Recovery Workshop: Lesson Fifteen

Perceiving Your 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? Was I 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 you are the way that you are. There is a reason why you choose strip clubs over the Internet. Why you choose affairs rather than prostitutes. Why you become sexually aroused by animals, but not children. Feces, but not feet. There is a reason why you may fantasize about other men, even though you are not homosexual. There are reasons for it all. In fact, there are many reasons and they all fall within two categories: practical reasons and personal reasons.

The practical reasons involve the role that compulsive rituals play in your life. The personal reasons involve an understanding of how past experiences/traumas have affected your evolving value system. As a general rule, understanding the practical reasons for your addiction is what is required for a transition to living a healthy life. Understanding the personal reasons is required for healing.

Over the next few lessons, we will explore the practical reasons in great detail. You will be shown a model of compulsive sexual behavior that will allow you to break down your sexual/romantic rituals into measurable, understandable parts. As you gain a more functional awareness of compulsive behavior, you will begin to see the true nature of your addiction. You will be able to isolate the behavior itself from your identity — a requirement for effective urge control. You will begin to see that sexual addiction did not just happen through fate and/or genetics, but that it developed quite naturally and quite logically through your own lack of effective life management skills.

Most of the concepts presented in the next few lessons will be new to you. They are unique to Recovery Nation and are required to develop what is referred to as a functional awareness of your addiction. If you are going to get lost in this workshop, this is the most likely place — so don't allow it to happen. Use the community forum or personal coaching options to ensure that you master the concepts that are about to be presented.

Developing versus Maintaining a Compulsive Behavior

The first thing to do in understanding sexually and/or romantically compulsive behavior is to make the distinction between the reasons you began engaging in a particular compulsive behavior and why you have continued. Such reasons are rarely the same. Let's begin with the reasons why such behavior develops.

In order for an individual to become addicted to sex, they must first have been introduced to it. The same goes for love. Nobody is born a sex addict. Nobody is born a love addict. Certainly, genetic forces may increase the likelihood of such patterns developing, but they are not the cause of sexual addiction. They are not the cause of love addiction. If you believe otherwise, then you will most likely continue to struggle with these destructive patterns for the remainder of your life.

With the introduction to your sexuality came the development of emotions and values that were naturally associated with that sexuality. Or for love addiction, the introduction of the parental relationship began the development of associated emotions/values through bonding, abandonment, etc. With sexual values, 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, your introduction produced a change in your existing value system. 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 your existing values — and usually done so at the expense of other less stimulating behaviors. This is not a bad thing, as 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 your existing value system.

In general, the earlier and more traumatic the introduction, the more significant the disruption to your values. In the extreme, a traumatic introduction will trigger one of several responses. 1) the person will completely withdraw from the emotions that such sexual behavior produces (e.g. through self-mutilation, sexual anorexia, disassociation, etc.); and 2), the person attempts to alter the negative emotions that were initially associated with the sexual acts. In such cases, an individual might try to recreate sexual experiences under "emotionally safe" conditions. This latter response is often found at the core of love addiction and parental abuse/abandonment/neglect.

This begs the question, "Have all sexual addicts been sexually traumatized? Or, "Have all love addicts been emotionally traumatized?"

The answer is no.

While it is true that those who have been molested, raped or otherwise sexually traumatized frequently experience significant consequences in relation to the development of healthy sexual/romantic behavior, it is also true that many people develop such sexual dysfunction without ever having been physically traumatized. Many love addicts were raised in intact, nurturing families. How is this possible? It is possible because there are all sorts of variables that must be considered in the development of a healthy value system. 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, a person can develop sexually destructive patterns 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 produce positive emotional fulfillment. In such instances, additional behaviors are added to the sexual repertoire to further expand this pleasure. Much like the altering of ingredients when baking a cookie — more on this later. Eventually, while only pleasurable sexual experiences have been accumulated, there comes a time when NOT engaging in sex becomes emotionally uncomfortable. Or when other stressors develop that far exceed the ability of that person to manage them through other values. This then requires that sexual activity be engaged in to escape from the stress and regain the feelings of comfort and stability. Again, this is rare. The vast majority of people suffering from sexually compulsive behavior have indeed been traumatized in some way — either emotionally of physically — and this trauma is usually sexual. That should never be used as an excuse for such behavior, only 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 sexual deviants — it is most commonly found in those who have learned to associate their sexual behavior with values such as intimacy and love. When deviant behavior is associated with values such as power and control (e.g. violent rapists, sexual mutilators, etc.), an entirely different developmental foundation must be examined...and one that is not addressed in the scope of this workshop.

Those suffering from compulsive romantic behavior or love addictions tend to have similar backgrounds, with a few notable differences. First, the "introduction" to love comes from the bond developed through the 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 stalking 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 reality. Everything about the relationship becomes a fixation that continues to feed the fantasy that is causing so much emotional pleasure.

Whether you struggle with compulsive behaviors associated with sex and/or love, take some time to think of how these behaviors were introduced into your life. Think of how they developed into destructive (or potentially destructive) behaviors. What were some of the key "introductions" of new values that you associated with this behavior? Things like significant relationships, traumatic or stressful events and personal insights that affect the development (for the good or the bad) of your values should be considered.

Why Compulsive Behavior Continues

We began this lesson by stating that there needs to be a distinction made between how you started with a particular behavior and why that behavior continues. The reason you started is directly related to the way that the behavior was introduced to you (or, reintroduced through a traumatic event) and the emotions/values elicited through that behavior. Why the behavior continues is likely the same reason why all compulsive behavior continues: because it has become an efficient way to manage your emotions.

It no longer matters what behavior is placed within your ritualistic patterns...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 lessons, this should become clear.

Lesson 15 Exercises:

I. Take a minute to review what you have learned over the past two weeks. Of what you have learned so far, think of one example of how you have actively integrated that information into your day-to-day life. Share this in your personal thread.

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