By John Williams, LMHC
"I'm 25 days porn free!," Brad proudly proclaims. "But I notice I am getting so irritable. Yesterday I was Mr. Road Rage on the way home from work. And I almost wanted to slug somebody when I saw the office coffee pot was empty this morning. What's going on?!"
Any bad habit represents a good habit never learned, a healthy attitude or coping strategy not yet adopted. It represents insufficient self-control, some kind of delayed maturation, some missing skills.
When a child continues to suck their thumb after a certain age, we see it as immature. We expect them to learn to soothe themselves in a more grown up way, and the longer they indulge in it, the longer they don’t learn anything better.
development on hold
So it is with porn, masturbation and compulsive sex. (It's easy to see a lot of similarities between sucking your thumb and masturbating, right?)
Once we adopt these as coping mechanisms for unwanted feelings or situations, we don't learn healthier ways. Some aspect of maturation stops at that point. That means that when we try to stop our porn habit, we have to restart the learning process from where we left off.
That's why, without our habit, we may find ourselves whining like a teenager in stressful circumstances. We fly off the handle over an inconvenience. We have zero patience. Everyone is annoying. We want to go off and sulk somewhere. It is can be mystifying and embarrassing, but this is to be expected.
There is no shortcut around this, though. We still just have to learn whatever we never learned back then.
And that brings us to those skill deficits. Not only have we not learned certain kinds of self control, we also have not learned proper self care and how to manage situations.
Anything that serves as a drug is a substitute for good healthy habits. Think overuse of coffee as a substitute for good sleep habits. Drinking alcohol to unwind instead of learning real relaxation skills.
So the porn or sex addict usually has to learn to care for themselves in some way—emotionally, mentally, physically, socially, spiritually.
To do this, we have to learn certain skills—stress release, caring for others, managing anger, recovering from hurts, forgiveness of grievances, making friends, assertiveness, conflict resolution, and so on. That may sound intimidating, but you can tackle them bit by bit and make solid progress, especially with the help of a mentor, coach or counselor.
This is why these kinds of healthy habits are things that we need to learn at the same time as we wean ourselves (oops, no pun intended--I swear!) off our unhealthy dependence on our habit. It makes our freedom and recovery truly sustainable.
John Williams is a licensed mental health counselor and relationship coach specializing in pornography and sex addiction and infidelity. He is the owner of Bulletproof Integrity, a sexual integrity training and recovery coaching service. He is also a published author and sought-after presenter.