Sexual Addiction, are you sure about that?
I am interested in an aspect of addiction that has been emerging for me over the past while, particularly in relation to sexual addiction. This could be internet pornography, chat rooms, multiple partners, risky sex and so on. There are many theories and ideas that exist to explain the causes and describe treatments for addictive behaviour that include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Talking/Relational Therapies, Residential Rehabilitation, the Twelve Step Model, Motivational Interviewing and many more I am sure. Is addiction a disease, are we as a species predisposed to addiction, is addiction a mechanism for dealing with life events, is there a correlation with the environment or does it have to do with life relationships? I am sure that there is something valid in each of the models and ideas.
I am interested in a structural and conflict model that allows for the existence of plural selves that are experienced within our consciousness as well as on the edge of our awareness.
The ‘felt’ sense of these selves can be reduced to being responsible for behaviour and being irresponsible with our behaviour. It is as if there is an adolescent part of us who will do whatever he/she wants irrespective of the consequences and an adult part of us who is more mature and takes account of consequences in order to modify behaviour. In the conflict that ensues within the mind, body and emotions of the person who is addicted, it is usually the adolescent who wins out. Even when caught they find a way of continuing.
I remember a story and am not sure of the source which goes something like this; A man was talking to a Native American who was saying that he was constantly at war within himself. He described two wolves that lived inside him, one was a good wolf and the other was more negative and they were constantly at each other’s throats. The man who was listening asked; ‘and which one wins out?’ The Native American replied; ‘The one that I feed the most.’ This is a symbol for what can happen within the addict.
A part of this experience is linked to poor impulse control. The person knows that something is risky, wrong and crazy but at one level they know it is going to happen. I imagine this can have some link to early childhood development where infants over time learn to self regulate, to know that there are rewards for not giving in to immediate gratification and it would be a very long blog to go into all the possible permutations that might lead to an addiction.
When I hear talk of addiction it is as if the person is describing a love affair where they behave impulsively and sometimes recklessly (to the outside world) but feel fully justified. The addict seeks that ‘high’ over and over again irrespective of the consequences and even though they know internally they cannot regain control.
It reminds me of the Harvard study where five year olds were offered a sweet now. They were told that if they were able to resist for twenty minutes they would be rewarded with a second sweet. The study followed the children through school and into adult life. Those who chose to resist the impulse to have the sweet now and wait twenty minutes consistently demonstrated better social, relational, academic and occupational achievements in life. Therefore impulse control seems important to our long term emotional, physical, psychological, relationship and occupational wellbeing.
When I consider all of this I think about love. At certain stages love is likened to madness and we are full of chemicals such as adrenaline and dopamine. We can do crazy things and we lose a sense of perspective and at times responsibility for our actions and we can convince ourselves that we are totally right and justified. There may be a small voice resisting but we can drown it out.
Just replace the word love in the last paragraph with the word addiction. Does it scan?
I have an idea that an ‘antidote’ to the inner conflict that leads to addictive behaviour is intimacy. Intimate relationships are based upon openness, vulnerability, closeness and warmth. By this I do not just mean sexual intimacy but the ability to be oneself with another person in a mutual, respectful, unconditional, non secretive and congruent way.
For many the comfort of a bottle, a tablet, a joint, a chat room and so on is preferable to the frightening uncertainty of human closeness where if you get too close and let your guard down you can be hurt, betrayed, let down, judged, humiliated and so on. This is a scary prospect and at least you can rely on a bottle, drugs, the chat room, or porn.
Is love the answer?
Are your sure about that?
This is a link to the Sex Addicts Anonymous International site and is a self assessment; Are you a sex addict?