By Nancy Greenlee, MAPC, LCPC
“I am hurt and I’m devastated. Being married to my husband is like doing yoga on one leg,” said a recent workshop participant. “I’m trying to hold things together, but I keep crashing down.”
By Dr. Georgia Fourlas, LCSW, LISAC, CSAT, Rio Retreat Center Lead Therapist
There is an indescribable beauty in watching participants move into a deeper level of intimacy after struggling through the destruction of sexual addiction.
By Cassandra Rustvold, LMSW, MEd, Trauma Therapist at Gentle Path at the Meadows
Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has the potential to transform the trajectory of one’s life in a multitude of ways. While the effects of childhood sexual abuse are largely individualized and can manifest at different points throughout the lifespan, commonly reported symptoms and long-term effects include dissociation, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, relationship difficulties, and addictive or compulsive patterns of behavior (Aaron, 2012).
The sexual functioning and sexual identity in adolescence and adulthood is a particularly vulnerable factor in survivors. When a child suffers sexual abuse, sexual arousal becomes activated prematurely and can largely impact the survivor’s sense of autonomy over their body and sexual sense of self (Roller, Martsolf, Draucker & Ross, 2009).
It can also draw early connections in the neural networks of the child’s brain that associates sex with power, fear, shame, confusion, secrecy and/or pain. It is not difficult to imagine why those whose sexuality has been impacted are more vulnerable to struggles with intimate relationships and sexuality.
When attempting to reconcile one’s abuse, a particularly confusing component for survivors of CSA is the experience of pleasurable physiological responses to their abuse, in conjunction with their emotional and psychological distress. Children who have experienced these positive and pleasurable feelings often report feelings of shame and responsibility tied to their abuse and sexuality, and may experience an overall distrust of their bodily reactions (such as arousal) or physical dissociation (Hunter, 1990 & Long, Burnett & Thomas, 2006).
This fusion of shame, secrecy and pleasure has the potential to predispose one to sexual aversion, sexual anorexia, dysfunction, or compulsion; thereby deterring them from developing healthy sexual scripts in adulthood.
Three commonly experienced symptoms of childhood sexual abuse are also cornerstones of sexual addiction: compulsivity (the inability to control one’s behavior), shame, and despair.
In sex addiction, shame and despair act as a precursor to the beginning of future cycles, where the need to keep emotional pain at bay leads to mental preoccupation as an escape. The result of this addictive cycle often includes isolation, anxiety, alienation from loved ones, a breaking of one’s own value system, and secrecy; all things that often increase feelings of despair and a yearning to escape and repeat the cycle.
When an individual is struggling with intrusive thoughts of their sexual abuse or insidious negative self-talk as a result of their abuse, the lure of escape through addictive patterns of behavior is not only compelling but sometimes a means of psychological preservation.
In Dr. Patrick Carnes’ book The Betrayal Bond, eight trauma responses common among individuals who meet the criteria for sexual addiction are identified: trauma reactions, trauma pleasure, trauma blocking, trauma splitting, trauma abstinence, trauma shame, trauma repetition, and trauma bonding.
These patterns of behaviors are often unconscious attempts to reconcile, reframe, or repair the abuse that happened in youth. Unfortunately, they do not always accomplish this task and can result in perpetuated psychological and emotional damage.
Gender differences also appear to play a role in how these difficulties manifest in adulthood and whether or not someone will seek out help.
Even in 2016, boys and men are still provided with narrow cultural and familial messages about what it means to be a masculine. This narrative includes such things as devaluing emotional expression and vulnerability, while prioritizing promiscuity and maintaining control.
Research has found that male survivors are less likely to report or discuss their trauma and more likely to externalize their responses to childhood sexual abuse by engaging in compulsive sexual behaviors (Aaron, 2012). For a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse, these expectations are in large conflict with the need to shatter the secrecy of their trauma and/or obtain and maintain healthy sexual relationships; both of which require an open and honest dialogue.
For men struggling with childhood sexual abuse and sexual addiction, learning to abstain from problematic sexual behaviors that reinforce abusive sexual scripts is just as important as learning how to develop healthy intimate bonds and create a sexual identity that is affirming.
For someone attempting to face these complex issues the importance of having acceptance and unconditional, non-judgmental support cannot be understated. It is the abusive and negative interpersonal interactions that created the pain and it is the supportive and affirming ones that have the power to lift it.
At Gentle Path at The Meadows, we specialize in creating this space while offering a host of trauma-based services that are informed by the most current understanding of the nature of trauma and its impact on the person as a whole. Additionally, the therapeutic focus at Gentle Path includes not only learning to identify which components of one’s sexuality are subtracting from the quality of their life but also identifying or creating ones to enrich it.
Give us a call today at 800-244-4949.
Aaron, M. (2012). The pathways of problematic sexual behavior: a literature review of factors affecting adult sexual behavior in survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, 19(3), p. 199-218.
Carnes, P. (1997). The Betrayal Bond. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
Hunter, M. (1990). Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.
Long, L. L., Burnett, J. A., & Thomas, R. V. (2006). Sexuality counseling: An integrative approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.
Roller, Martsolf, Draucker & Ross (2009). The sexuality of childhood sexual abuse survivors. International Journal of Sexual Health, 21, p. 49-60.
Congratulations to Patrick Carnes, PhD, Senior Fellow and clinical architect at Gentle Path at The Meadows. He has received the prestigious 2016-2017 Fulbright - Canada - Palix Foundation award in Brain Science with additional support from The American Foundation For Addiction Research (AFAR).
Dr. Carnes now joins the ranks of the many Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer Prize winners and other distinguished scholars who have received this award. He will also serve as a Distinguished Visiting Chair at the University of Alberta in 2017.
He will use his award to conduct a groundbreaking and unprecedented research study into the genetic factors associated with sexual addiction. More than 1,000 people (500 sex addicts and 500 non-addicts) from various centers across the U.S. and Canada will take part in the study. The study seeks to answer the following questions:
A full-genome genetic analysis of all participants will be conducted via saliva specimens. Advanced statistical techniques will be used to identify the genes that are linked to various types of sexual addiction, and to link genetic patterns to psychopathology and sexual addiction type.
This study could lead to many exciting developments that would vastly improve treatment and access to treatment for those who struggle with sex addiction. It could, for example:
Please join us in congratulating Dr. Carnes and in supporting his efforts to lead us to a greater understanding of sex addiction and an improved ability to offer effective treatments for those whose lives have been shattered by the disorder.
On Friday, June 24, 2016, The Meadows will celebrate its 40 years of excellence in helping patients struggling with addiction and behavioral health disorders. An open house event will take place at The Meadows Outpatient Center in Scottsdale, Arizona from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. MST.
There will be several guest speakers on-hand to talk about The Meadows’ legacy and its impact on the gradual acknowledgment throughout the behavioral health community of childhood trauma as a key factor in addiction and other disorders.
The Meadows was one of the first addiction treatment programs in Arizona. When the first patient was admitted on June 18, 1976, the program was focused primarily on alcoholism and was geared toward men.
In the 40 years since, The Meadows has expanded to treat both men and women with a wide variety of addictions, trauma, and mental health issues. It has also added several specialty programs including Gentle Path at The Meadows for men struggling with sex addiction; The Claudia Black Young Adult Center for people aged 18 – 26 with addiction and behavioral health issues; Remuda Ranch at The Meadows for women and girls with eating disorders; and The Meadows Outpatient Center for those who need treatment in an intensive outpatient setting. They also recently opened the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows where they host five-day intensive workshops exploring a wide range of emotional growth, relationship, and personal growth topics.
Throughout the years, The Meadows has also stayed on the cutting edge of treatment modalities. From the beginning, they were one of the first to recognize childhood trauma as a root cause of addiction and behavioral health disorders and pioneered treatment methods for helping patients overcome their trauma and harmful self-beliefs. Still, to this day, they are often among the first to add the latest, scientifically proven methods for helping patients regulate their emotions and overcome their addictions and disorders—methods like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing®, and most recently, neurofeedback through their cutting-edge Brain Center.
“It is hard to find an area of mental health or addiction recovery that hasn’t been influenced in one way or another by The Meadows,” says Sean Walsh, Chief Executive Officer. “When I think of the thousands upon thousands of patients and families whose lives have been forever changed as a result of The Meadows it is an overwhelming and very humbling experience. The Meadows history and legacy inspires me to strive every day to ensure we are pursuing excellence and that we do all we can to be a source of hope and light to those we are honored to treat.”
To RSVP for the 40 th Anniversary celebration, contact Shannon Spollen at firstname.lastname@example.org.