Thursday, January 16, 2014

“In Recovery” ≠ “Not Tempted”

What was Calvin hoping to accomplish in therapy? He pressed his clenched his fist into his thigh and said, “I want to get to the point where temptation doesn’t even faze me.”

Wrong goal.

There may be men who “aren’t even fazed” by sexual temptation. I’m certainly not in that elite club. I only know one or two men who claim to be. I dare say very few—if any—of them are recovering sex addicts.

I let Calvin know immediately that I wouldn’t be trying to help him with that. I know better. I’ve seen too many people bang their head against that wall.

In fact, I talk all the time to new clients who’ve been trying for a long time to get to that magical point on the horizon. It goes worse for them than staying just as far from their goal as when they started trying. Unfortunately, they continue to find themselves ever further from it.

They’ve tried to clamp down on all thoughts and urges, and they find the task maddeningly difficult. They can’t even go to work without finding their eyes drawn to body parts, their minds drawn to sex acts. It’s never been this bad at work before! They can’t go to church without struggling. So much for having a spiritual experience! They can’t go to the store. And we’re not talking about the mall with the Victoria’s Secret displays and the sexy cosmetic counter attendants—we’re talking Sam’s Club. What should they do, become hermits?

One way to gauge the effect of an addiction in your life is to assess the “size of the footprint” of the problem. How much of your time, energy, and focus is consumed by it? Consumed by lusting—or fighting lust? Spent looking for ways to act out sexually or spent feeling guilty about what you’ve done in the past and fearing that you'll screw up again in the future? How much of the pie chart of your life is taken up by all the various aspects of this problem?

The footprint of addiction for men who have adopted a zero tolerance policy toward sexual thoughts tends to be up in the 70-80% range. They may not be acting out very often, but their life remains dominated by the struggle. Given the heart and soul they’re putting into their struggle against it, you’d think the footprint would be shrinking. And yet it keeps growing.

Calvin said to me, “The harder I try to get rid of sexual thoughts, the worse it goes. Now it’s like a grizzly bear on my back. I go around with the hope in the forefront of my mind that I won’t see an attractive woman. I’m living in fear.”

Hellish way to live.

Fortunately, it goes far better once we 1) understand the power of the “resist/rebound effect,” 2) accept the way the sexual brain operates, 3) adopt more realistic and helpful goals with regard to sexual temptation, and 4) broaden the focus of our recovery to include temptation management but emphasize emotion management and overall personal growth.

In the coming weeks I’ll discuss these issues in greater detail. Stay tuned!


  1. ah i know this all too well...i just posted on this concept...

    Still trying to figure out what my eventual goal is....sexual sobriety seems to be the only one for now.

  2. I greatly value your insights and perspective on this issue. I appreciate you addressing it here and look forward to you discussing it in greater detail.

  3. Very nice post, thanks !