Attachment wounds effect men’s lives in ways they are typically unaware. “Attachment” is the emotional bond an infant develops with his primary care giver, usually the mother. However, in some cases, especially with pornography/sex addicts, I have found attachment wounds with the father to be more critical. A healthy father-attachment develops when a father is actively involved in a child’s life starting at birth. Fathers provide 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. This is referred to as a secure attachment and continues throughout the child’s life (Flores, 2011; Ferree et al., 2012).
Through this secure attachment 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 safety alongside the father is called co-regulation. From this process, a deep confidence develops within the boy. He not only learns from his father how to deal with life’s stressful situations, he believes he has the strength and the ability to successfully deal with them on his own. Co-regulation matures to self-regulation. A child with a healthy, secure attachment to his father can develop healthy self-regulation. He has a strong internal locus of control. When life gets tough, he knows he has what it takes to survive and flourish. When feeling stressed, afraid, sad, angry, abandoned, etc. he is able to self-sooth and deal with his situation effectively (Flores, 2011; Ferree et al., 2012).
Unfortunately, many men who have relationship problems or become sexually addicted in some way did not have a healthy attachment with their fathers. We call this an insecure attachment. 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
- Authority Rape
Signs and Types of Insecure Attachment
First, let’s focus on anxious-preoccupied attachment (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991). These people fear abandonment. They seek high levels of intimacy, approval, and responsiveness from their partners. These people often appear very needy in relationships. They may even develop an unhealthy codependence. They may have had a secure attachment early in life that was somehow damaged. This can happen through death, divorce, or abandonment. They desperately want to get back the feeling of safety and security they once knew. They believe “you’re okay; I’m not okay.” To ease their emotional pain and anxiety they may self-medicate with pornography.
A man with an anxious-preoccupied attachment does not have the confidence to effectively deal with life’s stresses. Thus, when challenges arise he may look outside of himself and turn to addictive behaviors (pornography being a common one) to cope. For this person, successful recovery means working on healing his attachment wound and developing the confidence to successfully deal with life’s challenges.
These people have mixed feelings about close relationships. Deep down, they crave intimacy, yet feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. They may feel unworthy of being loved and expect to be rejected by others. They believe “You’re not okay; I’m not okay.” These people may turn to pornography or relationship styles that allow them to gain some sense of intimacy and connection without the risk of being hurt.
These people view themselves as independent and self-sufficient. They deny needing close relationships and may avoid attachment altogether. They may appear very guarded and defensive in the relationships they do have. For these people, attachment = danger. They deal with rejection by distancing themselves from the source of rejection. They believe “I’m okay; you’re not okay.”
A lack of healthy bonding can actually affect brain development in the child if his father’s confidence and ability to self-regulate is not imprinted onto the boy. Thus, he becomes anxiously or avoidantly attached. Deep down he does not believe he has the strength and ability to deal with life’s stressful situations. He has great difficulty self-soothing. Instead of being able to self-regulate, he becomes neurobiologically programmed to regulate externally. Thus, when he becomes depressed, anxious, sad, and/or 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 (Flores, 2011).
Do not dismiss the need for healing. God ordered creation so that the attachment with mothers and fathers leads to secure and confident men. In our broken society and broken families, men might need to regain something that was lost. In a comprehensive recovery program, an addicted man has the opportunity to work on healing his attachment wound. With his therapist and in his support group, he can interact with others in a healthy, safe environment. There he can also learn the skills to interact with others outside of recovery in healthy ways. This can help him develop the confidence needed to deal with life’s challenges, and thus not turn to addictions or unhealthy relationships to cope. He can enjoy interacting with other and develop healthy attachments with other adults, especially his wife.
Bartholomew, K. & Horowitz, L. M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four- category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.
Ferree, Marnee ed. (2015). Making advances: A comprehensive guide for treating female sex and love addicts. Ardmore, PA: Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health (SASH)
Flores, Philip J. (2011). Addiction as attachment disorder. Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson/Rowman & Littlefield.