The Psychological Perspective of Sexual Addiction
Many sexual addicts feel lonely, abandoned, and angry. They desperately long for love, intimacy, affirmation, and nurture. But they notice that their needs aren’t being met. Consequently, in many cases, the behavior of sexual addicts becomes a substitute for true intimacy and love. Emotional discomfort such as helplessness, powerlessness, loneliness, and hopelessness are one of the primary catalysts in bringing about sexual addiction. These feelings may begin in an unhealthy and dysfunctional family with illness and wounds during childhood. The sex addict has difficulties expressing emotions appropriately or solving emotional discomfort in their family of origin. Thus, the addict has immature skills in identifying emotional feelings. The addict yearns to escape the emotional pain they have experienced in the past. A sense of helplessness or powerlessness drives them to have a strong desire to repair these emotional discomforts and becomes an uncontrollable force to the addict.
Many researchers posit that abusive family backgrounds, including abandonment, abuse, and neglect, can cause children to develop painful emotions and problematic behavioral patterns, leading to sexual addiction. Abandonment is experienced primarily in the family-of-origin when both parents do not fulfill children’s needs. Children learn how to have an intimate relationship with others through parental love and acceptance, such as appropriate physical touching and verbal encouragement. Lack of parental love and nurture obstructs the fulfillment of a child’s natural desires. Children whose emotional needs have not been met feel powerless and insecure in such an environment. The consequences of emotional pain drive them to find other methods of satisfying their desires.
Abuse is another aspect that can lead to sexual addiction. To be abused by a parent or family member leads to feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, and confusion. Children who are abused question their self-worth and safety. Shame, one of the contributing factors of sexual addiction, can overwhelm an individual and be internalized in one’s heart. The message shame gives abused children is that they are a mistake and worthless. Abused children do not know how to cope with abuse and make an effort to bury horrifying memories. It is very difficult for the abused to confront past pain because it is painful to recollect these emotions. An adult who has been abused during childhood seeks to escape the painful feelings.
Neglect is also recognized as a root cause of sexual addiction. Neglect indicates a parent’s irresponsibility towards the child’s spiritual, physical, emotional, or sexual development. Spiritual neglect often stems from the absence of parents’ necessary education and information about God and Christian life. Physical neglect is a lack of appropriate physical health care. A child whose emotional needs are not met can create a propensity for emotional numbness. Children need approval, praise, and encouragement. A lack of these experiences causes children to become emotionally numb. Children who are emotionally neglected may desire to please themselves with false intimacy. Sexual neglect comes from the absence of appropriate and healthy sex education in the family. Children who are sexually neglected in the family receive an unhealthy and distorted message from the current culture and mass media. Early sexualization, without proper cognitive ability or development to accept sexual stimuli and feelings, influences children to lose control of future sexual encounters because of their early dealings with the subject.
How can sex addicts who experienced these wounds as children be treated? Sexual addicts who have experienced abuse or neglect in a relationship can be cured through healthy relationships. Sexual addiction is difficult to treat on its own. Since emotional needs have not been met, it is necessary to understand those feelings and express them appropriately. Since they use sex to deal with their emotional pain, they need to learn more appropriate and healthy ways to deal with more negative emotions. In particular, sex addicts need to accept that God has made them beautiful creatures and value their existence in God’s love in dealing with shame for themselves. Sexual addicts tend to demean themselves and view themselves pessimistically due to the wounds they have received, so they have difficulty finding the value and meaning of their lives. Therefore, sexual addicts should believe that God can use their difficult life experiences meaningfully. It is also essential to accept the loss of sufficient love and care in the lives of sex addicts. Sexual addicts are poor at establishing healthy relationships because they have not experienced caring and nurturing in past relationships. It is important to experience care and acceptance through healthy relationships through sharing their pain in a healthy community. By experiencing acceptance when they show their faults and weaknesses to others, they can be honest in front of others and trust others. The love and acceptance experienced through a positive relationship with God and others play a vital role in recovering sex addicts suffering from inappropriateness and shame.
Carnes, P., & Carnes, P. (2001). Out of the shadows : understanding sexual addiction (3rd ed.). Center City, MN: Hazelden Information & Edu.
Laaser, M. R. (2004). Healing the wounds of sexual addiction: Zondervan.
Did you enjoy this blog? We think you’ll like the other blogs in this series, too! Be sure you check out what Dr. Lee has to say about the neurological and spiritual perspectives on sexual addiction in his other posts.