Healing from Sexual Addiction, Part II
Daniel R. Henderson, Ph.D

In Part One of “Healing from Sexual Addiction,” I outlined some of the characteristics of the increasingly recognized problem of sexual addiction. summary, the sex addict, like all of us, desires closeness and intimacy with others. However, the addict feels hopeless in his/her pursuit of this closeness, and instead turns to the feelings of "false intimacy" associated with sexual acting out. But, these feelings never satisfy. In this issue of Contact, I wish to shift from discussing what motivates sex addiction to identifying strategies in promoting healing from sexual addiction.

Harry Schaumburg, in his excellent book, False Intimacy, outlines a number of steps for recovering from sexual addiction:

  1. face yourself honestly, without denial;
  2. recognize your need for change;
  3. face your woundedness;
  4. realize that you can't heal yourself, and turn to God;
  5. trust God to satisfy your needs;
  6. acknowledge your need of repentance;
  7. confess your sins before God;
  8. ask for help;
  9. pursue healthy relationships;
  10. receive a physical examination to rule out sexually transmitted diseases, when your sexual addiction has involved sexual contact with another person;
  11. join a support group;
  12. recognize that change is a process, with slips and falls along the way. Other clinicians, including Patrick Carnes (e.g. Contrary to Love) have adapted the Twelve-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous to recovery from sexual addiction.

The importance of group support.
I believe that participation in a treatment or support group for sex addiction is a key component of recovery. One reason for this is that groups tend to be effective in keeping each other honest. It seems to be easier to "snow" or be less than candid about one's struggles with sexual addiction in a one-on-one counseling relationship, than it does with a room full of people who are also struggling with sex addiction. Group members are adept at recognizing the "games" that can be played in attempting to avoid dealing directly and openly with the problem. Perhaps even more important, however, is the sense of support and acceptance one receives in sharing with others who encounter similar struggles in recovery from addiction. The sense of isolation and unique shame often experienced by the addict evaporates in the mutual helping of a caring group.

Too much sex?
Often, individuals struggling with sex addiction assume that healing means reducing their level of sexual interest or drive. They tend to define their addiction problem as deriving from "too much" sexual interest, as opposed to recognizing it as a distortion of their sexuality. Recovery is not a matter of being less sexual, but, rather, of transforming one's sexual thoughts, attitudes, and behavior from self-centered, dependent, need-gratification resulting in "pseudo-intimacy," to a whole (and holy) sexuality that draws us closer to others in true relationship and intimacy. Then, rather than being less sexual, the recovered addict may discover a more vibrant sexuality than they had thought possible.

The dilemma of abstinence.
A key aspect of recovery from sexual addiction that differs from typical approaches to other addictive behaviors pertains to the issue of abstinence. When one is in recovery from, say, alcohol or gambling addiction, the goal is abstinence from the addictive behavior. Progress in recovery is fairly straightforward: either one is engaging in the addictive behavior or one is not. In contrast, the goal of recovery from sexual addiction is not abstinence from sexual activity, but, rather, conforming one's sexual thinking and behavior to the standards that God has established for us. Recovery from sexual addiction may indeed involve a period of abstinence from all sexual activity, but ultimately, the addict is called upon to discern healthy from unhealthy sexuality.

Correcting thinking errors.
Sexual addicts live their lives operating by a number of false assumptions (for more detailed information about these, see the article in the previous issue of Contact, or refer to the sources listed below), known as "thinking errors" or "cognitive distortions." Effective intervention in sexual addiction requires confronting and correcting these habitual patterns of thinking that set the stage and fuel the addiction. One such thinking error is, "If others knew me as I truly am, they would reject me." The addict's fundamental belief in their unloveliness leads them to seek relief through the false closeness of sexual acting out. The double life that results of course perpetuates the fear of discovery and rejection by others.

Breaking down denial.
Perhaps the most difficult step for the sex addict is admitting to the addiction. Denial and minimization are hallmarks of sexual addiction. The person caught up in the cycle of addiction routinely minimizes or avoids facing the harm done to themselves and others. Addicts are often shocked when they honestly examine the accumulated relational, financial, and emotional costs of their addictive behavior. The recovering addict must learn to identify the patterns and triggers of addictive behavior and to identify the cyclical nature of the addiction, in order to recognize early warning signs and avoid lapsing into destructive thought and action.

Spiritual healing.
Ultimately, recovery from sexual addiction requires a restoration of an intimate relationship with God. Healing occurs when we see ourselves as God sees us: persons of tremendous worth, in need of redemption, created to be in close fellowship with Him. Healing occurs when we choose to allow our lives to be permeated by the comforting renewal of the Holy Spirit.

In closing, Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, offers this advice, certainly applicable for the sex addict, but, indeed applicable for all of us who seek to lead healthy, holy lives: "Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:8,9; NRSV)."

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