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Dr. Gregory Popcak: The Root Cause of Pornography Addiction

Last Updated: October 10, 2022

Keith Rose
Keith Rose

Keith Rose holds a Master of Divinity degree and BA in Sacred Music. Keith worked with the Covenant Eyes Member Care Team for 15 years. He has also served as a Bible teacher, pastoral assistant, and music director at his local church. He's now the editor of the Covenant Eyes blog and the author of Allied: Fighting Porn With Accountability, Faith, and Friends. He lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina with his wife Ruby and daughter Winslow.

Attachment theory posits that the way we interact with our primary caregivers as children shapes how we form relationships later in life. Dr. Gregory Popcak has explored attachment theory and looked at its connection to pornography addiction. He argues that the root cause of unwanted porn use and addiction can be found in attachment wounds:

“What some of the research seems to suggest is that it has to do with an insecure attachment style. The degree to which a person has a hard time avoiding pornography, or the degree to which a person has that compulsive relationship with pornography… tends to be the degree to which they are experiencing deeper attachment wounds.”

That’s a pretty massive statement! So what exactly does he mean by “attachment wounds?”

Understanding Secure Attachments

Before we can understand “attachment wounds,” we need to know what healthy attachment looks like. Dr. Popcak explains:

“The degree to which a parent consistently, generous, and even cheerfully responds to their child’s needs teaches the child, ‘Oh, I can turn to this person to get my needs met.’”

There, attachment has to do with where you turn to meet your needs. A secure attachment to a primary caregiver shapes the way the child sees the world and relationships. It makes them trusting and teaches them to see human connection as a good thing.

Understanding Attachment Wounds

So what are attachment wounds?

First, if your parents make you work to have your needs recognized, if you feel from a young age that you have to prove the legitimacy of your needs, then you develop attachment wounds, also known as “insecure attachments.” Dr. Popcak says:

“[Insecure attachments] set you up in adult relationships to find people who can’t really love you the way you want to be loved… ‘If I can just push the right button and pull the right lever, I can get that person to be loving in the way I want them to be.’”

These insecure attachment styles develop when parents neglect emotional needs. Although physical needs may be met, emotional needs are suppressed. The focus is on outward achievement.

Dr. Popcak continues, “People with insecure attachments don’t have the neural framework for intimate relationships.” They find themselves unable to enjoy deep and meaningful relationship intimacy.

What does all this have to do with pornography?

Attachment Styles and Porn

People were created with longings for interpersonal connection. Healthy, secure attachments allow people to fulfill these longings through close relationships—friends, family, and spouses. There are many kinds of relationships, but they all provide natural chemical “rewards” that reinforce the sense of connectedness.  

However, attachment wounds mean that the natural wiring for relationships is broken. You can’t experience the same reward from a friendship or family relationship. Dr. Popcak says it means, “I’m attracted but I’m also repulsed by the intimacy.”

The deeper the attachment wound, the more intense the chemical reward needs to be to feel anything. And where’s one place where you can get a LOT of these chemical rewards without risking the intimacy of a real relationship?

Porn.

(See Brain Chemicals and Porn: How Porn Affects Your Brain).

How Do You Recover From Attachment Wounds?

What will help you recover from attachment wounds? How do you break an addiction that is firmly rooted in those wounds?

“Earned secure attachments.”

You must challenge yourself to form secure attachments. It won’t just happen. You have to exercise them. In our social brain, affection stimulates nerve growth. You will feel discomfort at first, but that discomfort is a sign that you are growing. The thicker your neural pathways, the more stimulation you can handle.

Dr. Popcak explains, “Healing doesn’t just come from not doing the thing. It comes from learning to love.”

What does this look like? It starts by asking the question, “What can I do to make a real connection right now?”

When you feel tempted to look at porn, reach out to someone and make a relationship connection. It will be difficult at first, but as you develop secure attachments, it becomes second nature.

To hear our whole interview with Dr. Gregory Popcak (and other great podcasts), click here!

  • Comments on: Dr. Gregory Popcak: The Root Cause of Pornography Addiction
    1. Nicholus Matuludi

      Thank you Dr Gregory Papcok for enlightening me about the root cause for addiction. I can relate to this especially with how I was raised. My parents left us with relatives and it was not easy to connect with them. I had to find a way how to deal with my emotions. There are times where I feel nobody cares and it is easy for me to behave that way too.
      Thank you so much.

      • Keith Rose

        Thanks for sharing your comment! Let us know if there’s any way we can help.

        Blessings,

        Keith

    2. Mike

      This article is spot on with the book going deeper by Eddie Caparucchi. There is a huge correlation between the messages we received as young boys from our family of origin and not making wise choices as adults. Learn to heal that inner wound, and take care of that inner child, then you can begin to walk a porn free life. Do it with a team of allies that can guide and help when the going gets tough.

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