Compulsive Sexual Behavior

As a therapist who has specialized in sex addiction treatment for many years, I’ve learned countless recovery tools and strategies that are great at keeping addicts busy but not great at helping them heal. Through experience and training, my approach to treatment has evolved over time and now the primary tools I use to treat compulsive sexual behavior are IFS and self-compassion. To learn more about IFS click here. The following is a chapter I wrote in my book Life After Lust: Stories & Strategies for Sex & Pornography Addiction Recovery (unpublished), which explains how self-compassion can aid in the healing process. If you are working on rebuilding trust, click here for additional resources.

If you live in California and want to learn how these tools can lead to lasting healing and changed behavior, I invite you to contact me for a free 15 minute phone consultation. If my approach feels like a good fit for you, I would be honored to help safely guide you into your heart, where the parts of you burdened by pain and shame can finally experience the healing you’ve always longer for.

The Courage of Self-Connection

Skill to Master #13: Self-connection

Skill to Master #14: Self-compassion

Skill to Master #15: Emotional regulation (managing pain and emotion)

Something is under the surface, can you feel it? You’ve sensed it many times, yet still don’t know what it is. You keep moving forward, keep staying busy, keep ignoring it, keep pretending everything’s fine. But it’s not. Something is unsettled inside but you’re too busy to feel it. It’s moments like this when addiction whispers messages like “escape there” and “run here.”

And all of this is for what purpose? To keep running, keep escaping, keep distracting? This is the cycle of disconnection from self. For some, this pattern was learned at a very young age. For many, this pattern is instinctual.

Stopping and turning toward yourself, connecting with what is inside, and being kind toward whatever is hiding in the shadows of your soul requires great courage. This is scary, uncharted territory. Yet, for those who never take this risk, distraction becomes their drug of choice. Self-neglect and self-abandonment continue as the self-defeating norms.

Yet some of the most profound moments in life will be those times when you stop, see your pain, feel the surfacing emotions, and respond with care, compassion, and nurturance. This is tending to your wounds. This is attuning to the cries of your heart. Learning to effectively regulate emotion is foundational for those seeking recovery from sexual addiction.

If you have never learned how to relate to yourself like this, consider beginning today. Instead of grabbing the laptop, the bottle, the drug, or the sugar, consider grabbing a pen and connecting with the emotions you are running from. This can be done through journaling your feelings but the most powerful form of self-connection I’ve discovered is practicing self-compassion.

Mastering self-compassion tools will help you stop the cycle of disconnection in its tracks. It helps you learn to connect and find the comfort you’ve always needed. This will be worth the time and effort. It is a monumental step on the path of recovery.

Why Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is a powerful tool for recovering addicts, with multiple benefits. Over a hundred journal articles point to conclusive results that self-compassion is “predictive of psychological well-being” in many areas. Dr. Kristen Neff has researched self-compassion for many years and reports that “people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and are much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future. In short, they have better mental health.”

You may be wondering, “What is self-compassion?” Dr. Kelly McGonigal describes self-compassion as “being kind and supportive to yourself whenever you experience suffering.” It means learning to show yourself care and concern in the same way that you would with someone you love who is going through a difficult experience, whether it is the result of personal choices or challenging life circumstances.

The abilities to connect with self and manage emotional states are foundational to long-term recovery. In the book Addiction as an Attachment Disorder, Flores writes that until addicts develop the capacity to use their feelings as signals and to become emotionally intimate with themselves, they will continue to engage in their self-destructive and self-defeating behavior.” Self-compassion is a useful vehicle to deepen this kind of self-connection, with life-changing implications.

Learning how to find healthy comfort when experiencing distress or suffering is a key recovery skill. Many people in recovery experience intense levels of shame and are self-critical with themselves as a result. Self-criticism produces cortisol and inhibits change. Interestingly, self-compassion decreases cortisol and produces oxytocin, which decreases cravings and leads to feelings of calm and safety. The “feelings of warmth, safety, presence, and interconnectedness” produced through self-compassion “alleviate emotion dysregulation,” providing significant help to suffering addicts.

There are many exercises that help people begin to relate to themselves with self-compassion. One of the most potent self-compassion exercises available is called the Self-Compassion Break. It offers a quick opportunity to implement the three components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.

The Self-Compassion Break is so simple that it may easily be minimized or disregarded. However, when used in moments of pain or suffering, this exercise proves to be one of the most effective tools we have at our disposal for regulating emotion, connecting with self, and experiencing comfort in difficult times. Another effective self-compassion tool is called The Letter of Self-Compassion (explained in The Neuroscience of Change), which has been shown to decrease depression. As you practice the skill of self-compassion, may you experience deeper levels of peace, comfort, and healing as a result. May the practice of these and other self-compassion exercises lead you down the road to unprecedented and long-lasting change.

In compassionate support,

Forest Benedict LMFT, SATP

References:

Benedict, F. (2014, September 12). The Courage of Self-Connection (Another Self-

Compassion Tool). Retrieved from LifeSTAR of the Central Valley blog.

Flores, P. J. (2004). Addiction as an attachment disorder. Lanham: Jason Aronson.

Frye, T. (n.d.). Lecture presented at Counseling Sexual Addictions Class in Fresno

Pacific Biblical Seminary, Fresno, CA.

Ghali, E. (2015). Self- Compassion as a Mediator and Moderator of the Relationship

between Psychological Suffering and Psychological Well-being among Palestinian

Widowed Women. Research on Humanities and Social Sciences, 5(24), 66-76.

McGonigal, K. (2012). The neuroscience of change: a compassion-based program for

personal transformation. Sounds True.

Neff, K. (2015, December 13). Exercise 2: Self-Compassion Break . Retrieved from

Exercise 2: Self-Compassion Break

Neff, K. (2015, February 21). The Physiology of Self-Compassion. Retrieved from

The Physiology of Self-Compassion

Vettese, L. C., Dyer, C. E., Li, W. L., & Wekerle, C. (2011). Does Self-Compassion

Mitigate the Association Between Childhood Maltreatment and Later Emotion

Regulation Difficulties? A Preliminary Investigation. International Journal of Mental

Health and Addiction, 9(5), 480-491.

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