If you use pornography, one of the first ways you can determine whether or not you are addicted is by analyzing the beliefs you have about yourself. According to Dr. Patrick Carnes, arguably the most knowledgeable person with regard to compulsive sexual behavior in the United States, pornography addicts have four core beliefs about themselves that fuel their addiction:
- I am basically a bad, unworthy person: For many years I believed in my heart that I was a bad person unworthy of love, rather than a sick person who needed help. This belief enabled my pornography addiction because I saw my use of pornography as consistent with my sense of self. Yes, I was disgusted with my repeated use of pornography, but that disgust only reinforced what I thought was true: I was a disgusting person. I did not reach out for help because I did not believe I deserved help. The Addiction Cycle reinforced this belief with shame every time I acted out. Many Christian men who are addicted to pornography see themselves as bad men with weak faith rather than hurting individuals with deep-seated pain. This first belief causes addicts to emotionally isolate themselves from people who might otherwise be able to help them.
- No one would love me as I am: This belief builds on #1: Because I am a bad, unworthy person, no one would love me if they knew the truth about my addictive behavior. This belief forces pornography addicts into living a dual-life. I lived as two people for many years: The generally-nice-guy that everyone met, and the lonely addict inside. I never let anyone meet the real me and I kept myself from being intimate and honest about my real feelings because I pre-determined that others would not love me if they knew the truth.
- My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on someone else: You can probably spot the logical progression at this point: If I believe that I am a bad, unworthy person and that no one would love the real me, then I must depend on myself to meet my physical and emotional needs. Instead of working out my emotional pain with my wife, I acted out. Instead of celebrating life’s victories with friends and family, I acted out. Instead of turning to God for spiritual intimacy, I acted out.
- Sex is my most important need: There are four primary triggers of sexual compulsion: Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, and Tiredness. When pornography addicts were children or adolescents they learned to act out (view pornography, fantasize, and/or masturbate) anytime they felt very hungry, angry, lonely or tired. In my case, I learned to act out whenever I felt lonely. As I grew up I did not develop coping skills for my loneliness the way healthy people do; instead I learned to act out to deal with my pain. As an adult I learned to associate sex as the ‘fix’ for all of my emotional pain, and thus sex (including masturbation) became my most important need. You can see this belief displayed by pornography addicts who risk losing their marriages and jobs because they will not stop using pornography.
Before I entered recovery I assumed that everyone around me felt these same things; they do not. Healthy individuals know they are good people and have positive self-esteem; they know they are loved for who they are; they know others can help meet their emotional and physical needs; and sex, while important, is not the sole source of nurturing in their lives.