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Are you over-spiritualizing your porn struggle?

Last Updated: July 29, 2021

Amanda Zurface

Amanda Zurface holds a license and MA in Cannon Law and a BA in Catholic Theology and Social Justice. She has served in various roles within the Catholic Church, both in the United States and internationally. She the co-author of Equipped: Smart Catholic Parenting in a Sexualized Culture and Transformed by Beauty, and works to equip Catholics with Covenant Eyes educational resources. She resides in Lexington, Ohio, where she also manages her own website that provides online spiritual direction and canon law consultation.

Have you ever thought that you may be over-spiritualizing, or possibly under-spiritualizing, your struggle with pornography?

The content you read here may include religious language from other denominations. Please don’t let this distract from the overall message. Covenant Eyes frequently writes from a Christian perspective (both Catholic and Protestant), but we work with those of various religious beliefs and those with no religious beliefs in the fight for human dignity. Thank you.  

This question may come as a surprise to you, but asking yourself this question and responding accordingly may help you experience the breakthrough you’ve been fighting for. There needs to be a balance, and that can be difficult to find. Many people confess their sins over and over again, yet find no lasting relief. This is to over-spiritualize the struggle. There are other helps that might also increase the chances of chastity. We can seek help from a spiritual mentor, therapist, Internet Accountability services, and if you are Catholic, in the Sacraments.

Balancing the Psychological and Spiritual Sides of Porn Addiction

I have heard testimonies of men and women who have confessed masturbation and pornography consumption for twenty or thirty years and still aren’t free of this struggle today. On the other hand, some individuals who have left the spiritual life out of their pornography struggle and have only sought counseling or medication haven’t been able to overcome the habitual use of pornography.

For many people, the struggle with pornography and masturbation may have both a psychological and spiritual element to it. But even so, we tend to categorize it only one way or another. In the article “The Dangers of Spiritualizing Your Psychological Problems,” we learn that most psychological issues have a spiritual component because it has to do with one’s dignity as a human person. Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic licensed clinical psychologist with St. Raphael’s Counseling in Denver, states that, “So much of good therapy is helping a person get back in touch with their sense of dignity that God created them with […] and as they get more in touch with it, they are actually just more open to God’s love and they’re more open to making changes in their life that might be helpful.” Further, Dr. Langley adds, “People who tend to ignore the spiritual aspect of their psychological problems cut themselves off from the most holistic approach of healing.”

Does this mean we only confess our sins and struggles? No. While we need to be confessing our sins, including the difficult sins to confess like pornography, masturbation, or other sexual sins—we also need to utilize counseling, accountable relationships, and Internet Accountability and Filtering services. If we struggled with alcoholism or another sort of addiction, would we not tend to both the spiritual and the psychological?

Over-Spiritualizing Your Struggle with Pornography

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that your struggle will end if you pray enough, confess enough, read your Bible enough, serve enough, or any other “enough.” Then if these approaches don’t work, you start to believe that you failed God in someway and that He no longer loves you or wants to heal you.

Thankfully, God doesn’t work this way–even though so many of us thinks He does! We don’t earn God’s love and healing. It’s all a gift. These discouraging thoughts that fill our minds couldn’t be farther from the truth.

But you know what? Pornography not only impacts us spiritually, it also impacts us psychologically. In other words, it not only harms one’s relationship with God, it has a brain science to it as well. Watching pornography lays down new neuro-pathways in our brains. The more a person consumes, the stronger the neuro-connections become, making it more difficult to stop.

This doesn’t mean a person can’t stop viewing. You can rebuild your neuro-path­ways by avoiding pornography and seeking accountability and counseling. The more pornography a person looks at, the more severe the damage to their brain becomes and the more difficult it is to break free. However, damage to the brain can be undone when someone gets away from unhealthy behaviors.

It’s difficult enough to admit when we have a problem, it’s even more difficult to admit to yourself that you have a problem that needs more attention than you can give through prayer.

A Balanced Approach to Overcome Your Porn Struggle

Your brain has been impacted by the consuming of pornography and its time you take the proper steps to heal both spiritually and psychologically. The following steps will help you find a balance psychologically and spiritually, and you will see fruit if you commit yourself to these five steps.

Step 1–Learn about the impact pornography has on the brain and a person’s patterns of behavior. Start with reading through The Porn Circuita free Covenant Eyes e-book on the brain science of pornography.

Step 2–Get a spiritual mentor and have a conversation with him about your struggle with pornography and/or other sexuality struggles you’ve experienced or have been experiencing. Share about past abuses you’ve experienced, possibly as a child, and when you were first exposed to pornography. Use this time as an opportunity to acknowledge, maybe for the first time, that you are loved by God the Father and your identity is rooted in Him.

Step 3–Spend time in prayer. For our Catholic readers, consider praying the Novena for Purity, a series of nine prayers, where you’ll ask God to strengthen you in various ways as you seek to live a life of purity.

Step 4–Ask a trusted friend or mentor to be your accountability partner. Sign up for Covenant Eyes and register your friend or mentor as your Accountability Partner who will receive your Reports and have conversations with you about your Internet activity. If you can’t think of someone you’d trust right away, expand the circle you’re looking at for a great accountability partner. The right person might be closer than you think.

It’s your turn to break free from porn

Step 5–Find a therapist or support group. Struggling to figure out what kind of group is best for you? Here’s an overview of several different types of 12-step sex and porn addiction recovery groups. For our Catholic readers, you can also contact your Archdiocesan or Diocesan offices or Integrity Restored for guidance or contact information for a spiritual director and/or therapist. Many recovering strugglers stop at just finding their accountability partner. But, it often takes a team to encourage us to break free.

As adults, we have the responsibility to seek out these resources. If we are parents, it’s our role to guide our children to these resources and at the same time encourage them in spiritual disciplines. Remember, we need to be involved in the life of the Church, practicing spiritual disciplines, and confessing the sins of pornography use, masturbation, and other sexual addictions. We also need to utilize counseling, accountable relationships, and Internet Accountability and Filtering services. Work through these steps, and you’ll be closer to a porn-free life. And, at Covenant Eyes, we believe a porn-free life is a much better life.

  • Comments on: Are you over-spiritualizing your porn struggle?
    1. Kenneth on

      Is there any information from a non-Catholic view about the Novena for Purity? I hail from the Protestant/Anabaptist perspective, but I have fostered an appreciation for liturgy and rituals.

      (These comment forms need a “subscribe to comments” option)

      Reply
      • Chris McKenna on

        Hi, Kenneth – I don’t think that even as a Protestant, there is much in the Novena that would be too distant from your own theology. I would give it a try.

    2. Jay Pyatt on

      Amanda,
      When I help men in this area, we work both spiritual and recovery disciplines. I see men work one side or the other, they need both natural and spiritual help, like you recommend. Additionally, they need connection with other men. Recovery is best done in relationship, and I am glad you spoke about that as well.
      Thanks for taking the risk to encourage those who are struggling. Your message is very important.

      Reply
    3. tony on

      I never had a problem with porn. can go years without seeing it and then maybe comes back. but I honestly don’t think it has been a problem for me.

      Reply
    4. Andrew on

      Amanda,
      I appreciate the articles you have written for CE and how you link resources to each article to help people. You keep things simple and give good advice.

      I do have something to share about over-spiritualizing the porn struggle. You mention how people can try to pray enough, confess enough, serve enough to overcome porn and then get discouraged when they don’t see results. Is it possible that they are being too religious instead of too spiritual in their fight against porn? What you described here is typical of someone who has a lukewarm faith. They think they can somehow “earn” victory by doing enough religious activity as if it is some formulaic method. However, if they choose to become less “religious” and more spiritual, they will understand that God doesn’t work this way. God wants us to be close to Him- spending time in his Word, praying and confessing sin, authentically crying out to him for help. In my experience, these are important in coming to true repentance and victorious living.

      You gave 5 great steps in the battle against pornography, and a few are psychological in nature. These steps are actually all spiritual disciplines, some which have psychological components to them. Proverbs 2:2, Proverbs 27:17, Daniel 9:3, and Matthew 18:20 are a few verses that address all of these virtues. If a person becomes more spiritual they will find discover these truths and the importance of them, even the psychological ones. To balance the psychological and spiritual, I would fear that some may envision decreasing their spirituality to focus equal attention on the psychological. However, in doing this some may read the bible less, spend less time in prayer, cry out to God less, and perhaps even go back to becoming more religious in their thinking towards God. But instead if people continue to cry out to God, seek his word, walk by his Spirit, they would actually do all of these five steps more effectively. So increasing ones faith can increase their attention to these steps, even the psychological ones.

      Being persistent in one’s spiritual life is a key component to the battle. I like the following article by Steve Gallagher that points this out: http://www.purelifeministries.org/blog/never-stop-reaching-out-for-freedom. I especially like the quote from his book “At The Altar of Sexual Idolatry” at the end of the piece which describes his continuous attempts for victory.

      I am curious as to your thoughts, or anyone else’s thoughts at Covenant Eyes, on this subject.

      Reply

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