themselves and others and taking accountability for their actions. They don’t stay in their comfort zones. They face their problems with courage and faith. They recognize the misery that comes in being stagnant on a daily basis. They know when to work, and they know when to play. Happy people make a decision to change every day through vulnerability and accountability. 

7) They forgive themselves and others

No matter how hard we try to live a perfect life we will always fall short. We end up making mistakes that hurt ourselves and others. We might not always be forgiven by the people we hurt…. but we can forgive ourselves, and we can forgive the people that hurt us. Happy people are able to have compassion on themselves for the mistakes that they make. They are also able to let go of the mistakes made by other people. They recognize that they sometimes have to bring up the past in order to learn to let it go and live in the present. Forgiveness to oneself and others is essential to moving on from past shame, hurts, and pains. Unhappy people carry the shame of their mistakes and the pains caused by others on their shoulders. They mistakenly think that they can leave the past in the past and not have to address those pains or feelings of shame. As they attempt to cover up their pains, the pains will follow them. It follows them into every relationship and gets repeated over and over again until they are ready to face what they are carrying. Happy people are able to face the shame of their mistakes and pains caused by other people. As they face these feelings, they forgive themselves and others and unloose the burdens of the past they have carried with them. Happy people forgive themselves and others by resolving the mistakes and pains of the past. 

Three Unhealthy Ways We Deal With Shame

iStock_000016192491LargeShame is something everyone feels on a consistent basis. We have both overt and covert shame. Overt shame is where we recognize the messages our critic tells us in our heads. These are things like, “You will just fail again like you always do” and “You can’t do anything right because you’re not good enough.” Covert shame is where we don’t recognize those messages but they are indeed inside of us and run our behaviors. This type of shame manifests itself more in actions.

In order for shame not to have power over our behaviors and turn the mistakes we make into more healthy emotions such as guilt, we need to be able to recognize it and label it for what it is. Paying attention to the ways we usually respond to shame will help us to see the shame that tries to bury us covertly. Brené Brown talks in her lectures about three ways we primarily deal with shame: 1) Moving away, 2) Moving towards, and 3) Moving against.

Moving Away

The way we move away from shame is by isolating ourselves when something shameful happens. We don’t want to confront people. We just want to hide and keep secrets. A good example of this is when someone makes a passive aggressive comment towards our parenting or even our character and it produces in us a shame response. Someone who is moving away from shame would respond to their comments by moving away from the person or conversation, ignoring them, or pretending like it never happened, but inside they are hurting. Another example is if a child walks in on their parents having sex and the parents pretend like nothing happened. The parents are feeling so much shame about being caught in the act that they are terrified about asking how their child might be feeling about the situation. However, most of the time when people move away from shame they are trying to hide their true selves from the world. They don’t want their loved ones to find out about those things that bring them the most shame.

Moving Towards

The second way we move towards shame is by pleasing people. We do this by trying to be the person others want us to be. We deny authenticity and adapt ourselves to what we think people want from us. We also try to fix whatever mistakes we have made by something we said or did that might have influenced how people view us. A good example of someone moving towards shame is when a child is feeling rejected and unloved by one of the parents and then tries to earn that love by being the “perfect” child. They might try and do this by cleaning the house or doing other things that he or she might feel would please the parent. In the therapy world, the term we often use to describe this type of response towards shame is codependency.

Moving Against

The two most common ways we try to move against shame is blaming and perfectionism. People who respond to shame in this way can immediately go to blaming themselves or others in response to a shameful event, or they just might try to prove the shame wrong by being their most perfect selves. Perfectionism can also show itself in moving towards shame, but perfectionism associated with moving against is about controlling negative emotions such as anger and anxiety by trying to control the environment around you. Addicts fall into this way of shame living quite often. An addict is often going from trying to control their behaviors and fulfill the expectations that they have put on themselves to feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by their failures to the degree of acting out. An example of this would be a wife catching their husband looking at porn and responding by telling her, “I wouldn’t have this problem if you would just give me sex more often!” People who move against shame often try to control their environment. Unfortunately, this can lead to controlling the feelings and actions of people who are in their lives.

It is a normal process of life to respond to shame in these ways. Shame is a self-protective reaction. We do this as a survival mechanism. However, because it’s self-protective it leads to self-consuming perceptions and behaviors. We learn not to see other people’s perceptions and walk into judgment towards ourselves and others. Being too caught up in our shame is a very lonely and isolating road. When shame comes up for me in my daily life, I take a few steps to manage it effectively. First, I label it. Second, I excercise compassion on myself and for what I have been through. Third, I reach out to important attachment figures in my life and heal the shame by bringing it into the light. Although, sometimes we might do all the steps necessary to manage our shame and we still let it take a hold of us. In these situations, therapy can be invaluable. We often need a professional to help us get through the deepest parts of our shame and guide us into managing it more effectively in the future.

10 Essential Steps to Overcoming Pornography Addiction

ID-10035090Overcoming pornography addiction can be one of the most difficult trials that an addict will ever have to face. They can spend years trying to find the answers they need to finally triumph over the problem. These are 10 essential steps that I feel are necessary for this journey. Of course, these steps are probably not going to happen in the order they are presented (nor should they). However, I do feel they are all important and hope that those struggling with this issue can gain some insight into themselves.

1) Establish Effective Fortifications

  • When an addiction develops in an individual, it creates patterns in the brain that are extremely difficult to rewrite. As a result, addicts are more susceptible to acting out when confronted with certain places, people, or things. One of the hardest things a pornography addict has to do is to give up those people, places, or things that trigger their addiction and lead them into a place they regret. Just like in war, if we want to protect ourselves from the enemy, we have to place fortifications around ourselves and our families to keep us from falling into the hands of the enemy. Sometimes these fortifications can be tedious and quite bothersome, but they are necessary for survival. An addict should be aware of those things that will lead them to a relapse. Some common examples of this are: smart phones, seemingly harmless websites, social networking sites, risqué television shows or movies, and late nights on the internet. Many addicts will attempt to rationalize some of these triggers, such as checking their email before going to bed or watching a movie without checking the content. However, no matter how much we think we need a smart phone to survive in this world, we have to decide what’s more important to us: a brand new smart phone or freedom from addiction. Don’t get me wrong, some people are capable of having their own smart phones or checking their emails at nights and still maintain recovery. However, what ever an addict’s individual situation might be, he or she knows what they need to give up to maintain recovery. They just need to stop lying to themselves to figure it out.

2) Find a Group

  • Addiction creates isolation and loneliness, which in turn, fuels addiction even more. Going to a therapist run group and/or a 12-step group can be essential for lasting recovery. I am not saying that all addicts are absolutely “required” to attend a group to recover from pornography addiction. I do, however, feel that it is highly recommended and extremely valuable to recovery. Being able to meet with others who experience the same problems can help to heal the shame that binds addicts. It can also help individuals get some insight into their own recovery process. If you have tried years to overcome an addiction and you still haven’t kicked the habit, it is necessary to reach outside yourself for answers and tools that you may need to recover. In a large part, if you knew all the answers, you would be clean by now.

3) Learn to Manage Your Feelings Effectively 

  • At the core of addiction is the inability to manage emotions; especially shame. Overcoming pornography addiction to a large degree is learning how to effectively manage the feelings that come up. It is necessary to be able to understand what feelings and emotions are “running” in the background. A large portion of our emotions are unconscious or subconscious. Meaning, we aren’t necessarily thinking about them or realizing that they are there. Subconscious means we can access them if we want to. Unconscious means that we are completely unaware that they exist. Setting some time aside on a regular basis to assess our bodies can be invaluable to reaching and understanding our emotions. What this looks like is basically allowing five to ten minutes in our day to “checking in” with our bodies (i.e. feelings and emotions). Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? What caused me to feel this way? What is the story that I am telling myself? Where does this story come from?” These are some of the questions that can help to understand yourself emotionally. Above all, make sure that you ask these questions after a relapse. It is essential to understand why you do what you do and what leads you to the relapse. This gives you more power over your actions rather than being a blind follower to your addictions.

4) Establish a Daily Routine Centered on Recovery (Dailies)

  • I have heard many recovery addicts say that “Dailies” are what separates an addict with a recovery addict. They have given their success on the consistency of these routines. Dailies are divided into three main categories: Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional/Personal. Physical dailies are activities such as: regular or daily exercise, adequate sleep, and having a daily balanced diet. Eating junk food and watching tv until 2:00 am in the morning will just make you feel worthless which in turn fuels your addiction. Spiritual dailies are activities such as: prayer, meditation, scripture study, and service to others. These activities can give you the added spiritual strength that you need to stay in recovery every day. Emotional/Personal dailies are activities such as: recovery reading, making a phone call to reach out, music, positive affirmations, and journal writing. Taking on one or two of these activities per category on a daily basis can keep you in emotional, spiritual, and physical check throughout the day; especially if you use things as a replacement to acting out when you are triggered.

5) Accept What You Have Not Been Willing to Accept

  • One of the hardest things to do as an addict is to accept the things that you don’t want to accept. This is called denial. Denial is basically using strategies or techniques to help avoid facing painful realities and feelings. Overcoming any denial is absolutely essential to recovery. An addict spends a large portion of the addiction cycle using denial tactics. One of the best things an addict can do is face these painful realities and feelings he has since long denied. Sometimes you can face these realities logically, but your body does a pretty good job at keeping itself in denial. For example, one of the hardest things a client of mine had to accept was that he enjoyed looking at porn. I believe he understood this on a rational level, but he didn’t fully accept this in his heart. In order to accept this, he had to accept that there was a part of him that didn’t want to change. A part that he wanted to pretend that didn’t exist. A part that he didn’t want to own. A part that wanted to do “evil” and destroy his family. Addicts have to face three painful realities: 1) I have a problem, 2) it is a serious problem, and 3) only I am responsible for my actions.

6) Find an Accountability Partner

  • The best way to heal from shame is to share it with another person. It is important to get into the habit of doing this on a daily basis. It is necessary to find someone who we are willing to be accountable to when we relapse or are tempted to relapse. Sometimes people will use their ecclesiastical leader as an accountability partner. However, an ecclesiastical leader does not or should not be a replacement for this position. An accountability partner should be found in addition to your leader. Furthermore, other people will use their spouses as an accountability partner. However, spouses should NEVER be put in this position. Please don’t misunderstand, you should always be accountable to your spouse if you relapse into pornography or other sexual behaviors. Regardless, an accountability partner should not only know of your relapses, but they should know of the specific details of your relapse and how you went there. They should also know of your triggers and any feelings that need to be surrendered to them throughout the day. As a rule of thumb, I usually tell my clients, you need to be accountable to your spouse if you relapse in any sexual manner. Your accountability partner should know all the rest.

7) Learn to Surrender

  • Surrender does not mean that you should just give up and succumb to your addiction. It means that you can’t overcome this problem by yourself. As human beings, we like to feel powerful. We like to feel like we can do anything if we just put our minds to it. Because of pride, an addict continues to succumb to his addiction because he hasn’t learned that what makes men and women strong is not always fighting harder but learning to let go and rely on others for strength. An addict needs to surrender in two ways: 1) our surrender to God, and 2) our surrender to others. Your surrender to God depends on your willingness to not put God on the back burner any longer. It requires to have God as an essential part of your recovery process. You are essentially saying to God, “I am in this pit and I keep on falling down. Could you extend a ladder to help me get out? Also, if I can’t climb the ladder, can you come down here and help me?” Your surrender to others depends on your willingness to be vulnerable and share your true feelings with them. Others can consist of family, friends, or just people we want to connect with. It is essentially saying to people, “I need you. You are important to me. I need to feel important to you too.”

8) Deal with the Underlying Causes of the Addiction

  • Addiction always stems from a loss of attachment. In its most basic form, pornography addiction is designed to replace connection with people. We are hard-wired to connect. If we were raised in situations that made it difficult for us to obtain a healthy attachment (based on love, trust, and complete emotional safety) we seek to obtain this connection in other ways. Most addicts who begin their recovery say that they turn to pornography because it “feels good.” However, it is much more than that! As you start to learn about your triggers, relapses, and addiction cycle, you will learn how strongly connected your addiction is on your desire to be loved. Desires that weren’t fully met with important people in your life. Whether these are parents, siblings, or peers, it doesn’t matter. All are essential for building a healthy attachment and confidence in yourself. Sometimes it might be difficult for you to really understand the underlying causes of your addiction. That’s why it might be necessary to seek professional help to deal with the trauma that is associated with the problem.

9) Embrace Vulnerability

  • Vulnerability is much more than just admitting to others that we need help. It is embracing who we are as a person. We can spend hours a day as human beings trying to be something or someone for other people. We feel that doing this will make us feel loved, which in turn, will help us to love ourselves but it never does. It just leads to more shame, sadness, anger, and fear. If you want to feel worthy of the love of others, you need to be willing to love yourself first. Vulnerability by nature builds stronger connection, but you should not be vulnerable in order to obtain connection from others. You should be vulnerable for yourself. Vulnerability to others is another way of saying, “This is who I am and I am okay with it! Are you?” The more you can embrace vulnerability, the more power you will have over your addiction.

10) “Never, Never, Never, Never Give Up”

  • Overcoming addiction requires a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it can take years for an addict to learn the things they need to learn about themselves to be free from addiction. Unfortunately, this is a painful truth. As a result of this, you might lose faith in your abilities to change. You might look back on all the years that addiction has been a part of your life and feel tempted to give up hope. However, no matter how many difficulties or relapses you face, as Churchill once said, you must “never, never, never, never give up!” Relapse is part of the recovery process. I am not saying this so you can use it to rationalize your next relapse. If you did, then you are not really in recovery, are you? You might need to go back and look at the denial step again. I am simply saying that you must never give up hope no matter how many relapses you have. Addiction recovery is possible for any one that is willing to put in the work. One of my favorite things I hear from clients that have come to a place of consistent sobriety is, “I would never change anything. The things I have learned about myself was worth every pain….every relapse. I needed to go through it to learn what I need to learn and to stay clean.”

The Greatest Enemy to Your Happiness That You Never See Coming

Many of us try to rid ourselves of those things in our life that we feel weigh us down and prevent us from experiencing happiness (addictions, toxic relationships, depression, etc.). Sometimes we are able to do it. Other times it continues to plague us like something that we feel is apart of our selves that we can’t ever imagine our lives without. So what keeps us from getting what we truly desire and on to a path of peace and out of the constant suffering?……. Shame.

Fossum and Mason defined shame in their book, Facing Shame, as “an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person. It is the self judging the self. A moment of shame may be humiliation so painful or an indignity so profound that one feels one has been robbed of her or his dignity or exposed as basically inadequate, bad, or worthy of rejection. A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, effective, unworthy, or not fully bad as a human being.” Or in other words, we don’t take off our chains of unhappiness because we don’t believe we are capable or worthy as a person.

People often confuse shame with guilt. However, in reality, they are two very different things. Shame is a secondary emotion while guilt is a core emotion (see my blog on secondary vs. core emotions). Fossum and Mason also do well at defining guilt as “the developmentally more mature, though painful, feeling of regret one has about behavior that has violated a personal value. [It] does not reflect directly upon one’s identity nor diminish one’s sense of personal worth.” Guilt leads to change in behavior by feeling it and is an outward emotion (meaning it is about others and how we have affected/hurt them). Shame does not lead to change in behavior and experiencing it just leads to more shame and despair. Shame is an inward emotion (meaning it is self-focused and about ourselves). We use it to protect ourselves, but it just leads to more despair, isolation, and hiding.

There are only three ways that I have seen that helps us to get out of our shame. First, bring it out into the light. Talk to people about how you are feeling and what is happening with you. Talk to them about your fears and especially about the things you fear they will reject you for.

Second, building a connection with God. Prayer and a spiritual connection with our higher power helps remind us of our value and potential as humans.

Third, facing the shame. Notice when shame starts to creep up on you. Practice some self-compassion and mindfulness practices. Also, turn that shame into what your body needs to feel; the core emotion. This might be sadness and fear but is probably quite often…guilt. Let yourself feel how you might have affected yourself or the individuals around you by your actions. Whenever I catch myself going into shame I recognize it and start doing a guilt process. I think about other people and how they might have been affected by my actions. This gives me a sense of love and compassion for them and brings me out of the darkness and into a desire to do better and to change.

Getting yourself out of shame can be difficult to do. This is why it’s important to seek help from a therapist or coach to assist you in walking through these processes and out of the shame.

The Three Pillars of Happiness

photo_6953_20080816I have learned through my work with clients and in my own personal life that there are three pillars or foundations that I think are necessary for overcoming any trial (e.g. addiction, individual trauma, life stressors) and obtaining peace and happiness. These pillars are: The Emotional Pillar, The Spiritual Pillar, and The Choice Pillar.

1) The Emotional Pillar

Often times, we underestimate the emotional side to our problems. We live in a society that teaches us that emotions or feelings are trivial or unimportant. We focus much of our efforts in overcoming and getting rid of the feelings that we don’t like rather than trying to understand them. We hope that through the passage of time, our problems will work itself out. We tell ourselves, “I just need time.” In fact, what we are really saying is, “I don’t want to feel this way anymore so I just need some time to numb my pain and distract myself with other things.” Addicts of all kinds do this on a regular basis, and they are often completely unaware that the constant porn use, or the “just a little more television, then I will go to bed,” or the constant need to find something to eat even though they are not even hungry is most often the result of not properly managing and dealing with emotional needs. Many of us are not sure how to deal with what we are feeling without making matters worse. This is why therapy can be important. Sometimes we were never taught how to deal and manage our emotional turmoil. That’s why it’s okay to get help.

2) The Spiritual Pillar

I firmly believe that spirituality is an important foundation for happiness. However, I think that many of us often mistake religiosity for spirituality. They are actually quite different. We can go to church and show our worship for a Higher Power but still feel completely disconnected to that Higher Power. Each of us needs a connection to something more powerful than ourselves; a personal and intimate connection. Someone that we feel will lead and guide us in our lives and onto a better and happier path. We need to feel that something or someone is out there looking over us and has a plan for us. Gaining a greater spiritual connection with our Higher Power can greatly increase our individual self-worth and give us the motivation to live the life we need to be happy.

3) The Choice Pillar

I have been racking my brain on what to call this pillar. I think the choice pillar has a mixture of our individual behaviors to obtain the happiness we seek, the work we need to do for ourselves and others, and how our thoughts often determine our actions and the importance of changing them. I have realized that it all comes down to “choice.” Many of us frequently feel that we are stuck in our lives and that no matter what decision we make, it is a dead end. We can also feel at times that we are bound to certain behaviors or actions and that we cannot control them no matter what we do. This is really a hopeless place, isn’t it? It is also a lie we often tell ourselves because sometimes it is easier to give up then to keep trying and always failing. Then we start to wrestle with ourselves. A part of us knows we can do better, but the other part is telling us that we can’t. This is when it really gets frustrating. However, we should never loose sight that no matter what battles occur within ourselves that we always have the choice to do something different then what we are presently doing. Even if it is impossible to believe that we can’t envision our life without porn, television, food, etc., we can choose to make a step in the right direction. Even if it is just a small step. However, often times, we expect more of ourselves than just small steps and then if we can’t live up to our high expectations then we tell ourselves that we might as well not do it at all. I see this all the time with people setting individual goals. I once set a goal to read a chapter in my scriptures everyday. I lasted a week and then gave up. Later, a wise person said to me, “If you start with a chapter you will never meet your goal! That’s like saying that my goal is to run a marathon by next week, but I have never actually ran a day in my life. Why don’t you just start with a verse a day and go from there?” It was great advice. Since then, I have rarely missed a day. Don’t set your goals too high. Start small and work from there.

Often times, we might focus on just one of the pillars and neglect the other two feeling that we don’t need them. This often ends with failure to overcome our difficulties and can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness. I see this with porn addicts all the time. Many of them feel that if they have faith in God, pray hard enough, and do all the work necessary to keep them from acting out (Pillars 1 and 3) then they can overcome their problem. Sometimes it works too. However, what usually happens next is because they neglect their Emotional Pillar, they find themselves starting new addictions (e.g. video games, television, food).

For myself, every time I face a problem I will ask myself about these three pillars and which of the three pillars I might be neglecting that is influencing my dilemma. First, “How am I emotionally with this issue?” or “What is happening with me on an emotional level that might be contributing to this issue?” I then ask, “How is my relationship with my Higher Power? Am I feeling distant?” Lastly I will ask, “What is my part in this? What can I do to get through this and on to the path I want to be on?”

I believe that if we focus on all three of these pillars to overcome our problems, we can gain the happiness and peace we really look for and let go of the chains and baggage that we so desperately seek to let go.