By Peter C. Kleponis, Ph.D., SATP, CSAT-C
Growing up, Len experienced much emotional turmoil in his home. It seemed like his parents were constantly yelling at him or at each other. There was never any sense of peace in the house. Everyone always seemed angry. As a teen, Len discovered Internet porn, and it became his escape. He would isolate himself in his room, log onto a pornographic website on his tablet, plug in his earbuds (so no one would hear the videos he was watching) and get lost in “pornland” for hours. Because he had become so used to this environment, Len had no idea he was experiencing emotional abuse and that he was using pornography to cope with it.
Victims of Abuse
Studies have shown that the majority of sexually addicted people, and their spouses, have been victims of abuse. Here are some statistics collected by Dr. Patrick Carnes (1991):
Physical Abuse includes hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, kicking, spanking with a belt, paddle, or hairbrush, being left alone, and not having physical needs met – food, clothing, shelter, etc.
Emotional Abuse includes yelling, screaming, insults, name-calling, profanity, ridicule, humiliation, incest, not listening, and a lack of caring, nurturing and affection.
Sexual Abuse includes touching or penetrating the genitals, early exposure to pornography, inappropriate exposure to nudity, incest, teasing about the body, inappropriate comments about sexual development, sexual jokes, and poor sex education.
Spiritual Abuse: Dr. Mark Laaser also includes spiritual abuse as a form of abuse. This includes punitive or angry messages about God, self-righteousness, negative messages about sex, modeling unhealthy lifestyles, failure to model healthy spirituality, and a lack of spiritual discipline.
Two Categories of Abuse
Dr. Mark Laaser (2004) and Marnie Ferree (2002) divide abuse wounds into two categories: Invasion wounds and abandonment wounds.
- Invasion Wounds
Most forms of abuse are direct and very noticeable, such as being hit, screamed at, or sexually molested. Laaser and Ferree refer to these as Invasion wounds.
|Yelling||Hitting||Touching or Penetrating the Genital Area
|Punitive and Angry Messages About God|
|Screaming||Slapping||Teasing about Body||Self-righteousness
|Putdowns||Pushing||Sexual Humor||Negative Messages about Sex
Poor Sexual Education
|Modeling an Unhealthy Lifestyle|
Note: Mind Rape is a type of emotional abuse where a person’s thoughts and feelings are dismissed. For example, a parent might tell a child “you shouldn’t think that way” or “you have no right to complain.” This is a painful form of rejection.
- Abandonment Wounds
These wounds of abuse are subtler, yet just as damaging. Laaser and Ferree refer to these as abandonment wounds. They include feeling unloved, never receiving healthy touch, being denied adequate food, clothing or shelter, or never developing a healthy image of God.
|Not listening||Being Left Alone||Healthy Intimacy Not Modeled||Failure to Model Healthy Spirituality|
|Not Caring or Nurturing||Inadequate Food, Shelter||Lack of Healthy Information||Lack of Spiritual Discipline|
|No Expression of Affection||No Modeling of Physical Self-Care|
Note: While most abuse occurs in the family, it can come from persons outside the family such as neighbors, babysitters, teachers, coaches, youth leaders, and clergy. Bullying from peers is also a form of abuse that can be highly traumatic. If you have been the victim of abuse from anyone outside your family, discuss this with your therapist.
According to Dr. Laaser, invasive wounds determine the form of the addiction (pornography/sex). However, it’s the abandonment wounds that fuel the addiction. These wounds of rejection and neglect can take years to heal. When they are triggered, it’s easy to turn to pornography/sex to ease the pain.
As Len explored his childhood, he discovered that he had experienced both categories of emotional and spiritual abuse:
- Emotional: Yelling, Screaming, Putdowns, and Name Calling
- Spiritual: Angry Punitive Messages about God, Self-righteousness, and Negative Messages about Sex
- Emotional: Not Listening, Not Caring or Nurturing, and No Expression of Affection
- Spiritual: Failure to Model Healthy Spirituality, and Lack of Spiritual Discipline
For Len, these wounds led to a deep sense of being unlovable. His use of pornography was a way to cope with these feelings. However, Len knew this was just a small band-aid on a large wound. His desire for true healing and restoration brought him to recovery.
In recovery, Len worked with a therapist, 12-step recovery group, sponsor, and spiritual director. With their help, Len began to understand that he truly was loved – by others and by God. He also came to understand that his parents’ anger was the result of their own woundedness. This helped him to forgive them and set healthy boundaries in his relationship with them. He also worked on establishing healthy relationships with people and God. Altogether, this contributed to Len’s recovery. He no longer needed to turn to porn to cope with life.
If you feel past abuse might be a cause of your pornography use, I encourage you to seek help. Healing these wounds can help you live a healthy life without the compulsion to use porn. God’s plan is for you to be healed and experience true freedom!
Carnes, P.J. (1991) Don’t call it love: Recovering from sexual addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers.
Feree, M.C. (2002). No stones: Women redeemed from sexual sin. Fairfax, VA: Xulon Press.
Kleponis, P.C. (2014). Integrity restored: Helping catholic families win the battle against pornography. Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing.
Kleponis, P.C. (2016). Integrity starts here! A catholic approach to restoring sexual integrity. Denver, CO: Outskirts Press.
Laaser, M.R. (2004). Healing the wounds of sexual addiction. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers.