Why do sex addicts do what they do? How could they continue acting out when the consequences are so obvious to others? Family members and friends are often baffled. Examples include:
Just because a person enjoys sex, has certain sexual interests, or has more than one sex partner does not mean that he or she is automatically a sex addict. A basic definition of sex addiction is the inability to stop the out-of-control behavior in spite of the consequences. I do not judge people for their fetishes or enjoyment of sex, but as a licensed therapist, I am concerned when they say, “I can’t stop what I’m doing even though I hate the costs and effects on my life.”
Impaired thinking is the term that describes the distorted view of reality, the denial, and the faulty beliefs that result in an addiction. “The police were just wanting to give me a hard time,” or “It wasn’t my fault considering how she treats me,” or “It’s not real sex if it’s done online” are examples of how rationalization or delusion can be at play. The addict points the finger at the unfairness or unreasonableness of others, but he or she has not come to the kind of self-knowledge that is crucial to recovery. Delusion not only involves our relationships with others; it includes dishonesty with self. The addict may have cried sincere tears of anguish and remorse when promising to never do it again, but things will not change without outside help.
As a therapist, I often talk with spouses who cannot believe the “craziness” of the addict’s behavior and denial, but in a sense, the addiction is supposed to look crazy. (“Crazy” is not the preferred term in the mental health field, but it’s the word that is commonly used.) Impaired thinking, paranoia, delusion, and denial create a world in the addict’s mind where awareness is skewed and boundaries are ignored. The addiction may become more important than the person’s family or profession. Numbing and avoidance can become the norm. The “real world” is isolation and the intensity of acting out. Sex addiction is a relationship with intensity, not intimacy. The addict leads a double life, and the situation has become unmanageable.
It’s often said that the first step in addiction recovery is confronting denial. Sometimes this confrontation comes from a spouse or a boss, but the addict may also have certain windows of opportunity when he or she “hits bottom.” The consequences may become so overwhelming or tragic that the addict’s eyes are opened, however briefly. It is in that moment that the addict must reach out. The addict may think that recovery is an inward journey, and in some ways it is, but it is primarily an outward journey. It’s not so much about the inward forces of willpower and self-shaming but about reaching out to others — to a group, a sponsor, a therapist trained in sex addiction, and/or to one’s spirituality or Higher Power.
To those whose lives are unmanageable, I offer compassion, not judgment. Many people have found themselves in a place of despair or disgrace, but I know that healing and hope are possible. As a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT), I believe that addicts need someone who has specialized training in this area to walk with them on the journey of recovery. It is not a journey that can be taken alone. They need someone who can help them get beyond the delusion and “craziness” that they are experiencing. Reach out. I promise you, there is hope beyond this madness.