We come into this world expecting that our needs are going to be met. From the womb to our last breath, we yearn for affirmation, comfort, care, security, guidance, and a place of belonging. When these needs are appropriately attuned to, we tend to have a good sense of who we are, where we want to go and how to adjust to life’s many difficulties.
Unfortunately, relational wounds abound. The inevitably of being hurt by someone important to us has the potential to influence relational patterns for a lifetime. What has been coined the “violation of expectations” can set us up for relational rhythms that cause inner and outer disharmony. While this can be a culprit in areas such as anxiety and depression, it has a unique influence in the realm of sex addiction.
In his book, Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing, Jay Stringer addresses five relational influences that pave the way to sex addiction. I will address each one briefly here.
Rigid/Disengaged Families: These are the kinds of families that see everything as either/or. Another way to put this is that everything is either right or wrong, there is no room for flexibility in the family rules. The parents or caregivers are the ones with absolute power and rule over the home demanding compliance. This type of environment can lead to shame, anger and rebellion in a child who yearns to find a place for self-expression including sexual desire (an important part of the self).
Disengagement occurs when the parents/caregivers are not involved in the lives of their children. Examples of this include a parent who is working sixty hours a week leaving little quality time for their kids. Another example is emotional disengagement where this a lack of connecting to the emotional needs of the child. This can lead to a lack of trust for anyone to meet emotional needs in intimate relationships leaving one to look for other options such as porn which ends in pseudo intimacy.
Abandonment: This is a natural consequence of rigid and/or disengaged parents. There is a realization that the desire for things such as comfort, security, and affirmation are not going to be met in familial relationships. You are left alone to figure out how to meet these needs. So, you start looking for other options (pornography, dating apps/hookups, etc.).
Triangulation: Triangulation is when the child becomes a substitute spouse for either the mother or father. When the parents are not fulfilling their marital obligations to meet one another’s emotional needs, the child is brought into to fulfill that role. For example, a mother may rely on their son to comfort them in their anxiety over finances because his father is out all night gambling (a combination of abandonment from dad and triangulation).
Trauma: Our perception of what constitutes trauma has evolved throughout the years. We have come to learn that the making of trauma is multifaceted including being in environments that were unpredictable or chaotic, aggression was predominate, performance-based living was emphasized, instability was evident, punishment was harsh and inconsistency in parenting was the only thing consistent. It is the repetitious exposure to these kinds of environments that leads to damaging effects that press upon us body (physiologically), and soul.
Trauma has a direct impact on what we find arousing and therefore will inform what we pursue in our sexual behavior. Stinger makes the important point that, “themes of pornography often mirror the impact of trauma: the misuse of power, deception, humiliation, and sexual gain. Pornography streams through our eyes and into the crevasses of our trauma.” Often, without knowing it, our sexual behavior repeats the dynamics of past trauma.
Abuse: While trauma and abuse have some commonalities, Stringer puts abuse in its own category. As if abuse was not tragic enough, often those who are abused are abused by people they know and trust. For example, a family member can observe what you have not received from a disengaged parent and use this to woo you into their trust. It feels good to be noticed, to be cared about in ways you have been longing for. This trust turns into vulnerability, and betrayal when the same person begins to touch you inappropriately or ask for sexual favors.
Again Stinger describes this well when he says that that abuser arouses something in your heart that speaks to your hearts longing. Sadly, the same person arouses you physically leaving you distraught, ashamed, and confused. As, mentioned above, violation of expectations can lead to relational patterns that can cause great disharmony both within ourselves and with others.
The abuser violates the expectation of meeting the longings of the heart by manipulating the heart to join in a sexual act. And often the manipulation is so potent that the fact of being aroused raises concerns of somehow being compliant. It is important to remember how well the abuser preys upon and distorts legitimate desires.
Perhaps a metaphor will be helpful. I recently watched a YouTube video on how to emulsify (blend) oil and water. The video showed how an egg (emulsifier) had the necessary properties to combine the oil and water that left on their own naturally remain separate. The person added the egg to the oil and water shaking the contents vigorously. Afterwards you could no longer see the separation between the oil and water as they now were blended.
Now let’s apply this to the abuser and abused. The longings of the heart of the abused are the water. The oil is the hidden sexual desire of the abuser. The egg is the manipulation (emulsifier/blender) and the act of mixing the manipulation into the mutually exclusive longings and desires is the grooming process of the abuser. The blending instigated by the abuser makes it difficult to know where one person’s agenda starts and the other stops. This blending also tends to influence future sexual pursuits that mimic the same themes found between abuser and abused.
If you are struggling with sex addiction my hope is that these five areas of relational history and their accompanying woundedness provides some understanding as to how you may have gotten where you are today. More than that, I hope that you are able to allow for more grace in the struggle as you come to recognize the relational longings that you want fulfilled.
-Ken Grano, M.A., MDiv., CFBPPC – Click here to learn more!