There are two aspects to beating porn addiction – the physical process of abstinence and the methods of doing so, and understanding the psychological background and context that has led to the addiction. They say that to really explore the latter, you need to achieve the former. This post is about the latter.
Ever since reading Paula Hall’s excellent book Understanding and Treating Sex Addiction, and having a short conversation with her skype-to-skype, I’ve been very interested in exploring my childhood and other environmental factors of my youth that may have led me to porn addiction – factors that hadn’t previously occurred to me.
One key area to explore is trauma. Trauma comes in various guises, from the obvious (e.g. child abuse), to the more subtle (e.g. lack of the required dosage of love and affection as a child, separation from parents, etc). Having spent most of my pubescent life in boarding school (from age 8 to 19), the concept that this itself could be considered ‘a traumatic event’ was intriguing to me. I have always told anyone that would listen that I wouldn’t send my kids to boarding school, primarily because I want to be the person they come home to and talk to about their day. For me, for 11 years, that person was a House Master, Matron, or most often no-one. I had a very formal relationship with my parents and we did not talk about anything too personal, and still don’t. They were masters of ‘keeping up appearances’ at the expense of honesty and emotion, but I never judged them for it – they are from a different generation.
Self-esteem and self-worth
So what has any of this got to do with porn addiction? Well, the last few weeks have revealed other areas of my psyche that relate to this and provide further context. Firstly, my wife sent me packing for 2 days to do some thinking, and one of the key things that dawned on me is that I have pretty low self-esteem. I genuinely don’t consider myself that interesting a person, and am confused as to why, for example, a daughter would look up to me. I don’t think I’m worthy of being a father, and generally consider my contribution to this planet as minimal. Low self-esteem is a good recipe for destructive behaviour, so this is an interesting area for me to explore in terms of understanding my porn addiction.
In addition, as a soon-to-be dad, I have been reading Raising Girls by Steve Biddulph, and one of the first things he talks about is how the most fundamentally important thing for a child is to receive copious amounts of love from its parents. Babies are by default in a state of ‘panic’ and need constant re-assuring and calming, so they know that everything is ok and they are loved, which gives them the future confidence to go out into the world and explore. Without that love, they will not have the same levels of courage, and an inner doubt can manifest. Now I’m not saying I wasn’t loved as a kid, but it is interesting to consider whether living away from my parents for 11 years may have had an impact on my own self-worth.
People who know me regard me as confident and outgoing, able to strike up a conversation with anyone. My wife envies that in me as she is ‘shy’ in social situations (she’s actually just got a lot of self-confidence and so doesn’t feel the need to make small talk – something I envy in her). I, on the other hand, have always considered this confident persona quite artificial and fake, and not the ‘real’ me. Quite what the ‘real’ me is I’m not sure, but I feel as a result I have lots of short-term and shallow conversations/relationships and hardly any long-term deep ones. As an example, I don’t really have a single friend who I see regularly, or who would notice if I wasn’t around, at least not for a month or so. This reinforces my opinion that I’m just not that interesting, or nice, a person.
So to tie it all back to porn addiction, what I am exploring here is the sort of person I am, the upbringing I had, my view of myself, and my interpretation of my relationships with others, and how all of this could fit together to create a state of mind that may lead to addiction. If addictions are a way to numb negative emotions and escape from personal troubles (consciously or unconsciously), then I owe it to myself to understand what it really is that I’m trying to escape from or avoid with porn. I’ve always thought it was general adulthood responsibility, but I’m starting to think I may have deeper issues with my own self-worth that may be encouraging me to seek solitude in porn.
A working hypothesis, based on the above
How about this:
A prolonged period (11 years) of separation from a loving family home, combined with life in the bullying culture of a boarding school, contributed to the formulation of an overly confident persona that allowed deeper emotional shortcomings to remain unresolved. This, combined with the usual teenage desire to rebel against authority (which in my case was the school regime of being told what to do from waking ’til sleeping), the perfectly-timed arrival of the internet and the porn it contained, and the on-set of puberty, was the perfect storm of escapism, allowing me to find solace in staying up at my computer for hours after ‘lights out’, watching porn and feeling superior in my rebellion, while unintentionally prohibiting the emotional development that I needed in order to avoid what has resulted in a low self-valuation and the continued regression into addiction.
Lots to digest! And who knows I may be barking up the wrong tree, but this feels like an important process to go through.
And then of course, the question is – how to resolve it!? One idea I’ve had, to counter my low opinion of my impact on this planet, is to to volunteer in my community. My two main skills are guitar and IT, so if I could give kids free guitar lessons, or go round people’s homes and fix their computers, I think that would make me feel like I am making a (albeit small) contribution to other people’s lives. Sure, its a bit of a selfish reason, but better that than not helping at all right?
I think I also need to truly accept that I am loved, and that I am not inherently a bad of worthless person, but that perhaps I’ve just not made the right choices and prioritisations. Addressing the emotional connection with my parents will be the hardest part, as my mum died last year and my dad has his own issues to deal with, and I really have no desire to try and have any form of emotional conversation with him about any of this.
Seeking support from others though will be crucial, either via a 12 step program, an admission to a friend of family member, or private therapy. I am booking a couple therapist to go and see with my wife, as the group therapy course I had pinned my hopes on isn’t starting now until January.