“Shame” is a buzzword right now, receiving a lot of attention. Many addicts blame their porn use on shame. Therapists tell victims to avoid shaming the porn user at all costs.
But this doesn’t quite sit right.
What’s the truth about shame?
Just how does shame play into a pornography user’s behavior?
Shame doesn’t cause addictions. Let’s be real clear about this. We’ve been studying addiction now for many years. It started with animals, where they can induce addiction—animals do not have shame—and they then cut the brains open. They look at the brains, they see the brain changes, so thousands and thousands of rats, mice, even monkeys.Gary Wilson, Shame & Addiction Expert
Gary Wilson, shame and addiction expert, meets with Anne on the free BTR podcast to dispel the four myths of shame. Listen to the BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Four Myths Of Shame
In a world where therapists, clergy, family, and friends counsel victims to not “shame” the abusive man in their life, women need the truth.
Gary offers the truths that bust four toxic myths about shame:
- Shame causes addiction/pornography use & sexual acting-out
- You need to avoid shaming addicts at all costs
- Don’t hold porn users accountable because it will increase their shame
- Don’t tell porn users the truth about what you think or how you feel because it will cause them shame
Does Shame Cause A Man To Use Porn?
[Shame is] just an emotion. You can have depression, you can have anxiety, you can feel bad. It’s very common for someone who [uses pornography] to have shame. But the shame is caused by the fact that they can’t control use, despite negative consequences – everyone and anyone would feel shame if they couldn’t control themselves. In other words, they’re hurting themselves. They’re hurting those around them. So they have shame because they can’t stop. That’s the shame that’s associated with addiction. And that is separate and should be kept separate.Gary Wilson, Shame and Addiction Expert
Shame, an emotion, cannot cause a person to use pornography, lie, gaslight, or commit infidelity.
These behaviors are choices, every single time. Shame is not forcing him to use porn.
Rather, men who use pornography may feel ashamed about it. And rightfully so. Pornography is a grave human rights issue. Pornography exploits women. Pornography exploits children. Pornography is modern-day slavery and torture. Any man who uses pornography deserves to be very ashamed.
Shame should serve a healthy purpose. It should help the porn user find the moral strength to stop doing what he knows is wrong. Instead, abusive men use “shame” to enable their own behaviors. They blame the victim. They excuse themselves. They blame their families of origin or current stresses. They refuse to take accountability and ownership that what they’re doing is wrong and that is why they feel ashamed.
Victims Are Victims, Perpetrators Are Perpetrators
The toxic rhetoric that victims should remain silent, supportive, and un-questioning of their abusive partner’s behaviors is deeply harmful. Of course, rarely is this rhetoric outright or explicit. Instead it’s cloaked in phrases like:
- Don’t shame him when he relapses.
- Support him.
- Be there for him, he’s going through a lot.
- Keep this between you and him; it’s his private business.
- Why are you letting this bother you? It’s his issue.
- All men use porn.
- Don’t make him feel bad.
- Don’t be mad at him.
- He’s not responsible for your feelings.
- Stop giving him so much power over you.
- Don’t talk about how it makes you feel or he’ll feel shame.
Anne shares an experience of her ex-husband using shame as a tool to blame, shame, and silence her:
[After he told me he’d used pornography and masturbated for an hour] I sat down on our bed, and I said, “Whoa. That’s bad.” That’s all I said. Three words. “Whoa. That’s bad.” Because I realized, “Holy cow. If he has this prayer with his dad and then immediately looks at porn for an hour and masturbates, he’s way far gone.” After I said those three words, he yelled, “Stop shaming me!” He used it to silence me.Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
In a relationship with a porn user, there is ONE victim and ONE perpetrator. When abusive men use shame as a tool to harm the victims, they are trying to wear the “victim” hat.
Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Emotional Abuse
It’s confusing, exhausting, and heartbreaking to try to heal from betrayal.
Betrayed women need answers. They need support. They need validation. They need a community of other victims who get it.
. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone.
BTRG helps women find support during the most confusing, devastating, and harmful moments.
You can heal. You can find peace again. You can find yourself. You can find joy again.
You are not alone.
The Myths Of Shame & Addiction
Anne: Gary is the author of Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction, and the presenter of the popular TedX talk, “The Great Porn Experiment,” which has been viewed more than 10 million times and translated into 18 languages. He hosts the website Your Brain on Porn, which was created for those seeking to understand and reverse compulsive porn use.
He taught anatomy and physiology for years and has long been interested in the neurochemistry of addiction, mating, and bonding. In 2015, the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health presented Wilson with it’s media award for Outstanding Media Contributions and Public Education on Pornography Addiction.
In 2016, Wilson co-authored an academic paper with seven U.S. Navy doctors entitled, Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions: A Review with Critical Reports, and another journal article entitled, Eliminate Chronic Internet Pornography Use to Reveal its Affects.
The Theory Of Shame And Attachment
Anne: Gary, why is this shame causes addiction theory so popular right now?
Gary: Addiction and shame are often intertwined. There might be shame associated with porn use or there may be shame associated with addiction, “I can’t stop drinking alcohol. It’s ruining my life. I’m in a shame and then binge cycle. I can’t stop.” I think, when we use the word shame, we need to be very specific about what we’re talking about.
The Truth About Shame & Pornography
Anne: Is it true? Does shame cause pornography addiction, or any addiction?
Gary: No. Shame doesn’t cause addictions. Let’s be real clear about this. Addiction’s been studied, now, for 60 years and there are thousands and thousands of neurological studies. It started with animals, where they can induce addiction—animals do not have shame—and they then cut the brains open. They look at the brains, they see the brain changes, so thousands and thousands of rats, mice, even monkeys. And they recently started to look at food addiction in animals.
Shame Doesn’t Cause Addiction
Then, in the last 20 years, we’ve looked at the brain changes in humans that occur with both drug addiction and behavioral addiction, such as porn addiction, gambling addiction, food addiction, and internet addiction. These brain changes are pretty consistent. The brain changes, then, are mirrored in the behavior.
The behaviors would be something like the compulsion to use, cravings, the inability to control use. You’re just out of control and you’re binging. Continued use, despite severe negative consequences, these are the behaviors that we associate with addiction. Addiction changes people’s brains. So, no. Shame does not cause addiction-related brain changes. Let’s just get that out of the way.
How Is Shame Different Than Addiction?
Anne: How is shame different than addiction?
I monitor these very large forums where we have, primarily, young men who are quitting porn, and one of them’s called No Fap. It has over 300,000 members. They did a survey. They found that 62% of their members, who are trying to quit porn, are agnostic or atheist. So, no. Porn addiction isn’t about shame because these addicts don’t feel shame about pornography because they don’t think it’s bad.
Anne: Why this is so important to me is because I remember a specific situation where my ex’s behaviors were escalating out of control. He was becoming more abusive, and his dad came over. They prayed together in our basement and then his dad left. Then he came up about an hour later. I said, “How did it go with your dad?” and he was like, “Fine. Then, after that prayer, I looked at porn for an hour and masturbated.”
I sat down on our bed, and I said, “Whoa. That’s bad.” That’s all I said. Three words, “Whoa. That’s bad,” because I realized, “Holy cow. If he has this prayer with his dad and then immediately looks at porn for an hour and masturbates, he’s way far gone.” After I said those three words, he yelled, “Stop shaming me!” He used it to silence me.
Guilt & Shame In Recovery
Basically, “You can’t say anything to me. You can’t be angry about my porn use. You need to ‘support my recovery.’ If you don’t support my recovery then you’re shaming me.” Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It seems like this shame thing has been taken to this whole different level than it was ever intended by addicts to manipulate people. It’s really ticking me off. Let’s talk about the myth that religious people are more likely to be porn addicts than non-religious people. First of all, tell me why that myth is floating around and why that’s not accurate.
Gary: There’s a couple of reasons that it’s floating around. Often, what’s cited, or put up on the internet is this study that found that Utah was number one in porn use. That was published in 2008. For the last ten years, it’s been put up and people say, “Well. Look. Religious people use more porn, or they’re more addicted.” Well. No. They’re not.
Religious Vs. Secular Pornography Users
Every single study, probably 25 studies that have asked groups of people who you know whether they were religious or not, they have found that religious people use porn at far lower rates than secular people. That means that being religious is protective against porn use, and thus protected against porn addiction. It’s called Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?
It wasn’t about porn use across all the porn tube sites. It was looking at state-by-state subscriptions to one porn site out of thousands of porn sites. My belief is this researcher looked and looked until he found a particular website whose subscriptions were higher in Utah than any other place. It was a biased study.
Shame Does Not Cause Pornography Use
All studies—I’m saying this—all studies that have looked at individuals who check off the box, “I’m religious. I’m not religious.” All of them find less porn use among the religious. What’s interesting is a study that came out a couple of months ago, and it decided to look at some of these three or four studies that look at states. They say, “Wow. Red states have a higher rate of Google searches for porn or sex or whatever.”
They looked at this, and they actually thought, because the suggestion in all these studies is that religious people are really lying about their porn use on all these many studies. They looked at it, they found out that, no. They weren’t lying. In fact, religious people were more likely to tell the truth. These studies that just looked at how much Google searches there are for sex, or penises in Utah, really do not show good data. They’re not representative, and they should be tossed away. This study said we should stop doing these types of studies. The bottom line is religious people use porn at a far lower rate, which means that their addiction is at a far lower rate.
Anne: Now, I would like to point out that Gary is not religious.
Gary: No. I’m agnostic. As were my parents. As were my grandparents.
Anne: Right. So this is not a religious person telling us these studies. This is an agnostic. I just want to point that out to my listeners so that they know where you’re coming from, which is what I really appreciate about you.
Why Abusive Men Must Feel Shame
Why do you think, at least religious people in Utah, have glommed onto this shame thing as the cause? So everybody’s walking on eggshells to try not to shame other people? Which, frankly, keeps people from stating the truth, being bold about what their needs are, and also holding people accountable. Right now, there’s a huge lack of accountability going on because people don’t want to shame other people.
Gary: Well, not only Utah. A lot of the popular media has glommed onto it, so that means that Utah has. We think of Utah, and we think of, of course, LDS. I have lots of friends who are LDS. They tell me there is shame associated with porn use. But what happened is Joshua Grubbs, a former very religious person, started to do studies.
Compulsive Pornogoraphy Use Index Debunked
In these studies, he had a questionnaire. It was a nine-question questionnaire. It was called the Compulsive Pornography Use Index. What it found, when using all nine of his questions, is that religious people score higher on this. So he named his nine questions Perceived Addiction, and then the media took it and said, “Wow. Religious people believe they’re addicted to porn when they’re not.”
But then, when you look closely at the studies, you find that three of the questions were about shame and guilt. Addiction questionnaires for gambling, alcohol, meth, cocaine, do not have questions about feeling guilt or shame after using drugs, or using nicotine.
Religiosity & Shame
What it did is, when they looked at it closely, and several studies have since looked at it, they found that this particular questionnaire, because of it’s being one-third guilt and shame, caused religious people to score higher. So, they said, “Oh. Religious people are more addicted.” But then, when you remove those three questions, they just looked at his other six questions, you found that religious people really didn’t score higher. He created a questionnaire that was bogus.
Here’s the interesting thing. Just a couple of months ago—because I’ve critiqued his work quite a bit, and we’ve had conversations—he decided to disprove what I was saying. So, he said, “Okay. I’m going to toss out my questionnaire. You say it’s too much guilt and shame. I’m just going to go ask a bunch of people.”
Shame Does Not Cause Porn Use
He did three separate studies. “Do you believe you’re addicted to porn?” That’s what he asked, just straight up. None of these guilt and shame questions. Guess what he found out? There was no difference between religious people and non-religious people, in believing they’re addicted to porn. Guess what he found out was the best predictor of believing you’re addicted? How much porn you used. The more porn you used, the more you thought you were addicted.
He, basically, debunked all of his own studies. And he debunked all the other studies that used the same questionnaire. All this shame being the cause of porn addiction arises from one place. Joshua Grubbs nine-question questionnaire called the CPUI-9. And then, last year, he debunked his own questionnaire.
The Problem With Shame Studies
Anne: Does he admit that now? Does he say now, “Oops”?
Gary: No. He doesn’t say “Oops” directly. He’s still using his questionnaire. I, actually, was at a conference a couple of weeks ago, and he admitted that there were problems. He said, “Well. A lot of people think there’s problems with this questionnaire. But we use it anyhow.” He keeps using it. They take these steps that aren’t connected and connect them.
Then they found, “Wow. When you remove those three questions from the Grubbs questionnaire that are just about shame and guilt, there’s really no connection to religiousness.” Again, they keep finding, looking at this questionnaire, that you need to get rid of these three questions that have nothing to do with addiction, they only had something to do with guilt and shame, and all the headlines, really, fall apart. It’s a big lie out there. You know, you’ve seen my presentation. It’s just a big lie. And it continues.
Regaining Your Voice After Being Blamed
Anne: How can we help wives regain their voice after being silenced by the manipulation of a porn user, who is saying, “You can’t do this, or you can’t do that. Because, if you do, it’s shame”?
Gary: That’s blaming someone else for your own behavior, and that’s just ridiculous. An alcoholic, same thing. A cigarette smoker, meth user, gambler, the shame is internal. It’s an internalized thing of the addict. They have shame because they can’t control use. When you feel bad about yourself, you then lash out at those who are closest to you.
How Dishonesty Causes Shame
The porn addict is going to feel shame whether the spouse or partner points out that they’re using when they said they wouldn’t, or when that person privately, without being discovered, uses without the partner knowing. Shame’s going to occur in both situations. It’s just blaming someone else for your behavior.
Anne: What I want my listeners to know is that you can state your needs. You can tell them how you feel. You can be honest. If they accuse you of shaming them, you can be like, “No. I am telling the truth.” I am religious, so I would say, “No. I’m standing for truth and righteousness and stating the truth and setting boundaries.”
What Do Boundaries Look Like?
Non-religious people might say something like, “I have specific needs to feel safe in my own home. And I do not feel safe. Stating my needs has nothing to do with me shaming you.” Women are so terrified to state their needs right now. I don’t know how else to say it, other than flat-out say there is nothing you can say to him that will shame him. He is responsible for his own shame. You can say what you need to say.
Gary: It’s strange. If we step back a little bit and look at the big picture, I think, also I’ve heard, that in the past in “sex addiction recovery” models, that they have suggested to the woman that she not shame the partner, that she take responsibility for her behavior. I completely disagree with that.
Shame & Responsibility In Recovery
Why is it that with “sex addiction” or porn addiction that we’re so caught up in, “Oh. We cannot shame the partner.” But with gambling addiction, we wouldn’t have that same response. I don’t see that. Or with alcoholism, you don’t see a lot of, “Oh. It’s also the partner’s problem.” Maybe you do. Maybe there’s this codependence thing, but I don’t like the codependence model. I don’t like it at all. Every individual must take responsibility for their actions. And that’s my model. That’s the only model that works, as far as I can see having monitored these forums where guys are trying to quit for the last 12 years. They take responsibility for their actions.
“They Need To Be Held Accountable For Pornography”
Anne: Yeah. You don’t hear people saying, “My brother does crack cocaine. I didn’t want to shame him and so I was careful about how I talked to him.” Usually people are like, “Crack cocaine is wrong. I’m going to state it out loud. And if you’re going to do it, you can’t come around me.” There’s not this fear of like, “Oh. I need to walk on eggshells.”
Also, in my religion, with drugs or with other things, there is accountability. But with porn, there’s this, “Oh. We don’t want to push him away from the church. We want to make sure we keep him in the church.” So there’s no accountability. I think, “Well. Wait a minute. They need to be held accountable for pornography. They need to be held accountable for the harm they are causing.”
Why Shame Does Not Negate Accountability
Gary: One thing I’d like to point out, when we’re talking about shame, a lot of men, both religious and non-religious, it doesn’t really matter, who come to my site and they read, then, the neuroscience related to addiction in general and then porn addiction specifically, because there is a difference, they then feel less guilt and shame. Because the truth is internet porn, just like junk food is set up to trap people.
Internet porn is set up to trap, largely, males—females, too, get trapped. It’s endless sexual novelty, all these women. For females and males a lot of junk food traps us. Thirty-five percent of adult Americans are obese, seventy-five percent overweight, and, yet, none of them want to be. We really have, now, these supernormal versions of what we call natural rewards in our face.
“You Need To Stop Using”
My site describes how it can trap men into it, and then the addiction brain changes and how it’s tough when these brain changes have occurred, like your frontal cortex is changed, and it’s hard for you to inhibit behaviors, or your stress system has just completely been altered. Every time you have a little bit of stress, you have severe cravings to use.
What they also need to know is you need to stop using. These things will not go away. You need to have long periods of not using in order for the brain changes to reverse themselves. I think, in some way, that if you learn about addiction, in general, porn addiction, and how supernormal versions of natural rewards, like junk food or porn, can grab us, then maybe you can step back and say, “Okay. Well, this is what’s normal. It happened to me. It’s not good. I don’t want it to happen. But I can see why it did.”
The Role Of Shame In Pornography Use
That’s my approach. Now, of course, whether you’re LDS or an atheist, these young men are starting at age 12 or younger, so by the time they decide to get married, they’ve been using porn for 10 straight years. You may end up in a relationship where they’ve trained their brain through adolescence to just use porn.
Anne: I really admire the addicts who view it that way. “It’s not surprising to me that this happened. Now I need to move forward and become a healthy person.” They’re some of my favorite people. I really, really enjoy being around addicts in recovery. They’re humble. They’re honest. They’re easy to get along with. They’re very peaceful people. The addicts who are not in recovery, however, and are faking recovery, or trying to blame other people or avoid accountability. That is really not fun.
Setting Boundaries Against Abuse
That’s the population that, generally speaking, my audience is dealing with every day, all day long. So we have to set boundaries around that, so that we can be safe emotionally and, also physically, from STDs, or domestic violence. I’m so glad that you have your site, and that men are going there to get the help that they need. I wish that everyone would.
Gary: The World Health Organization, they have a diagnostic manual, which is over and above the U.S. diagnostic manual, called the DSM, that categorizes diseases, whether it’s depression or schizophrenia. You often hear that, “Oh. A porn addiction as sex addiction has been rejected by the DSM. So it’s not a real condition.”
Myths About Shame Causing Sexual Acting-Out
Well, that wasn’t true. But here is what’s true. In 2018, the ICD-11, which covers all countries in the world—the United States uses it also—they’re going to have what’s called Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder, which will be an umbrella diagnosis for porn addiction, sex addiction, cybersex addiction. It is now being recognized by the world. That’s because there have been so many studies.
Again, the argument by the addict who’s using, who says, “Oh. You’re causing shame in me.” Sorry. Shame doesn’t cause addiction. That’s internalized. “Oh. This isn’t really addiction. I should just do it for the fun.” Well. Yeah. It is an addiction. There are 40 neurological studies that show the same brain changes that occur in porn addicts that also occur in other types of addicts. Yeah, the ICD-11’s about to recognize this, because they’re going to have a diagnosis for it. So you really don’t have an excuse here, buddy.
Why Do Porn Users Blame Their Partners?
Anne: That’s awesome. What particular brain changes make addicts more likely to blame their partner?
Gary: I don’t think you can put that down to a brain change. I think it’s just, “I feel bad about myself because I can’t control use, so I’m going to project it outwards.” This is just the human nature. We project our internalized state outward to the world.
Abusive Men Internalize Their Own Shame
The internalized state for the addict is, “I feel really crummy because, number one, I’m using, that makes me feel crummy. Number two, I promised people and I’m breaking the promise. Number three, I am causing damage to myself, to my family, to my job. I am really having a negative effect. Since I don’t want to feel bad about myself, I’m going to blame you, and you’re the closest person to me.”
Anne: You don’t think it has anything to do with their frontal lobe being damaged? Are there any issues with not being able to connect the dots? I noticed when my ex was using, he got not very smart. He was totally, completely illogical.
The Scientific Proof That Porn Users Are Jerks
Gary: That’s true. You’re exactly right. Fifteen studies on porn users and sex addicts have found this. The prefrontal cortex, that’s the higher part of our brain, the one that controls impulses, the one that puts the brakes on you yelling at your spouse, or flipping someone off because you’re mad, and plans ahead and sees the consequences of actions, it does become weakened. I won’t use the term damaged, but it does become weakened.
But, yeah. There have been about five or six studies that show less cognitive functioning or poor cognitive functioning in porn addicts and sex addicts. In essence, they do become dumber. They have a lot harder time controlling their impulses. So, yes. You’re right. It’s great you point this out. That would lead to someone wanting to scream at the partner.
It’s Not About Shame, It’s About Abuse
What’s interesting is, thousands and thousands of self-reports from young men who quit, and one of the most common benefits they see is that they can think clearer, their brain fog is gone. Their grades go up. Also, what’s interesting, and related to this, is they can feel much more emotion. They can have much more empathy. If you’re lacking empathy, that, too, would cause you to lash out at someone close to you.
Anne: You’re lacking empathy, you’re lacking the ability to control your impulses, and your logic isn’t that sound.
Gary: The stress system is all messed up, so that you’re much more hyperreactive to any stressor and, again, lashing out.
Porn Use Is Not A Stress Disorder
Anne: Yeah. It seems like it wouldn’t be that difficult for someone who can’t connect the dots to blame someone else, even if it’s super illogical, because they’re just not capable of being logical with that type of brain.
Gary: Often now neuroscientists think of addiction as almost a stress disorder, because it’s so messed up that every time you have a little bit of stress you have cravings, and you have a hard time coping with stress. Of course, what’s more stressful than your spouse saying, “Hey buddy. You should quit.” That’s a stressor and then they lash out. They go into fight or flight mode, like attack or run. So they either run away or they attack someone who’s in front of them because their stress system’s messed up.
The Dynamics Of Attachment, Shame, And Porn Use
Anne: Do you think it’s more accurate to say that porn addiction is a stress disorder than an attachment disorder then? Because that actually seems way more logical to me. I’ve never thought of that before.
Gary: I don’t like to label it an attachment disorder. In fact, I don’t like to label any of the addictions an attachment disorder. There’s a myth out there that Johann Hari put out a big TedTalk that said, “Oh. Addiction is an attachment disorder.” Again, let’s step back from that.
So many porn addicts and porn users have wives and spouses and sons and daughters and family and friends, yet they continue to use. Then we look at something that is obviously an addiction, smoking. They’ve done studies, smokers are more sociable, so they don’t have any attachment disorders, but yet they can’t quit despite severe negative consequences. I don’t even like the idea of it being an attachment disorder. I think that’s too simplistic.
Shame & Attachment Disorders Don’t Cause Porn Use
Anne: I agree. I hate it. That’s why I love you so much. I’m like, “Thank you.” Because I’m surrounded by this shame and attachment disorder and all these things. It just makes the wives feel terrible.
Gary: Oh, yeah. It’s definitely a stress disorder with several other brain changes. More and more studies are coming out. Because when does an addict use? When they have any type of stress. Interestingly enough, too, when they stop using, they have withdrawal symptoms. Now, sometimes, it’s really bad withdrawal symptoms. Some guys will report even aches and pains. But it’s anxiety, restlessness, depression, brain fog.
The Relation Of Stress And Shame
In order to get over that, they’ll go back and use it. Both the lashing out, the inability to adapt to stress, cravings when you have stress, and withdrawal symptoms. These are all coming from one thing, a malfunctioning stress system. That was caused by chronic overuse because it occurs with drug addictions also.
Anne: Wow. Wow. You make the most sense to me, as a victim of someone who perpetually used pornography, lied to me and abused me. It just makes so much more sense. I did not shame him. I can’t shame him. I was not capable of doing that. It helps me really view it for exactly what it is. I so appreciate that.
Porn Really Does Kill Love
Gary: Even though porn isn’t methamphetamine or cocaine, they’ve done experiments on animals—and there’s certain animals that fall in love with a partner, and they’re called voles—so they actually learned the biological, neurological mechanisms of falling in love in people by studying voles. What they found is if you give voles methamphetamines, something that really raises dopamine, or cocaine, something that raises dopamine, well porn raises dopamine as high as can be done naturally.
If you become addicted, it blocks the falling in love mechanisms. Attachment disorder is a result of addiction in many cases, at least it is shown in animals. Again, we gotta separate the result of chronic porn use. Rather than going back and saying, “Oh. They originally had an attachment disorder and then they became addicted.” No. They became addicted, which interferes with attachment.
Why Shame Is Not Causative
Anne: Right. They’re incapable of attachment because they use porn.
Gary: Yes. Just like you think of—again, I’ll use an extreme example—a mother who’s addicted to cocaine. She doesn’t take care of her baby. You can have a more mild example, “Look. A porn addict is willing to ruin their marriage in order to continue to use porn.” It, obviously, is affecting their bonding with their children and with their spouse.
Anne: Exactly. Women, you don’t need to worry. You don’t need to try “attaching” to an unsafe person. You can set boundaries. You can state your needs.
Alcoholics Abuse Alcohol, Porn Users Abuse People
Gary: If we think about other addictions, the model, of course, being alcoholism, they don’t call that an attachment disorder. They suggest that the alcoholic stop using. In fact, when someone who’s not in a relationship goes into AA, they say, “Don’t get into a relationship for a whole year. You need to focus in on your sobriety.” I could see where it would have greater attachment and love between two spouses would be beneficial, but that, I don’t see it as the cause of porn addiction.
I monitor a lot of forums. Hundreds of thousands of men who are in relationships, they are quitting. What they report after 30, 60, 90 days is they see their wife differently. They see their partner differently. They are more in love. They can’t believe they acted the way they did. They just want to shower her with love and sex, finally, when they’re able to get it up, it’s so much more exciting, and they’re thrilled, and the wives are more thrilled, and they feel connected.
Why We Must Understand Addiction And Shame
Did that person have an attachment disorder, or was it because of porn interfering with attachment? I think, maybe, they’re putting the cart before the horse. Yes, the porn addict may be having trouble attaching, but is that because of their chronic years of porn use and their continual use of porn use? I would say yes, because I’ve observed the changes in how the men view the women and experience the emotions, once again, of love and attachment after they quit. That needs to be looked at and addressed and acknowledged.
“Don’t Shame Me”
Anne: Absolutely. Their not quitting is the problem. They’re like, “Oh, I had a relapse. I had a relapse every day for seven days.” Right? “And I did it because I didn’t feel attached to you. Don’t shame me.” But they need to be worthy to attach to.
Gary: If they have an attachment disorder—and let’s say they had actual childhood trauma, and they were an orphan or whatever, then that would be great to address in therapy, if that was helpful, but what does that have to do with porn? What happened when they got married? Weren’t they attached? Weren’t they in love? What changed? What changed, probably, was chronic porn use. I think blaming someone else, the spouse, for the addict’s chronic use and the lack of attachment, may be misguided.
The Attachment Disorder Myth
Anne: Here’s a really, really dangerous question. Do you think that these therapists that are coming up with this attachment stuff and this shame stuff and these people who are spreading this nonsense, do you think they’re addicts themselves and they’re just trying to justify stuff and not feel bad?
Gary: I’d probably say no, because attachment is what we all want to do as humans. So, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you have a model called Attachment Disorder, then you’re finding it everywhere, right. I think you’re taught certain things and then you see it. They’re all just humans, because we’re in the human condition, we have problems with relationships. We may have problems with attachment, unless we’re enlightened or Jesus, we’re in love with everyone, we’re going to have problems.
Attachment & Shame Are Not To Blame For Porn Use
To focus in on that as the cause of porn addiction, I think is misguided. I think you should try all sorts of therapies and activities and whatever you can to have the porn addict and porn user stop for a long period of time, then you may see a change in their ability to express emotions, to feel, for them to feel love coming back at them from their friends, their kids, and especially their spouse. I think it might be putting the cart before the horse with the attachment disorder model.
Anne: It’s not working for women. They’re trying to support their spouse who’s “in recovery.” Their spouse is lying straight to their face telling them, “Yes. I’m in recovery.” When he’s not really. And he’s not showing these recovery behaviors.
Abusers Weaponize Recovery Language
These brain changes that you’re talking about, where they’re able to love their spouse more, or they’re able to connect better, because they’ve stopped using porn. They’re not happening. But the guy’s claiming that he’s in recovery. “Leave me alone. I’m working on my recovery. You don’t have any right to talk to me about my recovery. You work on your side of the street.” That sort of a thing. I did see, in my ex, a period of time where I thought, “Wow. He is changing. He seems smarter. He seems more connected.” And I really appreciated that. But now, I just think those were just short spurts and not the long-term change. That’s what we’re trying to teach our listeners to look for.
We have a checklist that’s specifically for wives of porn users, so that they know exactly what behaviors to look for to know if they’re safe, rather than just taking the addicts word for it that they’re going to their 12-step meeting, or that they are in recovery, while they’re, basically, just manipulating their wife still, and lying.
Shame Stems From Lying, Infidelity & Abuse
Gary: Right. There’s something sort of nasty about addiction and I’ve seen this both in food addiction and animals’ drug addiction. It’s called the abstinent affect. This occurs with people that are religious. They’re using porn and then they’ll take a break, because they’re really white knuckling it, and they’ll take a week off, two weeks off.
What’s interesting is, when you stop an actual addiction, over the next two to three weeks your brain changes and it sprouts more connections to make the cravings even more intense, if you are exposed to something that causes cravings. About three weeks out, the brain is changed, and if you are under stress, or you get exposed to some sexy image, your cravings are much stronger than they were a couple days after you quit. It’s really a nasty thing.
Abusers Often Lie About Sexual Sobriety
Then the person usually relapses. And they relapse in a binge form, because the cravings are so out of control. They might watch porn for five hours. Then they feel like crap. Then, again, they project it out on the world. There’s often this binge-relapse cycle with two to three-week gaps. That actually causes more severe binging and relapse than just quitting for a couple of days.
In other words, they need to get further down the line. They need to get 60, 90 days, 120 days away from binging.
Anne: And they need to be honest about where they are, too. I think what’s happening right now, at least in my community. They tell their wife they’re in recovery. Their clergy knows. The family knows. People are talking about it more, so they know they have to be in recovery. So then they relapse, and they lie. And they just keep lying. Without the truth there’s just no way for them to get better. They know they’re supposed to be in recovery and they’re not willing to be honest about their situation in so many cases.
Honesty & Recovery Are Shame Busters
Gary: That’s just a normal addiction pattern.
Anne: Yeah. It’s not your fault, women. It’s not because you stated your needs. It’s not because you asked him to mash the potatoes. It’s not because you asked him to cut the tomatoes. It has nothing to do with any of that. It is all him.
Gary: Well, yes. You know, there’s this common myth that a wife, if she just gave the guy enough sex, he would give up porn. But that is not what happens in practice. We see that over and over again everywhere that the guy is compulsively addicted to porn, which means he wants to watch porn. He wants to click from video to video, and no single female can match the novelty, the variety, the acts that are in porn. The woman should never blame herself that she’s not enough, because no one could ever be a thousand different women in a five-hour porn binge.
“You Can’t Compete With Porn”
Anne: You can’t compete with porn.
Gary: No. But you can compete with love. I think that’s why they turn to, “Well. Maybe if we had attachment, that would be good.” If the person continues to use, it’s interfering with the attachment of the addict. Again, it comes back to the responsibility of the addict to have long abstinent periods and, as you said, to be honest about the binges so that the wife can recognize, “Oh. This is why you’ve all of a sudden gotten so grumpy.”
Admonishing Victims To “Not Shame” Their Abusers Is Used To Manipulate & Abuse
Anne: It doesn’t matter to us why. Because if we try and figure out, “Oh. Has he gotten so grumpy because he’s stressed at work? Has he gotten so grumpy because he looked at porn? Is it because he went off his medication?” For us, the only thing that matters is when that abuse starts, that we set boundaries. Because, if we try to figure out why, and try to get him help, “Oh. You need to go to the therapist. You need to do that.” We just get caught in the abuse cycle. The second that starts happening, is the time to detach. It’s time to take a step back, set the boundaries you need, and observe. Just observe what they’re going to do from a safe distance, rather than jumping into, basically, the ring and being like, “Okay. Go ahead. Abuse me.” Because that’s what happens.
You Can’t Fix Your Abuser
Gary: It’s common knowledge. You can’t fix an addict, whatever type of addict they are. It’s not up to you. It’s always up to the person. Just a bit of a back-story. In my life, my wife and I, of course, being non-religious, didn’t think much about porn. We got into this observing year in and year out, guys who are trying to quit. What was interesting about them, there was none of this discussion about attachment. There was none of this discussion about blaming the wife. None of them.
Literally, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of posts and none of them are blaming the spouse. They’re all like, “Man. I did this. Man. I did this. I’ve got to do X to quit.” It’s a real different consciousness that we’ve observed than what you’re experiencing. They quit and they recover. And they’re happy as hell because they took responsibility for their life.
Real Recovery Means Not Using “You Must Not Shame Me” To Coerce
Anne: I went through years of thinking it was an attachment disorder and shame. I lost my voice in the process and was abused because of it. It stinks. It serves the perpetrators. It’s not a model that protects victims.
Gary: It’s great that you’re doing this. We’ve had discussions when I was out there, the tremendous need for this. Because, man, it’s really putting the partners into a bad position.
Anne: It’s really bad. Really bad.
Gary: It’s causing PTSD, right?
Anne: Yeah. When you go for help to a therapist who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and you go to help for clergy and you get further traumatized, it’s so bad. Women are being slaughtered. Slaughtered.
Clergy Should Support Victims
Gary: The clergy, clergy everywhere, they just don’t know squat about addiction. They just don’t.
Anne: Yeah. That’s painfully obvious. Maybe it’s good they don’t know anything about addiction. Maybe it’s because they’re not addicts, perhaps. But, yeah. It’s bad. You’re like the only person that makes sense to wives in my situation.
Gary: Oh good. Good. I’m glad I make sense to someone.
Anne: I’m so thankful for everything you do. His website and his book can really help give you the truth about what’s happening. So that you can release yourself from the shame that you might feel from not being able to “help” or “attach” or “be supportive.” Or whatever it is that’s holding you back from being able to set the boundaries that you need to feel safe.
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