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.
(This is part two of a two part blog post. If you would like to read part one please go here: Celebrity Addiction Part 1)
This raises the question: Has the media gone too far? Since television and movies became mainstream in America, teens have tried to emulate the speech, dress, and behavior of their favorite celebrities. And now, scientists have even found a correlation between celebrity worship and depression/anxiety. Does depression lead to addiction, or does addiction lead to depression? Or does it matter? The bottom line: A generation of teenagers feels entitled to become famous. For what they will become famous has become irrelevant. Teens believe that becoming famous is a cure-all for all of life's challenges. Our society is raising a generation of narcissists whose only sense of self rises around entitlement and fame. Healthy relationships will be replaced with illusory relationships that lack intimacy and real connection. Teens will continue to seek temporary relief in substance abuse and celebrity worship to ward off the pain that normal adolescence brings. This practice of "numbing" is dangerous and will result in a generation that is unable to function in the real world.
Another difficulty many adolescents face today is eating disorders. Television, Hollywood, magazines, the Internet, and the fashion industry portray slender women much more often than women with normal body types. Children and teens then develop distorted images of what a body should be. Once these idolized perceptions are accepted as truth, thought distortions may develop, which can lead adolescents to self-destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, self-injury, and excessive exercise.
How can we prevent our teens from idolizing tragic celebrity figures of fantasy and deception? How can we reduce substance abuse and eating disorders among teens? Self-esteem is a major buzzword. Low self-esteem can increase the odds that a teen will look to numb or suppress discomfort, frustration, or pain. When a child is comfortable in his own skin, he can reach inward for well-being and strength rather than relying on outside sources to dull the senses. Having an open dialogue with your teens, without judgment or criticism, allows them to feel more comfortable discussing substance abuse, peer pressure, and sex. They will feel heard and understood, which will allow them to trust you with their deepest and darkest demons. Otherwise, they may look for validation elsewhere, joining groups or gangs where drugs and alcohol are the norm.
Another solution to this growing epidemic might be getting to know our neighbors. Creating deeper bonds within our own circles might alleviate the need to search for outside validation.
There are numerous causes of addiction, such as trauma, a genetic predisposition, peer pressure, a divorce, or a significant loss in one's family. Celebrity addiction is not as dangerous as drug or alcohol addiction, but it is another way that teens avoid what is really going on in life. It can prevent or delay teens from forming identities; rather, they opt to emulate a false self based on a favorite idol. Such a teen will never develop a true core self. If your teen shows warning signs, such as isolation, eating changes, depression, excessive sleep, or new acting-out behaviors, seek professional help. It could be a sign of addiction or an eating disorder. A professional can assess if there is a serious problem.
We all want to be loved for who we are, not for who we wish we could be. Being aware of the signs of celebrity addiction is a proactive way to curb negative behaviors before permanent damage occurs.
(This is part one of two parts)
A frantic mother tells her therapist that her 15-year-old daughter has quit the cheerleading squad, no longer dreams of going to college to become a lawyer, and has replaced her childhood friends with friends Mom has never met. Her daughter has been isolating, reading the latest celebrity gossip magazines, and becoming more rebellious at home. Clearly her daughter is pulling away, which can be a hallmark of addiction or depression - or simply an adolescent trying to form an identity.
When you think of addiction, you think of drugs, alcohol, or even an eating disorder. The newest addiction teenagers are facing is called "celebrity addiction." One-third of Americans are dealing with this phenomenon, which is linked to depression, anxiety, body-image problems, and addiction. In no way is this author comparing the ravages of substance abuse to celebrity worship. Rather, I look at today's teenagers with a different set of eyes.
According to studies, many teenagers believe that emulating the lifestyle of a favorite celebrity is one of the few ways to form an identity; if one doesn't reach the same level of stardom, she will be a worthless nobody. This demonstrates a dramatic shift in the way teenagers perceive success. Research reveals that teenagers would rather surround themselves with celebrities - or become one - than become a more intelligent human being whose life will benefit the world around them. We are raising a generation of adolescents who would rather become Kim Kardashian than a human rights activist.
This type of value system drives the entourage that idolizes Charlie Sheen. You have to wonder what it means when Sheen claims to be above surrender to the disease of addiction, and then more than 74,000 people apply to be his social media intern. Recently Sheen has started booking a national speaking tour to spread his message. What does this tell our teenagers? Is Sheen spreading the message that a person doesn't have to abide by rules of modern society? Are teens going to believe that they can be the nation's highest-paid TV actor, say outlandish things via all media, get fired, and lose access to their children... and yet still garner enough attention to stay in the headlines? Teens not only mimic their favorite celebrities by copying their hairstyles and fashions; they are inclined to mimic their addictions as well. Addictions are viewed as glamorous, and celebrity addicts are viewed as getting everything they want while indulging in self-destructive behaviors. This is a dangerous mindset to copy.
Unfortunately, we too often see or hear about celebrity excess: smoking, drinking or drug use, constant parties, and sexually acting out. Simply put, teenagers are witness to celebrity addicts that appear to be above the law and invincible. This mindset leads teenagers to assume that there will be no consequences for their negative behaviors, because they see celebrities get away with such behaviors. This mindset is not new to our society.
Many musicians and actors have died tragic deaths from addiction; it's a pattern that continues due to today's increasing drug epidemic. Musicians Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison glamorized the use of drugs and alcohol during the 1960s. More recently, Michael Jackson, an icon for decades, died due to drug addiction. His death was seen in the headlines more than news stories about serious events occuring throughout the world.
Teenagers have been basing their behavior on celebrity behavior for a long time. Adolescence is often a time of soul searching and finding an identity. It can also be a very vulnerable and impressionable time. However, today's approach to identity formation has crossed the line. Teen idolization is becoming a medical issue. Teens are undergoing surgery at younger ages and at alarming rates. It is not unusual for a teen to have a first plastic surgery augmentation around age 16. The desire to replicate Angelina Jolie's pouty lips and Kim Kardashian's backside shows how the physical attributes of celebrities pressure teens to want to change. This desire to look different creates self-esteem issues that will affect teens for their entire lives.
Jim Dredge, CEO of The Meadows and Pia Mellody, Senior Clinical Advisor were interviewed by the United Kingdom's Daily Telegraph to discuss addiction treatment offered in the United States compared to the United Kingdom. To read more about this story, go to:
Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW, CSAT will speak at The Meadows Free Lecture Series on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 from 7:00 - 8:30 pm at The Council on Alcohol and Drugs Houston at 303 Jackson Hill in Houston, Texas. The lecture title is "If It's Not One Thing It's Your Mother: How to Move Beyond Blame and Reclaim Your Wholeness." The lecture will explore how our family of origin experiences affect us in profound ways and how, in our adults lives, we seek what is familiar even if it is uncomfortable or worse yet, abusive. Vicki will present key concepts and strategies to begin the process of telling the truth about our childhood and reconnecting with disowned or forgotten parts of the self so that we can reclaim our wholeness. Contact Community Relations Representative Melanie Shelnutt at (713) 702-7784 for more information. No registration required. We look forward to seeing you there.