Redeeming the Look: Retraining the Eyes of Porn Users

Redeeming the Look: Retraining the Eyes of PornPorn Users Users

by: Jonathan Hart, LPC

In the previous blog of this series, “Training In Use: The Pernicious Effect of Sexualization and Pornography”,I explored the reality of objectification and the way that a person’s eyes and mind are trained (particularly by porn) to use another person’s body parts.  This blog will look at ways of breaking that habitual pattern.

When a person recognizes the need to stop using porn and to stop using others in his or her mind, many find themselves stuck.  They don’t want to do this anymore but feel that they can’t stop looking.  It is certainly true that we cannot stop seeing.  As I mentioned in that previous blog, sexualization is everywhere.  The likelihood that an image specifically designed to activate our gaze and desire will enter our field of view is 100%, whether that image is an ad on a billboard or a person wearing an attractive outfit.

Please note:  I am not saying that a person wearing an attractive outfit is “asking” to be used in a sexual way.  The reason anyone wears an attractive outfit is to attract attention, that is, to activate gaze and desire on some level.  We simply want to look good to others.  There is nothing wrong with this in a healthy context.  It is the training of porn and commercial objectification that turns healthy attraction into unhealthy sexualized desire and use.

The one who realizes that they need to stop using others sexually has to learn how to stop using people with their eyes and mind.  One popular solution that is prevalent at the moment is the idea of averting your gaze. The idea is that when you find yourself looking, you yank your eyes away from the triggering image or body.  This is aimed at working against the reflexive look by removing your gaze before you shift into using or objectifying the body.

This is a needful step, much like the alcoholic staying away from bars.  However, this cannot be the only step, because there is no way to stop seeing.  Ultimately, the work for the ones who use people with their eyes is not to change what is seen, but how it is seen.  The work is to learn how not to use.

I call this “Redeeming the Look”.

People who use must learn how to see attractive people without using them in their heart and mind, to see with respect and regard for dignity.  Ultimately, the goal is to be able to see a whole person with a story, a life, with dreams and desires, rather than to focus on and use only their body parts.

We have to confront the reality of sexualized use in porn specifically.  We have to see it for what it is.  The truth is that a significant percentage of people in pornographic images do not want to be there.  This is contrary to the illusion presented by pornography.  Many have been kidnapped, involuntarily addicted to drugs, and forced to perform for the cameras.  If you think about a person in this situation, it changes how one looks at the image.  It activates compassion and sorrow rather than lust and use.  It changes our willingness to engage in the use.

…Image here…

Many people in porn are there voluntarily.  Some are there just to make money.  What about them?  I ask you to consider what it takes to get a person to set themselves up for public display and use in this fashion?  Who told them that their value or power was only in their body, that their parts are the only thing about them that matter?  I suggest that this never comes from a healthy, balanced life or self-image.

Again, confronting this reality changes how we see the person.  When we consider the whole person, their whole story and life, our willingness to use is reduced and our compassion is activated.  (For more on this, I recommend visiting https://fightthenewdrug.org/for a wealth of solid information and awareness about the pervasive effects of porn.)

There is more to challenging and changing the mental and emotional components and behaviors of those trained by porn and commercial sexualization, certainly more than a blog can contain.  This is a look at the basic principles that can begin the process.  If you are looking for to change, don’t try to do this yourself.  It doesn’t work that way.   Reach out to a professional who is experienced in treating sexual addiction. Get the help of your family and friends. Community is essential.  Change is possible.–JEH

Why Group Therapy Works, Part 3

 by Sam Bearer, PLPC

Group therapy is a great way to help individuals make changes in their lives.  There are several aspects of group work that help make these changes possible. The first two I’ve talked about focus on the client’s investment in the group process. The first is for each group member to choose to be radically vulnerable with the other group members. The second is for each member to foster in himself or herself an outlook of unconditional positive regard in which it is safe to share, feel, learn, and empathize within the group setting.

The next piece focuses more on how the group can invest and intervene in the individual member’s life. Following the individual work of being open, the group now has the opportunity to disrupt radically the emotional foundations underlying each member’s coping behaviors that got him or her into therapy. This is one of the most difficult parts of group work, but as is usually the case with therapy, it is essential for change.

Each member must allow the very personal, negative feelings about himself/herself or others to be shared and eventually challenged by the other group members.

These negative feelings are both bound up in and displayed by each person’s style of relating.  Almost without fail, these negative feelings have been activated within the first few sessions of group work because of conflicting expectations, styles of relating, radical vulnerability of some members but not others, etc.  However, they most likely have not been fully expressed.

This is so difficult for many reasons. The most common roadblock is that the learned responses to emotional stressors, also known as styles of relating or coping patterns, are so ingrained and automatic that slowing the process down into separate phases or component parts can be daunting.

Individuals often identify themselves as inseparable from their comfortable style of relating.

In our next blog, we will conclude this series on why group therapy works.

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.

Relational Trauma

By: Andy Gear, PLPC

I recently read a book entitled Your Sexually Addicted Spouse that I found very illuminating, and I wanted to pass on what I learned to you. In it Barbara Steffens specifically seeks to help partners of sexual addicts “survive, recover, and thrive.” But her ideas can be helpful for anyone dealing with pain from damaging relationships.

One of the most helpful ideas she brings up is the concept of relational trauma. When many of us think of trauma, we think about physical wounds. But she points out that victims of betrayal have also experienced very real trauma. This relational trauma is often just as painful and life altering as physical trauma. Many people even experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress as a result of being betrayed or emotionally victimized. The pain is increased when done by someone we should have been able to trust.

I have found this concept extremely helpful, because I have noticed that many people who have experienced consistent relational trauma tend to minimize what they have been through. People often believe that because they cannot locate one definitive trauma in their life, then they have no reason to feel hurt or traumatized. But Steffens helps us realize the lasting impact of chronic relational trauma.

The rest of the book proceeds to explain what it looks like to begin the journey of healing. If your life has been impacted by a damaging or hurtful relationship then I would encourage you not to ignore its impact. Please take the time to begin the journey of healing, because relational trauma is significant and your pain is real.

 

 

 

Sexually Addicted Families

By: Andy Gear, PLPC

I recently attended another workshop on Sexual Addiction by Dr. Richard Blankenship: president and director of the International Association of Certified Sexual Addiction Specialists (IACSAS).  This workshop was about Sexually Addicted Families, and I wanted to pass on a sampling of what I learned to you:

On average, children are now exposed to pornography at 8 years old (5 for boys):
     -Early exposure is imprinted on a child’s brain, and the images stay there.
     -These early experiences can shape arousal later in life.
     -These young children experience significant shame.
     -They are not developmentally ready to handle this and can become developmentally stunted.
This is a multi-dimensional problem that requires a multi-dimensional solution:
     -Blocking software is only one tool in the toolbox
          –Covenant Eyes or Safe Eyes (monitor and filter)
     -Address the shame involved
     -Provide accountability
     -Find community
     -Technology: a child should not have internet access behind a locked door.
     -Sex Education: helps prevent sexual addiction & should start immediately in developmentally       
      appropriate ways.
          -The number one trauma of sexual addicts is that no one ever talked to them about sex.
Families with these qualities often have the sexually healthiest kids (Coyle).
            -Good power balance in the family.
                        -It doesn’t mean full democracy, but not a full dictatorship either.

            -Flexible roles in the family.

                        -The family has a willingness to adapt.

            -Healthy and safe touch

                        -If kids don’t find healthy contact, they will find alternatives.

                       

Allure of the Web for Women:

-Immediate (though artificial) sense of connection

-Eliminates inconvenience & risks of face to face interaction

-Provides total control of sexuality & relationship

-Provides unlimited supply of potential partners

-Illusion: “you’re going to make me feel whole/complete me”

            -No person can do this.

Affects of Sexual Addiction on Women:

            -Often cuts more to the core of their identity

            -More shame: hate themselves/not just their behavior

            -Hate their femininity: feel devalued

            -Women have different consequences: pregnancy, cultural stigma, shame

Common Consequences for the Spouse of a Sexual Addict:

1.     Abandonment by spouse, friends, family & church

2.     Financial ruin or absent finances

3.     Financial dependency

4.     STD’s

5.     Lack of boundaries

6.     Emotional abuse

7.     Physical abuse

8.     Isolation

9.     Physical and emotional illness

How to Help the Spouse of a Sexual Addict:

            1. Husband:
                    -Don’t: deny, minimize, blame
                    -Do: confess, repent, show remorse
            2. Friends:

                    -Don’t: blame, withdraw, be afraid, give incorrect information

                    -Do: support, validate, show empathy

            3. Church:

                    -Don’t: blame, isolate, provide inadequate or incorrect information,
                     gossip, pressure to “forgive & forget.”
                    -Do: provide support, safety, empathy, encouragement, prayer
What to look for in your Sexually Addicted Spouse:

1.     Openness

2.     Brokenness

3.     Humility

4.     Consistency

Enemies of Recovery:

1.     Pride

2.     Arrogance

3.     Isolation

4.     External Focus

             

Unhealthy Family Messages of Sexual Addicts

1.     I can’t depend on people because people are unpredictable

2.     I am worthless if people don’t approve of me.

3.     I must keep people from getting close to me so that they can’t hurt me

4.     If I don’t perform perfectly, my mistakes will have tragic results.

5.     If I express my thoughts and needs I will lose the love and approval I desperately need.

Sexual Fantasy Attempts to meet Desires of the Heart:

1.     To have a voice

2.     To be safe

3.     To be chosen

4.     To be included

5.     To be blessed or praised

6.     To be attached, connected, or bonded

7.     To be affirmed

8.     To be touched (in healthy non-sexual ways).

Addictive Sexuality is:

1.     Uncontrollable

2.     Obligation

3.     Hurtful

4.     Condition of love

5.     Secretive

6.     Exploitative

7.     Benefits one person

8.     Emotionally distant

9.     Unsafe

Healthy Sexuality is:

1.     Controllable energy

2.     A natural drive

3.     Nurturing/healing

4.     Expression of love

5.     Private/sacred

6.     Mutual

7.     Intimate

8.     Safe

                       

Help for Healing:

1.     Learn about healthy sexuality

2.     Accept Support and Accountability

3.     Find a Mentor

4.     Join a Therapy Group

5.     Seek Counseling

6.     Work through family of origin and trauma issues.

7.     Look for safe Community

We can’t just ignore our issues and hope they get better. But if we address our problems, we can experience lasting change. “What we bury rises again, what we make peace with truly dies.” (Blankenship).

Understanding and Treating Sexual Addiction

by: Andy Gear, PLPC

This Friday and Saturday we (two other Avenues counselors and I) attended a workshop on Understanding and Treating Sexual Addiction taught by Richard Blankenship: author, president, and director of the International Association of Certified Sexual Addiction Specialists (IACSAS)I wanted to pass some of what I learned on to you:

Addiction is the excessive use of pleasure and excitement to obliterate emotional pain 
   Addictive Sexuality ends in despair and shame
      Healthy Sexuality ends in joy and connectedness (Hatterer)

An addict’s Core Beliefs are:
    1. I am a bad, unworthy person
    2. No one would love me as I am
    3. No one will meet my needs
    4. Sex or a relationship is my most important need
    5. God is not powerful enough or trustworthy enough to meet my deepest needs (Carnes)

Basically an addict believes that grace is for everyone but me. Addicts are full of shame, which can be described as:
    Self
    Hatred 
    Accepting 
    M
    Enslavement

This shame and wounds from one’s past help drive the cycle of addiction: 

Some things I should know if I am a spouse of a sexual addict: 
       1. Don’t blame yourself for the perpetrators problem 
       2. Don’t minimize the grief and pain
       3. Stay in community

       4. The only person you can be responsible for is you!

Some things I should know if I am a sexual addict:
       1. Sexual Addiction is an Intimacy Disorder at its core
       2. Recovery must take place in community
       3. Pride, arrogance, and isolation are the top enemies of recovery 

       4. Recovery takes work, but it is doable!

Tools of Recovery:
     1. Join a Support Group
    FirstLight
                Celebrate Recovery
             Therapy Groups
             L.I.F.E Groups
     2. Find a good Counselor (Blankenship)

Does any of this sound like you or your spouse? If so, I would encourage you to begin this process as soon as possible. It is never too late to start the journey towards healthy sexuality! 

I would like to introduce you to…



Lianne Johnson, LPC

As humans we struggle with many things.  Some struggles are easier to talk about, while others cause us to hide.  Mention the word sex and most of the time people shrink back from the conversation.  Mention the struggle of same-sex attraction or sexual addiction and more often than not, people will find another conversation of which to become a part. 
FirstLight is a not-for-profit ministry organization seeking to make these types of struggles and conversations better understood and easier to talk about.  They focus on walking alongside, those struggling with same-sex attractions and sexual addictions.  Recently they also began offering support groups for family members, spouses, and others walking intimately with an individual struggling in sexual ways. 
Sean Maney, the Director of FirstLight since 2010, has greatly expanded the ministry.  When he arrived, FirstLight had 2-3 volunteers with 2 groups, and now there are 20 volunteers who are running and developing 13 groups!
I had the opportunity to sit with down with him over a good cup of coffee and discuss the ministry of FirstLight.  I asked him some questions, which he kindly answered.  Here is what he had to say…

Q:  Lianne:  “Tell me about the ministry of FirstLight.”


A:  Sean:  “FirstLight ministries began a little over 10 years ago when a group of pastors and counselors saw a need for there to be a more compassionate response to homosexually within the church.  They desired to create a loving place for people struggling with homosexuality to be supported.  This group of pastors and counselors prayed for roughly 4 years about creating a ministry to support this identified need.  From this desire and faithful prayer came FirstLight. 
In 2003, FirstLight became a not-for-profit.  FirstLight desires to walk alongside the church and support its ministry to those struggling with homosexuality.  While initially FirstLight sought to solely address the struggle of homosexuality, now we have expanded our ministry to include sexual addictions, same-sex attraction, pornography addiction, and support for spouses & parents who have family members struggling with these issues.  Overall, our focus is to be a safe place for those in the community and in the church who are facing these types of issues. 
FirstLight also aims to teach and train within the community about these issues.”  

Q:  Lianne:  “What groups are you currently offering?”  


A:  Sean:  “Currently we are offering 6 groups for men with sex addictions, a group for men with same-sex attraction, a spouse & parent support group, and a group for women with same-sex attraction/addiction.”

Q:  Lianne:  “Are these groups confidential?”  

A:  Sean:  “Yes.  The groups are kept small and are led by trained facilitators.  We place a high priority on keeping identity and stories confidential.  We have had leaders in the church (including pastors) in the program and are very aware of the need to keep our work confidential.” 
Q:  Lianne:  “Are there areas of FirstLight’s ministry you hope to grow in the next year?”  


A:  Sean:  “Of course!  We would love to see all of our areas grow.  Specifically, we would like to see our ministry to women grow; our groups for women who are struggling with same-sex attraction and sexual addiction.  Statistics say 1 in 4 porn users are women.  In this next year we hope to raise enough funds to hire a female director to help me lead these ministries. 
Also, we would like to continue growing our partnerships with churches in the area.” 

Q:  Lianne:  “Does FirstLight have a ‘Wish List’?”  


A:  Sean:  “Our first and most immediate wish would be for us to raise enough funds that would enable us to hire a female director. 
At this time, our groups are held all around the St. Louis area in churches and counseling centers that partner with us.  Although we want to continue having our groups offered all throughout the St. Louis area, a wish is to have a ministry “house” that would allow for centralized offices and groups. 
A third wish is to have someone come on staff who can nurture our community contacts and donors.  Part of this is helping churches talk about these issues.  We are a voice for people who are struggling with these issues.  We have found the support we receive from the community, whether that be financial or prayers, to be a great source of encouragement for those we serve. 
Expanding our base of supporters is another big wish we have.  We need individuals and churches to financially support us, and to support our ministry within the community.  Frankly, we need many more people to give financially to our ministry.  FirstLight is a donation-based ministry; churches and individuals in the area support us.  We hope to be a blessing to people, and as they are able we hope that people are able to bless us in return.
We don’t want anyone in the church or our community who is struggling with these issues to not get the help they need.”

Q:  Lianne:  “How can someone find out more about FirstLight?”  


A:  Sean:  “The best way is to go to our website www.firstlightstlouis.org.”