Life lived without self-worth is like expecting an engine to run without oil. The engine will grind, jam and simply not work. When we live without self-worth we hide, give ourselves away, or neglect to protect ourselves. As with an engine, the damage spirals into a destructive mess.
Building or Despising the Self
Sadly, a great deficit in self-worth is common for trauma survivors, and it leaves them vulnerable to searching; searching for the self-worth they deserve. The way we dress, walk, sit, act, and much more can be recruited into our desperate search for self-respect.
These modes of gaining self-worth are often flawed and limited, leaving us vulnerable to hurt and self-loathing. Addressing our deficits becomes desperate—enter sex. There are few things as powerfully reinforcing as sexual enjoyment. When a woman is enjoyed sexually it can be the first time they have been affirmed.
However, the opposite can also be true—sex isn’t necessarily a validation of self, but an act or pursuit that numbs the pain of painfully low self-respect. The woman’s cry might be, “why not, I’m not worth anything anyway.”
Whether to bolster self-esteem, or numb the plight of not having any, sex can provide powerful relief. It is a huge mistake to quickly label a woman without understanding her unique life story and experience.
Sex addiction can take many forms, pornography, hook-ups, cyber sex and many more. It isn’t so much the modality of the sex that is the concern, or even the impact of the sex (although this is huge!); the heart of the matter is how sex impacts one’s sense of self.
Using porn to masturbate may leave you feeling ashamed and therefore diminish your self-worth, which ultimately leads to a greater need to soothe the pain. This is the essence of the addictive cycle, and for women, attachment to relational aspects of this experience are key. Attachment is the sense of needing something for security and sustenance.
Whatever mechanism the sexual addiction takes, it encompasses a process of relating to something that feels like it brings life, even if it ultimately diminishes self-worth. Many addicts find this hard to accept and see at first.
Breaking the Consuming Spiral
No matter how it started, addiction becomes an all-consuming experience that leads to a downward, constricting spiral. Within this state many women talk about relationships with an addiction, pointing to relational value and it is to this a women’s self-esteem may become attached.
Covington is clear about the issue when she says: “Addiction is a relationship that constricts a woman’s life. The task in helping a woman to recover is to help her transfer her attachments to addictive ‘relationships’ (with substances, people, or both) to sources of growth-fostering connections, such as her therapist, her mutual-help group, or members of her recovery group.”
Simply understanding that your engine needs oil to run, or you need self-worth to flourish isn’t enough. So how can addicted women begin to drink the oil they need to drive towards self-worth and vitality? Here are a few suggestions. For more, and personal application, I’d encourage you to find a mentor and counselor.
1. Recognize that self-worth isn’t the only issue involved in recovery. Start to boldly name the areas you struggle. These can include, body image, cultural concerns, abuse, eating disorders, grief, family concerns and more. These should all be factored into recovery.
2. Adopt an attitude of looking for your strengths. You have overcome many things before and will continue to do so. Harnessing these assets will help you build self-worth and make practical changes.
3. Find a community that demonstrates empowerment. This is a place where power is used with and for others, rather than over or against them as many women have experienced before.
A non-blaming community that has limits, boundaries and encourages active participation is a powerful influence. It is observed, experienced and internalized in the struggle against sexual addiction.
When you start to address the multiple issues contributing to low self-worth, set up safe relationships, and practice your strength in life giving actions you will see a change in your self-perception. Building self-worth can be a tricky journey with stops and starts; keep going it is worth it. You are worth it.
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.
: Langberg, D. (2003) Counseling survivors of sexual abuse. Xulon Press
: Brooks, D. (2012) The social animal: The hidden sources of love, character and chievement. Random House: NY.
: Covington, S. (2002). Helping Women Recover: Creating Gender-Responsive Treatment. In The handbook of addiction treatment for women: Theory and practice.
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.
Published on June 20, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 26, 2017.
Published on AddictionHope.com