WORK WITH ZACH

EPISODE 132: Overcoming Pornography Doesn't Mean Getting Rid of Everything

Mar 13, 2022

If you’re anything like me, in your quest to eliminate pornography, you probably have tried to eliminate everything. 

You might have gotten rid of your phone, blocked all the apps, given over your access code to someone else, tried avoiding certain shops at the mall, not gone to the beach.  Those are the physical things. 

Mentally and emotionally, you might have tried to eliminate urges, run from your emotions, suppressed your sex drive, and generally worked to stop feeling, sensing, or thinking about anything to do with pornography or sexuality. 

In all the avoiding you’ve done, I want you to just think for a moment and ask yourself, has it really helped?  

What I mean is, has it helped you become the person you want to be?  Has it helped you grow and love and triumph in your life?  

If you are anything like me, or any of my clients, the answer is very likely, no.  

I’ll admit, each of those techniques, may have helped you succeed at distancing yourself from your last pornography session. They may have been helpful in slowing down the number of times each week, month, or year that you turn to pornography.  

But, there is a good chance, that if you’ve been suppressing your life to avoid pornography, you’ve been suppressing your happiness and growth on the way. 

In Acceptance and Commitment Coaching, there is an idea called experiential avoidance, which is about utilizing certain methods, processes, or techniques, to avoid the real and sometimes unpleasant experiences of our lives.  

The problem with experiential avoidance is that when we avoid the bad, we are also avoiding the amazing, wonderful, and deeply joyful experiences of our lives. 

Here’s what I mean.  

If I suppress my emotions so that I don’t feel sexual in order to avoid pornography drawing me in, I also am suppressing my wholly appropriate and deep desire to be intimate with my wife. 

As a result, there is a good chance that something will give eventually.  

It may be that my suppression will work for a time, but will power always runs out and then what happens?  What has happened to you when you’ve pushed down the feelings and temptations for a long time?  

An analogy that I like to use is that of a beach ball at the pool. 

If you’ve ever tried to push a beach ball under the water, you’ve found that you can control it as long as you concentrate on it.  As long as you manage it actively.  But, eventually, your mind may wander, you may become distracted, you may have to deal with something and boom - out of the water blasts the beach ball. 

Our emotions, feelings, and urges are like that.  In trying to avoid them, we push them under until there is a moment when we no longer have the capacity to control them.  

That is what experiential avoidance looks like.  We avoid certain experiences for as long as we can and then they overtake us and overwhelm us and we lose control. 

In addition to losing control, we’ve also lost out on so many beautiful, amazing, experiences that can enrich our lives and help us feel the fulfillment we have been seeking. 

Imagine being at the pool and spending your entire time focused on pushing that beach ball under the water and keeping it there. 

When others offer to play a game, you’ll be busy.  When someone wants to engage in meaningful conversation, you’ll be distracted.  When your family wants to grab a quick picture with you, you’ll be somewhere else. 

As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that there were moments when I would take my eye off the ball, like Christmas or birthdays or vacations and I found that I gave in to my urge to engage with pornography.  I would become engaged in the everyday life events and make mistakes in my quest to eliminate pornography. 

So, I would double down, push the ball deeper.  Only to find that the next time I became engaged in real life, I would make a mistake.  

Darcy used to say that I would ruin every big event in our family for her.  Our beautiful memories would be tainted by knowing that Zach made pornography part of it at some point.  

If this describes your life, I’m glad to know you’ve been where I was.  And I hope you’re glad to know that there is a way forward. 

Avoiding the experiences of your life, the ones that happen internally, like emotions, urges, and sensations are not the way to finally get rid of them. 

It is the opposite.  

What we work to suppress our brain latches on to.  

Famously, there have been many experiments where participants have been told not to think about things, like pink elephants.  No matter how hard they try participants find themselves unable to keep the idea out of their head.  

Telling ourselves that we must never think of pornography, sexuality, or the urges that drive our very natural and normal sex drives results in the same thing.  Eventually, they come up and we find they consume us. 

So, how do we succeed at handling our urges, thoughts, and sensations?

Three things.  We work on these in-depth in the membership and in individual coaching sessions, where we can dive deep and apply them to real-life situations. Here on the podcast, we get to talk about them, but the real work happens in the coaching that I get to do with the men and women who struggle. 

The first thing we need to get good at and practice, even when pornography is not the issue is, recognizing our feelings, sensations, and urges.  

Becoming clear with what your brain is sending you will help you know what to do with it. 

I’ve often said that men, and women too, have not been given a lot of emotional training in life.  Most of us have been instructed to suppress anything that we can’t control.  

It is the way of western culture to be repressed in our feelings and so we don’t let them show, we try not to feel them, and we try to tamp them down whenever they arrive. 

Getting good at recognizing the depth and breadth of your emotions, urges, and sensations will be essential to actually resolving them in helpful and meaningful ways.  

Second, you need to become comfortable with these sensations being there. 

That, by the way, is not the same as giving into them.  

Most of us have two ways of dealing with urges, we either push against them and try to suppress them in some way, or we give in to them and follow them wherever they take us. 

But there is a  third thing we can do. 

We can simply observe them.  

Becoming an active observer is a skill that everyone who wants to eliminate pornography from their life must acquire.  

Much like those who film nature documentaries, we must become willing to objectively and thoughtfully see what is happening without getting entangled in the drama. 

Our brains are full of drama. That is the skill of every mind, to tell a compelling story to drive us to act. 

Rather than act on the narrative, we have to be willing to feel the anxiety of the moment without acting.  

That might seem counterintuitive at first, but if you’ve ever read a story of deep emotion without becoming a sea captain, fighter pilot, or wolf-dog in the great wilderness of Alaska, then you are already capable of this skill. 

See the story, feel the feelings, but withhold action.  

Someone out there is probably saying, but that’s what I’ve been trying to do, not act and that isn’t working.  How is this any different?

Avoiding your emotions is not the same as feeling them and doing nothing. 

Avoiding your urges is not the same as acknowledging them as though they are normal and making no choice about them. 

Suppressing your desires is not the same as being willing to allow them the room to run out without them overtaking you.  

This requires a maturity of thought that wasn’t available to me at first.  

I used to think that if I even had a desire or thought or urge that I was bad and irredeemable.  

But, as you may know now, the urge, thought, or desire is not what makes us bad.  Those make us human.  

Being willing and able to see them, acknowledge them, and sit through them rather than avoid them is a skill that will pay dividends not just in eliminating pornography, but in every part of our lives.  

 

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