If you have a little boat and you hit a few rough waves, it may be sufficient to simply bail out some water with a bucket. As you sail on, you say to yourself subconsciously, “oh, that was easy, and I’m glad I thought of that”.
Then you hit a real storm—swells and waves—and you really take on water! Now your bucket looks like a joke, and you begin to become paralyzed with fear not knowing what to do.
Learning to Cope With Emotional Turmoil
Sadly, this is how many of us learn to navigate issues in our lives. We aren’t helped and trained in effective ways to cope with emotional distress or relational turmoil (often because our caregivers don’t know how themselves).
As a result we pick up an emotional or relational “bucket” and start “going-at-it” to solve the problem! It may work temporarily, but it fails quickly as life evolves into more intricate situations.
Rather than a small boat, we are intricate people who need relational sustenance. John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory displays how clearly we need emotional attunement to create safety.
We experience a delicate dance between trust and betrayal in our lives. Unfortunately the experience of betrayal is often profoundly felt and due to the emotional salience (important feelings) our brains remember them all the more.
Attachments and The Experiences We Need
Attachment (feeling safe and secure) means that we experience someone else providing us with: attention, affection, affirmation, acceptance, satisfaction, significance and security.
When we don’t have these experiences we endure emotionally troublesome experiences—that we may get used to—and need to deal with. This is when even as young children we learn to pick up a bucket and start bailing water. Our little boats feel like they are sinking, even though we should have been kept far from the storm by a loving other.
Children grab whatever they can to find safety, even if it hurts them in the long run. For example, helping and caring for a mother who is rude and cruel in the vain hope that the mother will protect, nourish and eventually turn to enjoy the child.
The experiences we need can be explained like this:
- Attention: Longing for people to like me. Longing for your embrace.
- Affection: Longing to be enjoyed. A need for people to enjoy just who I am and delight in me.
- Affirmation: Longing to know I have what it takes. We want other’s blessing.
- Acceptance: Longing to belong. You want to be rightly desired by others.
- Satisfaction: Longing for fullness. A want of well-being and rest.
- Significance: Longing for impact. To have meaning and life affecting power.
- Security: Longing to know “I am ok”.
The Role of Sexual Addiction Longing and Activity
Sexual activities can provide a hugely medicating experience when we feel the pain that accompanies our core needs not being met. Firstly, sexual stimulus is a distraction and a dopamine releasing high, then it can become a surrogate comforter. It can fool us to think we are experiencing core needs just for a moment, or to look the other way and forget we have needs at all.
Cusick correctly points out that we end up trying one of two “buckets” to cope with our legitimate needs. We tell ourselves “I have no need”, or “I will fill my own need.” When we move into “I have no need” it is a response to painful loss of what we really need.
It is easier to forget the legitimate longings for intimacy, connection, enjoyment etc, and settle for less—porn or some other sexual stimulus that mimics what we really want in a trite and unconvincing way. It is the easier option compared with moving towards where we were hurt and learning to trust relationships again.
Alternatively, if you say, “I will fill my own need”, then you are likely responding defiantly to a disappointing world! Sadly, we are often abandoned, neglected or simply missed in this busy and confusing world.
When this happens we can learn very quickly that only “I” am looking out for me! Therefore when pain and disappointment hit we start to use the simple “bucket” of sex in an attempt restore us. It may acts as an anesthetic in the moment, but does little to meet our true needs.
What do we do then? Become honest and look for a better solution for our “sinking boat” than a “bucket”! We have to discern just how we have learnt to cope. What “bucket” are you using? Do you push off your needs altogether, or do you feel them and numb them? Which of the needs mentioned above most resonates with you? Why? What painful experiences have you had that seem to correspond with this need? How did you respond to those times in your life?
If you start to answer the questions above completely and honestly you will enable yourself to realistically consider how sexual addiction is serving you. When you accept this reality you can start to build new healthy ways to have your legitimate needs met, to learn intimacy, and find sustaining relationships. This is the road to finding effective ways to navigate life’s storms.
About the author: Paul Loosemore, MA PLPC, author of “21 Movements Towards Life” – The step-by-step guide to recovering from sexual addiction or pornography. Paul works as a mental health counselor, and consults with those who wish to recover from Sexual Addiction—both individuals and couples. He is the founder of www.stopsexualaddiction.com where you can find his guide, or contact him.
: Gottman (2011) The Science of Trust. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc: New York.
: Matheson (2014) Your Faithful Brain. WestBow Press.
: Cusick (2012) Surfing for God. Thomas Nelson.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 12, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com