By Floyd Godfrey, LPC, CSAT candidate
There are essentially four different stages that a person experiences within the pornography addiction cycle. Understanding each stage within this cycle is extremely helpful as addicts work to break the pattern. When you understand how to intervene, the task won’t seem quite as daunting.
The first stage of the pornography addiction cycle is “Pain” (Distress). It can be triggered by almost anything. Any event, activity, memory, perception or feeling that creates “Pain and Distress” will fall into this first stage and start the cycle spinning. Also, toxic shame is often at the core. Any experience, whether internal or external, that triggers toxic shame will create pain and distress. Addicts want to get away from this discomfort.
This often causes the addict to reach inside himself and disconnect. They attempt to hide the pain and distress. They fear that if they shared their real feelings, that others would reject them or be disappointed in them. The disconnection from others around them only intensifies the pain, creating a greater need to find relief.
The second stage of the pornography addiction cycle is “Preoccupation.” It is characterized by a focus on the sexual experience. This is when thoughts related to the addiction and euphoria will pop into the addict’s mind, even when he is trying to remove them. He progressively finds it difficult to permanently extinguish the thoughts. They hound him as the brain releases doses of chemicals to start to ease the internal discomfort. He might hopelessly pray and sing hymns, only to find that the thoughts persist.
The third stage of the pornography addiction cycle is “Rituals.” These are behaviors that catapult the addict into full-fledged acting out. When the preoccupation becomes so strong, and the pressure seems intolerable, his brain will move him into a ritual to initiate the acting out. They may be so simple the addict performs them unconsciously. However, the rituals intensify the effects of the preoccupation. Generally at this stage it becomes almost impossible to stop the cycle.
The fourth stage of the pornography addiction cycle is “Acting Out.” This is the culmination of the cycle. The addict finally uses the porn to experience a chemical rush that brings him out of his internal pain. Unfortunately, this experience is short-lived. He will typically feel a stronger sense of shame and/or pain from inside himself. He simply added more discomfort to his internal reality, and feels even more disconnected than he did before. Sometimes there are also external consequences that intensify the pain (e.g., his wife catches him). Consequently, the whole cycle starts over as the pressure builds within the first cycle.
When is the best time to intervene in the cycle? When an addict gains self-awareness over the stage of pain and discomfort, he can start to change his direction more easily. Rather than reaching inward, he can learn to reach out. This is typically very frightening for an addict because it requires authentic connection. It will require the addict to talk about his internal, private world. It will require transparency and vulnerability. It will require some risk of possible rejection by others. However, when the addict can successfully learn to do this, he will start to gain momentum in his recovery. Additionally, this new way of coping will need to become a lifelong pattern. In other words, his ability to reach out when he feels discomfort will be directly correlated with his long-term success.
Do you need help with these sensitive issues? We are specialists in pornography addiction in Mesa Arizona. Call us for a free 15-minute consultation with one of our therapists. We understand… and we can help. (480) 668-8301.