Whenever a man who struggles with pornography addiction comes to me for help, I usually view the pornography use as merely a symptom. Whether he is aware of it or not, the man may be using pornography to cope with deep emotional wounds. By self- medicating with pornography, the man conditions himself to turn to pornography whenever he’s feeling stressed, angry, sad, ashamed, abandoned, etc. as a result of those wounds. While his attraction to pornography is like a moth to a flame it’s simply a coping mechanism.
One specific wound that plays a critical role in the development of addictions is an attachment wound. Attachment refers to the emotional bond an infant develops with his primary care giver. This usually refers to the mother; however, with most male pornography/sex addicts, I have found attachment wounds with the father to be more critical. A healthy attachment develops when a father is actively involved in a child’s life starting at birth. The father provides ample love, affection and nurturance through eye contact, talking and singing to the child in a gentle voice, playing with the child, comforting the child, and meeting the child’s basic needs. This aids in healthy neural development for the child (Flores, 2011).
Through this bonded relationship the child observes how his father effectively deals with stressful situations. This enables the child to trust his father and feel safe with him. He knows he can always count on his father to take care of him and to keep him safe. This is called co-regulation. From this process, a deep confidence develops within the child. He not only learns from his father how to deal with life’s stressful situations, he believes he has also has the strength and the ability to successfully deal with them. This is called self-regulation. A child with a healthy, secure attachment to his father can develop healthy self-regulation, and thus deal with life’s struggles effectively (Flores, 2011).
Unfortunately, many men who become addicted did not have a healthy attachment with their fathers. This is often the result of deep family-of-origin wounds:
- Abuse: physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual
- Death of close loved one(s)
- Divorce of parents
- Family history of addiction
- Family history of mental illness
This lack of healthy bonding can actually affect brain development in the child. His father’s confidence and ability to self-regulate is not imprinted onto the child. Deep down he does not believe he has the strength and ability to deal with life’s stressful situations. Instead of being able to self-regulate, he becomes neurobiologically programmed to regulate externally. Thus, when he becomes depressed, anxious, sad, angry, etc. he will look outside of himself to regulate his emotions using any means possible. This often results in self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, food, pornography and sex. Thus, whenever confronted with a stressful situation, instead of being able to deal with it in a healthy and effective way, a man will turn to substance abuse as a temporary, dysfunctional way of regulating his nervous system (Flores, 2011).
One of my client’s, Joe, used pornography to cope with life. When he was a young child his parents divorced and his father moved away. The loss of his father was very painful and prevented Joe from developing the skills and confidence needed to navigate life’s challenges. Even before his parents divorced, the bond between Joe and his father was damaged. From the beginning of their marriage, Joe’s parents had a strained relationship. Because of the stress in the marriage, his father tended to avoid the home. He would work many ours overtime. When he wasn’t working he would be out with friends. Joe craved quality and quantity time with his father; however, he rarely received it. After the divorce, Joe rarely saw his father. This lack of a secure attachment to his father left Joe deeply wounded. When life got too tough for him to handle, Joe would turn to pornography to cope.
Fortunately, attachment wounds can be healed. Through counseling, support groups, and healthy relationships, a man can gain the confidence and skills to deal with life without resorting to substance abuse to cope. Our Catholic faith is also very effective in the healing process. Learning to turn to God as a loving and protective father can help heal attachment wounds. For those who may have difficulty with this, developing a devotion to St. Joseph as a spiritual father can be just as healing.
Once the father (attachment) wound is healed, and a man’s confidence has grown to a healthy level, dealing with life effectively becomes easy and there is no need to resort to porn to cope. God wants all men to be strong leaders, providers and protectors. By recognizing our wounds and turning to God, and professionals when needed, the attachment wounds that fuel addiction can be healed!
Flores, Philip J. (2011). Addiction as an attachment disorder. Lanham, MD, Jason
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