Posted in addictions, codependency, guilt, shame, The Seven Deadly Compulsions

Partners of Sex Addicts Part II

Today’s blog is the final of a four-part series on sex addiction.  Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s blog focused on identifying sex addiction and understanding some of its possible causes.  Thursday’s began the discussion on how partners of sex addicts are effected by the addiction and today’s blog continues that discussion, exploring possible resources for assisting partners of sex addicts in their own journey of healing. 

Co-Addiction?

Many experts in the field of sex addiction refer to the relationship between a sex addict and their partner as co-addiction.  Drawing from 12-step recovery programs, the partner of a sex addict is held accountable for their role in enabling the addiction through denial, preoccupation, enabling or rescuing, taking excessive responsibility, and trying to (or wishing they could) control the addict’s behaviors.  In order for one to identify sexual addiction in their partner, they also have to acknowledge their own role in the cycle of addiction.  Denial is perhaps the greatest obstacle to the addict and their partner in stopping the cycle of addiction.  For the partner of the addict, excessive responsibility is perhaps the second obstacle.  Partners of addicts come to believe that the dissatisfaction, restlessness and irritability of the addict is somehow their fault and often work to try to “make the addict happy” by engaging in sexual activities that make them uncomfortable or looking the other way when the addict seeks to satisfy their need through pornography, excessive masturbation, sex-sites, other partners, etc.  For those who choose to remain in a relationship with a sex addict (who is still engaging in addictive behaviors), unraveling themselves from their role as enabler is critical.  In order to keep one’s self safe, the partner of a sex addict must stop taking responsibility, feeling guilty for the addict’s unhappiness and for excusing their sexual acting out.  If the addict remains in denial and refuses treatment for their addiction, the partner may eventually determine that the relationship is no longer viable and may decide to leave.  (For more on working together to recover from sex addiction, please read, Mending a Shattered Heart, edited by Stefanie Carnes, PhD.

codependencytriangle

For those who leave

For those who choose to leave a relationship with a sex addict, acknowledging their co-addictive behavior will be an important step in healing from the co-addictive relationship and for establishing a ground upon which healthy intimacy may one day be possible.  In the beginning stages of having left a sex addict, however, I believe that attention first needs to be given to grief * and shame**. First, the partner needs strategies, room and time to grieve the loss of the relationship they at one time hoped to have with the addict (before they knew of the addiction).  What also needs to be addressed is the deep well of shame experienced by a partner of a sex addict.  Shame from having been in the relationship in the first place.  Shame over their co-addictive behaviors (denial, bargaining, over responsibility, etc.).  Shame from all the ways in which they were told they failed the addict.  Then somewhere along the line, the partner of a sex addict needs to pick up all the shreds of their own desire and sexual self-confidence which were destroyed in the course of the relationship and put those back together.  In grieving the loss of the hoped-for relationship, healing the deep well of shame, reassembling one’s self-confidence and desire, and addressing any co-addictive behaviors provides the foundation upon which the former partner of a sex addict may enter into a meaningful, healthy and intimate love relationship – the kind that was, sadly, not possible with the addict.

* To learn more about the grieving process, click HERE. 

** To learn more about releasing shame, click HERE.

If you are a partner of a sex addict, please seek out help and support through counseling, psychotherapy or a local 12-Step group well versed in the subtleties of sex addiction. For additional support, check out Mending a Shattered Heart – a Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts, edited by Stefanie Carnes, PhD.

 

Posted in addictions, codependency, guilt, Healing, Relationships, shame

For Partners of Sex Addicts Part I

Today’s blog is part three in a series on sex addiction.  Parts One and Two explored the ways in which one might identify sex addiction in one’s self or one’s partner and possible causes and suggested supports for healing sex addiction.  In today’s blog, I hope to provide partners (and former partners) of sex addicts with some support – specifically validation for the devastating effects of being in relationship with a sex addict.  In tomorrow’s blog, I will explore possible supports in helping the partner heal from having been in relationship with a sex addict.

Sex addiction confused as love

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, for as long as sex addicts are indulging their addiction, sex addicts are incapable of experiencing or participating in true intimacy. This truth has devastating effects on any and every relationship into which the sex addict enters. As Stephanie Carnes, states, “Sex addiction thrives in secrecy, (Mending a shattered heart, 2009, p. 9)” and addicts will go to any length to protect their double life.” Whether engaging in compulsive fantasizing, pornography, sex sites, prostitution and/or masturbation, addicts accomplish this in secret and their partners are often none the wiser.  Additionally, many sex addicts are masters as presenting themselves as simply “passionate” and pride themselves is being masterful “lovers,” luring potential partners in with their exceptional “skills.”  Soon, however, the partner begins to see that no matter what they do or how they do it (sexually), it is never enough, neither is it good enough, because nothing can compare with the fantasies cooked up in an addicts mind or with the intensity and danger of what they might be viewing through pornography or experiencing on sex-sites.  As the partner of an addict eventually learns, the partner’s need for sexual stimulation has nothing to do with love and instead of helping to facilitate intimacy, actually destroys it.

Sex Addiction is Still in the Closet

One of the challenges with sex addiction is that in most circles, it remains in the closet.  Sex addiction is not discussed publicly and neither has it attained the recognition and acknowledgement of other addictions such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.  For some, sex addiction is considered a joke – something that was cooked up by some fundamentalist, repressed, suppressed, uptight religious folks trying to keep us from having great sex.  The accessibility and mainstreaming of pornography, does not help in this regard. As such, sex addiction is difficult to identify, especially for the partner of a sex addict, who maybe never witnesses the behavior itself, but only the before and after-effects.

Effects Experienced by Partners of Sex Addicts

Before: The before effects of sex addiction are most easily recognized by feelings of withdrawal such as irritability or restlessness on the part of the addict when unable to act out sexually, which escalates until they get their fix. The partner feels the tension of these feelings and often becomes the target – being blamed by the addict for these feelings (you aren’t servicing me enough or in the ways that I want). Often, not knowing any better, the partner believes it must be their fault.  Shame and guilt step in and the partner often feels pressured to play their part in helping the addict “feel better,” often agreeing to sexual behaviors that actually make them feel uncomfortable.

After: The after-effects are also comprised of shame and guilt because no matter what the partner does or how, it will never be right for the addict.  For the addict, sex becomes a bottomless pit of need that can never be met, and in the mind of the addict, their partner becomes the person “responsible” for their dissatisfaction.  Until they know otherwise, the partner often takes on the responsibility for the addict’s unhappiness, frequently entering into the cycle of addiction with the addict – trying everything within their means to make the addict happy and having to face the shame of continued failure.  Eventually, the partner may shut down sexually and cut off any connection they may have to their own sexual needs and desires, unable to face the continual shame of failure and humiliation.  Compounding this shame is the addict’s blaming and shaming behaviors toward the partner.  Because of their inability to “please” them, addicts often accuse their partners of being “frigid, repressed, uptight,” or even “asexual.” Sadly, partners begin to believe these lies and end up losing any self-esteem they might have had in regards to sexual intimacy and desirability. These feelings of shame are compounded when the sex addict turns away from the partner toward masturbation, pornography, sex sites or other partners in search of a “better” fix.

Shame

Ultimately, what is created within the partner of a sex addict is a deep well of shame – shame over not being able to please their partner, shame for agreeing to sex acts they might feel uncomfortable with, shame over wondering what is wrong with them and shame over wondering if there is something wrong with their partner in a culture that often glorifies sex addiction and in a partner who might still be in denial.  When recovering from a relationship with a sex addict, healing this shame is the primary and most critical task.  In tomorrow’s blog we will explore strategies for healing yourself from a relationship with a sex addict.

If you are a partner of a sex addict, please seek out help and support through counseling, psychotherapy or a local 12-Step group well versed in the subtleties of sex addiction. For additional support, check out Mending a Shattered Heart – a Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts, edited by Stephanie Carnes, PhD.

MendingShatteredHeartcover

Posted in addictions, Body/Mind/Spirit connection, guilt, Healing, shame, sin, The Seven Deadly Compulsions

Sex Addiction – Causes and Compassion

In yesterday’s blog, we explored the subject of sexual addiction and ways to identify this behavior in ourselves or our loved ones so that we might seek out help.  In today’s blog, we will examine some of the possible causes of sex addiction, specifically the deeper emotional and spiritual wounds what are ultimately seeking healing.

Causes of Sexual Addiction

As is the case with other addictions, there are no cut and dried formulas in their cause.  There are, however, some reported similarities between sex addicts which warrant examination:

  • Sex addicts often come from dysfunctional families
  • Many report a past history of having been physically, verbally or emotionally abused
  • 82% of sex addicts reported having been sexually abused as children
  • 80% reported substance abuse as present within their family of origin
  • Many report parents as distant, uncaring and rigid
  • It is theorized that abnormalities in brain chemistry may predispose a person to addictive behaviors, including sex addiction

(Source:  Herkov, M. (extracted 2013). What causes sexual addiction? www.psychcentral.com.)

Behavior modification

As discussed in yesterday’s blog, sex addiction is recognized in compulsive, uncontrollable behaviors most often driven by anxiety.  Addiction language speaks of this anxiety as the “emotional trigger.”    Learning effective methods for dealing with this anxiety or confronting the specific emotional trigger goes a long way in supporting recovery and healing in sex addicts and allows the addict to create new and healthier ways of responding to these triggers.  It has been my experience, however, that in many (if not most) cases, the addictive behavior ultimately has nothing to do with the behavior itself (ie: fantasizing, masturbation, use of pornography, etc.), and simple behavior modification, while necessary, is not enough to facilitate long-term recovery, and more importantly, does not help the addict learn how to cultivate and enjoy healthy, loving, intimacy. For as long as they are indulging their addiction, sex addicts are incapable of experiencing or participating in true intimacy.

Sex Addiction and Need

Instead, sex addiction has much more to do with deeper, unhealed spiritual and emotional wounds that are seeking to be made known so that they may be healed.  Sex addiction, contrary to the belief of many addicts (and their partners), is not about love or intimacy.  Sex addiction isn’t even really about sex.  Sex addiction is about seeking the remedy to a deep, inner, often unnamed pain.  As mentioned above, many sex addicts report having been emotionally, mentally, verbally, physically and even sexually abused as children.  For sex addicts, sexual behaviors (including fantasizing) allowed them to disassociate from the on-going trauma and provided temporary relief from the pain.  In order to facilitate enduring recovery, the addict needs to acknowledge this pain and identify the needs that were left unmet in their childhood.  Some of these needs might include:

  • The need to feel safe and that their needs for food, clothing, and shelter were being met
  • The need to feel of value and as if they had something significant to contribute
  • The need to feel supported in being and living as their most authentic self
  • The need to feel unconditionally loved
  • The need to feel free to express their needs and their truth
  • The need to know their truth and their path
  • The need to feel as if they were not alone

As the addict works on healing these deeper unmet needs and unacknowledged childhood wounds,  learns strategies for getting these needs met and tending to themselves in adulthood, while developing healthy interventions for managing anxiety, the addictive behaviors become less and less necessary.  Addressing these deeper wounds then provides the foundation upon which the addict can begin to cultivate what they have been missing all along – healthy, loving intimacy.

If you believe that you or your partner is suffering from sex addiction, please seek help and support through counseling, psychotherapy or 12-step recovery groups tailored to the needs of sex addicts.

To learn more about sex addiction, check out Out of the Shadowsby Patrick J. Carnes, PhD.

sexaddictioncarnes

Posted in addictions, shame, temptation, The Seven Deadly Compulsions

Sex Addiction

Sexual Addiction

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am venturing down a path that I have learned is incredibly taboo – the discussion of the very real issue of sex addiction. In a culture where objectification is marketed as a commodity and “sex sells”, sexual addiction and its related behaviors (compulsive: fantasizing, masturbation, use of pornography, sex sites, multiple partners or even prostitution,) becomes simply another “normal” activity.  In the world of psychology, however, these compulsive behaviors are not normal, neither are they considered healthy and are characterized as behaviors consistent with “sexual addiction,” or “hypersexuality.”  Currently 3-5% of the population self-identifies as suffering from sex addiction, and are seeking help.  It is estimated that many more are suffering and either in denial or refusing help for their addiction, explaining it away as “normal.”  With the accessibility and mainstreaming of pornography and online sex sites, sex addiction is growing problem – for the addict, their partners and their families. In today’s blog, I will address sex addiction in general and how to identify it in yourself or your partner so that you might seek support.

The downward spiral of sex addiction

Like any other addiction, sex addiction begins with an innocent act, such as the discovery of pleasure or an innocent means of alleviating stress. Sex addiction, as opposed to healthy sexual engagement, is recognized by the addict’s need for increasing intensity of activities (whether fantasizing, participating or viewing) in order to obtain the desired results, results which only satisfy temporarily, thereby provoking the addict to search for their next fix. The behaviors of a sex addict are similar in scope to any other addiction such as alcohol or drugs – always looking for the next fix and unsatisfied until the fix is obtained. Some addicts eventually find themselves turning to pornography, multiple partners, on-line sex sites, even prostitution to satisfy their “need.”  Addicts continue this behavior without regard to their own emotional, mental, relational, physical or financial well-being; many tumbling into financial ruin because of their need for “more;” and many relationship have been destroyed because of the behavior of a sex addict.

sexaddictioncycle

Defining Sex Addiction:

While a formal definition has not yet been agreed upon, The American Psychological Association has drafted preliminary criteria for evaluating what they are now calling Hypersexual Disorder:

The symptoms of Hypersexual Disorder are:

  • Over a period of at least six months, a person experiences recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior in association with four or more of the following five criteria:
    1. Excessive time is consumed by sexual fantasies and urges, and by planning for and engaging in sexual behavior.
    2. Repetitively engaging in these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to dysphoric mood states (e.g., anxiety, depression, boredom, irritability).
    3. Repetitively engaging in sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior in response to stressful life events.
    4. Repetitive but unsuccessful efforts to control or significantly reduce these sexual fantasies, urges, and behavior.
    5. Repetitively engaging in sexual behavior while disregarding the risk for physical or emotional harm to self or others.

(extracted from:  http://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-hypersexual-disorder-sex-addiction/0005046 )

Stephanie Carnes, PhD (Mending a shattered heart – a guide for partners of sex addicts, 2009) further describes sex addiction as:

  • The need to increase the intensity, frequency, number or risk level of behaviors in order to achieve the desired effect; or diminished effect with continued behaviors at the same level of intensity, frequency, number or risk.
  • Distress, anxiety, restlessness or irritability if unable to engage in the behavior.
  • Continuation of the behavior despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent social, financial, psychological or physical problem that is caused by or exacerbated by the behavior.

Sex Addiction is not about sex – in and of itself

Now, let me be very clear:  Sex addiction is not about morality.  Neither is sex addiction about sex, creativity, innovation, fantasizing, pornography, sex sites, prostitution, masturbation or multiple partners, in and of themselves.  Sex addiction is about compulsive, repetitive, uncontrollable behaviors driven most often by anxiety which is not satisfied until the desired sexual activity is engaged in and accomplished.  The causes of this anxiety can be any number of things:

  • boredom
  • unhealed childhood wounds or trauma
  • challenging life situations
  • stress
  • unhappiness
  • depression
  • grief
  • arrested development
  • undiagnosed mental illness (ie:  bi-polar, narcissism, borderline personality disorders, etc.)
  • unacknowledged feelings of shame
  • loneliness

The role of anxiety in sex addiction

Somewhere in their development, sex addicts discovered sexual behaviors as a way to alleviate this anxiety and never learned healthier, more fulfilling and enduring measures for dealing with anxiety or its underlying causes.  As such, their anxiety and its underlying causes are never really satisfied or healed which leaves the addict in an endless hamster wheel of anxiety, engagement and more anxiety.  Many sex addicts are also able to identify a specific emotional trigger which leads to the anxiety which then leads to the compulsive behavior.  Compounding this cycle is the shame felt by many sex addicts who know on some level that their behavior is ultimately detrimental to their own (as well as others’) wellbeing, and the insidious way in which shame itself becomes and addiction.  While there are many negative consequences to the activities of a sex addict (destroyed relationships, reduced sensitivity to sexual stimulation, impotency, financial ruin, etc.), what sex addicts ultimately miss out on is true emotional and sexual intimacy which can never be obtained while indulging in the cycle of addiction.

(See tomorrow’s blog on “Compassion for the Sex Addict”)

If you believe that you or a loved one may be suffering from sex addiction, please get help.  Learn more about sex addiction HERE.  Further support for recovery from sex addiction may be obtained through an experienced counselor or psychotherapist and there are 12-Step programs specifically designed for sex addicts and their loved ones.