Partner's Workshop: Stage Six; Lesson Three
Understanding Sex/Love Addiction (1 of 3)
The next three lessons are intended to provide you with a functional awareness of addiction that will more easily allow you to visualize the process involved with your partner's addiction. They will not be easy. Each contains the more technical aspects of addiction that, from a recovery stand point, are important to know. Should you find yourself getting lost in the technical aspects of a particular lesson, don't panic. As the partner, these are not critical lessons to master. Upon completion of the third lesson, you should have gained a solid, working understanding of your partner's sexual addiction.
Understanding the differences between COMPULSIONS and ADDICTIONS
A compulsive behavior is one in which a person feels compelled to act in a certain way. All of us have compulsions to one degree or another and many times these compulsions benefit us. Compulsions like checking doors to ensure they are locked or looking in on an infant three or four times each night might seem like normal behavior, even necessary behavior, until you consider a person's reaction when those behaviors are not completed. That's what can signal a problem. That's the difference between a healthy compulsion and one that is problematic — the anxious, uncomfortable feeling that continues to build until you finally complete the particular behavior. With such a compulsion, it's never a matter of whether or not you will complete the behavior; rather, it's a matter of how long you can hold out until the behavior must be completed. The longer you abstain, the more anxiety that is experienced; thus, the more relief that is achieved once the behavior is completed.
An addiction is any consistent pattern of such compulsive behavior that produces a significantly negative effect on that person's life. And no matter how sad, angry, ashamed or guilty a person may feel because of this pattern, they cannot make themselves stop. Not permanently, anyway. The pattern continues to grow. The destructive consequences continue to mount. Gradually, the compulsive behavior and accompanying obsessive thoughts become ingrained and begin to replace the person's existing values. The compulsive patterns become a part of their core value system — the addiction itself becomes how they identify themselves. Without this pattern in their life, they feel incomplete — as if something is missing. Everything else — friends, family, job — it all lacks the ability to provide the same comfort and stability as the performance of the compulsive behavior(s).
What is addiction, really?
Your brain secretes the neurotransmitters LDH, LDC2 and RPW-x. These secretions affect the third neurocostal space in the left proximal hemisphere of the...
Pretty boring stuff, huh? Unless you're planning a career as a researcher or want to obtain a degree in psychobiology, don't waste your precious time learning the theories of addiction. If you did, you'd spend the next month-and-a-half learning a different approach each day. Addiction is a disease. Addiction is a genetic defect. Addiction is a character defect. Addiction is a learned behavior. Addiction is a chemical imbalance. Everyone has a theory they believe is correct. And so, rather than focusing on the scientific nature of addiction, commit yourself to understanding a working model of the addictive process. This, more than anything else, will help you to understand not only your partner, but also how you might have fit in to your partner's behavior.
The following sections represent a "working model" of addiction. Scientifically rigid it is not. The model represents a concrete representation of abstract concepts, and is not intended for empirical scrutiny. It does, however, offer the layperson a way of conceptualizing their partner's addictive processes in a measurable, functional way.
Functional Awareness and Delusional Actualization
Functional Awareness is the process for breaking down your addiction into a real, tangible, measurable construct. Through functional awareness, you will gain the ability to isolate the separate elements of the compulsive state and master skills that will allow you to manage that compulsion effectively. Delusional Activation refers to you mind's ability to manage your current emotional state through artificial or delusional thinking. In plain terms, it allows you to trick yourself into acting in a way that will allow you to achieve immediate, temporary emotional fulfillment. Both concepts are important in developing effective urge control strategies.
The need for addiction arises when an individual lacks the life skills and balance to effectively manage their emotional response to life's events. The stress can be a single catastrophic event (e.g. rape, death) or a long-term progression (e.g. career, marriage). It can arise from childhood (e.g. neglect, abuse) or the future (e.g. mortality, security). It can be external (e.g. social interactions, financial obligations) or internal (e.g. mental illness, emotional instability). The stress can even be created by the repetition of stress-relieving activities (e.g. smoking, shopping, sex). This last example is a classic for the progressiveness and cyclic nature of the disease. And because every person is unique, each has their own way of maintaining emotional comfort. When a stressor is introduced which interferes with that comfort, the mind and body react to reestablish the feeling of normalcy. When that reaction involves compulsively repeating unhealthy patterns which contradict the values a person holds, the process of addiction has begun. The longer a person relies on addictive behavior to comfort them, the less they rely on their values. When a person has lost all connection with those values, the addictive process has fused, making it virtually inseparable from the core of their identity. Functional awareness is what is used to reverse that fusion.
Maintaining comfort is a natural instinct. For most, our comfort is maintained when our values are maintained. Stress occurs when those values are jeopardized. A child is molested — jeopardizing (among many values) their security and trust. A man earns a promotion, but the increased responsibility jeopardizes his confidence and reduces the amount of time he may spend with his family. A woman's realization of mortality jeopardizes her most basic value — that of survival. Everyone's values differ, both in strength and substance. Why then, do some of us turn to addiction?
Foregoing the argument of genetic disposition (which surely plays a significant role in one's ability to manage stress), the addictive process becomes necessary when a person's foundation of values is not adequate to manage their life. Understand that. You partner has been using their compulsive behaviors to artificially manage the way that they feel. Healthy people manage their feelings by recognizing their values, then living their life accordingly. When something occurs outside that set of values, stress occurs, and they deal with that stress by returning to their set of values. But what happens when the stress becomes too great, and their existing values can no longer comfort them? They need to create an artificial source of comfort. That is what happens in addiction, except that for most addicts, they never had a healthy foundation to begin with. Consider the following:
Two teenagers are confronted with the task of maintaining perfect grades in high school. Both value the respect they receive from their teachers, as well as their own feelings of accomplishment. On the final exam, both receive grades which drop their overall course grade to a "B"-the first of their lives. To most, such an event would seem trivial, but to each of these kids, a serious conflict occurred within their sets of values.The healthy teen-the one whose values were balanced between family, friends, hobbies and school-became initially despondent, but quickly stabilized. She was able to rely on other values to keep her disappointment in perspective. She went for a walk, had a heart-to-heart talk with her mom, put some extra time in at work-she increased her reliance on other things she valued to comfort her. But what about the student who didn't have a strong foundation of values with which to rely? That's where addiction comes in.
This other student, between the ages of seven and nine, was routinely molested by her stepfather. Though he no longer maintained an active role in her life, his prior behavior caused a disruption in the development of several critical value areas. Areas like autonomy, trust and personal safety. The student's innate desire to alleviate the stress caused from the molestation, led to her dependence on two values that she could still control: food and school. For the next five years, while others continued to develop the social skills needed for a balanced life-skills which require the autonomy, trust and personal safety she was unable to master-she continued to find comfort in studying harder and eating more. Then came the "B".So much of her balance was being maintained by her academic perfection that what should have been a trivial event, was now perceived as devastating. She had stood on only two legs (two values) for so long, that when one of those legs became injured (caused her stress), she didn't have the tools necessary to heal. To heal would have meant to lean on other values, but she had just one value left: eating. What initially should have been a scratch, now had to be amputated. This "all or nothing" principle is another common trait of an addictive personality. The only value she could now rely on to comfort herself, the only one she could still control, was food. From then on, nothing else mattered — not her grades, not her looks, not even her health. All uncomfortable feelings could now be comforted with four cheeseburgers and a shake.
Why Sexual Addiction? Why Love Addiction?
Some of the most common thoughts from people struggling with sexually and/or romantically compulsive behavior are associated with trying to understand why they are the way that they are. They ask themselves things like, "Why do I act the way that I do? What caused it? Was it because I was sexually abused as a child? Neglected? Born this way? There must be some reason I am the way that I am. I need to know."
Well, for the most part, there is a reason that they are the way that they are. There is a reason why they choose strip clubs over the Internet. Why they choose affairs rather than prostitutes (and vice versa). Why they become sexually aroused by animals, but not children. Feces, but not feet. There is a reason why men fantasize about other men, although they despise homosexuality. Actually, there are most likely several reasons. And over the next three lessons, we will explore these reasons. You will be shown a model of compulsive sexual behavior that will allow you to break down your partner's sexual/romantic actions into measurable, understandable parts. You will begin to see the true nature of their behavior, and once you do, it will become easier to separate your partner from the behavior they exhibit. You will gain insight into the realization that sexual addiction did not just appear in their life, but that it developed quite naturally and with good reasons. You will come to the realization that, by recognizing the progressive role that addiction has played in their life, a life without this pattern can be easily achieved by eliminating those destructive patterns and replacing them with healthy ones.
Most of the concepts that will be presented over the next few lessons will be completely new to you. They are unique to the Recovery Workshop and so you might find yourself getting lost at times and are interested in mastering the content here, feel free to ask questions in the forum or schedule a free coaching session to discuss this material further. Remember, this is a progressive learning workshop, so in order to get the second concept, you must understand the first. In order to get the third, you must understand the second...and so on. Again however, as the partner, these three lessons are not critical to your moving on.
Starting versus Continuing a Behavior
The first thing we need to do in understanding sexually and/or romantically compulsive behavior is to make the distinction between the reasons your partner started with a particular type of behavior and why they have continued. These reasons are rarely the same. Let's begin with the reasons why they developed difficulties with compulsive sexual/romantic behavior...
In order for someone to become addicted to something, they must first have been introduced to it. This goes for sex, as well as love. Nobody is born a sexual addict. Nobody is born a love addict. With the introduction to their sexuality came the development of emotions and values that they naturally associated with that behavior. Such an introduction could have been forced — as in rape or molestation; it could have been consensual — as in the natural progression of intimate relationships; or it could have been random — as in exploratory masturbation, accidental voyeuring (like looking out your bedroom window to see your neighbor undressing) or a Playboy magazine discovered in a dumpster. In every case, the introduction produced a change in their system of values. At best, this change was a pleasurable and exciting one — capable of eliciting both physical and emotional relief. When this is the case, such pleasurable emotions are automatically prioritized among their existing values — and usually done so at the expense of other less stimulating behaviors. This is not a bad thing, and such prioritization is necessary for the full development of a healthy, balanced value system. At worst, the initial sexual experience was repulsive and degrading, causing an immediate and often destructive effect on their values. The earlier and more traumatic the introduction, the more significant the disruption to their values that will occur.
In the extreme, such a traumatic introduction will trigger one of two extreme responses. One is for the person to completely withdraw from the emotions that such sexual behavior produces (e.g. through self-mutilation, sexual anorexia, disassociation, etc.); the other is for the person to attempt to change the negative emotions that were associated with the sexual acts with other emotions (usually negative as well, but not in the mind of the person engaging in them). In the latter, people will try to understand what has happened to them by recreating sexual experiences under "emotionally safe" conditions. Promiscuity, sex with animals, children, invalids, inanimate objects — these are all common behaviors of people who have been sexually traumatized.
This of course begs the question, "Has everyone who partakes in these type of behaviors been sexually traumatized?" The answer is no. While it is true that those who have been molested, raped or otherwise sexually traumatized have almost always experienced significant emotional consequences in relation to sexual/romantic behavior, it is also true that many people develop such sexual dysfunction without ever having been physically traumatized. For some, the emotional trauma of having a dominating, controlling parent; or having been raised in a strictly religious environment where natural sexuality (like masturbation or lust) was associated with evil and hell can also trigger such behaviors. In rare cases, one can develop such patterns to deviant sexual behavior not by trauma, but by a progressive pleasure/pleasure pattern where both the introduction to sex, as well as the natural ongoing development of sexual values provide the ability to manage emotions. In such cases, additional behaviors that are added to the sexual repertoire become nothing more than ways of further managing their emotional states in different degrees. Much like the ingredients to a cookie — more on this in the next lesson. Again, this is rare and the vast majority of people suffering from sexually compulsive behavior have indeed been traumatized in some way — either emotionally or physically — and this trauma is often sexual in nature. And while this should never be used as an excuse for destructive behavior, it should be accepted as a fact in understanding it. It is also important to note that while this traumatic introduction to sex is common in the vast majority of all sexually deviant behavior — it is only common in those who have associated their sexual behavior with values such as intimacy and love — rather than power and dehumanization.
Those suffering from compulsive romantic behavior or love addictions tend to have similar backgrounds, with a few major differences. First, the "introduction" to love comes from the bond developed with their parents. Whereas traumatic behavior in sexual addiction can stem from rape, molestation, etc., traumatic behavior associated with love comes almost exclusively from a lack of parental nurturing from one or both parents; a significant event that threatens an existing bond (like the death of a parent, or divorce); or a violation of trust and safety (like that which occurs through incest or molestation). Such is the overwhelming background of most people suffering from romantically compulsive behavior. Additional causes, though rare, include the pleasure/pleasure role discussed earlier, except in the case of love addiction, it would be a series of relationships that provided emotional relief and pleasure — and a person's overuse of those feelings to manage their emotions. In its extreme, the establishing of these mind-altering relationships can progress to the point where an actual relationship doesn't even need to exist. The person's mind will actually create the relationship and act as though it is already established. This is a frequent occurrence in many of the romantically-delusional stalkings that take place to celebrities and strangers. Though there is no actual relationship, the love addict becomes so intoxicated with the pursuit of the target's love and affection — that he/she no longer processes the relationship in reality. Everything about the relationship becomes a fixation that continues to feed the fantasy that is producing so much emotional stimulation.
Whether your partner struggles with compulsive behaviors associated with sex and/or love, take some time to consider how these behaviors might have been introduced into their life. Think of how they developed into destructive (or potentially destructive) behaviors. What were some of the key "introductions" of new values that they might associate with this behavior? Things like significant relationships, traumatic events, personal insights that affected the development of their values.
Finally, we began this lesson by saying that there needs to be a distinction made between how your partner started with a particular behavior and why that behavior continues. The reason they started is directly related to the way that the behavior was introduced to them (or, reintroduced through a traumatic event) and the emotions/values associated with that behavior. Why the behavior continues is the same reason why all compulsive behavior continues: because it has become their most efficient way of managing their emotions. Of bringing them relief. Of stimulating them. It no longer matters what behavior is placed in that pattern...once the pattern of using compulsive behavior is established, the behavior itself becomes irrelevant — from a recovery stand point. Not from a consequential stand point, mind you, but from a "Why do I keep acting this way?" point of view. As you begin to understand more and more about addiction over the next few days, this should become clear. It is the underlying patterns that must now be changed.
The next lesson is a long one. In it, we will be discussing the role of addiction, as well as breaking down the nine most common "ingredients" to a compulsive sexual behavior. Finally, we will introduce two new tools that those in recovery can use to eliminate their compulsive sexual and romantic behavior: the "Sexual Compulsion Wheel".
In this lesson, you were guided through a rather mechanical means for measuring compulsive behavior. What should it mean to you? Very little. Except to reinforce the notion that such compulsion is best understood objectively and mechanically. By gaining a functional awareness of your partner's actions, you will better be able to isolate yourself from the emotions that are attached. This helps you now by distancing yourself even further from any association/responsibility you may be holding onto in relation to your partner's actions; it helps you down the road by allowing you to observe further actions in an objective and rational manner.
However, this measuring technique is just that, a technique. A skill. It is a wrapper for mechanically understanding the very abstract concept of compulsions. That's all. So as a partner, don't spend too much time trying to master this aspect of compulsions — it is more of a recovery technique. Why it is important to you is to provide you with an introduction — a paradoxical shift — in the way in which compulsive behavior can be seen.
A. Consider a behavior that you have engaged in recently that produced some type of positive emotional stimulation. Break this behavior down into its emotional elements. Into the times when emotions were experienced as a result of your actions, thoughts, etc. Ideally, this situation would have between 7-10 emotional elements that you could track throughout the experience. Identify the emotional elements.
Example: Situation: Went to
the Thrift Store
1. Thought about going to the thrift store: experienced excitement
2. Thought about our budget being so tight: experienced frustration
3. Thought about everything else I was 'supposed to do' today: experienced anxiety and frustration
4. Made the decision to go: experienced excitement
5. Rummaged through the bins: experienced anticipation and excitement
6. Found a rare Beatle's album that was only $1. Experienced elation.
7. Knew I was spending too much time away from my responsibilities: experienced guilt
8. Returned home to clean the house and do laundry: experienced anxiety for being behind in my chores, excitement for adding to my record collection
B. Do your best to break down one of your partner's sexually-compulsive behaviors in a similar way. Put yourself in his/her mind, what emotional experiences do you feel he/she experienced throughout the act? Important: break-down only a single behavior — a snapshot in time — not an ongoing pattern of behaviors.