3 minute read

Advice for Porn-Addict Recovery Groups: Avoid Struggle-Based Identity

Last Updated: October 28, 2020

Luke Gilkerson

Luke Gilkerson has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies and an MA in Religion. He is the author of Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability and The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality. Luke and his wife Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com

If you have ever had a demonstrative struggle with pornography, at some point or another, you might be encouraged to join a group for men or women focused on helping one another with sexual issues.

Here’s a critical question every group leader should ask: How can do you effectively run a “recovery” group while not creating a struggle-based identity? Putting it another way: How can you expect your group members to change if they are constantly identifying their group as “the porn addict group” or identifying themselves as “recovering porn addicts”?

In this video, counselor Brad Hambrick speaks about how to avoid a “struggle-based” identity when you are running a group.

Here are some important takeaways.

1. It is good to acknowledge our bondage.

Hambrick is clear in this video that “we have to acknowledge our bondage before we can become a bondservant of Christ.” Avoiding a struggle-based identity is not about denying the reality or strength of a sin. Avoiding a struggle-based identity is not about turning a blind eye to the seriousness of sin.

Acknowledging and being broken over one’s sin is an absolute necessity to see change.

2. Struggle-based identities are common in porn-addict recovery groups.

Many can easily go beyond acknowledgment and brokenness to adopting a struggle-based identity: Hi, I’m [insert name]. I’m a porn addict.

Paul Tripp says the longer we struggle with a problem, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that problem (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands). It is easy for a struggle to begin to define us.

3. Identity is central to how we behave.

Hambrick says that identity is one of those abstract notions that often gets overlooked in our lives because our identity is often something we merely assume.

Our identity statements put a framework around our lives. Who we think we are frames how we understand our successes, failures, and daily events. Part of a good group leader’s task is helping men and women understand how they are self-identifying.

4. Pay attention to the “I am” statements.

A good group leader will pay close attention to the “I am” statements of those in attendance. With compassion and diligence, a group leader can steer people away from “I am” statements that go beyond mere confession.

Instead, a group leader can create new group norms that train attendees to adopt new “I am” statements based on Scripture.

5. We all have a trifold identity: sinners, saints, and sufferers.

Christians are all simultaneously sinners, saints, and sufferers.

  • Sinner: Sin is part of our very nature.
  • Saint: We are children of the living God.
  • Sufferer: We have been sinned against.

Emphasize any one of these too much and there is an imbalance. Yes, some groups are forged under the premise that we are all meeting together because of either (1) a common sin, or (2) a common suffering. This is normal for group formation. But eventually, the goal of every group should be to find balance.

6. Avoid performance-orientation.

When a group is struggle-based, the tendency is to become performance-oriented. Since the group meets for the purpose of confessing and overcoming sin, it can be easy for group members to begin to bend their whole identity around “I fell recently” or “I did not fall recently.”

Hambrick is clear in this video that, of course, we don’t want the opposite: we don’t want our groups to ignore sin and become forums for spiritual denial. But when we become performance-oriented…

  • We start fearing progress because our good track record becomes just a higher height from which to fall.
  • We start defining sanctification by one variable.
  • We ignore a significant kind of sanctification: the quicker turning to Christ in the midst of a temptation or failure.

7. Suggestion: Make struggle-based groups temporary.

Hambrick’s church intentionally makes their Freedom Groups temporary. Their aim is to move people from Freedom Groups into the other discipleship groups within the church. Each Freedom Group knows it needs to be long enough to solidify change but short enough to avoid the struggle-based identity.

Often recovery groups avoid this approach because the “normal” discipleship ministries of the church don’t seem equipped to deal with the habitual sin patterns of those in recovery ministries.

This is why Hambrick’s church does extensive training for all the discipleship groups in their church. Hambrick says the Freedom Group “DNA” is something present in all their small groups. What does this mean? This means the principles of sanctification that apply to the “addict” are the same principles that apply to any Christian, and every group leader is trained to embrace this.

The culture of their church is not to see Freedom Groups as the places where “really bad people” go, but one more type of entry point into the overall community life of the church. Every group in the church is full of “really bad people” because we are all desperately in need of the grace of God and his sanctifying power.

Watch all of Summit Church’s training videos and think about beginning Freedom Groups in your own church.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bochalla
  • Comments on: Advice for Porn-Addict Recovery Groups: Avoid Struggle-Based Identity
    1. Ella Hutchinson, LPC on

      Hmmm. Very interesting. My concern is that if the problem meets the criteria for a sexual addiction then this problem does not ever go away. Yes, God has the ability to heal anyone, but my experience has shown that he wants to see us do the work and then he will do his part. Since addiction is a life long problem (I realize this is something not all professionals agree on), by moving away from recovery activities specifically for porn/sexual addicts they are much more likely to slip back into old behaviors. By saying, “I am a sex addict”, people are less likely to go back to the thinking that they are healed and can do this on their own. Denial and minimizing are classic symptoms of addiction so by consistently stating the truth about their problem they are able to accept it as a simple fact of life. Groups of others who have the same struggle help them deal with the significant shame that is present in the beginning of recovery. My thinking is that if an addict is guided by pastors, therapists etc. to understand that his addiction does not define him and is only part of him, like allergies or diabetes, he will be able to move past the shame and accept himself as a flawed individual, just like everyone else. If my husband weren’t still attending meetings after five years in recovery for sex addiction I would be terrified of when the relapse would come. This fear comes from what my husband and other addicts have taught me about the power of this addiction. My husband is very proud of his recovery and while he did deal with a lot of shame in the beginning, he now sees this as the thorn in his side that is his cross to bear. He derives great joy from the sense of community he gets from his group and communicating with his accountabilty partners on a regular basis. He has tried men’s bible studies and the like, and while he has benefitted from them it is hard for him to be around men who, in his words do not live authentic lives. He loves being around recovering addicts because there is no room for anything other than authenticity and congruence in their lives. Anything less and they fall back into old behaviors. Not all groups are created equal, but there are some in our area that are wonderful and the men I work with find great satisfaction attending them and building relationships with other men, often for the first time in their lives. I don’t think most of these men would say that the group keeps them stuck in a “struggle-based identity”. In fact I think most would say it keeps them grounded while helping them to discover their true identity in Christ (his child, forgiven and loved unconditionally), and reminds them of the life they never want to return to. Just my thoughts. I look forward to reading your response.

      Reply
      • Luke Gilkerson on

        Perhaps the best person to answer would be Brad Hambrick. I’ll let him know you are looking for a reply.

        In some recovery groups, they simply change the “I am” language to something like this, “I am a new creation in Christ who is fighting sex addiction” (or something similar). I agree that minimalizing is a real problem and good group leaders should be aware of this.

        Making “recovery” groups temporary will also depend greatly on the widespread support network available in the church. If, for instance, you are part of a church family that simply doesn’t have good lay and professional group leaders (across the church) then addicts have nowhere to go that will provide the kind of support they need. For that reason, I would not recommend every church or ministry have temporary groups.

        For those who don’t feel they are in a group that encourages a struggle-based identity, great! Don’t stop what you’re doing. If the internal culture of the group enables people see themselves as sinner, saint, and sufferer, then stay with it!

      • Brad Hambrick on

        Ella — I think you make some excellent points. I share your concerns about relapse. Although I do often find that staying in a recovery group long term promotes a sense that an individual is still defined by their sin in ways that promote shame.

        Avoiding a “struggle-based identity” should not give anyone the liberty to call sin/folly acceptable. Graduating from a recovery group should not mean graduating from community with high levels of accountability and transparency. Both of those outcomes would be damaging to those who have been enslaved to sexual sin.

        Not allowing or recommending people to graduate from recovery groups is detrimental to the church. It feeds the notion that things have to be “that bad” before others get help and that they can’t get “real help” in the context of Christian community.

        What you describe as discovering “their true identity in Christ” by being known, loved, and forgiven is what the church must be about otherwise what we describe as discipleship is purely academic.

        The strength of one’s involvement with authentic community outside the recovery group should be a criteria for graduating the recovery group and the church must to a better job of generating the culture where that happens.

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