Trauma & Sexual Addiction: Honoring Both

There is often a strong link between trauma and sexual addiction.

Trauma has a profound impact on the brain and our ability to cope. As we adapt life can become difficult to manage. If your chaos includes sexual addiction as a way to cope, then untangling the trauma is critical. 

I have written an article introducing the concepts of trauma and sexual addiction and how these might be addressed. Find it at the link below: 

http://www.addictionhope.com/blog/therapeutic-treatments-for-addressing-trauma-in-a-sexual-addict

Please share this article with anyone who may find it useful. 

 

How does addiction affect my character?

This is a good and far from simple question. I have written an article that addresses the key elements of character formation and this impacts, and is impacted by addiction. 

If you wonder if you will always be the way you are, or think you are just not who you want to be, this article might be eye opening! I hope you will discover there is more opportunity for you than you could have imagined and that hope is never lost. 

So, are you ready to ask bigger questions about why you act like you do, and why people experience you in the way they do? It can be a very rewarding journey. Read my article here: 

Addiction is not the cause of my character defects

Warmly,

Paul

How do I tell my partner about my sexual addiction or struggles?

Have you ever wondered just how you could ever talk about your sexual struggle or addiction with a spouse or partner? My latest article for AddictionHope.com is all about that topic. 

It includes a practical focus, and I would love to talk with you more about it if you find yourself in that type of a situation. 

Click here to link to the article

Sexual Addiction Recovery: Where to Start & How to Change

“The awareness of one’s own sexuality, the longing to know, to experience something as good wells up from deep within.”[i] Sadly, our good desire to be known and experienced often becomes connected with, or distorted by, sexually destructive behaviors. This article will help you consider if you have a sexually destructive habit, and what you can do about it.

1.    Recognize symptoms and admit to yourself your true position

There is often a struggle to acknowledge a problem to ourselves—especially one that produces shame. When we hide our behaviors and ourselves we can smell the whiff of shame. “People who are involved with [acting-out sexually] may be basking in the sunshine of instant pleasure, but like storm clouds, problems are brewing just over the horizon.”[ii] The dark clouds are visible in these statements below. Do you identify with any of them?

“I’m easily irritated and depressed.”

“I’ve become isolated from other people.”

“I’m sexually objectifying people.”

“I’m neglecting important areas of my life.”

“I’m having problems with sex.”

“I’m making my partner unhappy.”

“I’m feeling bad about myself.”

“I’m engaging in risky dangerous behavior.”

“I’ve become addicted to porn, masturbation or other sexual behaviors.”[iii]

We need to stop and check-in with ourselves to know how we are doing. Are you in the practice of doing this? This can be anxiety producing or feel like a waste of time. Yet I would encourage you to try it, especially if the list above fits your experience.

Our behaviors and strategies have often helped us; in many ways they seem comfortable. “When caught in the spiraling psychological and physiological pull of pornography [or other acting-out], the prospect of escaping it is unpleasant. You want to let it pull you in.”[iv] You have a choice to name your concerns or turn a blind eye. Addictions usually escalate with time, particularly if they are ignored. It is in your best interest to act now.

2.    Find Support and Connection

Don't be satisfied with swinging from thoughts of “its not a problem, it doesn’t hurt anyone” to “everyone will think I am a useless pervert”. Neither of those positions is true—rather, they are emotionally provocative and keep you from thriving. Often sharing our struggles helps us combat such “swinging thoughts”.

Laaser (2004) attests: “I have never known a person to heal from sexual addiction alone. All of us need an army of support around us on the healing journey.” [v] You might ask, where is my army? Who can I trust? It is there if you are willing to risk and reach. Key places to connect:

-       Church: See if a pastor or elder is safe to talk with—i.e. doesn't reject you and shares an attitude of brokenness and grace

-       Accountable friends: These people can know you and challenge you

-       Support groups: Such as FirstLight and SA where like-minded people can identify with you and support you

-       Counselor: Someone who is trained to help you with this situation

-       Family: If you have loving, supportive relationships, now is a good time to engage them

3.    If a Spouse or Partner is Involved

If you have a spouse or partner who knows about your struggle, then you know how painful, disorienting and frustrating it can be. Yet know this: “Betrayal trauma shakes the foundations of our beliefs about our safety in our marriages and it dissolves our assumptions about trusting our spouses.”[vi] This is what an affected partner is dealing with and it will impact you. Counseling for both parties is recommended when this occurs. For now, know that spouses and partners will likely show symptoms of PTSD (hyper-arousal, sleeplessness, searching, questioning, fatigue, agitation) because they do not feel safe.[vii]  They will need the following to recover:

-       Support and connection from others who understand (preferably a suitably trained counselor will be included in this)

-       To learn about trauma and sexual recovery (I recommend Barbara Steffen’s book: Your Sexually Addicted Spouse)

-       Be allowed time and space to grieve and forgive in their own time

-       Be afforded plentiful opportunity for self-care

4.    Use your environment rather than fearing it

In recovery people often describe trying to “shut out all the temptation”. What if you were to re-orient your approach to the environment and ask: “How can I engage beautiful things, safe things, protective things, and use the tools talented people have created?”

-       Engage what you love: Think about what you enjoy that is healthy and good. Is it golf, woodworking, hiking, canoeing, brewing with your friends? Make room for these pleasures and purposefully delight in them

-       Relationships: Find and build friendships where you can be yourself and share what is going on in your life. Extend invitations to others and recognize it is hard work to nurture rewarding relationships

-       Meaning: What gives purpose and vitality to living? Think about what you value, what your goals are and who you can share them with

-       Protection and Delight: Find quality safeguards for both the Internet and daily activities. Then find new ways to use the Internet and other previously destructive avenues for delightful and nurturing things. (Note: This isn't always possible or advisable) For example: Instead of viewing porn on the Internet, join a website that campaigns for the preservation of the wildlife habitat that you love to fish in (Note: It is often necessary to cut ties with places and opportunities that have led to acting-out for significant periods before delightful behaviors can be safely integrated).  

5.    Learn How Your Addiction Works

“Dopamine release acts as a signal that teaches us what is important in the environment… and fuels the tension and craving for meeting a need.”[viii] Addictive behavior is compelling because it directly affects our brain. Now if you act-out again you might be thinking, “I am just trying to get my next dopamine hit, maybe I should regulate my needs another way?” 

The neuroplasticity of our brains means that we can create mental pathways that we follow more easily. If you do ‘X’ one hundred times and ‘Y’ ten times as a response to ‘Z’, you will more likely do ‘X’ when you next see ‘Z’. Plasticity doesn’t have a negative or positive quality—rather you train your brain in whichever direction you live. Which direction will you train your brain?

Addicts tend to display an “addiction cycle”.[ix] The pain of our past and present can lead us to coping strategies that become entrenched. As we cope with distress we get preoccupied, begin a ritual that soothes or distracts us and leads to acting out behaviors. Usually this behavior is followed with self-loathing, which we want to escape. The escape begins the cycle again. It is crucial to see how the specific steps of this cycle might be contributing to your struggle for integrity.

The effects of dopamine rewards, brain changes and the addictive cycle is powerful. Keep learning, and apply your knowledge to help you! You can start with the resources in the references.

6.    Slow Down and Get to Know Your Emotions

“Mindfulness” has become the new mantra for selling magazines and articles promoting stress-free, self-actualization. However, mindfulness is a powerful set of skills that requires practice and intent. You can learn to slow down and pay attention to your emotions. How? This is the short version:[x]

-       Observe what is happening in your body physically.

-       Describe what those sensations are like. Name them and what emotions correspond if you can.

-       Participate in those sensations. If you named a “lump in my throat” and “feeling angry”, then allow yourself to consider what they would have you do.  Then act responsibly and thoughtfully according to what you have noticed.

Simply slowing down and spending time with our emotions is a good way to stop them “ruling” our lives, and allows them to be integral to living in the direction we desire. 

7.    Own Your Behavior and Find Motivation.

It is your decision to act; no matter how compelling the physiological drive. Grit and grind have to be coupled with planning, knowledge and support to help many people out of compulsive behaviors. Whilst strong neurochemicals and emotional pain may drive us, we always have the choice to act—even when this feels simply impossible. It is ok to struggle and fail if you accept you are acting. It isn’t ok to deny your agency. This will only help keep you paralyzed. Practical ways to build motivation to own the behavior and change it are as follows:[xi]

-       Honestly list the problems your addiction or actions cause you

-       Identify and make a detailed list of what really matters to you in life

-       Write down your fears in facing your problem and know you will face them

-       Take responsibility—verbally acknowledge your struggle and share it with others

8.    Be reminded of the truth over and over

What does God think of you? Scripture reminds us that we image Him (Gen 1), that He delights in us (Ps 149), that He will equip you (Heb 13), and that He sent His son for our sake (Rom 8).

You can see how he treated the woman caught in adultery (John 8)—He told her to go and live! And the prodigal son (Luke 15)—God welcomes him and delights in his being. You too, are one of His precious children.

Shame and depression are powerful experiences that usher in thoughts of self-disgust and despair. What would it be like to remind yourself through scripture, friends and loved ones of your qualities and personal delights? Could you bear it—to be delighted in?

9.    Have a plan

Rarely do things change without intentional effort and a plan! Planning can feel boring, or a threat to spontaneity and fun. Conversely, when you are trying to break a pattern of behavior, plans allow you to relax and have freedom within the plan’s bounds. You will afford yourself some much needed “peace of mind” and reduce your need to worry by creating a structure to hold you. Many of us are “planning averse”—if you need to, plan to plan. Set aside just 10 minutes that you will sit down and begin to consider how each of these steps could be implemented for your own integrity and freedom.  

Final Thoughts

“Sexual intimacy is not like every other biological function. It has significant consequences at every level of our existence: neurological, psychological, social and spiritual.” [xii] It is worth every moment, and every effort to make positive changes in this area of your life. Changing will have profound effects, but it won’t always be easy. Find help and support for the journey. It is worth it—indeed, you are worth it.

 

 

[i] Struthers, W. (2009). Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books. p. 44

[ii] Maltz, W., & Maltz, L. (2008). The porn trap: The essential guide to overcoming problems caused by pornography. New York: Collins. p. 71

[iii] Maltz, W., & Maltz, L. (2008), p. 72

[iv] Struthers (2009), p. 44

[v] Laaser, M., & Laaser, M. (2004). Healing the wounds of sexual addiction. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. p. 127

[vi] Steffens, B., & Means, M. (2009). Your sexually addicted spouse: How partners can cope and heal. Far Hills, N.J.: New Horizon Press. p. 107

[vii] Steffens, B., & Means, M. (2009), p. 48?

[viii] Struthers (2009), p. 90

[ix] Laaser, M., & Laaser, M. (2004), p. 59-63

[x] Adapted from Marsha Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Manual (2014).

[xi] Summarized from Maltz, W., & Maltz, L. (2008), p. 142-154

[xii] Struthers (2009), p. 167

Understanding Your Story & Friendship

Dan Allender is a master at working with peoples stories. He writes in vivid and inspiring ways. Let this quote whet your appetite for more from relationships:

"Hang out with people who are confident of the wild goodness of Jesus and who aren’t apt to offer quick or silly and superficial solutions to life’s struggles... Let your friend listen and feel your story and then let them pursue understanding through conversation. Take it in. Give all the new thoughts to Jesus. Invite him into the heartache with you." (Dan Allender)

Does this make you think about new ways to connect with people? It certainly made me think about the act of friendship in a more meaningful way. 

Trauma. Me?

Trauma. When thinking about this painful subject, we can ask, "have I resonated with a sense of intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and threat of annihilation?" If the answer is yes, you probably have experienced trauma.

"Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life. " (Judith Herman) 

There is Hope when all our adaptations and attempts have left us reeling. Counseling can help us walk the road to healing, thriving and being renewed. If you have lost your voice, been isolated or robbed of power, the safety of a counseling relationship maybe a place to start. 

Busy busy busy

"This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave." By OMID SAFI - The disease of being busy

Omid Safi has written a wonderful article about being busy and the effect it has on our every day lives. There is no simple solution to this problem but I agree that a very good start is to do as Safi suggests:

"Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing."

Mindfulness - What is it?

Mindfulness is being aware of our experiences in a receptive way and engaging in activity based on this nonjudgmental awareness. It involves a stance of curiosity and compassion directed towards present experiences.

We can grow our ability to be mindful. The following exercises help us to grow mindfulness, which will help our sleep, relaxation, attention and ability to understand what emotions are driving our behaviors. 

Go ahead and try these and contact me with questions or comments:

1.     Breathing for relaxation: Breathe in and out deeply into your stomach and notice how it feels. Breathe your breathe into various parts of your body and feel what it is like. Notice how your body feels after a few minutes of these actions.

2.     Paying attention and learning to focus: “take a long cut” by doing something wholeheartedly (full involved) and soaking in the details and sensations. Just eat, without anything else in the picture and savor every moment.

3.     Gratitude and appreciation: Practicing gratitude builds awareness of good feelings and happiness. Acknowledge the role of being a recipient of good things. You will feel closer, more loved, less isolated, helped and happier. This gratitude and its out working will impact your emotions and mood.

a.     Stop expressing self pity

b.     Amplify good memories

c.      Practice forgiveness

d.     Keep a gratitude journal

4.     Making peace with our honest imperfection: Knowing that perfection is unattainable, it is wise to affirm yourself for attempting, living and engaging. 

Even a 5 minute practice of mindfulness everyday will start to have an impact on our awareness, focus and emotional health. 

Fixing our eyes

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 ESV)

This passage from Revelation breaths life to our weary souls. Our true home is with God, as he lives with us, and meets every need. The struggles of this life will have passed and God's good order will be fully unveiled. I fix my eyes to this, and know that our lives together are all the richer for the glorious day to come. These verses are motivation and relief all in one.