Pornography is an avoidance issue. There are some who believe that using pornography is about sex. I have had clients tell me over the years that, ‘I used to use porn, but that was just because we weren’t having sex. It was just a sex thing’. Many clients believe that this is the case. It is important to note that this simply is not true.
Pornography use releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is designed to feel good and help reward us for certain behaviors. Riding a bike, looking at a sunset, getting a good grade, eating good food – are all among the things that might release dopamine. Masturbation and orgasm release dopamine as well. When you use pornography, which is usually accompanied by masturbation and orgasm, you release more dopamine that your body is designed to take and it feels really good. People often use pornography when they are sad, tired, hungry, bored, etc… When these two things are paired, for example – being bored and then feeling better through dopamine through pornography use, an attachment is made. In the future, your body remembers that it can not feel bored if it uses pornography and gets dopamine. This then happens again and again and an addiction to avoiding boredom (or insert another uncomfortable emotion) is born.
Even if pornography use seems to be paired with not getting sex from your spouse, its still more about the loneliness you feel because of a lack of sex than the actual sex. You use because you are lonely, not because you are undersexed.
In therapy, a counselor who understands these principles will help you to build your emotional muscles so that you are not avoiding uncomfortable emotions. Rather, they will help you embrace them.
One of the most common phrases I hear as a couples therapist in Orem is ‘I feel like…’. This is often paired with ‘I feel that…’. Both of these phrases are very misleading in regard to relationships and communication. Many couples I work with in therapy will start talking about their marriage problems by saying something such as, “I feel like he doesn’t care”. This is usually followed by defensiveness from him where he would say, “I do care!”. He then explains why he does care. The problem with the ‘I feel like…’ statement is that it sounds like you are talking about your emotions because you used the word ‘feel’. The problem is that you followed it up with ‘like’. This turns it into a thought rather than an emotion or feeling. Instead of talking about your feelings you are talking about your thoughts and they are usually blaming or at least focused on others rather than yourself. This is, seemingly, a safer place emotionally to be – talking about others instead of yourself. But it doesn’t get a relationship anywhere and you don’t improve your attachment as a couple by doing this. It comes across as trying to be the expert on or the boss of your partner – and that rarely goes well.
As a couple’s counselor, what I suggest is to try to recognize when you say either of those phrases, (1) ‘I feel like…’ or (2) ‘I feel that…’. Ask yourself, then, if you are trying to describe your emotions or thoughts. If you are trying to describe what you feel then drop the ‘like’ or the ‘that’ and just say, ‘I feel _______’. Use one feeling word such as hurt, scared, betrayed, etc… Then you can describe this emotion more fully if you want – but keep it about you, not what you think about your partner. If you are trying to describe and thought then change your phrasing to (1) ‘It seems like…’ or (2) ‘I think that…’.
This isn’t going to fix everything, but will point you in the right direction and save you from some of your fighting as a couple.
Triston Morgan, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Orem Utah.
Many couples that come in to see me for counseling are dealing with the devastating effects of an affair or infidelity. There is a process that usually happens as things unfold. For the sake of this article, I will assume that it is the male partner who has had the affair, although this certainly is not always the case. When couples come in they are still, often, in the discovery phase. She is continuing to learn about what he has done or at the least she worries and fears that there is more than what she knows. He seems contrite and sorry to a degree and willing to go to therapy. After talking, it usually seems that there is more to it that what has been discovered or disclosed. Sometimes for women, they are having a hard time dealing with the shock and betrayal. I notice at this time that they are also dealing with fear of losing him. For some women they seem as if they are mad, hurt and afraid. That fear keeps them from really sharing their feelings about what has happened. There can be desperation at this point too. Sometimes they try to win or keep their husband because they realize that he has gone out and has been with or still is with someone else. There is an element of competition, perhaps. This can be very difficult because to her, it seems as if she isn’t able to fully embrace and share her feelings because if she did, he would get upset and leave for good. Over time, he gradually, as my experience with couples has shown, opens up more and shares more details about what he has done or is doing. As the couple works through therapy, it becomes safer to talk about these emotions and she does. For male partner, this can be surprising, and he often states that ‘I thought we were doing fine, where did this come from?’. This is because she hasn’t felt safe enough with him to share it before, but after working through some of the issue they face, she has felt more secure and stable in the relationship – so she shares more of the hurt or betrayal that she is feeling because she isn’t afraid that it will end their relationship. It’s important to understand that this is a normal part of the process of healing. A good couple’s therapist will be able to help a couple navigate the different stages of healing after an affair.
I’m currently accepting new clients in my Orem Utah counseling center office. Call me at 801-215-9581
Written by Dr Triston Morgan, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Anxiety is a problem most of us face at some point or another. It isn’t a question of ‘if’ we will experience it, but ‘when’. Anxiety comes in many forms. It can be difficult to cope with when it is severe and difficult to detect when it is mild. There is a situation when anxiety is actually covering up, and is a reaction to, other emotions. Let’s talk about how and when that is the case. There are primary emotions and secondary emotions. Primary emotions are our natural emotions to a situation. For example, feeling sad when you get a divorce is a primary emotion. In this example, you might also feel other emotions such as hurt, fear, confusion, betrayal, desperation, abandonment, despair, hopelessness, overwhelmed, etc. When these other emotions, in addition to feeling sad, become too much, a secondary emotion can come in to take the role of blanketing them so that you distance yourself or numb yourself from them. It covers them up so that you don’t see them and seemingly don’t have to deal with them. Anger is a good example of a secondary emotion. Anxiety, at times, can be, but isn’t necessarily always, a secondary emotion as well. When you are feeling all of those things, anxiety can come and make you buzz so you don’t feel them. In this case, it is secondary to what is actually going on. The trick, then, is to ask yourself, ‘what am I really feeling’ and recognize, feel and cope with your primary emotions. Dealing with anxiety alone won’t be enough as it isn’t the root of what is going on.
Pornography is often mistaken as a ‘sex addiction’. Some have said to me that, ‘If me and my wife just had sex more, pornography wouldn’t be an issue’. This is a myth and false. It has less to do with frequency of intercourse and more to do with the emotions behind so many things. Pornography temporarily numbs someone from feeling uncomfortable emotions. It keeps them from feeling what is really going on in their life. It helps them avoid. For example, feeling rejected, alone and unseen is uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to feel these types of emotion’s so they try to avoid them. They might recognize that those emotions are present, but their main goal then becomes to get rid of them without first picking them up and experiencing them. The only way to do this is to numb yourself. You can’t move something that you first don’t have. You have to pick up the emotion if you are going to do something with it. That act is counterintuitive and difficult. Pornography is one way that people avoid feeling what is right there in their lives. It numbs them from feeling rejected, alone or unseen. But those emotions don’t go away, however. They get buried and still influence us. Learning to feel uncomfortable emotions and increasing your emotional capacity is part of the solution to addiction to pornography. Simply stopping using pornography isn’t enough to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Moving pornography out of the way only serves as a move towards creating more space to feel your emotions and therefore increase your emotional capacity.
One of my past clients would often talk about his depression as if he had a relationship with it. I started to believe that it was a real entity in her life. As if she interacted with it and that it did something for her by being there. She would refer to it as coming and going. She would often say that she hated when it showed up because it would ruin things.
I started to realize that she was part way down a path towards recovery with this mindset, even though she was hurting because of depression. Depression isn’t something that a person is, but rather it is something that that a person experiences. It is outside of us (even though it feels like it is a part of us).
We started to work on externalizing this problem in her life by continuing to see it as something acting on her – from the outside. She was able to realize that she is not depression and that there is a part of her that is happy, willing and able. She was able to embrace this happy, willing and able side more often, despite depression pushing on her at times (and sometimes often!).
She started to learn how to let depression come and go in her life without debilitating her to the point where she couldn’t function. This helped lessen depression impact on her. She still had depression come around, but it was a different visit when it did.
I once had a client who told me that they had done everything, but that they still struggled with pornography use. They described how they had been to counseling, gone to 12-step meetings, talked with their church leaders and even friends and family. He described feeling completely stuck and lost at how to fix what he thought was a big problem in his life. When I asked him about what else he was involved in he didn’t say much. I asked if he were dating anyone or involved in sports or anything fun at school. He wasn’t. It seemed that he was putting his life on hold until he got rid of pornography. After speaking to him more it looked like he didn’t not feel worthy to enjoy anything because of the shame he felt because of his use.
At this point we had a lot of work to do. What I said to him next surprised him – I told him that I want him to do more of what he loves in life. I explored with him what he would be doing if he felt worthy to be happy and do fun things. I encouraged him to do these things whether he felt worthy or not. It was a difficult shift for him because he had bought into the traditional method of behavior change – which is to withhold something or to punish someone into changing. This doesn’t work.
As he started to engage in life he felt strange and as if he were saying that he was ok with his pornography use. I told him that he can still hate his pornography use, but that he still deserved to be happy. This gave him freedom to enjoy things again. Eventually, after a lot of hard work, he started to realize that his life did not have to be defined by his pornography use – that he could still enjoy life and be happy while trying to let go of something he didn’t want.
Many clients get to this point, but not without help.
After a decade and a half of doing couples therapy, I have found some common themes that are worth sharing. First, couples that seem to do well in treatment and in their relationship are committed to the relationship. This means that they are invested and locked-in (self-imposed). Second, they are humble. This means they are willing to learn and be taught. We can’t expect to know everything about our spouse’s needs. The minute we believe that we do, we put ourselves in a position to get stuck in our marriage.
I once worked with a couple who were going through trust issues. There had been pornography use and an affair. They seemed to struggle finding a way to trust each other and repair the damage that had done. As they embraced humility, however, over time they found the connection and healing they were looking for. It took the husband admitting that he had a problem to pornography and seeing how he had hurt his wife. This is difficult to do and a necessary step in the process. It also took humility for the wife to want to try again with her husband. She had to learn a new way of connecting with him so that he felt taken care of as well.
Someone once told me that when they finally got rid of pornography in their life, that they would ‘miss it’. This is common for those struggling with this problem. The reason that this is is because you form an attachment with pornography. It is there for you when you are struggling with stress or problems in your relationships. It is there when you are bored or lonely. It gives you a powerful reinforcer when you use it. However, the aftermath of shame is so powerful ,that you are often left thinking – why did I do this again. I promised that I would never do it after the last time. This shame often leads you to use again, ironically.
Overcoming pornography isn’t something that you can do alone. Many individuals will go through a cycle of using and then making a firm determination to ‘never do it again’. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough and many people become frustrated because of this seemingly never-ending pattern. Its important to include family members, friends support groups and professionals into your recovery so that you have the tools and support necessary to deal with this powerful behavior.
My four-year-old daughter placed herself in the middle of our living room to play with blocks. She was so engrossed with building a wooden castle that she didn’t notice her two-year-old sister walking towards her with her right arm stretched far back to slap her older sister across the head. When that slap came, my older daughter went from happy to surprise to anger and then lots of tears. She ran towards me seeking justice. “Mommy, she hit me!” My younger daughter remained still, looking innocent. I immediately walked over to her with my older daughter in hand and said, “Hands are not for hitting. Say sorry for hitting please.” I’m sure many parents can relate to this scenario. Teaching our children the skills for making amends is an important life skill and is not so much about saying the words “I’m sorry”.
There is a belief amongst some parents that enforcing premature apologies on children is not effective. Their reasoning is that premature apologies teach children to lie and encourage insincerity. It also creates shame and embarrassment. Other studies show that young children have the ability to be empathetic even before they can speak; therefore, parents should encourage apologies (Smith, Chen, Harris; 2010). As I reflected on my research and my knowledge as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I recognized several things we can do as parents to create productive apologies:
- Keep yourself in check: It’s frustrating to see your children fight, especially when it happens at inconvenient times. However, it’s important to remain calm and model for your children how to handle frustration.
- Be immediate when possible: When you see an incident occur between your children, address it. The best time for learning and growth is when the incident is still fresh in their minds. However, when there are time constraints and the issue cannot be addressed right away, it is important to tell your children when and where it will be addressed. Be consistent when using the alternative and follow through.
- Ask instead of tell: Avoid lecturing. Ask questions instead. “Tell me what happened?” “What were you feeling when you hit your sister?” Validate the expressed emotion and help them to understand that it is okay to feel frustration and sadness; however, it is not okay to hit or throw things. Help them to also make the connection between emotion and action. “Look at her face, how do you think she’s feeling right now?” Asking these types of questions enhances empathy.
- Problem Solve: Ask questions about what they think they should do when they feel frustrated or sad. Help them to come up with solutions. Ask questions about how they can make things better with their sibling/s.
- Have them practice a do-over: When your child identifies the solution, have them practice it with the other sibling/s. Praise them for their efforts at the end.
What is more important than the phrase “I’m sorry” is what children take away from the experience. We can facilitate and enhance learning opportunities by not focusing on the phrase “I’m sorry” but instead more on what can be learned from this situation and how can we improve.
Originally posted here: http://www.provofamilies.com/2018/02/07/forced-apologies/