People form defenses to cope with excessive conditions of stress experienced in growing up. A defense, put simply, is a way to cope with anxiety. It invariably does the job of easing anxiety, but is immature in nature because they born out of a child’s view of the world. When we become adults, these defenses, which worked so well in childhood, work unconsciously to distort reality and lessen our ability to function effectively and to have meaningful intimate relationships.
Because early-life relationships with caretakers were traumatizing, painful and disappointing, some children chose solitude and isolated activities over the company of other family members or their peers. As adults, they eschew the challenges of making a deep commitment to a long-term, intimate relationship because they experienced having been thirsty and repeatedly going to an empty well for nourishment. The chronic disappointment of not getting emotional needs met teaches a person to not trust interpersonal relationships but rather to turn “inwards” for self-gratification and self-soothing.
Such a retreat results in various degrees of a depersonalized mind and a lifestyle characterized by diminution of feeling for oneself and others. This is a condition that is rich fodder for the appearance and growth of addiction.
The inward posture represents a serious impairment of the ability to engage in emotional transactions and is especially damaging to the capacity for give and receiving love. Ironically, it is in giving and receiving love rather than self-gratifying, compulsive sexuality, that we can actually get our needs met in legitimate way.
Inwardness represents a retreat into oneself based on early attempts to avoid frustration and emotional pain. What once functioned as a survival mechanism endures in the personality as a dysfunctional, addictive habit pattern. Turning inward is to be distinguished from self-reflection, introspection, time for reading, thinking or creative work, contemplation of nature, meditation or other spiritual pursuits. Instead, it is characterized by an ascendance of critical, self-hating thoughts toward self and others and self-destructive habit patterns.
When in this state of mind, which is the mindset of addiction, one feels the presence of the hungry dogs of emotional neediness. One’s energy is focused inward, on oneself, on getting immediate gratification through some form of sexual acting out. Our focus and energy is not spent looking outward to other people with whom we can make meaningful connection. Personal interactions are filtered through the distorted lens of self-absorption and self-obsession fueled by emotional hunger.
The characteristics of the inward person are (1) a tendency toward isolation, (b) seeking gratification in fantasy, (c) hypercritical views toward self and others (e) use of substances, ritualization and sexual arousal for pain killers (f) impersonal relating to real people (g) compulsive masturbation and viewing of internet porn and (h) merged identity and fusion with parents or partner.
Inwardness is an addictive process because it involves tendencies toward isolation and fantasy gratification that have anxiety-reducing properties. Addicts who defend against the pain of intimacy have at their disposal a readily available, effective means for numbing emotional pain. The degree of the dependence on fantasy for nourishment and psychological survival is directly proportionate to the degree of early deprivation and parental rejection..
This inward, apparently self-sufficient, protected individual spends a large part of his waking life domination by fantasies that lead to distortion of everyday experiences. In this state, fantasy gratification precludes genuine involvement with other people, as the preference is to get gratification through fantasy where he is under control of his world and he can become other than the way he is as a means to escape from his internalized, relentless, self-hating tapes.
The repetitive, ritualized behaviors of sex/porn addiction function to dull one’s sensitivity to painful feelings and lend an air of certainty and seeming permanence to life. Sexually compulsive patterns temporarily reduce anxiety but later foster more anxiety.
A child growing up in a toxic family environment has learned to suppress his feelings because the expression of feelings may have been upsetting to a fragile mother or because his feelings were never attended to or understood. Retreating to a self-imposed isolation and using fantasy to self-sooth, he gradually disengages from himself as a terrified, hurting, hungry person and becomes a more powerful, but distorted version of himself. In so doing, he cuts off feelings of compassion toward himself and sensitivity towards others.
People who are inward and suppress their feelings tend to view themselves, their partners, their sexual exploits and females in a porn addiction world more as objects rather than as human beings. In relating to themselves as an object rather than a person, they give little or no value to their life experiences and are often indifferent to their physical health and emotional well-being.
People who turned away from external sources of gratification as children now seek to gratify themselves internally. They choose fantasy, sexual arousal and control while avoiding close, personal interactions. After the sexual arousal that comes in the beginning phases of a relationship fades, partners become distant, more withdrawn and less sexually attracted to each other. Often, they distance themselves emotionally from their sexual partner before their fears of intimacy, rejection, or the threat of potential loss and abandonment reaches the level of conscious awareness.
When the “high” of new romance and intense sexual relating wears off, the person is left with nothing to mask his inner emptiness. This is the time when sexual acting out may begin, or begin again. Compulsive masturbation and involvement with internet porn may be used to avoid being sexual with the partner. These behaviors represent a retreat from genuine personal contact with his true self and from his partner.
The crucial distinction between personal, connected sexuality and sex addiction lies in the awareness of one’s partner as a separate person as opposed to the use of an object to assuage primitive needs and longings and relieve fears of aloneness, separateness, and death.
In sex addiction therapy NY one of the goals is to help the client stop addictive behaviors and to uncover unconscious defense mechanisms in order to find better, more healthy, less costly ways of coping with anxiety and distress.
“When we have not learned how to connect with our feelings and with the love and comfort of our spiritual guidance, we often turn to addictions as a way of managing painful feelings. In order to be able to manage and regulate our feelings in healthy ways, we need to connect with them with a desire to take loving responsibility for them. Turning to addictive behavior is a form of self-abandonment — a way of avoiding responsibility for our feelings — and can lead to many negative consequences.”