Sex addicts are stuck in a cycle. Their addiction is defined by a seemingly endless pattern that leads them again and again to doing the same empty things, feeling the same empty feelings, and thinking the same empty thoughts. Despite how hopeless escaping from that cycle may seem when you’re stuck inside it, there is an exit, one that can be seen when you stand outside. Learning about the sexual addiction cycle helps to elevate your awareness to this ‘outside’ perspective, and may be just what you need to help yourself, or someone you love, find a way out of this vicious loop.
1. The Addictive Belief System
Everyone grows up with a degree of trauma, sadness, and pain. We each, as a simple part of growing up, incorporate it into our being and unknowingly carry it through our entire life. It lays the foundation upon which we build a system of beliefs that helps us understand and interact with the world.
Some of us experience too much pain, or experience things that we are not prepared to deal with. This ‘corrupts’ our foundation, leading to the construction of a flawed belief system. For example, if those we love in our lives treat us poorly due to flaws in their psychology, as children we form the belief that we are deserving of our treatment. We internalize this belief and carry it throughout our lives.
2. Impaired Thinking
Our fundamental beliefs about ourselves and the world are formed in childhood, and they shape and guide us throughout life. When they are warped, so are we, and so are our lives.
Maybe you feel like you just aren’t ‘good enough’ to achieve the life you imagine. You fantasize about the world and life you wish you could experience because it serves to provide a sense of peace, interrupting a life in the real world that causes you suffering. You desperately want the life you imagine, and wonder why you can’t have it. Because you believe you are of low value, you conclude that it is simply because you are unworthy.
But the fantasies don’t stop. In fact, they increase. Fantasies are a way to numb yourself to the suffering in your life, a form of self-medication that provides a temporary release from the suffering that define much of life. Your fantasies become more and more extraordinary, making your thoughts about your life and yourself look worse by comparison.
Most addicts learn early on that they are capable of ramping up the intensity of this numbness by participating in particular activities. For sex addicts, it generally starts with innocuous fantasies, which become more intense, turning into innocuous actions, which become more intense. They become less effective over time, requiring an investment of more time and energy into them to yeild the same effect. Over years we become so reliant on them, and they require so much from us, that we are unable to invest the time and energy into finding an alternate path to peace without passing through a gauntlet of extraordinary pain. This sets up the cycle of ritualization.
Addictive behaviors work like rituals. Think about the times you engage in your sexually addiction, and think about what starts the pattern of ramping-up to your unwanted sexual behavior.
Maybe its the click of a door that indicates the last person has left the house, leading you to rush to your computer and numb-out while looking at pornography. Maybe it’s the first sip of your favorite whiskey, which always seems to lead to soliciting prostitutes. The objects of our rituals are different for all of us, but the course they chart for us is always the same. They are the first step down a familiar path towards the behavior we are compelled to complete, though in our hearts we do not want to.
Compulsive behavior is not the same as addictive behavior, though the two are closely related. You may routinely experience the compulsion to engage in some manner of sexual act that you know is not in your interest, but more often than not, you perform it anyways.
Your ritual leads you to a point where you are compelled to engage in a sexual action you know is not good for you. Extreme exhibitionism, bestiality, excessive pornography, whatever it is; you don’t want to engage in it, but like gravity, it becomes more powerful as your ritual pulls you closer and closer to the action itself.
And so you engage in it. For a fleeting moment, you experience the numbness you are seeking, but at an extraordinary cost.
How do you feel after you have completed the action that defines your sexual addiction? Though every sex addict has a different pattern, they always lead to the same thoughts and feelings.
The brief moment of relief engaging in this act quickly fades, and all you are left with is a pit of despair and self loathing. Your mind asks “Why do I keep doing this?”, and a warped belief system responds “because you are weak”, “because you are low value”, “because you are worthless”. Your thoughts sink you deeper and deeper into a pit of suffering, reinforcing your flawed beliefs, and you seek a way out, beginning the cycle all over again.
Leaving the Loop, Escaping the Maze
From the perspective of a person inside a maze, the way out cannot be known. Turning left and right, down this way and the next, the only option we have available to us is to keep going, and hope to god we find a way out.
From the perspective of a person above a maze, the solution is clear. They can see the whole thing, and thus are able to easily discover the path to the exit.
When you are inside the cycle of sexual addiction, you are a maze runner. Again and again you do everything you can to escape, finding that every path seems to lead only to a wall. Repeated failure leads to panic, and you break into a run, eventually forgetting where you are and where you have been. You go down paths you’ve gone down before a thousand times, and all you ever find is walls. You panic more, you get more lost, and so it continues.
When you work at understanding the cycle you are trapped in, your vantage point changes. Suddenly, you are able to begin establishing an awareness of the maze from above that, while incomplete, becomes clearer and more comprehensive as your understanding grows. Your fear reduces, your panic lessens, and though you know you have an ordeal ahead of you to escape this maze; you understand in your heart of hearts that your situation is not hopeless.
If you would like some help establishing and building this understanding of yourself and the cycle you are trapped in, get in touch with Whitestone.