In the previous posts in this series, we’ve looked at the epidemic of loneliness plaguing our culture, its causes, and its relation to pornography addiction. And truthfully, it hasn’t always been pleasant reading. Diagnosing a problem rarely is. Yet, despite the increasing social isolation many of us experience, there is hope. We can overcome loneliness by cultivating meaningful relationships and, in doing so, overcome the power of pornography.
As addiction researcher Johann Hari put it in his now famous TED talk, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” Connection to real people and investing in real relationships can not only help us overcome soul-destroying loneliness, it can also help us heal from the harmful effects of pornography. To conclude this series, I will examine a few ways we can move from isolation to connection and begin healing the wounds inflicted by porn.
Put the Phone Down
One of the saddest sights I see on a regular basis is couples at a restaurant and clearly on a date lost in their smart phones and seemingly ignorant of each other’s presence. I’ve also seen parents at the park ignoring their children’s desperate pleas to play in favor of digital stimulation. While it’s easy to shake our heads at such behavior, we all do similar things more than we want to acknowledge.
I’m not anti-technology. I work for a software company after all. But many modern technologies, chief among them social media, are clearly designed to snare our attention in an addictive web—and it works spectacularly well. More and more research studies and books are documenting how powerfully addictive devices are disrupting real-life social networks and rewiring our brains at a fundamental level.
So what is to be done? Well, unless you want to surrender yourself completely to digital addiction, the answer is simply to resist. Make an intentional effort to never neglect the real people in front of you in favor of your phone. Put some safeguards in place, such as no devices at meals, or perhaps pick a time every day after which you will not use your phone, laptop, or tablet. Another option is to pick a day to intentionally fast from technology. Sunday is a day I particularly like to avoid technology and cultivate meaningful contact with others. But it doesn’t have to be Sunday—any other day works just as well.
Digital devices are tools, and like any tool, they can be used properly or abused. Ask yourself: What will you remember most at the end of your life? The notifications you checked, or the moments of meaningful communion with other people? Controlling our devices, instead of letting them control us, is a powerful way to make sure they aren’t threating the relationships we do have.
Dare to Be Vulnerable
When I was a kid not all that long ago, smartphones were yet to be invented. We were stuck with the oh-so-primitive landlines and corded handsets. I remember technophiles dreamily describing the phone of the future, with built in video screens for face to face dialogue. Only a couple of decades later, the video phone was invented in the form of a smartphone. Front facing cameras made face to face contact a reality.
Yet, despite the prognostications of the tech pundits of yesteryear, video calling did not become the norm. In fact, the exact opposite occurred. My generation became crippled by debilitating social anxiety, with many Millennials reporting that they are afraid of even answering a phone call. What is it that makes so many people today afraid of another human voice?
The reasons are no doubt complex, but one theory is that we have all developed a fear of vulnerability. We are worried that when we interact with others, we are liable to being judged, criticized, or shamed in some way as inadequate. The result is that we choose the least threatening form of communication, which is almost always text-based (platforms like WhatsApp are wildly popular for a reason).
The truth is, relationships of any kind do require vulnerability. They open us up to the possibility of pain, especially emotional pain. As C.S. Lewis famously put it:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
If we want to overcome loneliness and form meaningful relationships, we must dare to be vulnerable. We must allow ourselves to be seen for who we are—not shielded by the safely controlled world of messaging apps and carefully curated social media profiles, but by real personal interactions. Yes, there is a degree of anxiety and awkwardness involved in getting to know someone. There is also a degree in exposing our deepest thoughts and feelings, even to a trusted friend. But we must face these fears head on if we ever hope to grow. As Brené Brown once put it, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
Invest in Relationships that Make You Stronger
Human beings were made for relationship. From the moment we are born, we enter a community known as a family. We have a mother and a father, grandparents, and frequently siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, too. These relationships are not incidental to who we are, either. While we are all born with innate talents, gifts, and propensities, it is to a great degree our family that, for better or worse, forms our self-identity, guides our interests, and shapes who we become.
The same principle applies to relationships outside of our family. Our friends matter, and as the old saying goes, “bad company corrupts good morals.” While no one is entirely subject to their circumstances, it is a truth that who we are is quite often a matter of who we associate with.
So invest in friendships that build you up. And if you don’t have such friendships, seek to form them. Find a group at your church or in your community where you can meet people with similar ideals. If you are moving in the same direction, you can strengthen and encourage one another and hold one another accountable.
Make an Effort to Reach Out
Realize that relationships of any kind take work. Friendships are rarely accidents. They aren’t easily made, and once they are, they take effort to maintain. A simple guideline is to be the kind of friend you wish someone would be to you. If you are in an unfamiliar place and wish someone would talk to you, start by doing the very thing you desire—talk to someone you don’t know!
My wife and I began attending an unfamiliar parish. We knew no one, and we for months wished someone would greet us or make an effort to get to know us. But one day, we became tired of waiting and decided to make an effort and reach out. We greeted a family near to us with several children. We struck up a conversation, they invited us over for dinner, and they are now some of our best friends.
Don’t wait for people to come to you. It rarely, if ever, happens. Instead, place yourself in environments where you are likely to meet likeminded people. Then, make an effort to reach out and engage with others. Once a friendship is formed, contribute to it, remembering that you will get out of it what you put into it.
Healthy Friendships Are Worth the Energy!
Overcoming isolation isn’t easy. It takes effort, patience, and at times, a little discomfort. But the reward is more than worth it. Meaningful relationships shape us in more ways than we realize, and even a single good friend can be a powerful force for good in our lives.
Most of all, healthy friendships can help us heal from the wounds of pornography, breaking the cycle of addiction that thrives on shame and isolation. Friendships help us learn to be vulnerable, to trust, and to be loved for who we are. They teach us to be courageously honest, and they provide us with the intimacy and understanding for which we all long.
While this series has been several thousand words, we are barely scratching the surface of how relationships can help us overcome porn. The good news is, you can keep learning in our newest ebook, Hobbies and Habits: Fighting Porn with Purpose. It’s all about how the power of our daily habits (and relationships) can help us beat porn for good.