How Porn Addiction Hurts

Porn AddictionI was watching my son’s baseball game the other day and happened to overhear an exchange between two parents and their two sons that compelled me to write this post.

The two boys were joking and laughing with one another through out the game. One of the boys joked with his mother sitting near by and goaded her to ask the other boy why he had been grounded from his smart phone. The second boys father walked up and jokingly gave the reason by saying, “somebody likes the P-O-R-N a little too much”. The father, his son, and the other boy laughed and continued on with their activities.

I began to think through some of what I had been learning from the book Wired for intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain written by William M. Struthers. I missed my opportunity to share with this father how pornography hurts his son. But, will share with you now what I have learned about the impact of pornography on boys.

Porn Addiction Corrupts Intimacy

We all, boys included have a built in need for connection with other people. We are driven to seek relationship, closeness and safety with those we love. Pornography corrupts this desire by making intimacy all about the physical act of sex rather than vulnerability, and emotional connection. Struthers states it this way,

“pornography corrupts the ability to be intimate. It pulls consumers and producers in with the promise of intimacy, but fails to deliver the connection between two human beings”.

Sex is a part of deep intimacy but it is not the whole picture. Pornography promises the connection that boys long for but delivers shame, guilt, secrecy and pain.

Porn Addiction Consumes the Brain

New brain research demonstrates that experience changes the brain. The viewing of pornography and the subsequent acting out is no different. The more pornography is consumed the greater the impact it has on the brain. Again Struthers describes it well by saying,

“As men [boys] fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on these images, the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed… with each lingering stare, pornography deepens a Grand Canyon-like gorge in the brain through which images of women are destined to flow”.

The more pornography that is consumed and the younger the age of exposure the more significant the impact will be on the brain.

Thankfully brain research also demonstrates that the brain is plastic. This means that it changes through out the entire course of ones life. So, the neuro-pathways developed in response to viewing pornography can be rewritten over the course of life. So what can you do to help your son?

 

What Can Parents Do?

Build Emotional Mastery

For those dealing with porn addiction the viewing of pornography and sexual acting out often become the primary way they deal with stress and overwhelming emotions. They never learned how to adaptively regulate emotions and pornography has become the only strategy that works.

“emotional mastery is important because it teaches boys how to regulate and control their feelings. As a father pushes and challenges, he offers an opportunity for his son to experience these human emotions in a safe place.” (pg. 141)

 Connect in Relationship

As stated before we all need connection to other people for survival. Struthers says that the depth of porn addiction is correlated with a boys unmet emotional and relational needs. If you are concerned that your son is addicted to porn it may be tempting to avoid discussing it or to distance yourself from him in anger. What he needs however is more connection with you. His needs for connection and intimacy will never be met through pornography. Those needs are only met in genuine connection with you or other loved ones. Move toward your son in relationship communicate compassion and love in the midst of your heart break.

Get Help

It can be difficult to reach out for help when struggling with pornography. Our culture tends to view porn addiction as one of the things that cannot be talked about. Reach out to trusted friends, a pastor or professional counselor to walk with you and your son through the struggle.

If you, your son, or someone you know struggles with porn addiction and you are ready to get help please call me at 217-231-1413 and I will help you build the emotional mastery and connection you both need.

Learn more from William Struthers by Watching this Helpful Video.

Marriage Conversations for Connection

couples counselingMy last post regarding couples counseling discussed the three demon dialogues described by Susan Johnson in her book Created for Connection. The three patterns of conflict most common in couples counseling are called find the bad guy, the protest polka, and freeze and flee. Each dialogue is a unique pattern of couple interaction driven by the partners need for attachment. When a partner feels disconnected from their spouse their “attachment alarm” goes off. The resulting sense of losing their partner leads to a “primal panic”. Most people respond to this primal panic in one of two ways. They become demanding or clingy in a desperate effort to reconnect with their loved one or they shutdown and pull away in an attempt to manage the overwhelming loss.

Fortunately, couples counseling restores connection in marriages that are stuck in one of the three demon dialogues. As I wrote about in this post creating a “secure base” is one of the first steps to restoring the connection that allows for a new dance. Couples counseling focuses on establishing this secure base by fostering dialogue that consists of Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement of the partners.

Couples Counseling Fosters Accessibility

An accessible partner is one that is “there” when reached for. When feeling alone, scared, and vulnerable we reach out to our loved ones in an attempt to gain comfort and safety. When a partner is accessible they remain present for their spouse and provide empathy, validation, and compassion. Although this reaching may come across as anger the responsive spouse views the “reach” as a need driven by hurt and fear. An accessible spouse sends an implied message of “you are not alone”, “I am here for you” and “we will get through this together”.

Couples Counseling Fosters Responsiveness

A responsive partner is “moved” by the reach of the other. Sometimes, we are overwhelmed by another’s emotion and we instinctively hide from it, stuff it down, or deny it. This appears as cold, unresponsive, and distant to a partner in pain. A responsive partner is able to “feel” the other with a deep understanding of the hurt, loss, and fear. Understanding ones partner in this way creates a sense of moving toward each other. The reaching out has worked and the hurting partner experiences re-connection.

Couples Counseling Fosters Engagement

An engaged partner is “moved” by the emotion and pain of his/her partner and stays “in” it. They are able to maintain the connection with the partner throughout the difficult time. They do not run away from the powerful emotions, downplay them, or seek to minimize them. An engaged partner is able to feel the emotion while experiencing a safe connection with self and the other.

Start the Conversation

You can begin these A.R.E. conversations with your partner today. Although it takes practice ,as you work you will experience more connection. Couples counseling can also be effective when learning to be accessible, responsive and engaged. If you would like to overcome the power of the demon dialogues you can start the process today by calling 217-231-1413.

Reference:

Johnson, S. & Sanderfer, K (2016). Created for connection: The “hold me tight” guide for Christian couples. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

 

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Marriage Counseling

Marriage counseling for couples that have experienced disconnection, infidelity, conflict, or separation is one of the most important services I have the privilege of providing. Often time’s couples come to me not knowing exactly what went wrong in their relationship. Not only that, they struggle to figure out how to make things better. I am honored to walk with them as they discover the three key strategies for healing a hurting marriage

Marriage Counseling – Creating a Secure Base

The first task of marriage counseling is creating a space in which both partners feel safe, heard, and respected no matter the circumstance. It is crucial that this sense of safety be created between the counselor and the couple, as well as between the couple themselves. John Bowlby says, “From the cradle to the grave, we all need a secure base”. Early in life primary caregivers function as this secure base. Parents create an environment in which children are safe to explore the world, while knowing that they can return to the protection and nurture of their parents when needed. The marriage relationship serves a similar function for couples. Ideally it serves as a context in which both partners exercise dependence on one another for the nurture and love we all need. This context, however, also allows autonomy for both partners to express themselves through work, play, and individual preferences. My first goal, then, in marriage counseling is to make the counseling relationship a safe place in which the marriage relationship can develop into a secure base for the couple.

Marriage Counseling

Marriage Counseling – Expanding Emotional Experience

Susan Johnson describes emotion as “the music in the dance of adult intimacy”. Emotion is the beat that drives the interactions between couples. Many couples are stuck in a painful dance that creates greater and greater distance, rather than deeper intimacy and safety. They are not aware of the role that emotional experience plays in this dance and therefore have a hard time changing the steps. My second goal in marriage counseling is to enhance and expand both partners emotional experience in the relationship. This process entails a deliberate exploration, validation, and acceptance of the internal experience of both partners. A deeper experience and expression of the emotional music of the relationship will allow the partners to experience one another in new and more connected ways. These new experiences create a new “melody” for the relationship, which allows for healing to begin.

Marriage Counseling – Choreographing a New Dance

If emotion is “the music in the dance of adult intimacy” then interactions are the dance steps. Susan Johnson describes the distressed couples dance as “rigidly organized interactions”. She argues that it is the rigid nature of interactions, driven by emotions, triggered from unmet attachment needs that lead to distress in a marriage. My third goal in marriage counseling is to choreograph a new interactional dance. This new dance takes into account the new “melody” created by enhancing and expanding the emotional experience of the couple. The new dance allows a wife to experience her “uncaring” husband as hurt and scared. It enables a husband to experience his “critical” wife as overwhelmed and lonely. The new melody and new dance steps are slowly practiced and rehearsed in a way that enhances safety and respects individual experience.

The couple begins to draw closer to one another in trust and love. They begin to experience that returning home can be an experience of returning to a “secure base”

Read more about my approach to counseling HERE

Begin the Journey to deeper connection by calling me at  217-231-1413

References:

Johnson, S. M. (2004). The Practice of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (2nd ed.). NY, New York: Routledge.

Adolescent Boredom Busters

Boredom1

For many parents the worst phrase that could come out of their adolescent’s mouth is, “I’m Bored”. This phrase can push the parent fear buttons of “entitlement”, “laziness”, “ungratefulness” or “failure-to-launch”. These buttons when pushed tend to produce feelings of failure, inadequacy, and helplessness.

The problem of Boredom

Richard Winter described the problem of boredom in his book “Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment”.  He views it as an issue of over-stimulation rather than under-stimulation. He argued that we live in a culture in which “to be entertained” is the highest value. This desire creates an incessant need for novelty and excitement. The problem, however, is that life is full of routine, mundane, and repetitive tasks that must be accomplished.

Types of Boredom

Winter defines two types of boredom, the first is a temporary boredom that is the result of repetitive tasks. The second, is an on-going pervasive sense of boredom that results from having nothing to do that one likes. I think it is this second more pervasive type of boredom that is most problematic for today’s adolescents. It is a sense that no matter what is happening there is just nothing in life to enjoy. The perspective that life cannot be enjoyed unless it is always entertaining, exciting, or extreme  creates a sense that “my life is not good enough”. Thankfully Winter offers 6 ways to combat this pervasive sense of boredom

The Boredom Busters 

Remember the Big Picture:

Recall that even the most mundane tasks (doing the dishes, mowing the lawn) are wonderful gifts. Not everyone has the ability or the means to pursue these tasks. Additionally, these tasks can create a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, capability, and resourcefulness.

Stop and Smell the Roses:

Adolescent bordeom busters

Living in a culture of constant entertainment has caused us to lose sight of the marvel and grandeur of the simple things around us. We are so busy looking for “extreme” experiences that we miss out on the incredible beauty of the flowers in our yard, the baby birds in our trees, and the stars in the sky. Stop to smell the roses by intentionally noticing the small details of the world around you. I wrote about several ways to practice this skill in a post on mindfulness found here.

Cultivate Wonder

Winter quotes philosopher Rene Descartes’ description of wonder as an “intense intellectual interest”. We live in a time in which a massive amount of information is available at the click of a mouse. Although incredibly convenient we may lose the experience and pursuit of curiosity. Remain curious by seeking to understand the inner experience of the people in your life. The inner world of people can never be fully contained in a book or webpage.  Relationships, therefore, offer an inexhaustible mine for our curiosity. Learn more about how to do this by reading this post I wrote on listening well.

Active Engagement rather than Passive Expectation

A culture of entertainment has turned us into passive consumers. We sit back and wait to be entertained. Anything that requires effort is passed over for something less challenging. Challenge however creates engagement. When a task entails just the right amount of challenge it creates a wonderful sense of excitement, accomplishment, and competence. This active engagement heightens a sense of purpose and passion that leaves little room for boredom.

Ultimately, boredom is a mindset. It is a perspective that develops in a culture that values constant entertainment, excitement, and leisure. Unfortunately life is not all excitement and pleasure. Life is full of routine and mundane tasks.  Remembering the big picture, stopping to smell the roses, cultivating wonder, and actively engaging are ways to combat the life of boredom.

 

What do you do when your children say, “I’m bored”? leave a comment below.

How to create a great marriage

A great marriage

How do you create a great marriage? At the end of couples counseling sessions I often ask, “what is one thing you could do to serve your spouse this week?”  If a great marriage is something that is created, I believe serving your spouse is the first act of creation.

What are some ways we can serve our spouses?

5 Ways to Listen So Your Son Feels Heard

5 Ways to listen So YourExpress Empathy

  1. Listen to your sons statements
  2. Go within & Check, “How would I be feeling if were him?”
  3. Express your understanding through an empathy statement of

“You feel______________because _________________

It sounds like you feel…

I sense you feel…

As I listen to you, I am aware of how ___________you must be feeling.

In other words, you feel…

I am imagining how intensely you must feel…

Summarize His Experience

This whole situation can then be summed up to…

You seem to be saying most of the time you feel…

You recall this happening at least three times then.

These are the options you currently see open to you…

Paraphrase His Meaning

You don’t think he’s very competent…

You feel your parents would be upset if…

You wonder what will happen in the future

So it’s a question of clarifying your role in your relationship

Prompt Him to Say More

Non-verbal prompts:

Nods, Hand gestures, eye contact, leaning in

Single Words or Phrases:

Never?

And then?

And for your part?

Statements:

I am not sure what you mean by “the worst”

It’s not clear to me which option you prefer.

I am unable to get a clear idea of the importance of this to you.

Use Open Ended Questions

How does this impact your school work?

How have you handled situations like this before?

In what other situations have you experienced similar feelings?

The Three Biggest Challenges of Christian Fatherhood

Fathering is not something that perfect men do, but something that perfects the man.I recently read a report on the “State of Biblical Fatherhood”. This report was based on a survey that Manhood Journey asked members of their online community to complete. The survey received responses from 274 fathers most of whom are Christians. Although this survey was not conducted as a scientific research endeavor it does offer some interesting insights into the minds and hearts of these Christian fathers. I find myself relating to these fathers and I think that many others will as well.  The report identifies the three most common challenges that Christian fathers report as they navigate life as a father.

Challenge # 1 Dads feel like they are failures

44% of the fathers made comments that aligned with the theme of feeling like a failure.   One participant stated,

“As a father struggling with this for over 4 months I feel like I have failed God as a Man, a Father, a Dad, a Husband and a leader of the family”

Wow! This is tough stuff no one wants to feel like a failure in all the major relational areas of life. It appears that Christian fathers are overwhelmed with the gravity of the role and do not feel equipped.

Challenge # 2 Dads want to be more intentional

42% of the Christian fathers surveyed made comments that fit under the theme of “I’d like to be more intentional”. These fathers struggled with issues like having enough energy after work to be engaged with their kids, marital problems, setting a good example, and battling outside influences.

One father said it like this,

“The decision between good-better-best is the dilemma. That is my SINGLE biggest challenge as a father right now.”

There are so many things calling for our attention and the attention of our families. Sports, music, culture, and friends are all calling for time and energy and in many instances these things are calling us away from worship and discipleship. Fathers are struggling to balance these demands and to be the one in the house that sets the limit and priority of Christ first.

Challenge # 3 Dads struggle with Disciplining and training

Although coming in a distant third, a significant number of Christian fathers (14%) identified disciplining and training as the biggest challenge they face as a father.

One participant remarked,

“Trying to raise them in a world of expectation and entitlement, I used to think it was just my kids but have realized it’s our world mentality…”

Our culture is saturated with material possessions and our families are bombarded with messages designed to create a sense of NEED in us. It can be incredibly difficult to set boundaries and expressions of discipline in this context.

Another participant stated it this way; “I have one child who has been a handful for years. He makes really poor decisions, but never owns up to it.”

I am so thankful for this report because it verbalizes experiences that I have had as a father myself. Not only that, many of the fathers I work with have expressed similar concerns and struggles.  This report includes some helpful ideas on how to move forward if you are experiencing one of these challenges. Here they are:

  1. Admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness, frequently
  2. Stop trying to “be God” to your children, instead reflect His Character.
  3. Stop trying to compare yourself to the “perfect” dads around you, they’re a mirage.
  4. Learn how to say no.
  5. Shelve non-family-centric hobbies when the kids are young.
  6. Keep at it, and stop checking daily results.
  7. Get with other guys.
  8. Take advantage of great Christian parenting resources
    1. Parenting by the book John Rosemond)
    2. Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Ted Tripp)

If you would like to download a copy of the full report go HERE

What are your greatest struggles as a Father? Leave a comment below.

5 Ways to Connect With Your Spouse

5 way to connect withConnection with our children is crucial, however research also shows that the relationship between a child’s parents is also very important for childhood outcomes. Beyond that having a connection with your spouse just makes married life more enjoyable and rewarding. Here are five simple ways to connect with your spouse

Plan a Date night:

Be intentional about taking time for just the two of you. It does not have to be extravagant but it has to be time in which you are solely focused on your spouse. Spend time walking, eating, laughing and enjoying one another’s company. Remind yourselves of why you got together, tell stories of your early days so that you can be reminded of why you connected in the first place.

Talk about emotions:

It is tempting to talk about work, the kids, or other family business. Talking about emotions develops trust, vulnerability, and connection. Providing empathy for the feelings expressed shows understanding and understanding leads to intimacy.

Turn off The TV

The TV is a killer of connection. Spend the last few minutes of the night sharing your experience of the day rather than flipping channels. This time of reviewing the day is a small dose of connection that can hold you together until your next date night.

Go to Church Together

Worship, Pray, and read the bible together. Share questions and doubts about faith. Serve those less fortunate and pass the faith on to your children.

Listen to Understand

Listen to understand what is happening inside your spouse. It is tempting to listen to fix, or correct or argue. But, seeking to understand demonstrates a desire to know your spouse deeply.  Check out the video below that hilariously illustrates this concept

THE NAIL

What do you think?  How do you connect with your Spouse?

5 Ways to Connect With Your Son

Parenting is all about connecting with your children.  Sometimes we want to make it about obedience, education, success or love.  But, really all of those things follow from connection.  If you are connected to your son he will obey you.  Connection with your son increases his chance at success in school, relationships and work.  The ultimate measure of success is how one fairs in relationships and your son learns to “do” relationships through connection with you.  Your son experiences love in connection with you.  Sometimes this busy life we lead can get in the way of connecting with our sons.  There are sports to go to, meetings to attend, homework to do, and sleep to be had.  Well here are five incredibly simple ways to connect with your son that take no more than 1 hour of your day. Try just one of them this week, see what happens when you focus on connection rather than parenting.

What others ways have you found to connect with your son? Leave some suggestions below

5 Ways to connect with-2