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The Two Best Predictors of Addictive Behavior

Last Updated: April 24, 2018

Carl Stewart
Carl Stewart

Carl Stewart is the author of the Amazon Kindle bestseller, The Porn Antidote: God’s Secret Weapon for Crushing Porn’s Grip, and Creating the Life and Marriage You Dream Of. Carl is a counselor and coach in an overflowing private practice where he works with men and marriages devastated by pornography and sexual addiction. He has advanced training and supervision in Emotionally Focused Therapy–the most empirically validated marital therapy which is uniquely suited to restoring marriages affected by sexual betrayal. Carl is a speaker at men’s events, marriage retreats, and parenting seminars. Check out Carl Stewart’s website and blog at www.thepornantidote.com.

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.

two best predictors of addictive behavior

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.

  1. I’m not worth much. Maybe I don’t have any worth at all if this happened to me.
  2. I can’t trust others. I’m on my own.
  3. 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:

  1. If my own parent/parents don’t care about me, then I definitely don’t have any value.
  2. 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?

  • Comments on: The Two Best Predictors of Addictive Behavior
    1. Isai Ruiz

      I liked this one. Can loneliness and bullying be considered abuse? I am going through encountered feelings like these in the accountability group I am in, as we dig deeper into what triggers us into acting out. But, I never really considered this to be part of the cause.

      • Kay Bruner

        Abuse is generally assessed via power and control factors, and includes all sorts of abuse not commonly recognized: verbal, emotional, spiritual, financial. Here’s a link to the Power and Control Wheel, from the National Centers for Domestic Violence, which should help you assess whether a situation is abusive.

      • CynicalGuy42

        Perhaps the abuse came from one’s peers at school…not one’s family.

    2. Lynn Hansen

      I see the Power and Control Wheel is still blatantly sexist using only females as victims and implying only males are abusers. Life is more complex than that. I’m a retired therapist whose practice concentration was trauma resolution. Worked with many women who were abused by men. It didn’t take that long, however, before I also began coming across men who were being abused by females. It was a form of institutional abuse for them to not see reality reflected in this Wheel.

      I modified this Wheel to reflect reality in my practice. It can easily be updated to indicate the roles can be played by either sex. It should be done.

    3. Nyx

      No Abuse or Neglect in my past. A very happy and loved childhood. So if it is not these, what are my roots? When I look back at the day when I fall back into my addiction it seems that it happens when I slip away from my connection to the Lord through anger, conceit, or disappointment/self-pity.

      • Kay Bruner

        Hi Nyx,

        Yeah, like you, most of the guys who are heavily into porn do not have these abuse or neglect markers. Unfortunately, I think the problem is way bigger than these outlying abuse issues. The problem is the way that our culture raises men in general to deny, repress, and ignore emotions: “big boys don’t cry,” “be a man.” And then they are told that it’s inevitable to act out: “boys will be boys.” PLUS there’s the huge burden of shame around sexuality in Christian culture, AND men being told that they have to be the spiritual leader, so you add even more emotional burden onto men who have been trained not to be able to bear those burdens in any way other than acting out. It’s a mess.

        My hope is for the future, that we raise both men and women to be more emotionally intelligent, more self-responsible, and more capable of dealing with life in healthy ways instead of all the acting out, objectifying, blame, and shame.

        Meanwhile, I would suggest that you find a therapist who can help you work on your own emotional health so that you can sit with the normal emotional stuff of life and deal with it in a healthy way.

        You might enjoy watching the Facebook Live session I did with Dan the other day which addressed this in more detail.

        Peace to you,

    4. Carla a SantAngelo

      My husband watches women’s buts – anytime we are in public restaurants or at our place of business he will move and stand or sit so he can see their rears, I’m so sick of it I don’t want to go with him anywhere – I can’t find any help – all the websites are about porn and I know he doesn’t view porn or master bait
      Though he has gas lighted me when I tried talking and get council for us – I’m desperate I need help or advice I think I’m going to have to Divorce as this has been going on for our whole marriage and I think it’s affecting my health now. Please help me!

      • Kay Bruner

        Hi Carla,

        I think you are wise to recognize the behaviors and the gaslighting that occurs when you try to discuss it. I do think that almost any behavior can be used in a dysfunctional way, and it sounds like that’s what you’re observing. Here, here, and here are some articles on boundaries that might be helpful to you. And I would suggest that you find a therapist who can help you process through this and make healthy choices.

        Take good care of yourself, decide what boundaries are healthy for you, get the support you need in this process. You’ve got this!


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