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The Path of Addiction

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You might be aware of the addictiveness of pornography, but not fully understand how the addiction develops in a person.  To find out, read on!

In my research and clinical experience, I have found that pornography users usually fall into two categories – those who use pornography out of narcissism and those who use it to ease emotional pain.  Both are at high risk for developing an addiction to pornography.

Narcissism and Pornography Addiction

Tom is a 20 year old college student.  He entered therapy for internet pornography addiction.  He started viewing pornography as a teenager because all his friends were doing it.  However, in college, he found himself spending more and more time online searching for porn.  It had gotten to the point where he was spending so much time at night online that he was sleeping through his classes the next day.  His life had become unmanageable because of the addiction.

An analysis of Tom’s life showed no severe traumas or emotional pain.  He came from a good, intact family with loving parents and siblings.  Tom’s experiences in school and with peers were also positive.  However, there was a definite level of narcissism in Tom.  Before things got out of control he saw nothing wrong with viewing porn and felt entitled to it.  He believed it was his way of dealing with stress.  Tom had adopted the Sexual Utilitarian Philosophy, which is the belief that it is okay to use others for one’s own sexual pleasure.

With any addiction, there is a level of narcissism.  Narcissism is simply an extreme level of selfishness or self-centeredness.  However, in today’s society, people are becoming more and more narcissistic.  They feel entitled to get and do whatever they want.  This is especially true for young adults.  Dr. Jeanne Twenge (2006) of San Diego State University conducted a study of narcissism levels in college students over a 25 year period.  She discovered that young adults have become exponentially more narcissistic over the years.  Many other researchers concur with her findings, including Dr. Drew Pinsky who appears regularly on MTV and VH1.

Narcissism has led many young adults to use pornography.  They may have no severe traumas in their lives; however, their selfishness, along with the acceptance and accessibility of pornography, led them to use it.  They often feel they are entitled to use it and have adopted the Sexual Utilitarian Philosophy.  This is not limited to pornography use.  Many young adults will enter into relationships simply for the purpose of consensual recreational sex.  This is also known as the “Friends with Benefits” and the “Hook-up Culture.”

The consistent use of pornography due to narcissism can easily lead to the physical addiction to porn.  However, it can also lead to an emotional addiction (See “The Addictiveness of Pornography” to learn about physical and emotional addiction).

When the addiction to pornography takes over a man’s life, and he is unable to control it, his life becomes unmanageable.  He feels totally helpless and ashamed.  His actions can lead him to adopt the five faulty core beliefs:

  1. I am unworthy of being loved
  2. If people really knew me, they would reject me
  3. I cannot count on anyone, including God, to meet my needs
  4. I must find something that I can control that will meet my needs
  5. Pornography/Sex is my greatest need and source of comfort

(Modified from Carnes, 2001)

These faulty core beliefs can feed the addiction system, thus leaving him emotionally addicted to pornography, as well as physically addicted.

Emotional Pain and Pornography Addiction

Many men turn to pornography to ease the pain of emotional conflicts.  They use it to deal with deep traumas from the past, which is common in addictions.  While they may believe they are using pornography as simple “adult entertainment,” in reality, they use it to anesthetize their emotional pain.  This consistent use of pornography can lead to addiction.

Brian, a 32 year old married man with two children, has sought treatment for internet pornography addiction.  He began viewing it five years ago as a way to relieve work stress.  He would usually view it late at night after his wife and kids were in bed.  However, as time went on, the addiction progressed.  Finally, he was not able to only view it at home.  He began viewing it at work.  The I.T. manager of his company discovered Tom’s activity and Tom was immediately fired from his job.  This was the wake-up call for Tom.  He was powerless over pornography and his life had become unmanageable.

A review of Tom’s life found several deep traumas.  He grew up with a father who was a violent alcoholic.  When Tom was 11, his mother decided to divorce his father.  However, when she moved out, she left Tom and his two sisters with their father.  Tom recalls feeling abandoned and rejected by his mother.  He spent most of his teenage years protecting his sisters from his father’s rage.  When he was 18, Tom joined the military to escape his chaotic home life.  While he has had some contact with his mother and believes he has forgiven her, he has not seen or spoken to his father since he left home.  He still harbors a deep anger and resentment toward his father.

In talking about his past, Tom began to realize that he had been using pornography to ease his emotional pain.  While he was in the military, he used alcohol to ease the pain.  When he met his wife, he stopped drinking because he “didn’t want to end up like his father.”  However he simply traded the alcohol for pornography.  It was easy to turn to porn because it is accepted that “all men use porn,” and it was so easily accessible on the internet.

Because of his traumatic childhood, Tom was struggling with deep feelings of loneliness, abandonment, rejection, shame, anger, and insecurity.  He was using pornography to ease his pain and find comfort and nurturing.  However, the relief was only temporary, so he kept going back to pornography.  Tom’s negative feelings led him to adopt the five negative core beliefs, which fed and perpetuated the addictive system.  This led to an emotional addiction to pornography, while the constant use of it led to the physical addiction.

Whether one is using pornography out of narcissism or to ease emotional pain from past traumas, it can easily feed the physical and emotional sides of addiction.  While it has traditionally been felt that most addicts struggle with past traumas that lead to pornography use, more men are developing the addiction out of narcissism.  Pornography’s acceptance by society, along with the sense of entitlement, make narcissism a prime cause of the development of pornography addiction in many men today.

Expressions of Pornography Addiction

There are many ways that pornography addicts express their addiction.  Some view it every day.  They look forward to it and plan their pornography use.  Some may view it only once or twice a week.  Others are “bingers.”  These men may go several weeks without viewing pornography, and then go on a binge where they will spend several hours or days viewing porn.  The common denominator for addicts is that they have developed a tolerance and dependence on pornography, and their lives have become totally unmanageable because of it.

Getting Help

If you or someone you know are struggling with pornography use and are ready to get help, click here for more information.