“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.

When Can I Be Happy?

In a lecture on vulnerability, Brene Brown discusses our tendency to be afraid of experiencing joy in our lives. She said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. I have never come across an emotion or affect [in my research] that is as difficult to feel as joy. Joy is probably the most vulnerable feeling or emotion that we experience. We are afraid to soften into it or lean fully into it because we are waiting… for the other the other shoe to drop” (clip from The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage).

In my experience as a clinician, I have seen this within myself and my clients. I truly believe that one of the biggest risks for mental health problems is when we refuse to find happiness in our present realities and relationships. Many of us often spend more time with our own fantasies than we do with the people who we claim to be the most important to us. We start to live our lives with what I like to call the “if/then factor.” We say to ourselves, “If I had more money, then I will be happy” or “If I had a different partner or a different relationship, then I could be happy.” We can do this for years never truly experiencing what it means to be happy or find joy in our lives. We long for the day when we can truly have joy. Then we compare our lives to those around us making assumptions that our “friends” have the happiness we seek. What many of us seem to forget in those moments is that our “friends” are most likely doing the same things to us in return. Many of us can’t see this because of our natural struggle as human beings to see the good in our present circumstances, whilst at the same time requiring little effort for us and others to see good in the lives of those around us.

Whether it’s waiting for the time when we can get married to the perfect person… or when we can have our first child… or when we can get our first house… or find our perfect career… the years start to pass by and the things that really matter to us in the end becomes neglected. The problem is that those things which bring us the most joy are often the things we are afraid of the most. Unfortunately, the relationships that we fear the most are the ones we come home to every day.

My challenge to those seeking joy in their lives is to start today with accepting the lot you have been given and chosen in life. Stay out of fantasy! Put down your cell phone or Ipad for the night and spend time with those you care about the most. Enjoy your time with them without thinking about your worries or fears of what’s to come your way. Don’t fret… I’m sure your worries and concerns will be there tomorrow when you wake up😉…

There is No Such Thing As Normal

One of the most commonly used words in our society is normal. I hear this word a lot from my clients. It mostly comes out as, “I just want to be normal.” I think all of us have said this to ourselves at one point in our lives. The problem is….there is no such thing as normal. Normal is constantly changing. It changes with society as people adapt their culture and beliefs about the world and those around them. We can never really grasp onto normal. Dictionary.com defines normal as, “serving to establish a standard.” We use this word to divide society into those that we think are “normal” and those that aren’t. Unfortunately, we make this division within ourselves and often put ourselves in the “not normal” section leaving us feeling lonely and isolated from the rest of “normal” society. Seeing it in this perspective. Do we really want to be normal? Always changing to what people expect us to be and conforming to the standard. I don’t know about you, but it’s exhausting to me. It also never works the way we want it to. No matter how hard we try, we will always let people down. If we put our self-worth on the line with people, we will see ourselves in the pit of our failures until that’s all we can see. It’s dark in this pit. We can’t stop thinking about our failures and shortcomings, and we feel we don’t have the strength to get out.

Instead of using the word normal. Lets change it to “healthy.” Therefore, when we tell ourselves, “I just want to be normal healthy.” It gives us a little bit of hope and a direct path to go on to get there. For the most part, healthy living doesn’t change from culture to culture. There might be some differences here and there depending on the society, but there are some things that are just universal healthy living. Attachment is one of them. Regardless of the culture or society you are apart of, attachment (the emotional bonds between two people) is a necessary part of our happiness as human beings. We are hardwired to connect no matter where we go, and no matter what we tell ourselves, we need people. We need to love and be loved. We need to feel safe.

In spite of hating the word normal, I do use it on occasion. There… I said it. Sometimes I have clients ask me if it’s “okay” that they feel what they feel. A common phrase is, “I want to want to change. Is that okay?” I usually reply, it just means you’re normal. In other words, “you are exactly where you need to be at this point, and there is no difference between you and everybody else.” Sure, everyone has their own unique backgrounds, and some people have more talents than others. Although, in the end, we are all pretty much the same. We all struggle. We have all said to ourselves, “I just want to be normal.” We have all told ourselves at one point in our lives that we are not. I really believe that. This is why normal just doesn’t exist….because we are all technically normal.

5 Warning Signs That Your Partner Might Be Looking at Porn

Being married to a porn addict can be a very difficult trial for the partner. In spite of the pain that a porn addict goes through in trying to overcome and continue the addiction, it is not as intense and traumatic as what the partner has to experience. A major factor that contributes to this pain is the complete lack of emotional awareness that an addict has for their partner’s trauma with the addiction. They can be so intensely involved in the addiction that they cannot emotionally comprehend their partner’s pain. Becoming aware of this pain and feeling it is one of the major steps in overcoming pornography addiction. In addition to this lack of awareness, the partner of a sex addict is often left in the dark. They go from day to day waiting and dreading to hear about the next relapse. They often get so anxious and fearful with this waiting that they find themselves almost wishing their partners would tell them they looked at pornography, just so they can be relieved of the intense fear. Even if it’s just for a small moment before they go back into the fear cycle. Experienced partners of porn addicts often come to know of the addict’s signs of relapse. However, there are many who are left in the dark for days, weeks, and even years. Here is a list of warning signs that are common for sex/porn addicts that every partner of an addict should be aware of. Keep in mind that I made this list to help promote accountability and healthy communication. It’s not intended to be used as evidence to support the casting of a guilty sentence based on a partner’s fears which may or may not be accurate. In the end, sometimes all that a partner of an addict can do is to just inquire and have faith that the addict is being honest and accountable to them. Acting on our fears and confronting an addict with all the fear and rage of an angry bull can often lead to more disconnection, increased paranoia, and a lower likelihood that the addict is going to be accountable. These warning signs can be helpful, but the greatest warning sign I have witnessed with all my work with couples who go through pornography addiction is the partner’s intuition. Even if you doubt your intuition sometimes, don’t make the mistake of telling yourself that you’re crazy. You’re “crazy” for a good reason.

  1. An Increase/Decrease of Sex and Physical intimacy
    • When an addict is looking at porn, they will most likely go on two extremes regarding sex and intimacy. Partners will either feel a pressure to engage in more sex or they will feel sexually neglected. If an addict desires to have more sex, they will often want to engage in activities in the bedroom that might make the partner feel uncomfortable. In addition, an addict’s sex with their partner will often be focused on obtaining a physical release of sex rather than increasing the emotional connection and intimacy with a partner. Keep in mind that it’s common for an addict to struggle with seeing sex as a means to increase a couple’s emotional intimacy even when they are not currently looking at porn. This tends to get better as an addict’s brain and relationship starts to heal from pornography’s affects.
    • Sexual neglect or rejection from an addict, the other extreme, can be common as well. The greater the pornography use and masturbation with an addict, the greater the likelihood that they start to prefer porn and masturbation over intimacy with their spouses. This is due to how they have trained their brains to respond to intimacy. Because of this you will often see an addict experience an increase in erectile disfunction or other sexual issues due to his’ or her’s continued use of pornography use and masturbation. One of the other more common reasons for sexual neglect in an addict is their intense shame. Their shame leads them to isolate themselves from their partners and thus avoid physical intimacy.
  2. Changes in Mood
    • Pornography use and masturbation can often cause intense shame in an individual. This shame will almost always lead an addict to isolate him or herself from the relationship; thus increasing emotional disconnection. If an addict doesn’t learn to manage and face their shame and other emotions it will often lead to “shame rage.” In other words, they can become very emotionally reactive and critical of their partners. It is easier for them to put blame and become reactive to their spouses or children then to face the pain of what the addiction brings. However, withdrawal  symptoms of a porn addiction can come with changes in mood as well. However, It is usually not as intense and frequent as what shame can do to an addict because of their continued use and secrecy.
  3. Changes or Neglect in Interests and Responsibilities 
    • As an addict gets further into his or her addiction… work, school, religion, and hobbies will start to decrease or become neglected. The addiction and the continued hiding and secrecy take up all of his’ or her’s time and mental efforts. They will often be forgetful and absent minded. They can also start to lose focus on important tasks.
  4. A History of Porn Use Prior to the Relationship
    • One of the most common things that I see in my office is when a couple comes in after a partner of an addict is exposed to the seriousness of an addict’s’ problem. Prior to this the partner was either unaware of past pornography problems or had very little knowledge of it. The addict will often tell the partner that he or she struggled with pornography use and masturbation in their past but they “kicked the habit” and are free from it’s hold. The partner will often say to me, “I knew he had looked at pornography before we met, but he made it sound like it wasn’t a problem any longer.” One of the best things an individual can do before they get married is have an extensive inquiry about past history of pornography and masturbation use with their partner so they are not left in the dark if the problem comes back a year or two later. If an addict didn’t have authentic recovery before he or she gets married then most likely the problem will be back fairly soon after the marriage starts. An addict knows when he or she is in recovery because they will know their triggers and how to deal with them, they will be accountable for their past mistakes, and they will have experience in dealing with the painful emotions they have put off for so many years as an addict.
  5. More Privacy
    • Another common sign of pornography or sexual addiction is continued privacy with computer and cell phone use. In my experience, an addict that is dedicated to his recovery and that has accepted accountability will not be overly-cautious with privacy regarding their cell phone and computer use. Late nights on the computer and obsession over being in constant contact with their phone is common for an addict. In addition, addicts start to become experts at covering their tracks. A common sign of this is clearing the internet and text history on a computer or phone.

Please remember that these warning signs do not necessarily mean that your partner is engaging in pornography. Also, most often when confronted, an addict will deny pornography use and become defensive. They will find a way to feed their addiction no matter what the cost is in the end. The best thing you can do as a partner is to take care of yourself emotionally by establishing boundaries and reminding yourself that his or her addiction has really nothing to do with you.

Take Some Time Out of Your Day and Watch This! You Will Thank Me Later…

Social networking and cell phones are largely designed to increase our connection with others, but in reality it ends up creating more disconnection. This is a great video describing the impact that social networking and cell phones has on our abilities to connect. It’s very well made, entertaining to watch, and very inspiring.