Category Archives: Sexual struggles

How to help someone who’s struggling with sexual compulsion, but is not a sex addict

Over the years in my work with sexual strugglers, it became clear that there is a spectrum of struggle … some people simply fight a battle with sexual temptation (and periodically lose), while others would fall into the category of sexual addicts. The line between the two is not always clear — it’s more like a spectrum, not a simple either/or — and many people struggle to honestly face the extent of their problem.

I have come to call this group of people — who fall repeatedly into sexual temptation, but don’t fit the diagnostic criteria for addiction — “sexual strugglers.” Often people in this category don’t have the patterns of emotional and sexual trauma from early life, and they don’t give evidence of other problematic addictive behaviors. But for some reason, they still struggle with behaviors around sex — often related to Internet pornography.

I believe that sexual strugglers need to focus on four things. I wrote an article about his on my sexualsanity.com website. I’ll include a link to the article, but just FYI here is the list of four things that people need to focus on:

  1. Vigilance – Recognizing that this is an ongoing issue that won’t go away, and continuing to pay attention to dangers
  2. Boundaries – Establishing limits and “bottom lines,” and identifying the places and situations where you get into trouble. Then finding ways to minimize or avoid them.
  3. Support – Creating a network of friends who (a) know the whole truth about your struggle, (b) are willing to help you in it, and (c) you enjoy being with.
  4. Emotional Awareness – Being attentive to your emotional states, and finding healthy ways of caring for yourself (so you don’t find yourself sad, resentful, and/or anxious and looking for unhealthy ways of coping … ie. acting out).

Click here for the full article

What addiction and recovery taught me about “believing in God”

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines belief as: “A state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.” The experience of addiction messes this up for Christians, whether they want to admit it or not. They say that they “trust God” to help them be happy in life, and to help them overcome their addiction … but somehow this “faith” doesn’t seem to be working. Why not?

My experience of addiction and recovery has forced me to admit that professing to believe something doesn’t mean I really believe it. It has forced me to be attentive to situations where what I observe and experience in “real life” don’t fit with the set of beliefs I espouse.

beleiveComing to believe is a process

In 12 Step language, recovery is a process where people “come to believe” in a Higher Power who can help them overcome their addiction. It’s not assumed that anybody is doing this when they start. It’s a process … and it takes time. And for people who come into this process with a set of beliefs about a “Higher Power” already established, the scary reality is that part of their problem is likely that some of those “beliefs” are inaccurate and destructive.

Religious people hate hearing this. They want to think that their spiritual life is all fine, just the way it is. In fact, they think that recovery should be easier for them than for “non-religious” or “non-Christian” people … because they have the spiritual part all figured out already. But what if they don’t?

Suppose I believe that God is a magic fairy and that if I ever get into a big problem, I can spin around in a circle four times and say “help me help me help me fairy God” … and then all my problems will be solved. I am very earnest and sincere about this … and I go to a church that teaches this as the correct interpretation and application of the Bible’s promises about prayer.

But then suppose I come into a recovery program with my life in a shambles and my addiction raging out of control … but I still have this belief about God and the spiritual life. It should be obvious that the magic fairy prayer beliefs need to go. They aren’t working … and in fact are keeping me from doing the things that would work.

Look honestly

So when we go into recovery, it’s wise to go into the process holding our “beliefs” loosely. Maybe our beliefs are wrong. Maybe our beliefs about who God is, and how God relates to us, are more a part of the problem for us than part of the solution. Maybe some of these beliefs reflect the dysfunction of the family members, church life, and traumatic experiences that shaped us in early life.

To me this is part of the genius of 12 Step recovery. By keeping the God language vague and recognizing that “coming to believe” is a process, 12 Step recovery offers Christians a golden opportunity to ask themselves important questions about their spiritual life.

The irony

I find it sad and ironic that this aspect of recovery — the recognition that our spiritual beliefs need to be looked at and will likely undergo some changes — is the great wisdom of the 12 Steps but is also the reason why so many Christians don’t like the 12 Steps.

I come from an evangelical, Bible-based Christian denomination, and I’ve met a lot of people who don’t like the 12 steps because of the language in Steps 2 and 3. They won’t go to a 12-step program which talks about a “Higher Power,” and “God as you understand God”. They want to go to a Christian program, which specifically talks about Jesus Christ. They see 12 Step spiritual vagueness as a threat, and assume that if Jesus isn’t mentioned by name in the steps, that somehow He will be ignored in the process of recovery.

I have come to a place where I see this broad, non-specific language about a higher power as a good thing. I was a pastor for many years. I had concrete beliefs about God, and devoted my life to studying this belief. I had the impression that I understood the pure, unadulterated image of God and that I was giving the “true gospel.” But at the same time I was struggling with addiction.

After being in recovery 12 years, I’ve come to a place where I see things differently now.  I see how important the language in this step really is. This language allows people of all spiritual backgrounds to be able to take part in the 12 step program, but it also forces those who already have a belief in God to really dissect that belief and figure out what might have been missing in the first place.

The 12 steps asks us to turn our lives over to God as we understand God. If we don’t understand who God is, how can we in any meaningful way turn our lives over to God?

The great news

Here’s the great news: it’s okay to do this step by step, and it’s okay to do this imperfectly, knowing that “more will be revealed” as we continue the recovery process. As we continue the recovery journey, we will “come to believe” in new and deeper ways, and thus “turn our will and our lives” over to the care of this God in new and deeper ways.

When does looking become lusting?

When does a look become lust? Where is line that separates normal, healthy, God-given sexual response from sinful, destructive lust?

Christians generally focus on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-28 as the standard for moral purity: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” So if this is our goal, we need to be clear about what it actually means to “look at a person lustfully.”

Let’s say you go to a restaurant. You look over to your left, and notice someone at the next table who is very attractive. Maybe they are dressed provocatively. You look at them, and their attractiveness registers in your mind. You might even notice something about their body that is attractive or alluring.

Is that lust? When does awareness and/or sexual attraction cross the line into lust? Continue reading When does looking become lusting?

Guarding Against Emotional Affairs

An emotional affair happens when a person invests too much emotional energy with someone outside their marriage, and in turn receives too much emotional support and companionship from that relationship. How much is “too much?” There aren’t black and white rules for when a relationship moves from innocent friendship to an emotional affair … but there are patterns, and signs to watch for. In an emotional affair, people often feel closer to each other than their spouses, and often experience increasing sexual tension.

In fact, emotional affairs are often the gateway leading to Continue reading Guarding Against Emotional Affairs

On the Danger of Pedestals – part 1

As an ordained minister and the senior pastor of two churches, I know from experience that pedestals are dangerous. People often come into the church with a powerful mixture of expectations and illusions about what an uber-spiritual person should be. They may assume the pastor will embody that. This is a problem when we let them down – when they see how we fall short of the ideal that they created in their minds.

But it’s maybe an even bigger problem when they don’t see our flaws, because they don’t want to see our flaws, and we get too good at hiding them. Most of the people in our churches want to see us in a good light, because this reinforces their faith … the leader of their spiritual community can serve to validate the power of that faith. I think it is rare that anyone Continue reading On the Danger of Pedestals – part 1

Relating without manipulating: overcoming codependence

There’s a new article on our companion site sexualsanity.com about the topic of manipulation-free relationships. It starts out by saying:

Without understanding our motives, we can easily lapse into behavior aimed at manipulating others. We can do this by passive-aggressively punishing them, or doing things that seem kind and sweet as a way of getting them to respond to us in a certain way.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Sulking is a means of letting others know we are displeased and forcing them to attempt to win our approval.
  • Flattery is a false expression of approval that we don’t really feel – giving others good strokes for our own purpose.
  • Withholding deserved praise is a means of putting others down, something we’re likely to do because of our jealousy.

Read the full article here

Why accountability partners don’t work

Most of the men I work with who are battling sexual temptation have a long history of failed attempts at overcoming their struggles. One of the most common strategies people in churches use is having an accountability partner. I have nothing against accountability partners … they just don’t work.

Listen to this recording – a short excerpt from an audio program called “The Spiritual Questions and Challenges of Recovery” – to find out why:

Show me a pornography or other type of sex addict who has an accountability partner – and is doing little else for his recovery – and I will show you someone who is struggling. Either acting out with whatever behaviors he’s dealing with, or hanging onto his sobriety with his fingernails and really struggling. Church leaders, spouses of strugglers, parents … please hear me on this … accountability is over-rated! It’s only part of the solution.

If you want to hear more about this and other subjects related to dealing with sexual struggle, check out this audio program

New study shows abuse rates of Catholic priests even higher than expected

As if the reports and suspicions weren’t bad enough, the reality points to a  problem even more pervasive than people thought. I’m going to quote from the childprotectionguide.org website, with some added thoughts of my own in italics along the way. (The article I’m linking to here has the source information for this study.)

“About 4 percent of Catholic priests have been accused of sexually abusing minors over the past half-century, according to a draft of the first comprehensive study of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in the United States. The percentage is higher than many people, including church officials, had anticipated.

“The draft of the study, done by John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, found that 4,450 of the 110,000 priests who served between 1950 and 2002 were accused of sexual abuse of minors, according to CNN, which reported that it had reviewed the draft.

“The number of alleged perpetrators given in the draft study is higher than the tallies by news media outlets, including the Associated Press and The New York Times, which have tried to count reported allegations nationwide.

“The number is also higher than that projected by church officials. Pope Benedict XVI, who at the time was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said in 2002, according to the Catholic News Service: “In the United States, there is constant news on this topic, but less than 1 percent of priests are guilty of acts of this type.”

“The annual accusation rate against Catholic priests peaked at nearly 9 per 1,000 in 1980. However, since the reports, Table 1.1, are generally made after the victims become adults, with most of the reports coming after 1990, this could mean that abuse that occurred in the late eighties and in the nineties has just not yet been reported.”  (In other words, we may not be hearing the last of this … we may be coming up to another rash of abuse reports and lawsuits — a second wave.)

“Roughly 1/4 of the pedophile priests abused girls, although they have gotten less attention. In fact, both SAVE and SNAP were founded by women who were sexually abused by Catholic priests as young girls.”

“It’s not just Catholic priests. There have been offenders who were spiritual leaders of many various groups, as diverse as Buddhist monks and Jewish rabbis. According to reformation.com 838 ministers from major Protestant denominations have sexually assaulted children. The website quotes the Right Reverend William Persell, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago as saying “We would be naïve and dishonest were we to say this is a Roman Catholic problem and has nothing to do with us because we have married and female priests in our church. Sin and abusive behavior know no ecclesial or other boundaries.'”

The Spiritual Questions and Challenges of Recovery – free teleseminar July 23

We’re hosting a free teleseminar on Thursday night, July 23. This teleseminar is open to anyone who’d like to learn more about recovery from sexual struggle, either for themselves or someone they know. The theme will be: The spiritual questions and challenges of recovery.

Many people who come into recovery with a strong religious background find that their faith complicates things. The reverse is also the case: their addiction complicates their experience of faith. They struggle to figure out why the spiritual approaches they tried in the past didn’t work. I have come to believe that for some of us who come out of church backgrounds, recovery will involve unlearning as well as learning. As the saying goes in AA, “it was our own best thinking that got us into the mess that we’re in.” Let’s face it: for many Christians, struggle with addiction creates a crisis of faith as well as a crisis of life and relationships.

Some people are disappointed or even angry at God for not answering their prayers for healing from their addiction in the past. Some people struggle with heightened sense of shame around their behaviors (”Since I’m a Christian and have access to God’s power to change my life, why am I not getting this?”).  Some people deal with unspoken questions and doubts about their faith. Other people find that approaches to recovery that involve compassion for their past wounding are hard to reconcile with the stern moralistic tone of what they have been taught is “biblical” Christianity. They find it hard to balance the psychological insights they encounter in recovery with the black and white “just trust God and don’t do it” teaching that they’ve grown accustomed to from their church.

In this teleseminar, I will address these spiritual challenges, talking about my own experiences of recovery after 15 years as a pastor of two evangelical churches. I’ll address topics such as:

  • Why so many prayers for recovery go unanswered
  • How “faith” helps and hinders recovery
  • What is God’s part and what is my part in recovery
  • How to deal with it as a believer when important recovery insights come from non-believers

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this topic! Many men that I know and work with in recovery are facing profound struggles with this topic, and there are few places where we can talk honestly about them. I certainly don’t want to present myself as having “arrived” in any way, shape, or form with respect to this issue, but I do want to share what I am learning.

When will it take place?
· Date: July 23 (Thursday)
· Time: 7:00pm, central standard time

How much will it cost? free

How long will it last? 60 minutes

To register, send an email with your name, phone number, and email address to:

mary@recoveryremixed.com

What pastors need to know about sexual struggle – free teleseminar on May 6

We’re hosting a free teleseminar for Christian leaders on Wednesday, May 6. This teleseminar is open to any pastor, church staff member, or Christian leader who’d like to learn more about how to help people recover from sexual struggle. The focus of the teleseminar will be “What pastors need to know to help others – and themselves – deal with the growing epidemic of sexual addiction in the church today.”

Date: Wednesday, May 6

Time: 2pm, central standard time

Duration: 60 minutes

This teleseminar will be an “expert interview” call. I will be interviewing Dr. Mark Laaser, of Faithful and True Ministries. Dr. Laaser has been a leader in the field of sex addiction recovery for over 20 years, and has written a number of books on the subject, including “Healing the Wounds of Sex Addiction,” “Talking to your Kids about Sex” and “The Seven Desires of Every Heart.” He has also been a part of several ground-breaking studies of sexual struggle among Christian leaders, and has written three  books about this subject: “Before the Fall,” “The Pornography Trap,” and “Restoring the Soul of a Church.”

During this call, I will be interviewing Dr. Laaser about the extent of the challenge of sexual struggle in the church today, and what Christian leaders must do to: (1) protect themselves and find healing from their own sexual struggles, and (2) establish ministries and teaching that help people in their churches find healing. There will also be time for listeners to ask questions as well.

This free teleseminar is part of our ongoing efforts to equip Christian leaders to deal with this important area. We will let you know on this call about two resources we offer to that end: (1) a one day training event for Christian leaders called “Helping the sexual strugglers,” coming up on June 4, and (2) three-day intensive workshops for men dealing with sexual addiction that we offer monthly.

To register for this free teleseminar, send an email with your name, phone number, and email address to:

mary@recoveryremixed.com

NOTE: Participating in the teleseminar live is free. A recording of the teleseminar will be available for purchase ($9.95) after the event is over.