Partner's Workshop: Stage One; Lesson Six
The Sexualized Mind
To best understand the way your partner's mind works, you will need to grasp several patterns that are commonly observed in the sexually-compulsive mind. This lesson is designed to provide you with those insights.
The Sexualized Mind
Imagine a home where you are bombarded with sexual jokes, innuendos and anecdotes; where intimate hugs are replaced with fanny-patting, breast fondling and other overtly sexual, spontaneous acts; where every kiss is perceived as a prelude to intercourse; where sexual pressure is a constant and volatile topic; where going out in public means watching your partner rubber-neck with each attractive female that passes; where activities are often somehow related to being sexual in nature... If you are living with a person who has developed a pattern of sexual addiction, you most likely have no need to imagine such things as parts of them will litter your relationship.
An individual with a sexual addiction will subconsciously sexualize their environment. Every person, every relationship, every situation, every object will be filtered through their sexual mind as a part of their natural perceptual process. Controlling this filter is all but impossible — akin to defining the color of the sky to a blind person. You can tell them that it is blue, but if all they have ever experienced it as is black, the reference will be meaningless. In the sexualized mind, you can tell them how it 'should be'...that it isn't normal to constantly think of sex...but if all they have ever experienced is this reality, it will be difficult redefine that reality to them. Difficult, but not impossible.
Upon the discovery of the extent of their sexualization, many individuals in recovery become quite frustrated — experiencing feelings of helplessness and despair in not being able to control these patterns. When such a pattern develops over many years, it is perceived as quite natural to the person exhibiting the sexual traits. To them, there is nothing 'wrong' with their behavior, but rather, it is more the prudish nature of their spouse that is the problem. Sadly, once the extent of the sexual pattern has been self-identified, the individual becomes aware of how annoying, disrespectful and damaging these patterns have been. And yet, even with this awareness, they find themselves unable to control it.
Interestingly, another sexualized approach is the morally righteous one — where everything remains sexualized, but rather than a more hedonistic perceptual filter, it is a condemnation of all people, activities, actions that involve anything but morally acceptable sexual behavior. Sex within the relationship is practically non-existent...as a moral conflict has developed between his/her secret life and the life that is shared with you. And where there is moral conflict, there is condemnation and sabotage to ensure that such sexual behavior does not occur.
The Objectified Mind
How can a man who is in love with his partner, have a promiscuous sexual affair just hours before making love to that partner? More so, how could they do such a thing and feel completely justified that their actions had 'nothing to do with' how they felt about their partner? How can a woman looking at porn be aroused at the site of other women being treated inhumanely...or of seeing a naked man that they have no emotional attachment to? How could a man become aroused by dropping a Ruphie into a woman's drink, disabling them, and then taking them to a hotel to have their way with them? How can a woman allow herself to be prostituted? These questions and many more have one common denominator: they all involve the process of objectification.
The objectified mind is the mind that disassociates the person from the action. When they view porn for instance, they are not viewing a real person, but merely a stimulus that can be used for their own personal gratification. When a child is molested by a sexual addict, that addict is not seeing the child as a person — having a past, present and future — they are seeing that child as an object that is capable of stimulating their own needs. These needs do not necessarily have to be sexual...as there are many selfish, delusional emotional needs that can also be derived from objectifying others. In the case of child molestation, those needs could be the need to 'save the child', to 'make them feel loved', or to fulfill some delusional belief that there is a 'special bond' between the two. All such scenarios indicative of the objectification of that child. The same can be said of rape victims, prostitutes, certain types of affairs, voyeurs, exhibitionists, etc.
Objectification and sexual addiction go hand in hand — which is why one of the goals for those in recovery from sexual addiction is to reconnect to the human aspects of everyone they come in contact with — be that contact in fantasy or reality.
The Need for Immediate Gratification
Immediate gratification is a universal trait in the emotional management skills of those with addictions. It can best be understood in the context of the decision-making process. On one side, there is a decision that can be made that will forego immediate emotional gain for long-term emotional fulfillment. On the other, a separate decision can be made that will disregard the long-term consequences of that decision and will take into consideration only what will provide immediate emotional fulfillment. It is this principle of immediate gratification that motivates the majority of decisions that a compulsive person chooses to engage in.
To put this in perspective, let's examine a fairly common situation where your partner is faced with the opportunity to engage in sexual activity with another. We will also simplify the options available to your partner by allowing only two: to engage in the affair and not to engage in the affair.
The Choice to Have an Affair
Potential Immediate Consequences: sexual release; emotional satisfaction from feeling desired, wanted; sexually stimulating memories; opportunities for fantasy; no lingering anxiety of 'what might have been'; opportunity for new stimulation; friendship/companionship
Potential Long-Term Consequences: forced deception and secrecy; destruction of the marriage, destruction of the family, unwanted pregnancy, unwanted disease, stress of managing the ongoing affair; anxiety of affair being discovered; anxiety of the affair being revealed by adulterer; guilt; shame; lost respect; stress from adulterer's baggage
There are many more potential long-term consequences, but there is no need to explore them all as the point has already been made. Nobody...NOBODY...in their right mind would sacrifice a collective lifetime of intimacy, sharing, health, fulfillment, etc. for perhaps an hour of emotional excitement. Nobody. Yet this risk is taken all the time. Why? Immediate gratification. In making the choice to engage in the affair, your partner invokes an immature and ineffective decision-making process that purposely avoids making an emotional connection with those long-term consequences. At best, a cursory intellectual review of these consequences may take place — but this is often after they have already made the subconscious decision to engage in the affair. The additional "I shouldn't do this because..." is merely a dance designed to lessen the guilt/shame that would otherwise be experienced. The pursuit of such immediate gratification creates an immature response that can be likened to a horse with blinders on. Once the decision to engage in a particular behavior is made, the individual managing their emotions through addiction will not allow themselves to see anything that may keep them from acting on this decision.
This is not to say that immediate gratification is all bad. Immediate gratification plays a healthy and natural process in all of our lives. Some of the greatest human achievements have been accomplished by those with debilitating patterns of addiction/immediate gratification. But more often than not, the potential in human beings suffering from addiction/immediate gratification is never fully realized because that person cannot move past the immediate gratification phase of emotional maturity.
Observing Immediate Gratification
Consider a woman who has always wanted to get a college degree. Over the years, she has had to weigh the sacrifices she would need to make in order to achieve her goal, and consistently concludes that the immediate sacrifices would be too great. And so she instead opts to postpone her enrollment for one year. Then another. And yet another. Before she knows it, it has been ten years and she adds this goal to yet another major goal that she has failed to accomplish. Why? Because when she looks ahead to the long-term commitment that she must make, she doesn't "feel" the long-term benefits that come with the successful completion of that goal. All she "feels" is the stress that such a pursuit would bring to her immediate life. Naturally then, she bases her decisions on what will provide her with the immediate relief (in this case, the relief of not adding more stress to her life).
The seeking of immediate gratification begins in infancy and should transition to a more mature, delayed-gratification pattern by late adolescence. When this transition does not take place, it is most often a result of abuse or parental neglect. The most common reasons for emotionally stunted development are extremely controlling parent(s); hyper-religiosity; severe lack of nurturing; and physical, sexual or emotional abuse. In such situations, the child is not exposed to the more advanced decision-making processes that come with necessary developmental elements like being allowed to make mistakes or being encouraged to take risks. Some who are raised in an other-than-ideal family are lucky enough to learn these skills through friends, mentors, teachers, counselors or other family members and that is wonderful. Most however, don't. People raised in such environments have never had the opportunity to be taught with compassion and interest by those who are closest to them. They have never had the opportunity to share their long-term goals with family and have those goals valued. Most often, such dreams were met with negativity and/or doubt; or by approval "as long as the long-term goals are in accordance with the parents' wishes". Of course, this doesn't apply to everyone struggling with compulsive behavior, but it is common to the majority.
And what did we learn as a child in such an environment? That we were responsible for finding ways of comforting and nurturing ourselves. That we were on our own to comfort ourselves in whatever way we could — as soon as we could. And until the pattern of wanting to make ourselves feel good — until immediate gratification — is understood and changed, it will continue. Why wouldn't it? Let's look at one more example of immediate gratification as it applies to a real life situation.
Consider the happily married man who is facing the decision as to whether or not to have an affair. On the one hand, he can choose to have the affair and experience the immediate emotional/physical satisfaction that would accompany that decision (or in a compulsive situation, to rid himself of the emotional discomfort that has been triggered by the object of the affair; or, some other entrenched emotional reaction). Or, he can choose not to have the affair and use the consequences of this decision to further strengthen his value system. Usually, compulsive affairs tend to be short, passionate and sexually objectified. They are a temporary escape. By choosing to have the affair, the man will achieve immediate emotional pleasure (immediate being: for as long as the affair remains intoxicating), but at what cost? His family, his reputation, his health? It doesn't make sense, does it? Why in the world would he make such a choice? Why would he jeopardize such important elements of his life for a temporary emotional escape? Because it is how he has learned to stimulate intensity in his emotions. Achieving emotional comfort in the here and now — through immediate gratification — is at the center of his emotional management skills.
The All or Nothing Perception
The pattern of all or nothing thinking is yet another found commonly in addiction. It occurs when an person perceives situations in their extreme. The all or nothing principle can be seen in just about any life situation and its root is based in perception. It can be found in people ("my father was a horrible person because he molested me as a child"; "this woman I met is perfect — she's "the one"); it can be found in situations (my mother was emotionally abusive to me when I was growing up — I had a bad childhood; I got written up at work last week — I'm a bad worker); and, it can be found in yourself — which is where the majority of our focus will be.
When the all or nothing principle guides your perceptions, you tend to view your personal qualities and the situations that involve you in terms of everything being in black-and-white. All good or all bad. You are overweight — no one can find you attractive. You have a dream to play professional sports, but you don't make it — your life is a failure. You promise to save money, yet you continue to live from paycheck to paycheck with overdue bills piling up — you can't manage your finances. The truth to each of these is not nearly as extreme as they are being perceived. Take the issue of being overweight. The reality is that there are many, many more characteristics that people find attractive beyond a person's weight — and many of those qualities are actually more important to others than weight. But when one's self-perception is so extreme in believing that their weight is the overwhelming factor in how others perceive them, they lose perspective of their overall attractiveness. In the case of the person with overdue bills, the reality is not that they are incapable of managing their finances, it is that they lack the basic skills and experience to succeed in those areas. They have not taken the time and effort to develop those skills (immediate gratification rearing its ugly head once more).
For most life experiences, there is no need to put forth the effort to fully develop the necessary skills to excel in these areas because they just aren't important enough to you. That's understood. With 50,000 potential areas to develop in your life, to master fifty of them would be quite an accomplishment. And so, the issue we are exploring here is not that a person does not possess the skills to succeed, it is when that person identifies their never having developed them as a failure. "I can't sing. I can't draw. I can't do crossword puzzles. I can't...(enter skill here)." Not having learned to do something is not the same as being unable to do it. Where this concept really comes into play is in recovery.
Let's take a look at some of the more direct ways that the all or nothing principle applies to the sex and love addictions. Do you know that feeling when you meet someone new, and believe that this person is perfect (until they do something to pull you out of your fantasy — and then they become "just like all the rest")? That is associated with this principle — especially when the target of your feelings is someone you have never met, or have met just briefly. Another example? Let's say that your wife has had an affair — and you believe that you will never be able to trust her again (or, women in general). Another? You have a history of sexually compulsive behavior — you believe that you are somehow damaged and that you will never change (or that others cannot change). When you have tried to stop your compulsive behavior but continue to relapse — and believe that since your perception of recovery includes abstinence — you have failed in recovery...you are engaging in all or nothing thinking.
Nowhere is this principle more prevalent than in your partner's recovery with the perception of who they are and how others see them. In the perception that, because they have struggled with immoral behavior, they are an immoral person. Or that because they have struggled with infidelity, they are incapable of commitment. Or because they have tried recovery and failed, that they are not capable of recovery. Such self-defeating thoughts make it very difficult to succeed in any long-term change because they keep your partner from fully committing themselves to that change. When they believe they might fail, they prepare themselves for that failure. In extreme cases, they might even have developed a "learned helplessness" approach to life and have simply resigned themselves to the fact that their life is not going to get any better, no matter what they do. So why try? Of course, there are thousands more examples of all or nothing thinking and most will not apply to you or your partner. In fact, the principle itself doesn't apply to everyone struggling with addiction — just most.
As you might be starting to realize, EVERYTHING in your life is put into context through your perceptions. For those with an addiction, it is their immature perceptual abilities that often lead to the perpetuation of that addiction. When they perceive life events in the extreme, they also tend to live a very chaotic and impulsive existence — a key ingredient to perpetuating the addiction itself. People who perceive things in the extreme tend to look at life's events with the immediate effect of the event only. Why? Because they have never learned the skills to properly evaluate the deeper consequences of their emotional situations. Please take note of the word emotional in that sentence. Where your partner may have excellent analytical skills and phenomenal project management skills...where your partner may be the most thoughtful, compassionate person on earth...where your partner may have the ability to excel in the deepest, most philosophical discussions known to man — they still lack basic emotional maturity. And not merely in their ability to identify them — anyone can do that. I am talking about understanding the affect they have on thoughts, motivation...even compulsive behavior. Warped perceptions and skewed processing is at the root of the sexualized mind.
Understanding the sexualized mind will go a long way in allowing you to better relate to what you are currently experiencing. The more objective insights and awareness that you develop, the stronger will be your ability to maintain confidence and control in your life. And, the faster it will be achieved.
A. If you have not already done so, consider reading the first half of He Danced Alone.
B. Quite often, many sexual behaviors occur with such subtlety, such consistency and/or are so well disguised (through humor, anger, guilt, etc.) that it is not until you filter these behaviors through a net of sexual addiction when you realize that they are indeed woven from the same cloth. But the reality is, the majority of sexual addicts have positioned themselves within a cocoon of sexuality that is not related to their personality, but rather, their addiction. With this in mind, think of your partner's behavior over the course of your relationship. Describe the patterns that you suspect can be attributed to a sexualized mind.
C. Of the four areas discussed in this lesson, which have you observed in your partner?