Bishops may find the introduction to be the most helpful starting point. (That's why it's called the "Introduction"!) It is, in a sense, a broad overview with suggestions on how to work with someone who has an addiction to pornography. The rest of the document contains information which may help clarify some of the specific issues which most pornography addicts must deal with. So don't be overwhelmed by the size of the document. Read the introduction, then read the rest as time permits or as you feel a need for understanding of more of the specifics.
Pornography addiction is a sexual addiction, and like many other forms of sexual addiction it is treatable. But you should expect the treatment to be a long-term one. It may be helpful to think of a sexual addiction as similar to an alcohol or drug addiction.
The following points summarize an approach to helping someone who has an addiction to pornography or is at least a pornography abuser.
First: Establish a caring, understanding, loving relationship. Don't act surprised, and don't condemn or add to the guilt if at all possible. These people can do plenty of that for themselves.
Second: This is not a problem you can tell someone to "Just stop it!" The things they are doing are symptoms of something much bigger. Addicts cannot "Just stop it!" any more easily than cancer patients can simply "Just stop being in pain."
Recognize that the symptoms defining the sexual addiction are often a result of some form of abuse endured as a child or adolescent. Abuse causes distorted or irrational thinking. This distorted thinking can cause emotional pain. Addiction is also usually the expression of some sort of unmet need that causes emotional pain. Acting out the addiction is merely a way of medicating the emotional pain they may feel. Just as some people turn to drugs or alcohol to "forget" their pain, others may turn to sex, pornography, etc. to do the same.
The traditional "tools" for dealing with many ills of this life are not effective by themselves in dealing with sexual addictions. Reading the scriptures, praying, attending church or the temple, etc. are all good, but they are insufficient. Boyd K. Packer's oft-quoted analogy of the stage of the mind and using good thoughts, music, etc. to crowd the bad off the stage is good. But it is really only effective for someone on the outer fringe of the addiction -- and possibly only for those who are not addicted at all, but merely tempted. In the words of one pornography addict:
"When I was younger, I tried to sing 'Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel' to avoid my thoughts. I reached the point where I could sing the song and still concentrate on pornographic thoughts. I developed images related to the song I could watch while singing the song, and even still at times it was nearly impossible to keep my mind off of the pornographic thoughts."Third: Recognize that the member's problems may be bigger than the bishop is capable of handling alone. The member may need to be referred to professional counselors who recognize and support our beliefs concerning masturbation, sexuality, pornography, etc. By trying to provide counseling in areas where he is not remotely qualified to help, the bishop may end up driving the person further away because of the inherent shame the individual feels and the tremendous effort it took to approach the bishop. Depending on the nature of the difficulty, it may be better to refer the member to appropriate psychotherapists. The bishop can then work alongside them to support their efforts and help resolve all of the issues related to the repentance process.
Fourth: Help the member recognize the addiction as a regular pattern of acting out that can be observed and recorded. This may be done by asking him to recall the last time he acted out, and the time before that, and before that, etc.
Fifth: Begin to help the member understand what drives him towards his behavior: What was the catalytic event or environment leading up to the behavior? What drives him towards it? What kind of flawed thinking does he exhibit, and how can he overcome it?
Sixth: Identify resources for him to follow as he begins to understand more about the addiction, the causes/triggers, and the tools to overcome. The following list contains a sample of a wide variety of available resources, not all of which may necessarily be appropriate for all addicts.
Some people can see pornography and not be interested in it. They don't look for it and when it is presented to them they turn away from it and decline to view it. It's easy for them to not look at it.
Others may seek out pornography at some period in their lives hoping to fill some of their needs only to become disappointed and then never return to it.
Just as not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, not everyone who abuses pornography is a pornography addict.
While checking in with support groups, many addicts will use phrases like "I acted out yesterday," which means they indulged in their addiction. This is not a clear enough usage, however. Acting out is a frame of mind together with related behavior, rather than just instances of going all the way (e.g., taking drugs, drinking alcohol, having sex, overeating, or viewing pornography).
With this in mind, rather than saying, "I acted out yesterday," it is probably more accurate for the addict or abuser to say, "I am acting out these days."
The reason this distinction is important is that overcoming these things requires work on the whole person, not just stopping the specific behavior that represents the peak of acting out.
Addicts who are acting in are tightly self-controlled but also finding it necessary to tightly control others. They often become extremely critical of others and appear to be fanatical or self-righteous. During this phase there is complete and utter abstinence and the addict may feel that this time it will last.
Unfortunately, it is like a swinging pendulum and when acting in reaches its height, it will inevitably swing back to acting out. The key to overcoming lies in actually getting that pendulum to stop swinging.
Some abusers of pornography may not be willing to admit to pornography addiction and they may be right. They may be experiencing some difficulties with pornography abuse but not the pattern that marks outright addiction. The terms "acting out" and "acting in" still apply to them.
More important than building barriers is building boundaries. Acting out is an activity of no boundaries. In fact, most addicts and abusers have a great deal of difficulty identifying appropriate boundaries and distinguishing between boundaries and barriers. This is one area where a concerned and loving priesthood leader can give meaningful help. The wisest counsel is, of course, to stay away from the cliff edge rather than seeing how close you can get to it without falling. The addict should be encouraged to set boundaries for himself that help him stay out of the frame of mind that leads him to act out. Boundaries, though invisible, are often much stronger than the thickest barrier.
Boundaries must be specific to individual needs and based on individual triggers. Sometimes the addict must set boundaries for the behavior of others toward him. For example, he may have to tell a parent that he will no longer accept certain criticisms and insist that certain subjects be avoided in conversations or he will end the conversation.
Of course, the addict may not know what triggers him. That will require some introspection.
What triggers the addiction? What boundaries can be set to manage these triggers? What boundaries have been set and how have they helped? These are questions that every addict should ask himself and for which he should work hard to find the answers.
To illustrate the difference between a boundary and a barrier, consider the following situation. John has browsed through pornography on the Internet and made contacts with other pornography addicts through chat rooms and other email contacts. Now he finds that almost daily he receives a barrage of electronic mail which is pornographic in content. If he reads through those messages, it triggers in him a desire to go looking for more serious pornographic material. So John decides to set up a mail filter which deposits suspicious messages in a special mail folder. One problem with this approach is that sometimes, nonpornographic material gets put in that folder accidentally, so he feels he needs to open the folder and check out what's there periodically to keep from losing the legitimate messages before he deletes the entire contents of the folder. However, he often gets sucked into the pornographic messages while he's at it and ... off he goes.
The mail filter is an example of a barrier. Obviously it is far from fool-proof.
Another barrier for John would be for him to set up an option on his mail software that would automatically delete this folder every time he starts to read mail. Although a stronger barrier, it can always be disabled whenever John really gets the urge to browse for pornography.
An example of a corresponding boundary that John could set for himself might be to decide "I will only open the folder and delete the messages when so-and-so is with me." This too can easily be bypassed. However, setting such a boundary leaves the responsibility to take whatever steps are necessary on John's shoulders.
Boundaries are better than barriers because they still leave the addict with the choice and the responsibility to take whatever steps are necessary to get at the root causes of the addictive behavior.
The four components of the addictive system (core beliefs, impaired thinking, the addictive cycle, and unmanageability) are not necessarily chronological. They support each other and keep the person in bondage. They can each be addressed individually. For example, the addict may reach out to a friend in the fourth stage of the addictive cycle. This would be a courageous thing to do and well timed. People are more likely to seek help during the despair step than during the others.
One important thing for an addict to do is to address the core beliefs. Though an addict may believe consciously that he's basically a good and worthy person, looking deep into his feelings about himself may reveal something quite different.
Generally speaking, there is a lack of true intimacy in the life of an addict. This is a lack of ability to share deeply felt spiritual and emotional experiences with another person. This intimacy has nothing to do with sex. A key element in the recovery process will be for the addict to learn to develop appropriately intimate (i.e., emotionally, not sexually, intimate) relationships with others.
With sex addiction comes an impairment of the ability to be intimate with others without attendant eroticism. It's a difficult issue to tackle, mostly due to the swinging back and forth between acting out and acting in. While acting out, there is a false intimacy involved, but the addict is not emotionally present. While acting in, there is a forced separation from true intimacy. An addict acting in must, of necessity, avoid all meaningful contact with others. Intimacy is too easily eroticized.
Having a pattern of years and years of eroticizing things through pornography, fantasy, and masturbation causes those feelings to be transferred to almost all intimate experiences.
What an addict needs to learn is how to be truly intimate, thus avoiding the pitfalls of acting out and in. It's interesting that the first course of action most people think a sex addict should take is to isolate himself until he gets some self-control. This is very counterproductive, worsening the abandonment and isolation issues which are already at the heart of his problems.
Instead, to help, we should find appropriate and meaningful ways to teach the addict how to have an intimate relationship with someone that is not eroticized. It will often take a lot of patience on someone's part, and even a willingness to take the risk of being the object of erotic feelings.
A related difficulty that most pornography addicts experience is that they idealize the objects of their addiction (male or female) to the point that they do not view them as real persons, with feelings, emotions, or families who love them.
Love is the addict's most important need, not sex or pornography or whatever else the object of the addiction might be.
To overcome impaired thinking, the addict must work first on the core beliefs. Also, shame is overcome by confessing to someone he knows will not reject him when they hear the truth. Denial is a direct result of shame. The addict can overcome paranoia by being honest about other people's intentions and assuming that their motives are noble. He must fight the sincere delusions with brutal self-honesty, recognizing the truth whenever possible.
Most pornography addicts have feelings of worthlessness and unworthiness that are a direct result of viewing pornography and of the acting out which usually accompanies it. The following are a few suggestions for the addict or abuser that seem to help:
Acting in is a counterfeit for real recovery, because while one is acting in, he is being completely abstinent from the thing he is addicted to. It seems to him that he has found the key, which lies in excessive self-control. This is false, however. Abstinence is not the same thing as recovery. It is often the case that acting in can be maintained for extended periods of time, but without real recovery, the inevitable outcome of acting in is to cycle back through to acting out again.
Acting in is an excess of control, not only of one's self, but of others. This excessive control is necessary for the addict to maintain his abstinence. Since he is not able to tolerate any deviation in his personal plan, when he deviates or when others deviate from his way of doing things, he feels his hard-bought abstinence being threatened.
No one can ever control his environment enough to make himself completely safe, which is why acting in is not a good solution to addictive problems.
How can an addict know when he is really in recovery and not just acting in? The following questions provide some key indicators.
Addiction is usually fostered in upbringings where love is conditional, earned for doing things right. It is based on the two opposing and ideas of always doing things right, and of doing things to medicate pain. It happens in a mindset of feeling that love is earned and that when love is not given, one can feel better by indulging.
There is nothing at all wrong with doing things right, but as with so many other things it depends highly on one's motivation. If a person does things right out of a sense that doing things right is the only way to be loved, he is setting himself up for failure.
What is more important to the addict than determining if he is acting in is to determine if he is truly "in recovery."
A person in recovery makes some important breaks from the acting in model.
The following table correlates characteristic acting out behaviors,
their corresponding acting-in tendencies, and the counterpart characteristics
that are signs of recovery. This is taken from a model proposed by Dr.
Patrick Carnes. The correlation is important to observe.
|Acting Out||Acting In||In Recovery|
|Needs:||Excess||Deprivation||Met or sense of peace|
|Structure:||Chaotic||Rigid||Flexible but disciplined|
|Perceptions:||Unqualified||Judgmental||Compassionate but firm|
"And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2)
"The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever." (D&C 121:45-46)
This isn t meant to downplay the value of hymn-singing in overcoming evil thoughts. The suggestion is fine for those who deal with stray thoughts. For those who are more seriously addicted, this kind of gimmick can turn on them. Occasional employment of things like hymn-singing, scripture-reading, and on-the-spot praying can result in these things becoming triggers that feed addiction.
It is more important to make hymn-singing, scripture-reading, and prayer a continual thing, not last-ditch efforts at self-control. Used properly, these things will make all the difference. Used as tricks to regain self-control, they will become increasingly ineffective until they actually become triggers. This is illustrated by the following anecdote:
Another thing to practice in overcoming addiction is to avoid judgment, criticism, and anger. As the Lord indicated in the scripture just cited, acting in can be avoided by filling our bowels with charity toward all men.
A common form of acting in is to criticize and look down on those whose ability to abstain seems weaker than our own. Practicing charity and humility will avoid this pitfall.
If the addict will do all that he can to truly bring himself into line with the Savior and his gospel, avoiding uncharitable feelings towards others and the temptation to commit unrighteous dominion against himself, he will indeed find that abstinence and recovery will come to him "without compulsory means."
"For me, looking at it as an illness that I'd tried my best to fix but I could not and only God could, has worked. This is more than just saying, Oh, I have faith and I'll be good and ask God to help me. It means saying I'm completely powerless over the entire thing and I turn it over to God to work it out for me and I stay powerless and helpless as He does the work. This is a tough one for most of us Mormons, as we think God only helps those who help themselves. This is true but sometimes we've backed ourselves into a corner and we must use the ultimate bit of faith to do nothing but be completely powerless and helpless."
Busy-holism is one manifestation of addiction to other things. It is an avoidance mechanism that keeps the addict from addressing those issues that make him sick. It is evidence of unmanageability. To slow down would require him to face up to his feelings, so subconsciously he keeps filling his life with things that help in avoiding either feeling or acting out.
One way to combat busy-holism is to consider the cost in terms of its effects on other family members. Compulsive and addictive problems are often multigenerational. They can be traced back in family histories for many generations. As an example, one addict's great-grandmother was a gambling addict. His generation is the first generation in the family since the late 1500's where couples have stayed married to their first spouses. It is also the first generation of the family to have been raised entirely in the Church. But even with the Gospel in their lives, there are still problems of addiction and abuse in the current generation. Whether wittingly or not, problems are passed from parent to child over many generations. No matter how hard the addict tries to keep his addiction separate from his family life so that the children will not be part of the cost of the addiction, they will inevitably be affected.
If the unthinkable were to happen and a child became gravely or urgently ill or in danger, nearly any parent would clear everything out of his schedule in order to be there for that child. Yet, even though the addiction of the parent represents a danger to the child in a sense, a communicable disease the child is in danger of being infected with the addicted parent keeps his killer schedule and neglects to take the time he would have taken if the danger seemed more clear and present.
An addiction should be treated just as if it were a danger to the health, well being, and long-term happiness of the family.
Dr. Peck tells of a woman he was counseling who was having lots of trouble getting all of her work done. Finally, one day he asked her if she liked cake. She responded that she did. He asked her how she eats cake. She usually ate the frosting and left the cake, not because she didn't like the cake, but because she didn't like it as much as she liked the frosting.
Such was the pattern of her workday. She did all the things she liked to do first, and then had the rest of the day to look forward to having left only the things she hated doing. Not much incentive there to do the distasteful but necessary things, when you look at your afternoon and think, "I wish I were somewhere else, doing something else."
Reverse it and do the difficult, distasteful, or boring things first, get them out of the way, and be glad that the rest of the day is filled with interest, fulfillment, and positive gratification.
This will enhance the skill of avoiding self-destructive, but instantly gratifying forms of self-expression.
Although prayer, scripture study, church and temple attendance, priesthood blessings, etc. are all helpful, by themselves they are insufficient. If they were enough by themselves to insure recovery, members of the church wouldn't need to go to their bishops for help.
One difficulty with this "hush-hush" approach is that badly needed success stories are nearly impossible to find. But there is another difficulty involved. That is the sin of ingratitude.
Recall the New Testament story of the ten lepers who were told by the Savior to go to the priests for a ceremony of purification. As they turned to go, they were all healed and excitedly went to do as Jesus had told them. One, however, paused and turned back to Him and gave thanks.
For the casual sinner who repents of pornography abuse, the advice to speak no more of it seems wise. But, for the addict, to say nothing of the healing he has been granted and to fail to give encouraging words to others similarly afflicted seem more like ingratitude.