My therapist told me most sex addicts have multiple addictions. Is that true?
I have never met a sex addict addicted only to sex. Typically, three to six addictions interact with one another. Most individuals who come into treatment don't realize this. Often they are in denial about the scope of their destructive behaviors, minimizing and rationalizing their patterns. Often they construct and normalize complex lives, allowing one addiction to flow seamlessly into the other.
Professionals who work 80 or 90 hours a week may feel they have earned a weekend of binge drinking and sex. They tell themselves they are not workaholics, because they can take time off to "relax." Similarly, some individuals who work excessive hours take vacations only to pack every minute with activities: scuba diving all day; a volleyball tournament before dinner; an expensive meal; and clubbing with alcohol, drugs, and sex until 3 a.m. - only to start the cycle over the next morning."I don't have a work addiction. I can relax and take time off," they tell themselves. What they don't realize is that they are addicted to intensity. They look for the high or emotional escape that allows them to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
All addicts are "shame-based," meaning they were given negative messages about themselves. A child can experience abuse that is overt (recognizable abuse that can be verbal, physical, or sexual) or covert (in which the child is not typically aware of the subconscious messages). Covert abuse is typically couched in the expectations that parents have for their children. "If I am a good athlete, my parents will be proud." "If I am homecoming queen, I will be popular."
These children believe they must perform in order to have value. Such intensely goal-oriented thinking teaches - and ultimately allows the children to avoid - feelings of shame. This is when patterns of addiction begin.
This need for external gratification sets up the children to have low internal esteem. They feel they are not enough; they are worthless and unlovable... unless they produce. Winning trophies and awards will bring attention and a sense of value. Before they are aware of it, these people establish patterns that allow emotional escape.
After cheating on his wife, the sex addict feels no guilt or remorse about his betrayals, but stops at the local pizza parlor and eats a whole pie. Still numb, he spends several hours gaming on the computer - yet another way to avoid the emotions that lie below the surface. His patterns satiate his pain and shame.
Food addicts may gain weight so they don't have to be sexual. "I don't need sex," they tell themselves. "I am strong and independent."
The after-work drink with coworkers may turn into a one-night stand. "I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't been drunk."
In treatment, individuals look at the interactive patterns in their lives, the seamless processes they unconsciously devise in order to survive painful feelings. The healing process often overwhelms the individual, because the addict often believes his or her own lies: "I don't really have problem with..." In reality, they have spent a lifetime jumping from one addictive behavior to the next on a roller coaster; the costly consequences can impact their livelihood, relationships, health, and finances - and can even bring death.
I receive many questions about sex addiction. I thought I would share some common questions...
Does all sex addiction come from abuse? I don't think I was abused as a kid.
There are two ways abuse can manifest; the first is overt abuse. Overt abuse is usually aggressive behavior that is measurable, such as bruises, a raised voice, a verbal attack, or an insult. The second is covert abuse. Covert abuse is passive, often unconscious, and not seen as abusive (such as withholding love, giving a stern or threatening look, failing to protect a child, or minimizing his or her realities). One can be abused covertly and/or overtly and, no matter how the abuse is perpetrated, it always leaves victims feeling shame and pain on some level.
Individuals often normalize abusive behavior or, even worse, blame themselves for the abuse. "If I hadn't been drunk, I wouldn't have been raped." "Putting each other down is just what my family does." When it is pointed out that these are examples of abuse, often the reaction is denial, defensiveness, or confusion.
Because of these common reactions, it is important to grasp the scope of abuse and to become aware of how abuse may have affected or influenced one's life.
Once an individual begins to understand the scope of abuse they can see how it set them up to feel disemboweled as a child because of the continual fear, guilt, and shaming one received. The wreckage of such abuse leaves all sex addicts with a sense of betrayal so severe that they lose the ability to trust. They are convinced that if they are seen or really known, they will be despised.
Too afraid to tell anyone, the addict learned what was perhaps his most powerful coping skill. He learned to live a double life- a life of secrets and lies, where shame festers, multiplies, and spreads like a deadly cancer. But when one can establish a bond of trust, they can have a respectful attachment- a place at which the healing can begin.
What does abuse look like?
Below is an outline of the types of abuse, with examples of specific behaviors in each category.
I. Physical Abuse (any forced or violent physical action)
II. Emotional or Verbal Abuse (putting down, threatening, and saying cruel or untrue things about another person)
III. Sexual Abuse (any nonconsensual sexual act, behavior, gesture)
IV. Neglect (failing to provide the essential necessities for a child, including the following)
This outline does not include every possible abusive behavior, but it does provide an overview of abuse.
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