Shame can be a triple whammy when it comes to sex addiction. It can contribute to developing sexual addiction, can prevent people from seeking support, and it can be difficult to face in recovery. Understanding where this shame comes from, and that you don’t have to feel this way forever, may be the key to getting better.
What is Shame?
There have been differing definitions of shame over the years. Many therapists today distinguish shame from guilt. Guilt is generally a temporary emotion, can lead to change, and provides a purpose. Shame is more pervasive.
For example, let’s say Tom has agreed with his partner that he will not watch pornography, because it intereres with their intimate connection. However, he keeps doing it anyway. This may lead Tom to feel guilty, and to realize that he may have a more serious issue with stopping.
Tom may then make amends to his partner and to start therapy to address this issue. Tom felt guilt, and is working on changing his behavior. He feels better once he understands what’s going on, and doesn’t have to hide from his partner.
Now, assume that Marco is in the same situation. When he keeps watching the porn, he doesn’t feel guilty nor asks for support. Instead, he feels overwhelming shame. He believes that there’s something wrong with him at the core, that there always will be, and he can never feel better.
This makes Marco feel frozen. He’s too ashamed to talk to his partner, or even a therapist. He tries not to think about it, and looks for more ways to distract himself from these difficult feelings. Eventually these spiral until he faces worsening consequences.
While guilt can be a catalyst for change, shame makes it all the more difficult to break free.
Shame and Sexual Compulsive Behaviors
Marco is certainly not alone. Millions of people report struggling with sexual behaviors such as watching pornography frequently, become pre-occupied with sex, and having affairs while being in a monogomous relationship.
Those who study and treat addictions of all kinds see the strong connection between shame and sex addiction. Many therapists believe sex addiction is rooted in early childhood, when children often don’t form healthy attachments with caregivers.
This leads to shame, self-doubt, and attachment issues in later adulthood. Many compensate for this by soothing themselves with sexual behaviors, which partially meets needs and provide a distraction. However, as many who struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors know, this is only temporarily satisfying, if that.
Shame’s Ongoing Role
Many people who act out sexually are doing so against their own values. They may not believe in having affairs, having sexual encounters outside a relationship, or in their other sexually compulsive behaviors. However, addiction pushes them to do so, creating ongoing shame.
This shame then contributes to the cycle, driving a higher need to act out to manage these feelings. This experience can be very difficult to change one’s own. Many people need the help of an experienced professional to understand what’s going on and stop the cycle.
Shame in Recovery
How do you deal with such debilitating shame in recovery? Many people find it difficult to share the extent of their sexually compulsive behaviors, regardless of how limited or extensive they are. Know that you are not alone in this.
Others who sought help and got better started in the same place. Simply acknowledging that you need outside support can be a great start. You can move slowly through the process after that.
If you feel stuck and isolated, know that’s a common experience as well. If your case was entirely unique, there wouldn’t be entire books, articles, and programs to help those with similar struggles.
Anything that you share with a therapist isn’t likely to shock them. They’ve worked with dozens to hundreds of others with similar experiences. They won’t be judging your behaviors. Instead, they’ll help you understand where they came from, and how to change them.
Patrick Carnes, a well-known sexual addiction expert, outlines specific stages people go through in recovery. In one important step, the repair stage, you will learn to heal your younger self, and better meet your own needs for acceptance, love, and support. This will make it easier to connect with others in a meaningful and healthy way.
At Anew Counseling, I use a variety of interventions such as those used by Carnes and other experts. Through a process of identifying behaviors, shame, guilt, and negative thought patterns, you can start to heal. I make use of cognitive behavioral and similar techniques to help you identify and change your thoughts and behaviors.
By reducing your shame, both from past and recent events, you can decrease your dependence and compulsive behaviors. Set up a call now to see how I can help.