Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Keep Anchoring Back to Love

Your deeper sense of self, who you are as a human being, both body and soul, can be a profoundly helpful anchor when the brain starts hankering for superficial and inappropriate sex. My friend George Collins suggests a simple way to facilitate this anchoring in his book, Breaking the Cycle:

"As a start, just put your hand on your heart, close your eyes for a moment, and feel the essence of you. Experience that stillness deep inside yourself. Although this may sound strange, I'd like to you try it anyway. Time and time again I've seen the simple act of experiencing stillness lead clients to discover how to live their lives in new and more satisfying ways."

The Value of Anchoring

We experience so many tugs and pulls amidst everyday life that we can start living in reaction to that urgent thing over there and this interesting thing right here. We end up spending our days like a pinball, bounced from one superficial reaction to another, having completely lost our connection to who we are deep down. Unfortunately, all these other little bounces prep our mind to be bounced to porn.

But it didn't start with porn. The pinball got rolling as we let our lives become a series of mini mental hijackings. We let ourselves get riveted for a minute or two by the news on our smartphone of some politician's snafu of the day and go right from that to the caramel brownie that looked so tasty behind the glass at the dessert counter that we just couldn't pass it up. We are no longer in the driver's seat of our lives, having let our minds and bodies be driven by the daily tsunami of media and marketing.

How to Anchor

Pausing what you're doing throughout the day and placing your hand on your heart is a way to encourage your mind to slow down and pay attention to what's deeper: your essential self. With your hand on your heart and your mind oriented inward, you may start to feel more in touch with yourself or a quiet sense of peace.

Conversely, you may become aware of some unease that you hadn't noticed before. Although it might be a relief to settle yourself for a minute and get in touch with what's going on deeper down inside, it's not always pleasant in that way. The goal is not to feel better but to get in touch so that in the future you can better stay in touch.

What Flows from Within Will Look Different

When we're in touch with ourselves it changes the way we live. Our lives become beautiful as we act in ways that are in coherence with our values. And we're beautifully balanced, integrated body and soul. We freely manifest various aspects of ourselves, flashing with greater ease from one facet to another, be that sensuality, spirituality, playfulness, learning, or socializing. This is how we get our fill of a broader and more balanced panel of the soul nutrients we require to thrive.

Specifically, you may find yourself walking slower and enjoying the scenery more. You might smile and have more meaningful conversations with loved ones--or even strangers. And when people ask what you want, you'll have an easier time answering from the heart, because you're used to turning inward instead of being so caught up in what's out there.

All of this is and more is what's coming as you learn to stay in touch with yourself. For now, here is the action step you can take to start practicing:

Do This

Take a couple of minutes and put your hand on your heart. Turn your attention from all the action that's going on "out there." Listen below the surface winds and waves of thoughts. At first it might seem unclear exactly how to go about this. What is my essential self, really? How will I know if I'm in touch with my essence? Rather than worrying too much about all that, simply quiet yourself and attune inwardly in a respectful, loving way. Adopt an open mentality, perhaps with a hint of curiosity.

Approach this the way you would go into the forest to catch a glimpse of a species of animal you'd never seen before. You'd find an area they frequent, make yourself inconspicuous so as to not spook them, and sit quietly and wait. Even if you don't see the animal in the process, your appreciation for it and your overall reverence for nature gets a boost in the process.

It's not necessary to talk to yourself, but if I had to put the mentality into words it might be, "I'm right here. I'm listening now. Inner self, you may be used to me tuning you out, but I'm open now. I'm aware that you're there. I'm shining the light of my attention and interest in your direction."

Let us know how it goes as you practice placing your hand on your heart and anchoring to your deepest, most true and loving self.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Track Failure with Care to Foster Future Success

How's this for quick results: most people start noticing benefits within a month of starting to keep a simple record their porn-related thoughts and behaviors. Here are some questions I recommend you consider answering every day, but feel free to adjust this to make it fit your needs. Keep your record somewhere that it will accrue and compile over time so that you can eventually see big picture patterns you've never noticed before. These kind of insights and revelations come even to my clients who have struggled with this habit for decades and thought they were acutely aware of all its nuances and permutations.

P: Did I view porn today?
L: Was I lust-prone today?
M: Did I masturbate today? (Capital M = to climax, lower case m = self-stimulation w/o orgasm.)
C: Contributors--what went on in my day that might have helped fuel my success or failure in these three areas?

How It Looks in Action

If you had no issues today, your entry might look like this:

3/30/16: P L M C: Great weekend, rejuvenated, so not particularly susceptible.

Recently one of my clients didn't masturbate to ejaculation but spent more time than usual sudsing up his genitals in the shower because he was loving the stimulation. He didn't look at porn but found his gaze lingering on the cleavage of the women in the photos accompanying the suggested links at the bottom of a couple of the news articles he read. Here's how his record for the day looked:

3/13/16: P L m C: Weird weekend. Wanted sex and resented my step-kids being at the house for so long so we didn't have alone time. Frustrated and lonely even though around people.

Bonus Extra Credit Journal Topics

I am hesitant to include these because I don't want record keeping to become such a big task that you start out strong but then fail to follow through for days at a time and eventually drop altogether the habit you're trying to develop. Go ahead and try adding these if you think they'll help, but it's okay not to, especially early in your record keeping. Some clients who go most days without giving in to temptation reserve these bonus questions for digging deeper into failure on the days they slip up.

O: Other--what other unwanted habits did I indulged? (Procrastinating, losing my temper, overeating or unhealthy eating, skipping exercise, slacking on chores, oversleeping, not getting to bed on time, etc.)

T: Thinking--was my self-talk healthy and constructive or did I let it deteriorate into resentment, negativity, or unproductive brooding?

And Now, for the Most Productive Topic of All...

E: Emotion--what feelings--enjoyable and distressing--did I experience throughout the day today? What thoughts, events, or interactions spawned those feelings?

Even though it takes more practice to become conversant in the arena of emotion than it does to simply record your behaviors, over time you'll find it to be the most fruitful exploration of all. One of my friends who has been in recovery from sexual addiction for decades now once told me that he attributes his success to "the Feelings Journal I started keeping early on in my recovery and have kept ever since."

Put It All Together

A journal entry a clients shared with me today encompassed all of these elements:

P, L, M
C: Not sure why I was susceptible to lust today. Mainly it was over some Spring Break photos on Facebook
O: Stayed up late. Tried to study but didn't get much done after about 11. Binged on Instagram.
T: Worried I might not do well on my Anatomy and Physiology final.
E: Some feelings of failure, discouragement. Hard to keep believing in myself when I can't seem to kick my porn habit and struggle semester after semester in school.

Do This

If you're not already keeping a record--or if you've started and then stopped again in the past--I would encourage you to commit today to start keeping a simple, basic daily record of your recovery efforts and your successes and failures. Then, when you do fail, I beg you to approach that failure in a loving, patient, attentive way so that you can extract all the wisdom you can from it.

Please share below what you've learned from your failures or what role record-keeping has played in your recovery.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Resolve Now to Start Loving Failure

Failure can be amazing! (Even though it's not very fun.) It's how we learn what went wrong and how to get it better next time. And the power of failure never expires, even if the experience itself gets old. Each next failure is equally fantastic. It's going to either put an exclamation point behind our last lesson or teach us something else altogether that we may not have seen before. Providing that we approach it in the right way.

Love Failure At Least Enough to Learn from It

Looking in an interested, clear-eyed, honest--and I would even add loving--way at failure is how the elite become the elite. Tom Brady goes over game film again and again watching every little detail of what went wrong. He's not beating himself up for it. He's extremely invested in success, so he's scrutinizing failure.

Think about how you succeed at a video game. You hate it when you die, but you also tend to remember particularly well what happened right before you died. That enables you to see that same danger coming the next time. And your second time in that situation you live... or you learn even more about exactly how to die--and by extension how not to die in the future.

It really works to watch game film and take in the details of how our video game character dies. Unfortunately, these processes have nothing in common with the way we usually respond to failure in our self-control efforts.

Our Usual Unloving Reactions to Failure

After relapsing to porn, one of my clients used to beat himself up for a day or so, feel miserable--like a loser--for a day or two more, and then on about the third or fourth day after a slip try to pick himself up, dust himself off, try to forget about it and go on with his life, vowing to "try even harder from now on" not to give in. And hoping against hope that he could keep that resolve later when cravings were strong again.

What a waste of a failure! Fortunately he learned to track his failures in a more loving way so that he could learn from them.

Another client, after lapsing to porn, used to tell himself "Wow, I was doing so well but fell back into it. I guess I'm never going to get over this. Maybe that's how it is for all of us who are into porn! That guy at the 12-step meeting, he had to be in his seventies! Apparently none of us ever get over this problem, do we! I guess we're all hopelessly addicted."

What a waste of a failure! Fortunately, he too is learning to track the details of his failures so that he can learn from them. It's the most loving thing to do.

Adopt a More Loving Mentality

Think about the way Jane Goodall approached her work studying the chimps she lived among. She was a curious scientist, but when you watch footage of her in their midst, there's no question that she loves them. Watch the way Augusto Odone, played by Nick Nolte in the film "Lorenzo's Oil", responds to his son's deterioration from ALD. It's obvious that he hates the disease his son has, but he loves his son and that fuels his fascination with the human body and chemistry to the point where he spends hours in the library and dreams about molecules and ends up helping to discover a cure.

I have some experience in this arena. I've had a "bad back" since my early twenties. For the first fifteen years I bemoaned the fact that it kept going out, regretted my genetic vulnerability to back pain, and spent a pretty penny on straps, braces, and cushions for bed, my chairs at home, the chair in my office, and the driver's seat in my car. All the while noting very little progress in my back pain.

Then fifteen years ago I decided to take a different approach. A therapist I admire said that pain is the best teacher, and we can treat pain as an opportunity to have a learning experience.

Loving Attention Healed My Back

I decided to learn more about the back and spine. I studied the anatomy and physics of the human body. Among other things I discovered that if you have tight hamstring muscles, when you bend down your back muscles must stretch even further to make up for the lack of give in your hamstrings. But since lower back muscles aren't as strong as the hamstring, they're the ones that give out. I learned about yoga stretches that loosen the back and hamstring muscles.

I learned about the importance of core muscles and learned some core-strengthening exercises. I started keeping a journal of the times my back went out and discovered that, sure enough, it was typically when I'd slacked off on my yoga and ab-ripper routines. That provided more motivation to stay consistent.

Over the last several years I've gradually had fewer and fewer back "tweaks" that leave me listing to the right for days at a time. In fact I can tell you exactly from my "back tweak journal": It happened four times in 2013, three times in 2014, and once in 2015. Okay, so I've already had a minor tweak in 2016... but in the last few years these "tweaks" affect me less and less each time because I'm more limber and my core is stronger.

Do This

This affirmation may help you adopt a different attitude toward failure. Feel free to ponder or meditate on it.

"I am becoming someone who accepts failure as a part of life and eagerly learns from it. I am interested in failure and curious about its causes. I accept myself as someone who is human, and thus fails regularly. I also accept my aversion to failure--it's only natural. But I will no longer let that aversion keep me from from facing my failures and sifting through them for jewels of wisdom. I am grateful for everything I've learned from my past failures and for the strength and determination I've gained by getting back up whenever I have failed."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Narrow Your Love Down to One Woman

[Photo credit:]

Quinn made this thought-provoking comment about yesterday's post:

I am a recovering addict, but I completely empathize with Jeanie [who feels so bad about her husband's lusting and porn habit].

I get what she's saying, and yet, I don't want to let go of noticing other women, of feeling that rush of excitement and novelty. In fact, my mind rushed to defensively say "dude, we're biologically not made to be monogamous, it's a societal choice most of us make and yet, we're not entirely happy with being with 'just' one woman for the rest of our lives."

Perhaps it's the addict in me speaking, or guilt ... that would make a lot of sense, actually. Perhaps there's more to this than meets the eye and it all boils down to choices:

#1 we either enter a relationship and forsake all others in body and mind. And that can go at least two ways:
1.1 we're entirely happy about our choice.
1.2 we're not sure/miserable about our choice. (that's where I'm at, not sure if I can do this, not sure I want to do this just yet, although in most aspects, I have a great partner)
#2 we change partners for as long as we can and hope to have somebody care enough for us to share their lives with us when we're old and frail.

Wow Quinn, you make so many great points here!

I don't think it's just "the addict in you speaking." I've never been addicted to porn or lust and I would agree that the male brain (okay, at least your brain and mine) does seem to respond to our noticing beautiful women with a feeling almost of "Thank you!!! THIS is what life's all about. That other routine crap you deal with all the time? Barely worth your while! Thanks for getting back to doing what you were made for!"

Even as I write this, I find myself wondering how women who know me, whom I respect immensely, might feel reading it. Would they think, "So he's one of the creepers!" I know my wife won't have a problem with it because, given my profession, we've talked about it a lot. Early on she asked, "What is it about men who have such a big issue with lust?" My answer: "You say that as though there are some of us who don't."

Now a few men might react to this by saying, "Don't lump us all in there!" But most of us can relate to those who struggle with porn, even if we haven't personally. One friend I really respect sincerely claims we can get to a point where we have no more reaction to a beautiful woman than we would when we look at a blank wall. And I trust that he and others may have arrived at that point.

The fact that I personally have not doesn't stress me out or seem to diminish the quality of my life. To the contrary. The facts are that female beauty abounds in the world and I have the privilege of carrying around a noggin that lights off of little bursts of fireworks when it detects that beauty. Please don't misunderstand here, I'm not talking about undressing women with my eyes or always being on the lookout for sexiness. Sparks of appreciation fly when I hear an angelic alto voice behind me at church singing "Sweet Hour of Prayer". When, driving by, I catch a glimpse of a mom struggling to get a stroller out of the back of her SUV and notice a daughter giving mom a hand by holding the baby on her hip. When I see an elderly woman lying in her sick bed, skin thin as paper, her body weak and wrinkled but her eyes still sparkling and spirit beaming. And at times a feature, a curve, or a feminine movement strikes me in just as profound a way. I would no sooner deny these latter forms of beauty than I could the former.

However, whenever I grab after what I notice, letting my mind cling to it as though it will somehow meet my needs, there's a slight and distinct diminishment in my level of contentment and clarity. Fortunately, I have a choice. I don't have to get caught up in entertaining my attraction. I can also keep myself moving on with  life. I can stay with my life on its own terms rather than dwelling on the things I could covet about my neighbor's wife (or daughter!) or getting enticed down into the rabbit hole of lust. When I'm managing to stay on the higher plane, female beauty is one of the most amazing and uplifting facets of life, and one that only adds sparkle to all the others.

But this doesn't seem to be a destination to which I can simply arrive once and then forever abide. It's more a sweet spot to keep finding and developing the discipline to better maintain. Two factors come to mind that I personally find helpful. One for the heat of the moment and the other more as a preventative.

1. When I catch my brain starting to drink in female beauty like a smitten puppy or wanting to feed on lust with the tenacity of a Rottweiler, I've found that scolding myself doesn't work worth beans at putting out the fire and it also makes me feel like crap.

It helps me to think of my reaction as a natural one, but from a part of my brain that's not fully up to date on exactly what life is like for me now. My testosterone fueled brain reactions can't be expected to be up to speed on the other more important and rewarding things to which life is simultaneously calling me. So I give that woman-crazy part of me a mental nod and smile, as if to say "Oh, so it's you again huh old friend?" I don't usually talk under my breath to myself to "him", it's more a feeling, but if I had to put it into words it might be:

"Hi there mate-seeking brain. Glad to see you're still alive and well. And since you're here I do want to thank you again for the amazing job you did for me 28 years ago. I have it pretty good thanks to you. So do my kids. But I can see you're not about to opt for early retirement and go quietly into that dark night. That's okay. I can live with you. Your job is to point out potential mates to me; my job is to stay rooted in reality. And frankly, if I were to actually pursue any of the candidates you nominate, the results would make more for bad comedy than sweet romance. So don't expect me to buy into any of your sales pitches. And by the way, my wife could go looking, too, you know. Let's spend more time worrying more about how pleasing I can make myself to her than who else might please me. To keep trying to win her over is more fun and more productive anyway! And I feel great after pondering how to keep courting her and acting on the ideas, instead of feeling empty, dissatisfied, or sheepish."

2. I recently heard world-renowned marriage expert John Gottman give an amazing presentation on the science of trust. He emphasized that happily monogamous couples don't necessarily feel so content and infatuated with each other that they naturally act all lovey-dovey. Rather, activities like snuggling, texting now and then throughout the day, conversing at the end of the day, and gazing into each other's eyes produce in our brains and bodies more oxytocin. This hormone deepens the sense of attachment we feel and strengthens the bond we share. Which, in turn, keeps sex exciting. (In Gottman's book on the topic he shares research that debunks Esther Perel's opposite view on this topic). In other words we don't have to keep wondering whether we picked the right woman. Instead, we can do these things with the woman we've already chosen: wonder how she's doing and check in to find out, snuggle for twenty minutes most days, talk together about how the day went, and spend some of the time you do these and other activities together looking into her eyes. Every week you live this way nudges your needle in the direction of contentment with your wife and away from feeling the need to wonder whether you've made the right choice.

I personally find this approach to be very compelling and helpful. However, I don't know if my perspective on the topic is very representative because, to put it bluntly, I'm spoiled rotten. I married one of the greatest women on the planet. Either that, or this process has worked wonders in my life. Then again, maybe it's some of both.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Love Heals Porn: The Role of Empathy In Healing Sexual Addiction

[Photo credit:]

Men may be prone to lust, but what makes the difference in whether we indulge our lusts or forbear from doing so? Our capacity and willingness to empathize seems to play a huge role in determining which course we take as individuals.

Noticing vs. Tracking

In his book Husbandry, Stephen Fried has a humorous way of describing the way men notice attractive women: "At my regular half-court basketball game, if a woman wanders from the workout area onto the far end of the court, the guys gape even though most of them can't even see that far without their glasses (or with their prescription goggles). So they can't really tell if the woman is twenty or ninety or attractive or an alien life form. Wives shouldn't be bothered by this any more than they should be bothered by channel surfing. It's not about sex. It's about the complete and utter distractibility of men. We have trouble staying focused on anything for very long--regardless of whether it's a TV show, something you're trying to tell us, a song on the radio, some really, really important thing you're still trying to tell us, or simply a pretty woman walking by. Just give us a moment and we'll switch back to our regularly scheduled wife, already in progress."

To Fried, having an attractive women catch your eye comes with the territory of being a guy. But he differentiates between noticing women and tracking them: "I started thinking about tracking at a 76ers game. I was there with a friend who, like me, is a very happily married. It was just us two guys, so there was no reason why we shouldn't track to our hearts' content, especially because some of the women at professional basketball games are really only there to be tracked, dressed in their best and most revealing Girls Gone Wild outfits. Still, when my friend started tracking to the point where his head almost did an Exorcist spin, I found myself becoming self-conscious, maybe even a little judgmental."

How to Refrain from Lusting

So what helped Fried draw the line in his own life between noticing and tracking? And what has kept him, throughout decades of marriage, on the "honor my wife even when she's not around to see it" side of that line? Did she catch him and scold him for tracking? Is he super self-restrained, avoiding tracking so that he'll avoid lusting so that he'll avoid indulging his lusts all-out (like by binging on porn) so that ultimately he'll avoid cheating on his wife? No, that doesn't seem to be his take on it. Here's what he says about it:

"I don't ever track women like that, even when I'm just around other men. I don't want them to catch me looking, either. I've conditioned myself to do this over the years, the same way one is conditioned not to use the f-word in front of children. It's like I don't want to be the stereotypical 'normal guy' even though I am allowed to be him. I suspect that this all goes back to my childhood and family vacations at the beach. My dad, like most men of his era, did a lot of gaping as bathing suits got more and more daring. And my poor mom--the only woman in a family of a father and three sons--would often openly comment about how 'built' the women were that he was looking at, as if talking like one of the guys would make her feel less left out. I never wanted to put any woman through that."

Empathy as An Organic Motivator

What a powerful motivator: "My poor mom... I never wanted to put any woman through that." Fried felt for his mom. And then he imagined how other women would feel--his wife included. His imagined version of that hurt was enough to hold him back from behaviors that would unleash it on a woman and burden her that way. And he apparently hasn't been chomping at the bit to go over that line. He hasn't been exercising a supreme amount of willpower to pull it off. He gets how women feel about it, that holds sway in his heart, and his behavior follows naturally.

Bottom line: a man's empathy for women in general and for the one he cares about most in particular is a key factor that helps keep him from letting his lust go whole hog in feeding frenzy after feeding frenzy. Entertaining lust may be the most natural thing in the world. But, as M. Scott Peck says, so is crapping in our pants, and most of us keep working at it until we eventually get good at no longer doing that. 

A Medicine that Never Loses Potency

I'll never forget what a client of one of my colleagues said when he was asked what kept him on track now that he was five years into his sexual addiction recovery. "First, if a flight attendant is nice to me, I recognize that she's just being nice to me instead of assuming she's flirting, like I would have years ago. But mainly I guess the difference is this: I've now found that I can can no longer interact with a woman in a way that I would not interact with her if my wife were sitting right there between us."

That's so powerful to me: that this man carries around a virtual version of his wife in his heart such that he can no longer have a potentially risky interaction with another woman without the imaginary version of his one-and-only plopping herself down between them and smiling up at him. "Go ahead," she seems to be saying, "say whatever you want to Honey. Do whatever you want. Don't mind me." And he does say and do exactly what he wants. It just so happens that, nowadays and for the rest of his life, what he wants to do and say is always in keeping with what she'd be comfortable witnessing. He doesn't have to "mind her" or "keep her in mind" anymore, she has become a permanent fixture there. The image of her no longer has to be summoned. His little inner version of her barely has to be consulted. He automatically feels what she would feel were she to witness something he's about to say or do, and if it doesn't pass muster he thinks better of it and takes a different tack. 

Empathy is not psychobabble for some ultra-challenging feat of advanced Olympic husbanding. It's really not that difficult a process and it makes makes a huge difference in healing sexual addiction and promoting healthy recovery. So let's take a few minutes to cultivate it.

Do This

From everything I can tell, popular dating coach Evan Marc Katz is a great guy. He's an adoring husband and doting father of two very cute kids. He also shares the opinion that "Men can watch porn, fantasize about other women... go to bachelor parties, go to a strip club, and still be great husbands and fathers."

Many agree with Marc on this topic, women included. But I hear more often from women like Jeanie, who left the following comment to the blog post where Katz made these assertions. As you read how she feels about the topic, do what you can to empathize and really let into your heart what she's feeling, both the hurt and the anger. If your own feelings--perhaps shame or defensiveness--come up, that's okay. It's natural. Just be aware of it, pause briefly from reading, and take a moment to hold your feelings aside. (Personally I find it helpful to touch my chest with my hand as though I'm actually taking a hold of my own feelings and then extend my arm out at a right angle from my body, as though I'm actually suspending my own feelings out a ways from where they're usually ensconced so that I can better let in someone else's.) Then keep immerse yourself back into what it must feel like to be Jeanie and read on.

"I am 60 yrs old and have been married for 30 yrs. I totally get the point of this article. My husband has been looking at other women & fantasizing about them for about 25 yrs. now. He is a wonderful husband & father. But you know what? It has always affected me & made me feel like less of a woman, even though I did my best to not let it bother me. I was never quite happy, though I really did my best to smile & make light of his attraction to other women. Now that I’m much older, the pain has become much worse. My husband is still looking at 20-30 yr olds, when I’m 60. C’mon, how much self esteem can a 60 yr old woman have when she compares herself to a 20 or even 30 yr old? You know what I say? Grow the #&%$ up men! Your wife who u have chosen for life, deserves for u to only have eyes for her. I think a grown up, loving man can make that sacrifice for the woman he claims to love. It is not love to perpetually hurt your wife & destroy her self esteem. And it is a rare woman who can deal with your wandering eye with a smile upon her face. I wish I either waited for a man who only had eyes for me, or never got married at all. I was a pretty hot chick in my day, & still my self esteem suffered to the point where I am today. Love means forsaking all others, not just in body but also in mind, heart & soul. Your wedding vows should have told u that.

How did you experience this process? Please be sure to leave a comment below!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Vividly Imagine the Future Self You Don't Want to Become

Sometimes all the reasonable arguments for avoiding porn get eclipsed by the euphoria that courses through us for even considering how great it would be to indulge right now. Unfortunately, the brain isn't very good at multi-tasking when it comes to feelings. As we consider a course of action, we don't usually weigh the pros and cons mentally. Our present feeling puts its thumb on the scales and, more often than is good for us, manages to get its way. This is how we end up treating our future self as though he's someone we don't give a hoot about, instead of treating him the way we would treat someone for whom we have a high regard and deep affection. 

Captured by Cravings and Imprisoned in the Present

Harvard research psychologist Daniel Gilbert points out that, left to their usual MO, our brains do a lousy job of prefeeling future events accurately. Here's why: when we consider now how we're going to experience the future we're not very good at conjuring up an accurate sense about how it's going to feel to us then. Feelings are more time bound than that, and thus not a commodity we can muster that way. Instead, we take our best mental rendering of the life we will be living and insert into the scene the only feelings prop we have on hand: what we feel right now. 

Unfortunately, our here-and-now feelings are lousy forecasters. Here's a simple example: If someone asks right after Thanksgiving dinner what you'll want for dinner that night, you'll be at a loss. In your stuffed state, you can't imagine ever being hungry again, let alone what food you'll be hankering for when you are. To quote Gilbert: "We find it particularly difficult to imagine that we will ever think, want, or feel differently than we do now." To do so, he says, is like trying to imagine the taste liver while chewing a marshmallow. "Future events may request access to the emotional areas of our brains, but current events almost always get the right of way." (Stumbling on Happiness, 127, 135) 

How to Summon More Precisely How Your Future Will Feel

We don't have to leave our minds to its usual MO and its watered-down version of the future. As you did the brief exercise I shared with you in my last post, you shined your imagination on what your future will be without porn. You sharpened your image of coming attraction, particularly how it will feel to you, and that will make a difference in how motivated you'll be to do what it takes to achieve your goals. There's something else you can do that was found in Elisa Muru's research on the topic to be equally powerful. It's the flip side of imagining a better future. You can take a few minutes to dwell on an image of yourself living in the future you're hoping to avoid. Pre-regret that imagined future in which you've failed to change. 

Do This

Bring to mind your impression of yourself 5 to 10 years from now. More specifically, think about yourself in the future as a person who continues to consume pornography. How do you feel about that part of your life? Five to ten years from now, you relapse regularly and it impacts the quality of your life. When you think about yourself five to ten years from now as someone who still regularly goes to porn, what images come to mind? Please take a few minutes to imagine and think about this image before you read the next paragraph. 

Please respond to the following questions in writing: What was the first thing that came to mind when you thought about the image of your future self still consuming pornography? Write out some of the details of your future self's appearance in the image that came to mind. How are his relationships? How is he doing spiritually? What is his general health? Energy level? Attitude toward life? What are his achievements? Write about anything else that came to mind.

Now take a minute to toot your own horn. Rather than beating up on yourself for your struggles or merely hoping things will get better, you've taken a concrete step that has been shown by research to make a real difference in changing behavior.
Please comment below what it's like for you to do this exercise and the effect it has on your recovery.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Relish How Great It Will Feel to Be Free of Porn

Having worked my entire career in the field of addiction, I agree with Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert: one of the most insidious problems we face as humans is our "fundamental inability to take the perspective of the person to whom the rest of our lives will happen" (Stumbling on Happiness, 162). Instead of having compassion for and being consistently kind to the person we will be later, we saddle him with debt, extra pounds he may never be able to work off, and porn binges he'll regret.

The Brain's Future Simulator is Broken!

The phenomenon is not unique to addiction. Buyer's remorse happens because the today's buying self doesn't know tomorrow's owning self as well as he thinks he does. George Loewenstein calls this the Egocentric Empathy Gap. It's not only other people with whom we have difficulty empathizing. We have a hard time pre-feeling what it's going to be like to be our future selves. And THAT is why we have a hard time treating our future self as though he is someone we care about.

How to Correct the Emotional Vision of Your Near-Sighted Self

Fortunately, there is good research on how to develop more empathy with our future self. As human beings our imaginations are powerful and flexible enough that we can leverage them to learn to better "put ourselves in the shoes" of the person we will be down the road. After we've done that, we come back to our present self less prone to treat that future self like crap. We're more likely to exercise, save for retirement, and floss our teeth. Here is the intervention that has been shown to bring good results in the research done by Elisa Murru and her colleagues at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. (We've revised it to fit the topic of pornography.)

Take Five Minutes to do this: Vividly Imagine the Future Self You Hope to Be

Bring to mind your impression of yourself 5 to 10 years from now. More specifically, think about yourself in the future as a person who has successfully kicked your pornography habit and is thriving in your life. You have a free of the effects of regular pornography consumption. Five to ten years from now, you enjoy the freedom of living according to your values and being less haunted by the struggle with this problem. When you think about yourself five to ten years from now as someone who enjoys your freedom from compulsion, what images come to mind? Please take a few minutes to imagine and think about this image before you read the next paragraph.

Please respond to the following questions in writing: What was the first thing that came to mind when you thought about the image of your future self having successfully moved on from pornography? Write out some of the details of your future self's appearance in the image that came to mind. How are his relationships? How is he doing spiritually? What is his general health? Energy level? Attitude toward life? What are his achievements? Write about anything else that came to mind.

Now congratulate yourself. You've taken a few minutes to take a concrete step that has been shown by research to make a real difference in changing behavior. Studies like this one demonstrate that it's helpful to pre-relish the better life you'll have when you've succeeded in reaching your goals.

Want to make this exercise even more effective? Take a few minutes to comment below about what it was like to go through it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Self-Loving Touch: 5 Alternative to Masturbation--Touch Your Body in These Loving Ways Instead

It's hard to kick a masturbation habit. The patterns that keep it going in our lives have become so ingrained. Therefore, it's important to have better, healthy alternatives to go to. Fortunately, there are a lot more loving ways to touch our own bodies to stimulate and soothe ourselves. They might seem a bit odd or even embarrassing when we first try them out, but when we're done relying on them we don't end up feeling unsure or off-kilter the way we might after after giving in to the compulsion to masturbate.

Becky had been through her crazy masturbation cycle so many times it was easy for us to map out the steps: 1. Try to slog through life even though it's tough, 2. Feel so lousy that I'm desperate for an escape, 3. Resist sexual temptation for a while, 4. Finally give in for a few minutes of escape and pleasure, 5. Feel crappy about myself for once again choosing the fleeting high of that lousy coping strategy: masturbation! (According to Becky, "For me it really is self-abuse!") 6. Wallow in the post-masturbation for awhile--anywhere from a few minutes to a day or more. 7. Commit to never give in again because the longer I go the better I feel and masturbating is just not consistent with the way I want to live... so I get back in the mode of 1. trying to slog through life even if (when) I start to feel lousy again.

Of all the recovery tools Becky learned during her treatment she particularly liked Self-Loving Touch. You'll see below that she not only started touching herself differently, she learned to talk to herself differently. Previously, these unspoken messages had always accompanied her self-touch as she masturbated: "You shouldn't be touching yourself this way! You shouldn't want it! I can't believe you're so weak--if you were a better person you would have more self-control! This habit is wrong. I can't believe you're doing it again. You should be ashamed of yourself--and in fact you soon will be!"

Fortunately, there is a wide repertoire of other ways to touch ourselves and radically different mental messages we can send ourselves as we do. Here are a few Becky found to be powerful:

1. The Hug

When she was in need to soothing and comfort, she would cross her arms in front of herself and hug herself gently by grabbing her triceps or firmly by clutching her shoulders. She would say to herself, "There there. I got you. I love you. Everything's going to be okay. I'm right here... here for you... I'll always be right here." She found this to be helpful when she missed her family, most of whom lived far away in Minnesota, or on those days when she felt more rejected than usual by customers she talked to on the phone in her work at the call center.

2. "Got Your Back"

When she felt in need of encouragement or a stiffening of her backbone, she'd reach her right hand back and gently press against her shoulder blade or the spine right between her shoulder blades. Sometimes she'd hold her hand there for a minute or so. She'd say to herself things like, "Chin up, Girl. Take courage now. I got your back." Even though she initially thought she'd rely on this form of self-touch when she felt the need to take on challenges or stand up for herself, she quickly discovered that it made her more friendly and outgoing. She noticed she was more able to interact in ways that were bold without being intense or confrontational about it. For instance, her roommate had recently started making snide comments about how untidy her bedroom had become. Becky was able to talk to that roommate about her depression and her efforts to get on top of it. She told her how much she would appreciate her support instead of criticism. When the conversation was over Becky was in awe of how at ease she'd felt advocating for herself.

3. Wonder Woman

When she was in need of confidence, Becky took two minutes to stand in the Wonder Woman pose with her hands on her hips. If you're tempted to roll your eyes right about now (Oh no Mark, it sounds like the most natural thing in the world for me to stand up from my desk in the middle of the day and strike the wonder woman pose for a couple of minutes!) you've gotta check out Amy Cuddy's TED Talk: Your body language shapes who you are. I'll let you hear straight from Any all the research backing it up. (I heard recently that hers is the second most viewed TED Talk of all time!) The Wonder Woman pose was easy for Becky to strike at home as she stood by the picture window that looked out over the parking lot of her apartment complex and the neighborhoods beyond. During the workdays she'd take a minute or two to do it in the stall when she took a bathroom break, making sure sure as she did to keep breathing only through her mouth (not for the sake of some yoga energy effect but simply so that she wouldn't have to whiff the toilets the whole time). She said she often walked away from those Wonder Woman moments feeling like, "I'm the boss! This is MY life. Ain't no one gonna shove me out of the driver's seat!"

4. Face Cradle

When the stress that had built up from the day made it hard for her to sleep, Becky was particularly vulnerable to the temptation to masturbate. At such moments sometimes she would place a hand on each side of her face and cradle her face the way she might a cute little child's. "Hey Sweetie. I adore you. Can't get enough of you." Perhaps now you're really rolling your eyes. How silly would it be to talk to myself this way as an adult? It's funny how we find self-loving statements so odd, and yet don't bat an eye at self-loathing talk. ("Idiot! You blew it! There yo go again, always messing things up! What's wrong with you?") So don't assume self-tenderness is as silly as it may seem at first or dismiss its potential to make a difference for you. Consider the possibility that part of what makes it seem absurd is how different it is from the way you usually treat yourself. If you like the way you treat yourself and it's bringing great results in your life, then keep it up. But if the way you talk to yourself may be playing a role in keeping you down and sabotaging your own efforts to improve, then consider taking your face in your hands and at least experimenting with this kind of tender loving self-talk.

5. Head Ruffle

When she was watching TV or driving, Becky would sometimes reach up and ruffle her own hair the way a loving Grandpa might. As she did this she might think to herself, "Hey Kid, You're okay, you know that! I'm pretty dang fond of you. Stay right here by me. Being by you makes my day." First Becky noticed that this had a bit in common with the way she used to twist her hair in her pointer finger as she sucked her thumb to soothe herself as she tried to fall asleep during the period when she struggled most with anxiety after her step-father started abusing her. Looking back she realized that she discovered soothing self-touch before she ever discovered sexual self-touch. She had long since given up the hair-twisting and thumb-sucking but had never been able to overcome the masturbation. She wondered whether her self-control efforts might have gone better earlier if she had kept diversifying her self-touch way back then rather than narrowing her repertoire to the one form of self-touching she felt the worst about! The after-effects of ruffling her own hair was that she sometimes noticed feeling slightly encouraged about herself and her life and a bit more spunky and confident.

Pick one or two of these forms of self touch and try it out a time or two during the coming week. Let us know what it's like for you. If you're feeling creative, experiment with some other form of self-touch that's not listed here and tell us about it. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

How I Fell Back Into Porn after Six Years Sober

I felt so bad for Clint. He'd been doing so well! And fortunately now amazing things are happening again for him and his wife after a few months of hell. But instead of just moving on with his life now that he's gotten up and dusted himself off, I encouraged Clint to do an autopsy on his deterioration back into a full-blown porn habit. As I pointed out in this earlier post, an autopsy of a slip or relapse can be an incredibly useful tool in recovery.

Clint's given me permission to share this autopsy, in hopes that it will help someone else. It's a sad, cautionary tale. If you've convinced yourself that you're "in recovery" but you're secretly doing some of the things Clint was doing, it's time to check yourself.

"I stopped attending the 12-step meetings about 6 years ago. I did pretty good for five of those years, but started a downhill slide last year. I started by watching TV-MA shows online. Those included nudity and sexual scenes. Then I started listening to erotic audio books that bordered on pornography (they probably were, but because it wasn't visual, I justified them as okay). Towards the end of the year I was watching foreign films that were unrated, but definitely above an R-rating in content. The final straw was I started seeking pornographic material online and that was about the last two weeks of 2015. That was when I masturbated again for the first time in six years.

"Another factor that played a role was that my wife started to work full time at the hospital. Throughout the previous fifteen years she'd only worked a couple of days a week at a doctor's office. That brought me a lot of stress because I didn't feel like I was doing enough to provide for us. I make a good low six-figure income, but we have four sons and two daughters and they have a lot of extra things they want to do, so we can always use extra income.

"It quickly became apparent that having my wife at home less, particularly without me working less to help pick up the slack, led to some breakdown in the family structure. The house got messier, the kids weren't getting all the attention they were used to, and there was a lot that I needed to do after coming home from work, that she would usually have done already. Probably the hardest part was how much we all missed her on Saturdays.

"About 3 or 4 months ago I was feeling concerned about my descent and thought it would be great to have somewhere I could record my thoughts. I wanted it online so someone else could see it, but I wanted it to be anonymous as well. I couldn't figure out how to do that, but I guess I should have started journaling then got back to the meetings right then.

"Towards the end of the year, we were just too tired to go worship at the Temple any more as a couple, so we stopped going.

"In December I started working from home a lot and had a whole week off. Because she was gone, I had a lot of time on the computer to start searching for bad stuff online. I'm not sure what my emotions were, but I definitely remember thinking, 'Oh no, now I'm going past the point of no return.' After that time, it just became something easy to do. The warnings in my head were gone and I just continued down into the darkness."

It's clear in retrospect that Clint was like the slow boiled frog. A year ago he never would have fired up his internet browser, searched for porn, and masturbated to it. But lusting over scantily clad women or a steamy scene in a TV-MA show didn't seem like the end of his sobriety. Self-control researchers call this "permission giving"--those rationalizations we use to justify engaging in "little" steps back in the direction of a behavior we've made a commitment to avoid.

Thanks, Clint, for your willingness to share! I'm sure your recollections will be both informative and motivating to others.

Readers, when temptation kicks in for you, what little justifications does your mind start to latch onto? Please share them below and we can all learn from each other's sneaky minds!

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Power of Putting Cravings Into Words

I encourage clients: When your mind starts to make the case for indulging in porn, type into your phone what it's telling you and text it to me. Most of them find that they "get nothing" at first when they attempt to listen within and put into words their inclination toward acting out. Yesterday one client texted me, "My mind just tells me it will feel good."

Don't accept that level of argument and leave it at that. You can increase your awareness of the inner workings of your mind. As you do, you will increase your level of self-control.

Some folks hesitate to put the "pro porn" argument into words because somehow that seems to mean they see the sense in that line of thinking and bought into it. Actually, the opposite is true. By uncovering and writing out our darker desires, we drain them of their power. I like the way Mateo Sol describes this process:

"Embracing or integrating your shadow self [does] not mean to indulge in any desire that arises within you. Indulging your anger for instance, will simply result in more anger. By embracing your inner darkness I mean that it is necessary for you to 'accept' it. Accepting your darkness will allow you to take responsibility for yourself, and once you truly acknowledge one of these dark traits instead of avoiding them, suddenly, they will stop having control over you. By being honest with ourselves and accepting our shadow elements, it frees us up to truly witness the uncharted areas of our minds, allowing us to see that we are not these elements, but simply possess thoughts, feelings and drives that come and go. You cannot simply go "beyond hatred" if first you don't admit to yourself that you do in fact possess hateful feelings."

The same thing goes for lust. Many of my clients have tried to "go beyond lust" for years with little success, but then find that as they put their lust into words, essentially accepting that it is a part of themselves, the power their lust has to control their behavior is significantly lessened.

Over the years, here are some of the sentences clients have texted me as they've attempted to put into words the case their mind is making to indulge in porn:

  • "Can you believe what they're putting on mainstream websites these days? Appalling! I need to check out just how bad it's getting."
  • "I'm stressed out of my mind so I need some relief."
  • "Well, I've already done such-and-such, so this won't be all that much worse."
  • "Eventually it's going to recur again anyway, so why not now?"
  • "I've never seen anything quite so exciting, I just can't pass it up!"
  • "This won't count as a slip if I stop before it lasts too long."
  • "I didn't go looking for this, it just popped up as a sidebar on this mainstream website, so I can just enjoy looking for a minute as a freebie."
  • "If I stick to my limits I'll be okay. I'll just look at swimsuits and stop."
  • "I'll make the window really small, scroll down, and stop before I get to anything offensive."
  • "Now that I'm in the thick of it, I'll binge like never before so I can get this out of my system and stop the cycle once and for all."

You can see the humor in some of these. I used to present them to clients like a David Letterman Top Ten or a Family Feud Game Show list: "And the number one reason I go to porn is..." Often we'll laugh together at the silliness of the logic in the heat of the moment. But that silliness didn't become apparent to them until they actually wrapped words around their strong feelings. Laughter is a great at defusing the power of cravings.

Whether you're a client of mine or not, I welcome your emails ( and texts (801-564-7566). Start putting your inclinations into words and see if the process diminishes their power as I predict it will.

What arguments start to make sense to your mind when you feel tempted to indulge?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Music Carried Her Through the Craving

It was one of those nights that seems to stretch on forever. It had been a long week for Anita, yet exhausted as she was, sleep eluded her. Looking through the list of movies she could stream, Anita couldn't find one that spoke to her. Then she realized why: She'd set a strict filter on her Netflix account to keep the kids from stumbling onto something raunchy. She was about to temporarily remove the filter to broaden her options when she realized what she was really looking for.

"I had a desire to be held, to have a release, to have a sexual moment." It had occurred to her, in some part of her brain, that maybe a strong R-rated movie with passionate lovemaking scene might hit the spot.

Since her divorce three years ago, she'd had a harder time with sexual temptation than before. She had never been one to engage in or explore pornography. She sometimes watched romantic movie to relax, but never anything over a PG-13 rating. That particular night, she could feel herself being drawn into letting her guard down. What would she do? As the struggle brewed, she got mad. "I felt that I was being controlled by some outside force. My agency was under attack! All I really want is to be held, yet here it was, full force, to give into something that would give me release, but that would not give me peace of mind after."

She determined to hold onto herself amidst the tidal wave of temptation and navigate herself toward a different kind of release. Her mind landed on music. Music!

"When I realized what was happening, that I was being pulled in this darker direction, I decided to turn to music because I knew that it would carry me away to a safe place." She wondered whether she should listen to classical? New age? Being in the driver's seat of her own mind was important to her, so she narrowed her choices down to instrumental options so that she wouldn't have to grapple with lyrics and the images that might go with them.

She opened the Andre Rieu channel on her Pandora app. Waltzes, polkas, that kind of classical. She connected within seconds to the first song, Strauss' "Voices of Spring". "For the first time that night, my body started to relax. I can see that looking back that, in a sense, the 'crises' was over.

"As I got into it, the music, provided a complete escape---part emotional, part sexual, sort of like a massage. Unlike the sexual fantasies that I didn't want to indulge, I could relax into the music and let it envelop me. It was a safe place to let my body feel what it felt and do what it would."

What her body did after an hour or so was fall asleep.

But then the next day, the restlessness returned and quickly grew into a horrible fear. The hurt and darkness was almost palpable. "I wanted out again and that instant gratification beckoned. I was terrified. Here I was tempted, and without a clue how to handle it. I started struggling against it. But then I remembered the futility of fighting. I remembered that light doesn't have to fight darkness, it simply arrives on the scene and the darkness is banished."

She decided to turn the music back on. "For the rest of the day, Strauss was my soundtrack. I studied Business Finance to it, it set the pace as I loaded the dishwasher, it was my workout buddy at the gym." After a while, she didn't want to stop listening. "It was like a lifeline. I knew it was keeping me grounded and able to focus on what I needed to do instead of having my mind haunted and chased about by temptation. It was wonderful to feel nurtured, loved, protected, and safe as I was going about my day. I had a lot of responsibilities that took a long time, but all along the music was helping restore my emotional balance.

"All the emotion I wanted to feel, I felt in the end. I felt held, comforted. My vulnerability was soothed. Gradually the music had become less powerful, the Spirit more powerful. The Lord was helping me get through my struggle and guided me to music as a healer." At the end of that second day, she let it lull her to sleep again.

Summing it up, Anita said, "It worked wonders. The music staved off temptation. The yearnings in my body were held and carried along by something uplifting, so I was able to move on with my life in a productive way."

Anita also appreciated an effect that she attributed to reading this blog and the work we'd been doing in therapy. "I don't see those sexual feelings as bad anymore. I'm not wrong for having them. Those feelings are normal. I'm a good person. I don't feel ashamed anymore." Although she had grown up in a loving home, her parents had been too embarrassed to talk much about sex. That left Anita feeling like sexual feelings were dirty and wrong. It was healing for her to allow herself to have all those feelings and relax into them (rather than bracing against them) as she listened to the music.

The day after we talked about this experience, I heard via email from Anita: "I would have told you this in the session, but I was still trying to figure out why I listened to the music for so many hours. I think what was happening was that I was building up a reservoir of protection."

A week and a half later, the effects of that healing experience still lingered: "Since then, I've still struggled with feelings of loneliness and longing. When I do, I remember how I felt when I listened to the music and that memory is enough to get me through the crisis."

Thanks for sharing your experience Anita!

Readers, what experiences and tools have aided your recovery the way music did Anita's? Have you tried relying on music for strength in weak moments? What was the effect for you?

Monday, March 7, 2016

How Can I Get over the Hurt from My Boyfriend Looking at Porn?

Liz writes, "Three years ago I stumbled onto my boyfriend's porn collection. There were a dozen or more DVDs. Ouch! So this is how he passes time when I'm out of the house? I thumbed through the DVDs and couldn't help imagining him having hours of fun.

"I let him know I didn't like it and asked that he stop. He threw them away and said he would stop. But then later, in a moment of resentment, he made the comment: "Just so you know, you're the one who has a problem with it, I don't."

"About six month later, I found multiple websites on his iPad including one focused on teenage girls. That reminded me that one of his DVDs had been some "teen" movie. Of course we had a huge blow up, but we moved on.

"Six month later, one week after I moved in with him, I found porn on his phone. At that point, I packed a few things and left. Having nowhere else to go, I asked if I could return until I could find a place to live. Once I returned we began to talk and discussed staying together. I made it clear that he had to decide between porn and me, he couldn't have both. He committed to stop but was quite adamant that he was not addicted.

"At this point I became obsessed, learning all I could about porn and its effects on men. What I hadn't realized was the effect it was having on me. I knew I was upset, I knew I had a problem trusting him, and of course it also effected how I looked at myself physically. But that was as far as my self-reflection went.

"We spent more time talking. I asked him about why he did it. We discussed how to rebuild trust. I plead with him not to lie to me. We explored how to improve our sexual relationship.

"One of he most difficult topics we explored was the 'teen' videos. Why did he feel the need for them? After all, he is 57 and I am 50. He wasn't sure but he chalked it up to the idea that they made him feel young. We have talked at great lengths about feeling more comfortable about getting older and that we can do it together. I was told several times he felt much better about getting older because we have each other.

"Over time I did become quite angry. One night when I could not sleep I sat down with a pad of paper and started writing I am angry because... I filled an entire page that consisted of porn items! I felt enormously better and I feel the anger has gone away since doing so, but I am still struggling to learn to trust again and trying to rebuild my self-esteem. It is difficult to trust, as he continues to lie to me and covers it with saying he did not want to hurt me. I believe that but for me to trust I need truth.

"During a recent discussion he revealed that he still has porn flash backs (a year-and-a-half later) and still finds young women--teens--quite attractive. He finds their bodies physically more attractive, they are sexier and more desirable--even more desirable to him than me.

"Hearing him describe the physical attributes he desired the most made me physically ill. I may be 50 but I am a good-looking 50 year old (I've been told I look 35). My body is in decent shape and he tells me he still desires me and finds me attractive, but they are more desirable.

"He told me he still fights the desire to fantasize about teens, but it is nearly gone. He admitted that, during my granddaughters birthday party when there were several young girls around, he found himself thinking, "If I were younger..." How can we go anywhere without me thinking that he is checking out the young girls all around us? The beach--are you kidding? I am beside myself.

"He says he has never gone after a young girl in real life, but to me that is of little comfort because the fantasy can be very close to real life and just makes it easier if the right person came alone. I asked him how he thinks I should deal with knowing about his desire. At one time he told me it should not bother me because he is with me. Most recently he told me I should be comforted 'knowing that I do desire you, I do a good job showing it, and more importantly knowing that I love you and our relationship.'

"Despite his reassurances, that was again one of those moments where I felt it was time for me to leave the relationship if he continued to hold onto those desires. I told him I could not be in a relationship with a man who found young girls more desirable than his own girlfriend and that if I am going to stay this desire has to go away and he has to do the leg work on it--not me.

"He started researching but did not find much on how to stop desiring young girls. We found the website Your Brain On Porn and learned how porn re-wires your brain and affects what you find attractive. He agreed that although he was a casual user, over those 10 years it did affect his line of thinking. He has found that the further he gets away from porn, the more the desire has dissipated, and he believes it will continue to do so.

"I also came across an article When Older Men Lust After Younger Women, which he read and agreed that society has helped to condition his line of thinking and that a story in the article hit home with him. It made him realize that although the media may push this idea that young girls like older men, in reality they are just being nice and typically think the guy would be a better match for their mother.

"I don't know whether to trust that his thinking is changing. Especially since we've only worked on it in over the last three weeks and the porn habit itself took years to turn around. He tells me he 'gets' why his attraction to young girls is such an issue for me and insists that he no longer feels that way. But then I look over and see him click on a headlines that reads, 'Taylor Swift shows off some major skin'.

"In frustration at one point he told me porn and young girls have been a pin-point laser focus of mine for years and that he is exasperated with me and that it is like 'ground hog day' all over each time I bring up the subject. That made me realize that perhaps a part of the struggle is that I have not looked to work on myself.

"Where do I go from here? How do I heal myself? How do we go about salvaging our relationship? How do I deal with his desire to fantasize about girls 40 years younger than himself? I hope you are not going to tell me this appropriate behavior for a man his age. Can this really go away? I very seriously doubt that he will change at this stage in his life. Not so sure trust can be rebuilt when I'm afraid that he just tells me what I want to hear."

Liz, we're so glad you reached out. You've asked the question we hear more than any other: How do I get over the hurt I feel due to my boyfriend watching porn? And you've shared in sobering detail the reasons that's such an important question!

Our hearts go out to both you and your boyfriend. To you because you so badly want to be able to count on him and to trust that he loves you and only you. You want to know that he's committed and not "still in the market" if someone new or "something better" comes along. Our hearts go out to him because he sincerely wants to be the guy you can count on. He wants to reassure you and win your trust and not have that constantly undermined by his previous failings or his current temptations, which he's trying to manage in a way that is respectful of your feelings.

Before I answer your question, please let me point out how much the two of you are doing right. The long talks may be difficult, but all of those conversations you've had have been very valuable and productive. He has come to know your heart and soul as you have expressed yourself to him. You have also come to better understand what goes on inside of him. As difficult as that has been, the two of you have kept talking and kept listening. You've tried to convey and to understand, to persuade and to receive. You've worked through feelings of anger and inadequacy and vulnerability. Instead of letting feelings fester, the two of you have processed through them.

I often marvel at the very gradual, painful meshing and melding of female sexual sensibilities and male sexual hunger. It is such a challenging--but also a beautiful--process that makes for a more lasting and take-your-breath-away amazing relationship than would otherwise be possible. And it comes as we convey to each other what's in our own hearts and respect at a very deep level what our partner has the courage to reveal to us. This, to me, is how we get naked emotionally. And while physical nudity is enough to fuel sexual desire in the short-run, it turns out that only this emotional nudity can sustain desire over the long haul to create great sex between partners who are monogamous for decades.

As important as it is to discuss and share to the point of emotional nudity, it sounds like there is a growing sense of exasperation that the two of you have to keep rehashing this topic. Especially on his part, but it sounds like you're growing weary of this focus, too. But how do you let it go when his struggles with lust spark within you terror at the threat of infidelity--and ultimately abandonment--by the very one who means the most to you in all the world!

To begin to change the dynamic, could you express that to him more? Could you put less emphasis on his lusting over teens and more emphasis on why this bothers you? Because of how deeply important he is to you, how much the relationship means to you? (Learn more about how to go about this in our book, Love You, Hate the Porn.)

To even further diminish this issue as a wedge, the two of you can work alongside each other, developing similar skills to handle your parallel struggles. Interestingly enough, one way for him to manage his immature tendency toward lust is awfully similar to the way you can manage your tendency to obsess about his lust. It's called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ACT. Your boyfriend can learn more about applying it to lust in this video on how to stop porn addiction by managing cravings and urges, but I'll explain the gist of it here, too.

Let's start with how you can apply ACT to get your mind back from the insecurities that hound you and haunt you. When compelling thoughts come up, you don't have to buy into them OR fight them. You don't have to get caught up in a frenzy of, "Those attractions mean he could run off anytime with some young girl who turns his head! Aaaahh!" But you also don't have to beat yourself up for being concerned. You can simply acknowledge that the concern popped in and choose to step back from it. You can see it as something that is coming from your mind--but you are not your mind! Because you are not your mind and are not at the mercy of your mind, you can develop a different relationship with the concern. It doesn't have to drive you, but by the same token you don't have to overpower it or bury it or dismiss it or fight it. You are in the driver's seat. You may not have control over what pops into your mind, but you get to choose how you'll respond to it and what actions you'll take. You get to decide what to do with the concern when it does pop up. You can entertain it and let it keep playing scenes on the screen of your brain of your boyfriend leaving you for someone younger, but that is a choice. You can sort through how things have been between the two of you, weighing the evidence that you can count on his fidelity against the evidence that he can't be trusted. But you could also move on with whatever you were in the middle of doing, as hard as that may sound when such a big concern has just popped into your mind. You could go back to focusing on the meeting you're in or scenery you were enjoying on your walk. You could determine to sort through it more later, at a specific, given time. You could thank your mind for presenting you with the concern, since it underscored for you how important your relationship with your boyfriend is. As challenging as it may be to focus again on the other, less compelling aspects of life you were in the middle of, it's worth doing. This is how our minds become less laser-focused on problems and more able to see them in the context of all the good things that are going on in our lives. This is one aspect of how we heal and how worries about our partner's commitment and faithfulness come to dominate our minds and hearts less and less over time. It's how we shrink the footprint of the problem in our lives.

Now let's address how your boyfriend can apply ACT to stay in the driver's seat of his life when the desire to lust over young women hits him. When those thoughts come up, he doesn't have to buy into them OR fight them. He doesn't have to get caught up in a frenzy of, "The appeal of young, attractive bodies means that's what I really want in life! I'm with the wrong woman! Aaaahh!" But he also doesn't have to beat himself up for being attracted. He can simply acknowledge that the appeal popped in and choose to step back from it. He can see it as something that is coming from his mind--but he is not his mind! Because he is not his mind and is not at the mercy of his mind, he can develop a different relationship with that attraction. It doesn't have to drive him, but by the same token he doesn't have to overpower it or bury it or dismiss it or fight it. He is in the driver's seat. He may not have control over what pops into his mind, but he gets to choose how he'll respond to it and what actions he'll take. He gets to decide what to do with the attraction when it does pop up. He can entertain it and let it keep playing scenes on the screen of his brain of "If I were younger...", but that is a choice. He can sort through the realities of his life, weighing the quality of life he enjoys in a committed relationship with an attractive, mature woman against the fleeting pleasures and hellish drama that would go with chasing young women at his age. But he could also move on with whatever he was in the middle of doing, as hard as that may sound when such a compelling desire has just popped into his mind. You could go back to helping the teenagers have fun at the birthday party or how great it feels to going all out at the gym. He could determine to sort through it more later, at a specific, given time. He could thank his mind for presenting you with the attraction, since it underscored for him how important sexuality and a healthy sexual relationship with you is. As challenging as it may be to focus again on the other, less compelling aspects of life he was in the middle of, it's worth doing. This is how our minds become less laser-focused on lust and more able to see urges and cravings in the context of all the good things that are going on in our lives. This is one aspect of how we mature and how lust comes to dominate our minds and hearts less and less over time. It's how we shrink the footprint of the problem in our lives.

Liz, you might also want to check out this post: "I Discovered My Boyfriend Looks at Porn and It Still Hurts"--How to Heal Betrayal Trauma.

As you two work together to heal, please keep in touch! We want to know how it's going for you individually and with your boyfriend. We're rooting for both of you and for your relationship.

Readers, what suggestions do you have for Liz? For her boyfriend?

Friday, March 4, 2016

You CAN Kick Your Porn Habit Forever This Time!

Dear Nathan,

It's 2:40 a.m. and I can't sleep. I woke up a few minutes ago and remembered what you told me in our session yesterday. "Two or three in the morning is when I get my best worst ideas."

In the evenings you feel motivated and determined. You just had a day to work for your family and an evening with your amazing wife and kids. You go to bed feeling close to them and close to God. No inclination to act out sexually.

You wake up worried about work situations. Your mind has been mulling them over in your sleep. How will you motivate your sales team? They're not even set up for success within the company at this point! There's so much you needs to teach them, so much that needs to be addressed with management. Life feels chaotic and off kilter.

The Garbage that Looks Like Gold

You and I have likened your addiction, your indulging in sexual thoughts about strangers and the behaviors that follow thereafter, to gold-panning. In the middle of the night when work feels onerous and real life seems bleak, you often find yourself knee deep in a river and look down to discover sparkles everywhere. Refraining from fantasizing and planning at that point feels like trying to ignore a river bed teaming with gold dust and nuggets. You can't seem to fall back asleep. It seems that your choices are either to go with the flow of the sexual river and indulge--masturbate to fantasy and/or plan how you're going to get an even better fix later in the day... or press on upstream against your urges--which won't make them go away, it will just insure that the battle continues.

I woke up thinking of your struggle and this thought came into my head: "Don't fight the flow of the river Nathan. Don't get too caught up battling the urge to look down at the gold. Instead, fill your mind and heart and life to overflowing with light and love.

Flood Your Life with Love

Jesus said, "Perfect love casteth out fear." It can cast out lust, too.

Your daughter is six years old. She will be eight in 17 months. If you are a worthy member of the LDS Church at that time you will be able to baptize her. Unfortunately, you haven't been worthy to perform a priesthood ordinance for years.

"Mark, I can't not baptize her!" you told me yesterday. I couldn't agree more Nathan!

I told you I want you to send me a picture of you and your daughter dressed in white right before you walk down into the baptismal font that day. Like the wonderful picture I have of a multi-generational family outside the St. Louis LDS Temple, it will a token to me, a reminder of why I come to work every day.

Nathan, that image of baptizing your daughter can be a part love you keep pouring into your consciousness when the garbage that looks like gold sparkles back at you from everywhere you look.

What Picture Captures The Version of Your Future That's Overflowing with Love and Light?

My friend and master addiction therapist George Collins asks his porn and sex addicted clients to promise to send him a picture of them at Disneyland with their wife and kids, mickey mouse ears and all, in a few years once they've established a solid recovery from their addiction and their life has progressed beyond it. Some of them look at him like he's crazy. Do you know who you're talking to here--a lonely single guy who binges on porn like it's a part-time job and can't get a date because he's scared of his own shadow? So George breaks out photos of other guys who've been where they are. Only in the photos they're beaming and clinging to loved loved ones. And every one of them has on the Mickey Mouse ears as a wink and a nod to their old friend, George.

How Do We Keep the Love Overflowing?

Nathan, after you think for a while about that sweet future day, you and your daughter radiant in front of the baptismal font, your mind will of course be drawn back to the garbage the looks like gold. Here are three more rivers of love, always flowing strong, that you can channel like streams with inlets into your mind if you so choose:

1. Ponder God's Tender Loving Touch

Nathan, since you and I are both LDS, I will remind you of something that George Q. Cannon, an early apostle of the restored Church said about God's love and attentiveness to us:

"Now, this is the truth. We humble people; we who feel ourselves sometimes so worthless, so good-for-nothing; we are not so worthless as we think. There is not one of us but what God's love has been expended upon. There is not one of us that He has not cared for and caressed. There is not one of us that He has not desired to save, and that He has not devised means to save. There is not one of us that He has not given His angels charge concerning. We may be insignificant and contemptible in our own eyes, and in the eyes of others, but the truth remains that we are the children of God, and that He has actually given His angels--invisible beings of power and might--charge concerning us, and they watch over us and have us in their keeping" (Collected Discourses, p. 143-4).

You didn't roll off a heavenly assembly line, Nathan! An adoring Heavenly Father nurtured your spirit, "caring for" you, "caressing" you. I know they veil is shut now and you can't recall that father-son bonding time, but I also happen to know that you have a vivid imagination!

2. Program Your Mind to Obsess About Love

Nathan, you are blessed with an amazing ability to hold onto a thought and not let it go until you bring it to completion. When you set a goal to visit the top ten roller coasters in the United States, you kept going until you accomplished that. When you're locked onto serving a customer, you knock the ball out of the park and insure they're not only satisfied, they're a friend for life.

Now it's time for you to become absolutely immersed in loving thoughts and feelings. Start with the book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It. Ravikant will convince you that you don't have to remain a victim of your mind loops, you can decide their content. And what better content to loop on than loving yourself?

3. Look Around with Your Spiritual Eyes

As powerful as the process can be, looping on "I love myself" won't remain fresh forever. Fortunately, there is always fresh material for a mind laser-focused on love: other people. They're all around us. We just need to see them and respond to them as they genuinely deserve. No one taught this better than C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory:

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously--no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption (The Weight of Glory).

Nathan, It's 4:00 a.m. now. Time to go see if I can drift off for a few more Zs. I hope I've given you enough to chew on for today. Tap into one or more of these sources and keep the flow coming. Overflow your mind and life with light and love so there's less room for the garbage that looks like gold. If you spot a fleck or a nugget, don't argue with yourself about it. Simply crank the love spigot another turn and keep the light flowing in.

Readers, what do you do to keep your life oriented in the direction of love and light so that darkness has less power over you? Please share your ideas!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Should He Tell His Wife He Got Back Into Porn?

Just over a month ago Clint reached out: "I am part of the lay clergy in our LDS ward and was enjoying over 6 years sobriety from porn... until last month, that is! I'm so incredibly ashamed and terrified that I'm going to to lose everything this time.

"I haven't told my wife yet because I know it will destroy her faith in me. She knows that I struggled with pornography but thought it was all in the past. It will be so hard for her to hear I've gone back to it. I haven't told my Bishop because I'm so ashamed and terrified that he won't understand what I'm going through. I found the site and have received some comfort reading those essays.

"I feel so alone. I know there are others suffering the same, but I don't know how to reach out to them. I know I need to get back to 12-step meetings but I don't want to go to our local one because I'll be recognized. I'm thinking of going to one in the suburb next to us. I wanted to reach out but not sure what you can offer me. I sure hope I can get--and stay!--sober again (7 days sober now)."

I wrote back: "Hi Clint, SO glad you reached out. That's the key, and for now you're doing it in an arena that does feel doable. Just keep doing what you can and building on that."

Clint: "Thank you for responding.... I'm struggling right now to get the strength to tell my Bishop. I know how disappointed I would feel if the roles were reversed, and am not sure how he will react. It is just so overwhelming to think that I have to go through that again. I can't count how many Bishops I've had to have that discussion with in the past. But I can count how many I haven't: two. That's really depressing."

Five days later Clint sent this update: "I set an appointment to meet with my Bishop. That was a terrifying thing to do. I typed the text asking to set up the appointment and looked at it for what seemed like forever. My heart was thumping and I was all sweaty. But, I decided that in order to start my healing process, I had to send that text. So, I took three deep breaths and pushed send. So, my appointment is set for 8:30 tomorrow night."

A week later I got this email: "Just want to check in and let you know I'm still sober. Today is my two week mark! I spoke to my Bishop on Monday. It went very well.... He encouraged me to immerse myself in service to others. I haven't been able to tell my wife yet. That is the hardest part. I did tell her that I was going to attend 12-step meetings for my anger issues. Part truth :(

"I did go to ARP and started on step 1. Bishop suggested that I also seek counseling and that my wife and I try marriage counseling. After I talk to my wife, I'm not sure she will agree to any counseling. In the past she has said this is my problem and she didn't need any help."

I responded to Clint: "Great work so far!"

Another week went by, then this question from Clint: "I'm still doing well--at least I'm sober, going on 3 weeks tomorrow! The one thing I'm really struggling with is the right way and appropriate time to tell my wife about my relapse. Do you have any good blog posts or resources to help me figure this out?"

My best recommendations are these three about Why Your Husband Won't Read This Blog, Overcoming the Shame that Keeps Us from Reaching Out, and Want Porn Out? Let Wife In! My Friends Rory Reid and Dan Gray have also written a great book on the topic of discussing porn with a spouse.

Two weeks later Clint wrote, "Tomorrow is my 1 month sober mark!" When I congratulated him he responded, "Thanks, though I don't feel much like celebrating right now. I told my wife last night and I feel awful. How do we get past this?"

Oh. Wow. Wow! He did it! He faced the fear and spilled the beans! I got chills then and I get chills now re-reading that email. A part of me couldn't believe it. He mustered the courage and pulled it off! Another client, Raymond, describes how painful it was to open up to his wife about porn: "It was so scary, so hard to talk in that moment. My head was spinning, I felt small, I felt sick. It was awful."

Clint added details later about how it had gone between him and his wife: "It was 'the worse day of my life' as my 11-year-old puts it. My wife said, 'I'm not mad, just disappointed.' But it felt a lot worse than that the next day. I was miserable, and I'm sure she was hurting a lot, too.

"After two days of pretty much silence between us, I told her 'I love you' on my way out to work. She turned around, came to me and we hugged and kissed. That lifted my spirits so much! That night we went to my daughter's concert and we were holding hands, hugging, and at night kissing again. We also started discussing plans for recovery and my upcoming appointment with a therapist. So, even though Sunday was the worst day of my life, I think we're heading down the right path now. I'm so grateful for her love and support."

A week later I wrote Clint: "All week I've been basking in admiration for the courage you had to talk to your wife and her tender response even when she was hurting. Great work to both of you!"

Now it's been two weeks since Clint opened up to his wife. Yesterday when I asked him for permission to write a post about his experience, he gave me this update:

"Something incredible has happened over the last week that you may want to include. We're having 'cuddle time'. We spend an hour or two every night (yes, staying up past midnight most nights) cuddling and talking. We're having some very deep conversations that we've never had before. She told me that the reason she stopped being mad was she chose to see me as Christ would see me, as a small child who was exposed to something horrific that I had no control over.

"By the way, every night we ask our daughters their Highs and Lows as you suggested in your post on helping kids prevent porn problems. Some of them really like the experience, some of them kind of blow it off.

"My wife is planning to go to counseling with me tonight. She may also be thinking of going to the 12-step ARP Family group meetings.

All in all, it was a fantastic week. I keep having the thought, 'I never knew it could be this good!'"

Thank you, Clint, for showing us what happens when you have the guts to connect even when it feels incredibly risky. And for giving us a taste of the sweet return you've already started reaping from that courageous investment.

Not everyone thinks it's wise to open up about porn to a spouse. Nor is everyone who opens up glad they did. What has your experience been?