Do You Have the Emotional Intelligence to Quit Porn?

“Yeah, I would say Kevin is making good progress with his pornography addiction,” Carol told me during a couple’s session when I asked if she thought her husband was on the right path of recovery. “But there’s still something wrong. He doesn’t talk, except to give one-word answers, and I never know what he’s feeling. I’m living in a one-sided relationship when it comes to being an intimate couple.”

Carol’s complaint about her husband is far from unusual for couples dealing with the aftermath of sexual addiction. In fact, I estimate nine out of ten men who I work with in my private practice have extremely low emotional intelligence (EQ).

What is an emotional intelligence and what does it have to do with pornography addiction? Good questions. Let’s explore this important personality trait.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

An individual who possesses a strong EQ can identify and share their own emotions, while also being able to handle the emotions of others in a healthy way. A person who has a low EQ will find it difficult to process and express feelings for both themselves and others. These individuals become exasperated and anxious when placed in environments that require them to give or accept emotional intimacy. It is simply too overwhelming.

People with low EQ find it difficult to engage in in-depth conversations. They tend to avoid being vulnerable and sharing their struggles. In fact, they have a better chance of hitting the lottery before they break down and share intimate details of their lives. But that’s what happens when no one takes the time to show a child how to be emotionally vulnerable and expressive.

Do You Have a Low EQ?

Here are some key characteristics of those who have low emotional intelligence.

They cannot identify what they “truly” feel.

Sure, they can tell you when they’re angry, sad, fearful, or happy. But those are emotions everyone can identify and are used to avoid confronting more vulnerable emotions.

They find it difficult to process and describe more robust feelings. For example, a person who is angry may be feeling dismissed or cheated. But instead of recognizing the real emotion and expressing the hurt associated with it, they react in anger.

They have a difficult time expressing emotions.

Even if they can understand their real emotions, they have a hard time sharing them. People with low EQ were never taught how to process and communicate their feelings appropriately. Therefore, they learned to keep their emotions to themselves.

Somewhere down the road, they received the message that sharing their feelings results in trouble, so just shut down and move on.

They are unable to recognize and effectively deal with their partner’s emotions.

They cannot read the emotional cues people give off, especially non-verbal cues. They also lack the ability to be empathetic listeners, and instead, try to shut down conversations by offering solutions. They will often find themselves in conflict with their partners who feel unheard. We usually refer to these individuals as being emotionally tone-deaf.

They tend to shift emotional conversations toward themselves.

For example, a man’s wife may say, “It was a crazy day, and my head is spinning.” Instead of asking her what occurred, he responds, “I know what you’re feeling. I also had an insane day.”

He doesn’t understand that she is trying to be vulnerable and hoping to get a sympathetic ear. His inability to do this will send her the indirect message, “I really don’t care about your day,” which is not what he means to do.

They find it very difficult to make and maintain authentic friendships.

Part of the reason for this is a constant desire for solitude. A person who must engage with people throughout the workday will become very drained, with little energy leftover for family, much less for friends. They give off the impression of being aloof, even though that is not their intent.

In some cases, they may have friends, but these relationships are kept at a 10,000 foot level. Rarely, if ever, do these friendships result in emotionally meaningful conversations.

Porn Is Pseudo Self-Soothing

So, what does all of this have to do with pornography addiction? There is a strong correlation between the lack of emotional connection and addictive behaviors.

Whether we know it or not, our natural desire is to engage in intimate relationships with others. Relationships are the foundation of life that provide comfort. Therefore, those who struggle to engage in healthy relationships will run toward other self-soothing behaviors.

Most people struggling with a pornography addiction were never given the skills to learn to self-sooth when faced with difficult situations. Instead, somewhere along the line, they stumbled across sex and found that it served as a tremendous source of emotional comfort. You see, pornography is used as a substitute to keep difficult emotions at bay.

To sum it up, we have learned to become runners. We run away from emotions that cause anxiousness, and it leads us down the path to pornography that brings pseudo self-soothing.

Related: Porn and the Epidemic of Loneliness

3 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence

So, have you recognized yourself? I bet your partner has. But do not fear; all is not lost. There are ways to improve your EQ that will allow you to live life to the fullest.

Understand what you’re feeling.

As I mentioned before, those with a low EQ have a difficult time drilling deeper to identify and share their true emotions. Instead, they hide in the back of the room playing it safe and sharing only the bare requirements to sustain a relationship.

Use Google to find a list of “feeling words,” and spend time reviewing three or four daily. As you review an emotional word, see if you can recall a time when you felt that way. When you do, pay close attention to the signals your body communicates, such as a racing pulse, tightening muscles, dry mouth, etc. As you become more aware of these signs, you will be able to more quickly recognize your true emotions when a negative event occurs.

Related: How Building Negative Emotion Tolerance Helps Us Pursue Sexual Purity 

Become in-tune.

Many men I work with lack the drive to engage in self-reflection and learn more about how we are hardwired. No one taught us how to live and what it means to be curious. Therefore, we run through life with our heads down, missing out on many amazing and wonderful experiences along the way.

To become people of integrity, we need to learn to do things differently. This requires us to lift up our heads and be observant of our environment, including the needs and desires of those around us. It requires us to engage in regular self-reflection on our journey to continue to strengthen our character.

Never stop trying to understand why you do the things you do. This process is the cornerstone of true maturity.

Understand that being vulnerable doesn’t make us weak.

This is a tragic message delivered to far too many young boys, and it’s a lie. Not engaging emotionally with others doesn’t make us strong; instead, it makes us dead inside.

It is time to start living and see what we’ve been missing out on all these years. This starts by putting our fears aside and allowing others to see the real us–warts and all. I know, I didn’t say it was an easy process, but it certainly is very rewarding and freeing. Let go of the fear of being rejected and take steps to become vulnerable.

Related: Destroying Porn Addiction Starts with Destroying Shame

Escaping the clutches of a pornography addiction requires a commitment to scrutinize the many aspects of our lives that must be changed. Part of this process is learning to increase our emotional intelligence. By learning to identify and share our feelings, as well as accept the emotions of others in a healthy way, we will discover a life that is robust and fulfilling. As one of my clients who went through this process said to me recently, “Everything seems greener this spring.”

Ah, the benefits of strong emotional intelligence.


Eddie Capparucci, LPC, CSAS is a licensed professional counselor with a private practice in Marietta, GA. He is certified in the treatment of sexual and pornography addiction. He is the author of Removing Your Shame Label: Learning to Break From Shame and Feel God’s Love.