It's All About Regulation
Why is recovering from sex addiction so challenging? Sex addicts have trouble tolerating their emotions and need something outside themselves to help them cope. Therefore successful sex addiction treatment includes developing addicts’ ability to tolerate unpleasant emotions. Finally, sex addicts must find healthy ways to meet their needs.
Just like potty training, sex addiction treatment is all about regulation.
Why Emotional Regulation is Challenging
First of all, sex addicts are always anxious because they have trouble recognizing and meeting their needs. Patrick Carnes (2001) states that sex addicts, “find ways to deaden the anxiety they inevitably feel, and they do so compulsively,” (p. 10). Next, their parents probably didn’t recognize their emotional needs in early childhood.
Ultimately, this can result in years or decades of bad emotional habits they learned in childhood. Therefore, they can’t suddenly decide to be healthy. It’s a process that takes time and patience.
Sex Addiction Treatment Requires Emotional Regulation
Sex addiction treatment is very much like potty training. Children are unaware of their toilet needs. Parents are responsible to attend to those needs. At an age-appropriate time, parents begin to potty train this child. “Do you need to go potty?” This question invites children to become independent.
Loving parents are patient and ask the same question throughout the day, “Do you have to go potty?”
Over time, children begin to recognize that their body is telling them to go potty. As a result, they are less dependent on their parents’ help. Patient parents also understand that accidents happen and show their children that it’s ok to make mistakes.
Consequently, a child becomes able to notice and meet their potty needs without help or affirmation. They have become self-sufficient. Much of this is due to a parent’s patience and sacrifice. And sometimes great annoyance.
In sex addiction treatment, one of the primary focuses on relapse prevention is helping the addict recognize and respond to their emotions in a healthy way, just like children must learn to do when they are potty training.
It Begins With Parenting
According to clinicians Heller and LaPierre (2012), “When children do not get their needs met, they do not learn to recognize what they need, are unable to express their needs, and often feel undeserving of having their needs met,” (p. 3). Furthermore, children begin to learn how to meet their needs (self-care) as parents model it for them in the nurturing care they provide.
Reparenting the Addicted Self
Sex addicts can’t ask their parents to finish parenting them. So it’s up to sex addicts to reparent themselves.
Reparenting requires patience and self-compassion. However, sex addicts struggle with these qualities because they are shame-based. The solution to shame is honesty and acceptance. Unlike healthy adults, this is challenging because sex addicts give their thoughts and feelings too much power. They believe, “If people really knew what I thought and how I feel, they would reject me!” As a result, they end up rejecting themselves through their own image management.
In conclusion, for sex addicts to thrive in Recovery, they must become their own loving parent. Additionally, they must be open to experiencing their emotions. This helps them examine what their needs are. Finally, they find healthy ways to meet those needs.
Contact a LifeWorks Recovery counselor now to begin your journey of reparenting yourself.
Carnes, P. (2001). Facing the Shadow. Gentle Path Press.
Heller, L. H. & LaPierre, A. (2012). Healing Developmental Trauma. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.