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A Sex Addicts Arousal Template

A Sex Addicts Arousal Template

by: Frank Theus, PLPC

According to Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., author of Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery, Second Edition,

“…an arousal template consists of “the total constellation of thoughts, images, behaviors, sounds, smells, sights, fantasies, and objects that arouse us sexually.”

 

These represent an array of stimuli that come from our early experiences (typically between the ages of five and eight years of age). We must keep in mind that while our conscious-self is easily aroused, much of it registers subconsciously. Such arousal templates were thought to be fixed. However, that’s simply not the case. Because the Internet provides easy access, anonymity, and opportunity to view a plethora of porn genres, trained therapists like myself see clients who have problematically expanded their arousal templates by increasingly choosing more graphic, violent, and in some cases, illegal sexual content.

This concept of escalation explains how heterosexual men might watch transsexual orgy porn, bestiality, or gay-themed porn. Similarly, women drawn to porn that is idealized love/romance, over time, pursue genres and acting-out like their male counterparts. Few of them ever imagined being attracted to extreme genres. But as their neuropathways become desensitized to standard adult male-on-female porn, they seek more and more intense stimuli. This morphs their template so as to achieve the addictive rush they crave.

Components of Your Arousal Patterns…

What makes up your template? Think about the following typical triggers:

  • Feelings that have become eroticized in some way
  • Locations
  • Sensations
  • Objects
  • Processes
  • Body types/body parts
  • Partner characteristics
  • Culture
  • Courtship stages and beliefs
  • Fantasies
  • Specific triggers (e.g. situations, scenarios, anger, traumatic experiences etc.) (Carnes)

Warning: don’t start this recovery exercise in depth apart from being in the care of an experienced therapist.

With adequate support, you will be ready to look at your particular experiences and move towards healing. What in your life needs to be jettisoned, what might be missing, and where do you wish to grow? It is important to consider the following:

  • Stay focused on the pain – As Carnes so wisely said, “Working on your arousal patterns may become stimulating in itself. Keeping in mind just how hard life as an addict has been will help you avoid being distracted by your old patterns.”
  • Do not do this work in isolation
  • Be thorough
  • Be honest with yourself (Carnes)

 

The mesmerizing effect of the Internet, along with the vast array of sexual material available, has become a powerful tool for getting too many of us involved in a world we never before knew existed. Many clients I see report feeling as though they are in a dream until somehow, by chance or misfortune, they are brusquely awakened to reality. Once they become aware of what they have done, they are dismayed by the fantasies, thoughts, or at-risk behaviors they engaged in: things they never imagined they would ever participate in.

Our sexuality is a precious gift. Affected by our environment and experiences, our sexuality can be negatively influenced, being hijacked by guilt and shame that keeps us stuck in an ever-expanding unhealthy arousal template. Recognizing your need for help and asking for it is the first step towards embracing the whole of yourself, your story and values, and your beliefs. Open up your reality of unashamedly enjoying your body, your sexual uniqueness, and fuller intimacy in all of your relationships.

Resources on this topic and healthy sexuality:

Facing the Shadow: Starting Sexual and Relationship Recovery, Second Edition by Patrick Carnes, PhD (Carefree: Gentle Path Press)

The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon or Canticles, is a book of the Bible accepted as holy scripture by Jews and Christians.

Food for Thought: The Holidays

By: Katy Martin, LPC

Oh, the holidays.  Christmas lights are appearing on houses, Christmas music is playing everywhere, and Christmas trees are beginning to glow in windows.  Stores are highlighting great gift ideas and sales.  Stores are filled with crowds and calendars begin filling up with parties, gatherings, and holiday traditions.

And should we mention the food?
Sweets are everywhere, aren’t they?  Cookies, bakery items, and treats that would make fantastic gifts for that person in your life.  (Trader Joe’s has the best!)  Aisles at the grocery store suddenly have entire sections dedicated to making the perfect green bean casserole and holiday trimmings. 
Not to mention the fact that it feels as if most holiday gatherings and parties are centered around food.  Fancy dinners, potlucks with co-workers, cookie parties with friends, and we can’t forget those holiday dinners with the turkey (or ham) and every side dish being some sort of casserole.  We dress up, gather together, and celebrate with the people in our lives.
Food is a big part of this season, isn’t it?  We cannot escape it.  We truly have an abundance of food that God has blessed us with.  For some, it’s wonderful, we’re thankful, we enjoy it.  For some, it’s beyond overwhelming.  If we have an unhealthy or dysfunctional relationship with food, it is a marathon of anxiety and/or destructive behavior. 
How do we stop this cycle?  It might be helpful to share your anxiety with a friend, pastor, or mentor.  Checking in with a therapist can get you on the right track.  Practicing self-care by spending time with people in positive settings, preparing yourself for certain food situations, and maintaining good food and exercise habits that you have formed previously in the year.
In the book, “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food” by Jan Chozen Bays, MD, she encourages the Zen practice of mindfulness to utilize self-care.  Mindfulness allows you to be fully present in the moment.  Try asking yourself these questions when you begin to feel overwhelmed or anxious:
Am I hungry?
Where do I feel hunger? What part of me is hungry?
What do I really crave?
What am I tasting just now?
I want to encourage you during this time, particularly if you know the holidays are a difficult time for you or if you suspect you’re heading that way.  No matter how severe your struggle is; you can care for yourself and enjoy this time of the year.  
Merry Christmas!

Raising a Superhero

by: Andy Gear, PLPC

“Since teaching college I’ve been amazed at two things: (1) how deeply young adults want their parents to be proud of them, and (2) just how deeply parents communicate, directly or indirectly, that their kids are not good enough. . . . I may invest in a dry/wet vac for my office. They believe their parents love them but don’t believe their parents are proud of them.” –Dr. Anthony Bradley

My wife and I are having our first child in less than a month, and we are very excited to meet her! Awaiting her birth has stirred up all sorts of emotions in me. I have so many hopes, so many fears, and so many desires for this little person.

I want to have a happy and healthy baby, as all parents do. But I have other hopes and desires as well. My wife and I often lie in bed at night and dream about what our little girl will one day be. We dream of her being a special person: smart, funny, sensitive, doing something we think important (becoming a doctor, a professor, or the President of the United States).

But where do these desires come from and are they good for our developing child? We think she should do special things because she is special to us but also because of our own unfulfilled desires. If we are disappointed with how our life turned out we might desire that our child do what we were unable to accomplish or be the person we wish we were.

The problem is that this completely ignores the humanity and uniqueness of our child. Shouldn’t she have a say in this? This may not be who our child is. She is a little person, not a vessel through which to meet all our unfulfilled desires. It is normal to have dreams, but it can be harmful to have goals or expectations for another human being.

The professor (quoted at the beginning) made the point that well-meaning parents place too much weight on their child’s performance. We put subtle pressure on our children to be an academic, spiritual, athletic, social, or financial success. We make our child’s performance part of our own identity. So we send subtle messages to our children about the conditions for their acceptability.

Our children begin to sense that we are only proud of them when they meet the expectations or goals that we have for them. So they often try to become what we want them to be—to varying degrees of success. But this is done at the expense their own identity and happiness. When they don’t fit the mold we set for them, they feel as though they are failures and are not free to pursue who they truly are.

Just because our child is special to us, doesn’t mean that it is not acceptable for them to be ‘ordinary.’ Not everyone has to be a doctor, a CEO, or the President of the United States. It is enough for them to be themselves. Of course we want to nurture them and provide an environment where they can flourish. But we must be ok with them being who they are. If we are not, they probably won’t be either. They will go through life believing that they are not good enough, don’t have what it takes, or are defective. They may suffer from low self-esteem or anxiety about their performance. Our expectations may rob them of the joy of enjoying who they are.

The messages we send our children, as parents, are extremely powerful. Our words and actions can send the message that they are acceptable because of who they are, not what they do. Or we can subtly poison them with the message that they are only acceptable if their performance matches our expectations. 

Though I may not dream of my daughter being an emotionally reserved janitor, what if that is who she is and chooses to be? Would I celebrate who she is? Or would I subtly communicate that she needs to change in order to make me proud? When I expect her to be someone else I am doing violence against her own unique humanity. She is her own person, and I want to help that person flourish.

I don’t want to create an environment for my daughter that leads to her crying in her professor’s office because she doesn’t think she is living up to my expectations. Though I have hopes and dreams, it is unfair for me to have expectations or goals for another human. She gets to decide who she wants to be, and I have the privilege of helping foster her unique self. I want her to flourish, but I don’t get to decide how she flourishes. She doesn’t have to be the best at anything to make me proud. She will make me proud by just being who she is.  

The Intimacy Feedback Loop

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

When a breach has occurred in relationship, one of the hardest pieces to rebuild is trust.  There has been hurt, maybe lashing out in both directions, recrimination, guilt, and shame.

One basic tool for understanding how trust is rebuilt is what I refer to as the Intimacy feedback loop.

The first step is “Risking Vulnerability”.  This is a hard one.  It means choosing to tell, reveal, or do something that makes you feel vulnerable, risking that the other person will have the power to use it to hurt you (again). The challenge is in not risking unwisely.  If your counterpart has not shown evidence of being willing to work on things or to be vulnerable in their own turn, you might not be ready to engage in this process.  But if both of you are on the same page about building trust and being trust-worthy, then it is time to risk.  Start small, be careful and cautious, but risk being vulnerable about something.

The next step is “Connection and Safety”.  When one person risks becoming vulnerable and shares something sensitive or fearful, the other has two choices: to receive and hold gently, or to reject and misuse the information.  When what is risked is received, heard, and validated, both partners feel closer to each other, and trust begins to grow.  When what is risked is rejected or misused, the emotional distance is increased and trust is destroyed exponentially more.

Risk that results in safe connection (trust) leads to Intimacy.  Intimacy leads to an increased capacity to risk, and so on around the circle.  The building of trust happens incrementally, never all at once.  This is especially true when damage has been done within the relationship.  The one who has been hurt is rightly cautious of trusting the one who has hurt them.  To expect anyone to “get over it”  quickly is unreasonable, no matter what “it” is.

The hard task of the one who had done the harm is to receive and absorb this distrust, and to allow for it to be present, even after much has been amended.  Acknowledging the hurt, behaving in a way contrary to the hurtful behavior, and to remain patient for healing is all a part of remaining trustworthy, and contributes to the rebuilding of trust.  And it will take time.

Trust operates on a fader, not on an “on/off” switch.  Sometimes you’ll trust at 40%, and sometimes at 10%.  It will slide back and forth.  Just because trust is lower today than it was yesterday does not mean it isn’t growing.  It may just mean you’re having a bad day and that the pain is closer to the surface.  It takes a great deal to totally destroy trust, just as total “100%” trust is impossible to achieve (and is unwarranted, given that we are all fallible human beings!).

Try to hold to the long view of this as a growth process; that with all the ups and downs, as long as you are continuing to hold each other gently and honor each others’ risks, trust will continue to grow between you.  Give it the time it needs. Keep on walking the circle.