Sunday, April 10, 2016

LOVE HEALS PORN - 30 Days to Greater Freedom from the Habit

The first time I met Greg he looked sharp in his starched blue shirt and pleated dress slacks. He was waiting for me when I arrived at the office ten minutes before our 7 a.m. appointment. He handed me a neat stack of the paperwork our office had sent him to fill out. Everything about Greg said here's a guy who has figured things out and has it all put together.

Porn, Compulsion, and Self-Hatred

As we talked about his life, a different story emerged. He'd been struggling for decades with a porn habit he'd never quite been able to kick. And he was super hard on himself about it, to the point of self-loathing. In fact, he said it straight up: "I don't like myself. How could I? I keep doing things I've committed not to do, things that hurt my completely innocent and amazingly supportive wife, degrading things that ruin my self-respect."

Over the years, my love for men like Greg has only deepened. And I know that love is exactly what they need to heal--but not from me. If someone else's love could heal them, the love of their wife, girlfriend, families, or other loved ones would surely have done the trick by now.

I'd enjoy nothing more than to access the hard drive of men like Greg, find every last line of code for self-hatred, and write over it, programming them to love themselves instead. But how do we reprogram the human heart?

Breaking the Code of Compulsion

After my mentor, Dean Byrd, and I published Willpower Is Not Enough twenty years ago, I started spending my early morning hours poring over psychology research in an effort to create a science-based program for kicking habits and recovering from addiction. Obviously, it's taken much longer than I'd hoped, but our new Love Heals Porn program is the result of that process. Along the way I've learned many things from the peer review literature on the topic, from other professionals who have mentored and taught me, and even more from the clients I see every day in my office.

Often, the research would tell me something ought to work, but field testing by my clients showed me it didn't. When my brilliantly designed and enthusiastically shared homework assignments not only failed to bring results but didn't get used at all, I was tempted to blame my clients. "They're resisting the process." "Deep down they don't really want to change." "They lack desire and discipline."

Desire and Discipline... Are Not Enough

However, you wouldn't have to spend much time with my clients to see that I'd be dead wrong to blame them. Look into their eyes as they describe how their porn habit crushes their confidence and self-respect and you'll see that they want nothing more than to change. Knowing how hard they work for their money and the amount my office debits out of their account every time we meet screams that they're eager, not resistant. And discipline? My clients have shown more passion and follow-through than I'd ever be able to muster. All the way from the academic and professional dedication it takes to become a surgeon, professor, or magistrate to the mental discipline it takes to be an airline pilot or on the SWAT team. Since I only lasted a half day of practice before I was barfing behind the bleachers and deciding I didn't want to be on the high school football team after all, I've been particularly impressed by those clients who've accomplished athletic feats and withstood physical challenges like the rigors of Navy Seal training, success as a professional athlete, and nailing V15 level rock climbs.

A heightened respect for my clients and their strengths didn't diminish my frustration when they wouldn't do their homework or, when they did but it failed to help them kick their porn habit. So in an effort to figure out what was breaking down, and based on the belief that I shouldn't ask someone else to do anything I'm not willing to do, I road tested these science-based homework assignments for myself. And discovered, to my chagrin, that I didn't complete most of them either. Once I was out of the office and living regular life, my autopilot routine took over and I dropped the ball. Sometimes I simply forgot exactly what I was intending to do differently. Sometimes the pull of old familiar behavior pattern was simply too strong to resist.

How to Have a Change of Heart

As we've created this set of interventions, we've thrown out more exercises than we've kept. Those that made the cut have been honed over the years, boiled down and condensed to their essential core. Each one will take you approximately ten minutes to learn and two or three minutes to apply. There are 30, so don't sweat it if they don't all work for you.

This program is about cultivating more love in your life, so please, please be patient and compassionate with yourself as you go through the process. Don't get down on yourself if you end up skipping days and the program takes you two or three months to complete instead of one. And don't get too anal, trying to stack each habit on the last until you've built yourself a tower of blocks that's bound to topple. Some of the tools you'll try only once, others not at all because they just don't resonate. Others will be great for you eventually, but too much of a stretch the first time you learn about them. In other words, just keep plugging along. Don't let yourself get so enthused that your motivation burns out too quickly... and don't let yourself get so discouraged that you stop midway through the program.

Be forewarned: sometimes all it takes is a firm resolve to take concrete, effective steps to make changes in an important area of our lives... for all hell to break loose. Chaos descends. Stress at work ramps up. Relationships threaten to unravel. Old fears rush back to haunt us again. Wavy mirrors and shifting floors populate the funhouse of our minds. It's almost enough to talk us out of trying to change. Would it be better to just accommodate this porn habit, perhaps tame it a bit, rather than keep trying to kick it altogether? If any of this happens to you--or all of it!--just remember the key message British citizens whispered to each other and plastered on their buses and shop windows during World War II: Keep Calm and Carry On. Because, to borrow two other slogans from His Majesty's Stationary Office from that period, "Freedom is in Peril’ and only "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution will Bring Us Victory’. And, I might add, your love. Especially your love.

That, my friends, is how you will go about reprogramming your heart.

Do This

Take a few minutes to consider making this resolve today: "Throughout the coming month or so I will keep spending a little bit of time most days learning how to infuse more love into my life and learning about the difference that will make in my efforts to get free of porn. I will try out at least some of the ideas and tools and hang on to the ones that seem particularly helpful. I will trust that, with practice over time, they will naturally become more permanent features in the way I think and live. In the process, I will feel more love, both for myself and others, and that will be a potent boost in my efforts to kick my porn habit."

If you're willing and ready to act on this resolve, go to my new website, Love Heals Porn, and sign up for our new 30 day program. You'll get an email each day with a brief lesson (5-10 minutes) and an actionable step you can take now to apply that lesson in your life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Kick Porn with Love - A Nobler Way to Use Your Imagination

When he's traveling, it's always toughest on Ivan when he gets back to the hotel after a long day. His Rebel subpersonality says, "You're free! All of the usual responsibilities and obligations that tie you down--your wife and family, responsibilities at work--you can forget about those here! You're your own man now! Nothing's holding you back!

Planning for Success

Right before he went on his latest business trip, Ivan read this post on how to harness our imagination in loving ways as an antidote to porn. Instead of simply vowing to do better, Ivan leveraged his imagination to plan ahead.

He got online to see if he could find something wholesome he could enjoy in the area. Sure enough, he found a beachside pier within a half hour of the finance convention he was there to attend. Instead of waiting for hunter-gatherer to lock onto porn, he had busied it anticipating an agenda for the day that included some enjoyment. "It helped that I'd researched it before. It gave me something to look forward to."

Fantastic Follow Through

He took it even further later. Looking through the shops along the pier, he thought about each one of his kids, their personalities, and what little gift they might like. In the end he got a star chart for his son in junior high who loves science and a book for his younger daughter who just started reading chapter books.

Then he started thinking about his parents. Although he didn't buy them anything, he ended up texting them later that evening about a family reunion they'd been planning. His dad phoned back and after they talked about the reunion they shared with each other this year's plans for their yards and gardens.

Imagination: the Door to a Better Reality

The role Ivan's imagination played in his success on this trip reminded me of this quote from Oscar Wilde:

"Love is fed by the imagination, by which we become wiser than we know, better than we feel, nobler than we are: by which we can see Life as a whole: by which, and by which alone, we can understand others in their real as in their ideal relations."

How have you used your imagination in your recovery? Leave a comment below and tell us the story of how it helped.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Put Her over the Top: Let Your Love for Your Woman Help Turn You Away from Porn

Nancy husband Paul is a great guy who's made all of her dreams come true. Well, almost. "Every part of our relationship is picture perfect, except one. We're the best of friends, he's there for me, he always takes the burden and puts me before himself."

So what's the hangup?

"I've known since we got together that he watched porn, and has since he was very young. He never hid this from me. I tried to accept it as a part of the male need for visual stimulation, and a change from what he sees everyday: me. Logically, I could come to terms with it, and in fact, was very proud of myself for overcoming my female need to be the only woman he lusted over. But despite the fact that he never lied about it, I still relate entirely to the other women who've commented on this post who feel betrayed and less than the women in those videos. I'm outraged that men need that kind of woman in their lives, even if only in their fantasies, and it makes me want to scream at him to marry one of those females instead, since he can't appreciate the smart, attractive, loving woman he has right in front of him. He says it's a childhood habit, and doesn't reflect on his opinion of me at all, but how can that possibly be true? He doesn't want me, he wants them.... I feel ungrateful because aside from this one area he is so generous and good to me. But at the same time I wonder, if he loves me so much, why can't I be enough? Why will I never be enough for him?!"

Why Not Indulge? Why Refrain from Lust? 

It's natural to love the female form. When you catch a glimpse of a strikingly attractive woman, you're going to want to stop whatever else you're doing and drink in all her beauty. It's not accidental that we use the word "stunning" to describe a beauty who turns heads. Like a sea creature stunned by jelly fish stings, we may find ourselves feeling helpless to resist. But, unlike that sea creature, we don't have to let ourselves get sucked in and devoured by our lust. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we don't have to do the devouring, feasting on whatever visual lust bait we happen upon.

The problem is, ogling WOMEN is not the way to the heart of A WOMAN. If it's women you love and you want to keep enjoying them in all varieties, maybe porn is for you. But if it's your woman you love and want to keep enjoying (the one you have now if you're in a committed relationship or the one you want in the future if you're single) then you'll do best to govern your enjoyment of female beauty rather than let it rule you.

Consider Her Feelings

Marriage Therapist Lisa Lund describes commitment as "taking your partner with you wherever you go." Building on that, Zach Brittle of the Gottman Institute encourages this mental exercise: "Imagine what it would be like to intentionally take your partner with you--if only subconsciously--wherever you went. Would you go to the grocery store or the gym differently? Would you go to a bar differently? Would you relate to your friends differently? Would you relate to your co-workers differently?"

And I would add: Would you make different entertainment choices? Would you click around differently online? Would your gaze rest differently, whether you're looking at pixels or a real woman? Would it bounce quicker from images that promote erotic thoughts about women who aren't your wife, rather than lingering and drinking them in?

Forgo for a Purpose

I remember being struck by a comment from Carl to a blog post about whether porn is virtual cheating, as the subtitle of our book Love You, Hate the Porn suggests. "Men have NO internal reason to forgo porn. Those of us who refrain, it's for this reason alone: We don't want our woman to feel like $#&*."

I disagree with Carl's assessment in this regard: Turns out men have plenty of reasons to steer clear of porn that have nothing to do with their women. In fact, speaking of subtitles, here's the one from Brian McDougal's great book Porned Out: "Erectile dysfunction, depression, and 7 more (selfish) reasons to quit porn." The others include delayed ejaculation, involuntary sexual fantasies, bad memory and concentration, poor relationship skills, and sleep disorders. She doesn't have to be on your mind--heck, you don't even have to have a she in your life--to have probable cause to give it up.

Put Her Over the Top

But it turns out Carl's reason--not wanting our woman to feel like $#*&--might be the best one of all. Which brings us to the amazing part. If you really prioritize and deeply care about what goes on inside your woman, it won't just help her avoid feeling crappy--about herself, about you, about the relationship, about men in general, about life. It touches and moves her in a way nothing else can! When she feels completely cherished by a man who she knows could be taking the path of least resistance and indulging his lusts instead, his devotion elevates the entirety of her life.

You can focus on adoring your woman or let yourself lust indiscriminately. Which MO will you choose? The difference it will make in your woman's life is expressed eloquently by Karen Brody from her book Open Her: "I call a vast number of men in the world 'wide-net fishermen.' These are men who, for lack of confidence in themselves and a lack of understanding of women’s hearts, cast a wide net ... always on the lookout for that next lucky catch.... The problem is that when a woman feels she is one fish of many, she loses respect for herself and her attraction for you. No woman wants to be someone you dredged up by chance. She wants to be the one you found because you were looking for her. Every woman wants to believe she will belong to a specific man, and that he is looking for her and will find her. Like that one special seashell among millions of others washed ashore, you see her and you know. She’s the 'one.'... A woman wants to feel that you chose her from among all the women you could have, that you exercise that level of confidence and power. It fulfills her deepest desire to be seen and celebrated as a unique feminine being."

Do This

Spend a couple of minutes putting yourself in the mindset of your woman. If you're single, imagine how your future partner will feel. Let these feelings sink into your heart: What is it like for her when she knows you adore her? What's it like when she worries that your eyes are wandering? How is it for her to be seen--truly seen? How would she feel if she heard you raving about how gorgeous some celebrity is? What's it like for her when you notice that she's wearing clothes you love or has paid particular attention to her hair or makeup? How is it for her to feel lonely and left out even when she's sitting or walking right next to you? 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Stick with Little Labors of Love

When you set a goal to conquer a porn problem, you might shoot yourself in the foot by being too eager and ambitious. It may feel great to tell yourself, "I'm finally going to kick this thing once and for all!" Research shows that people get a high from making a firm and enthusiastic resolve to exercise greater self-control. However, that kind of energy fades and becomes next to useless in the long run. In fact, some people find that the higher they felt during enthusiastic moments, the further they fall the next time they give in to cravings. This is such a common phenomenon that researchers Janet Polivy and Peter Herman coined a term for it: false hope syndrome.

Recovery is a Coal-Powered Locomotive, Not a Rocket

There's a more helpful mentality and approach to recovery. See it as a gradual, step-by-step process. One of my clients, Timothy, calls it wall-building. He eventually wants a house of recovery that will protect him and his future wife and kids from relapse to his porn addiction. Rather than scurrying about frantically to try (and most likely fail) to erect the house in one day, he lays down single bricks and accepts that modest labor as enough work for the day. That bricklaying work may not seem particularly glamorous or exciting, but the effects of it definitely keep accruing and accumulating over time.

Timothy told me, "If I had cancer, I wouldn't expect it to go away tomorrow just because I ate healthy or got chemo today. If I planted a peach tree, I wouldn't expect it to bear fruit today. Expecting those immediate outcomes is denying the laws of nature. Well, we're part of nature, too. I can be happy with myself for taking today's steps on this journey, and not hold out my approval for after I've reached the final destination of complete abstinence and successful recovery."

Start Small and Build Slowly

These little labors of love may vary for each individual, but I've been surprised over the years how many of them relate to areas we share in common. Many of them are basic principles of healthy living. Often they relate to the three areas addressed by Tom Rath in his book, Eat, Move, Sleep. In fact, the subtitle of his book is "How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes", right in line with the topic of this post.

Timothy said, "It's a win these days when I get to bed on time. Instead of one or two a.m. on the weekends, I'm shooting for midnight. I'm drinking a green smoothie and at least taking a walk every day. If possible I take fifteen minutes or a half hour to work out." He said that he implemented these habits one by one instead of all at once by trying to make minor improvements in one arena of his life and then moving on to another little goal once he had the first well established.

It's How We'd Treat a Friend We Love

I complimented Timothy on how he was treating himself. "It's the way I would want to be treated by you if I were a friend you were showing around for a few days. The fact that you know I do better with more sleep and said to your other friends, 'Hey guys, I know you're still going to hang out but I also know Mark won't be at his best tomorrow if he's sleep deprived so we're taking off now so he can get to bed.' It wasn't the easiest conversation to have with them, so I would appreciate that you cared enough about me to have it.

"That's the way the in-need part of you feels right now: he appreciates that you recognize his needs and are taking steps every day to get better at meeting them. Same thing goes for what you're feeding him. Again, if I were your friend and all you fed me when I was in town was cheap junk food and fast food, I wouldn't feel very cared about. You taking the time to have shopped for organic vegetables and fruit and spend ten minutes blending them up for me? I would know I am important to you and that you care about my health and well-being."

Do This

What's one labor of love you could take a couple of minutes today to initiate? Go cut up some vegetables and snack on them? Clean out the back seat of your car? Take a walk around the block to get some fresh air? Erase old messages so there's room again in your voicemail?

One of my clients who recently took this action step simply stopped drinking caffeinated beverages. (Okay, so maybe that's not quite as simple as it sounds.) Another started putting her "Guidepost" magazine on her toilet tank cover so that she could read part of an article every day, something she really found uplifting during an earlier time of her life.

There are lots of little labors of love you could pick from, activities that both feel good and are both good for you. What one thing will you can initiate or carry out completely in the next couple of minutes? Please comment below and let us know how it goes!