Ben’s eyes are bulging and red. He pounds the arm rest with clenched fists and growls, “Why do I keep going back to this stuff?!” Only, he didn’t say “stuff.” If porn were a person he could fight, Ben would rip them apart with his bare hands.
Tormented, he looks up and asks me again, “Why…why do I keep going back to porn?” This time he sounds defeated.
What Keeps People in Addiction
This same interaction happens a lot in the beginning stages of working with those hooked on porn. So, we have to answer the question. What keeps people going back to porn? Going back after being caught by their spouse, getting caught at work, feeling empty and ashamed. What keeps people from escaping porn’s gravitational pull?
Is it willpower? Nope. Everyone has a breaking point if your only defense is willpower. (Ever hear of waterboarding?)
Are there enough tools available to fight the battle? Ben has gone through every web filter money can buy, he’s in an accountability group (off and on), and he has experienced a ton of negative consequences.
Trying to simply “contain” the behavior or “manage” the behavior is miserable. Like cutting back a weed. It feels good for the first day or so, until it grows back again to taunt you.
You have to deal with the root to change the fruit. The best predictors of addictive behaviors like porn are all about the roots. The best predictors of addictive behavior are a history of abuse or neglect, especially during the childhood.
A history of physical, sexual, or verbal abuse is the best predictor of addictive behavior in someone’s life. It isn’t an excuse. It helps understand the root that drives the behavior.
It doesn’t take much digging with someone in my office to start finding these types of roots. This is more than dad giving you a stern lecture, or having to do chores. Abuse means you were being treated in a way that humans should not be treated.
A drunk father that takes out his frustrations on his kids with “extreme” discipline. A parent repeatedly telling a kid that they will never amount to anything, that they are a worthless piece of garbage. A parent, sibling, relative, neighbor, or stranger that forces or seduces you into sexual activity.
All of these deeply affect the brain. Experiencing abuse like this as a child means that the child’s mind comes to certain conclusions.
These conclusions (felt as undeniable facts) are poured into the concrete that is the child’s foundation: the brain.
- I’m not worth much. Maybe I don’t have any worth at all if this happened to me.
- I can’t trust others. I’m on my own.
- If anyone ever really knew, they would never love me.
The pain and anxiety are triggered easily and must be self-contained.
Neglect is when you don’t get the things you needed in order to develop. Not getting the big wheel or Xbox like everyone else hardly qualifies as neglect.
Never being sure if there will be enough food, a place to live, clothes, etc. is a type of neglect. You learn to live in panic-survivor mode. Not having a parent to guide, instruct, teach, encourage, and discipline is neglect.
Our kids look to us to tell us who they are and what their worth is. Ignoring them, refusing to give them any limits because it’s inconvenient, or “doing your own thing” as a parent is throwing a child to the wolves.
The logical conclusions are:
- If my own parent/parents don’t care about me, then I definitely don’t have any value.
- If they don’t love me, how can I expect anyone else to love me?
Why You Should Examine Any Roots of Abuse and Neglect
Abuse is the best predictor for any type of addictive behavior.
Neglect is the best predictor for how persistent the addictive behavior is or how likely you will have a hard time overcoming the behavior.
Abuse is like a house fire. You can’t miss it.
Neglect is like carbon monoxide poisoning. It can kill you, and you don’t know where it came from.
Porn is one of the ways people self-medicate the confusing pain that stays with them from abuse and neglect.
If you continue to have problems with porn, start looking for these roots. Start dealing with these roots by seeing a counselor, going to a support group, and digging into some books (I recommend Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes).
Related article: What Your Sexual Fantasies (Might) Say About You
Dealing with the effects of childhood abuse and neglect starts cutting away at the roots. Those that do the hard work involved with this, are the ones that find the most freedom from porn.
What do your fruit and roots say about you?