Welcome to the Modern Triad Podcast. There’s no doubt about it, porn and sex addiction are here to stay. But what can we do about it? Where can we go for help? I’m Rodney Collins and I’ll offer you a starting place. We’ll talk about addiction, struggles and whatever else comes up along the way. The Modern Triad Podcast offers neither medical advice nor psychotherapy and is for informational purposes only. Listeners are advised to seek professional help where appropriate. This podcast may not be suitable for minors.
Hello and welcome back to the Modern Triad Podcast. I’m Rodney Collins, back with you after a momentous week in US history, the nomination of Hilary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for president. A huge, huge accomplishment and my congratulations to Hilary Clinton, my congratulations to America for breaking another barrier in terms of gender. I think it’s really great that we expand the possibilities for both men and women. So this is a victory for women, this is a victory for America, this is a victory for men as well, so congratulations to all.
This week on the Modern Triad Podcast I thought I would speak with you about the Childhood Family and its impact on the sex addict. Basically, where sex addiction and the childhood family intersect. The childhood experience is very important because it basically sets the template for the way that we relate to others. So in the old days it can be said that in terms of psychology and psychotherapy our focus was really on the mother. This was for obvious reasons. it’s the mother that carried the child for nine months. It’s the mother that more times than not tended to look after the child in those initial days, weeks, months and years after birth. But, increasingly as societal norms change but also as we develop in terms of our approaches and analyses of these family dynamics, we’ve been paying greater attention to other people such as fathers and their impact on the development of children.
Siblings, sibling relationships and sibling hierarchy and rivalries are incredibly important in establishing one’s sense of self. And also finally peers, the social groupings, the social bonding that takes place especially in early adolescence. Well, these are factors that can be incredibly important in establishing who we are and how we view the world. But going back to parents for a moment, the focus on parental relationships early on, it was there because of the amount of time that was spent with them and the influential role that parents have in the early days, weeks and months of life as I talked about. Our world is our home and our family and pretty much nothing else in those early days and months of life. Therefore, it’s fitting that we devote a lot of time into looking at the earlier relationships with our mother and with our father. In the early days of life, the child struggles to establish a sense of him or herself, especially as it relates to the mother, as a being separate from the mother’s body.
Don’t forget we’re nine months in the womb before we’re born. We do have a sense of self and start to develop while we’re still within the womb, and we have a relationship with our mother that we don’t remember necessarily. But we know what it’s like to be in the womb and to be almost magically fed through the umbilical cord. We know what it’s like to be in a constant state of warmth because we’re protected within our mother’s womb. And we know what it’s like to feel that comforting rhythm of the mother’s heartbeat. it’s a state of what I call a near magical satisfaction; it’s near perfection. We’re feeling a bit hungry. Well, it doesn’t last for very long because we’re fed when the mother is fed and the mother, when things are going well, is constantly thinking about what it is that we need and when we need to be fed.
Now after birth it becomes the job of the mother or another primary care giver to anticipate the needs of the child in a way that approximates the womb’s magical satisfaction. This is necessary to minimize the trauma caused by life after birth where the magic begins to dissipate. So again, think about it. In the womb there’s this near magical state of perfection where we need only desire something and it appears, or actually rarely have a sense of need because of the automatic nature of the system into which we’re entwined. After birth, well over time the care giver must learn to gradually frustrate the new born so that he learns that his needs must be satisfied within the greater context of the lives of others. The mother doesn’t really do very much while the child is in the womb in order to see that the child’s needs are met, after birth, of course, the mother has competing responsibilities.
So there’s the responsibility of work, there’s the responsibility of other members of the family and their—so the child, although very important and focused upon typically in those early days, weeks and months, must learn his or her place within a broader context. In this process the infant learns to communicate his wishes instead of relying on magic to present solutions automatically. So again, the idea is that the care giver frustrates the newborn so that he learns his needs must be satisfied within the greater context of the lives of others. And, the infant learns to communicate his wishes instead of just expecting things to happen magically. He learns that a certain cry or look brings a blanket while another sequence of behaviors might lead to a diaper change. It’s this ability to communicate that indicates a growing sense of himself as a separate entity from his caregiver. It’s very important that the child establish some sort of cause and effect relationship with the world. This idea that I have wants and needs. I can communicate them through a cry. Someone else will respond and bring what I need, perhaps not immediately but in relatively short order. So, I learn over time that I don’t have to fear. I don’t have to panic that I won’t be fed. Someone is keeping me in mind. Someone is looking out for me.
Now, what I’ve just described is really the way that it’s supposed to work. As you might have guessed with sex addicts, somewhere along the line something goes a bit awry. Now, in my experience when it comes to the lives of sex addicts the earlier years are marred by a failure to develop meaningful boundaries between self and other in the way that I’ve just described. I point out that I’ve been surprised to find out that in most of the cases I’ve worked with over the years both the mother and the father are present within the home. What I’m saying is that the incidents of single family parenting among sex addicts that I’ve worked with is very small, so I believe there’s something about the dynamic within the triangle of mother, father and child which exacerbates or helps to develop a position that leads to sex addiction later in life.
I don’t know why that is. It could be an artifact of the work that I do. I work as a private therapist. I work in a pretty well-to-do part of London, so my clients tend to be pretty well-off. Although I’m not aware in terms of single family parenting that there are huge discrepancies for people of, perhaps, upper middle-class versus people who are not middle-class or who are working class. But, I just wanted to flag that up as a potential reason that explains this. However, I’m sticking by my guns. I think there’s something here that the dynamic within a triangle is important. I wanted to also point out that, even in the few cases where the father’s not present physically, the father is still a regular feature more times than not. It could be that the father lives close by so even though he doesn’t live in the home he lives close enough that he’s a regular feature. Where in other instances I’ve seen where fathers take their responsibility seriously at least in as much as making sure they visit on a regular basis, so they are there as a figure for the children to develop a relationship with.
So anyway, regardless, the sex addict suffers a fairly consistent breakdown in the relationship triangle with the mother and father that expresses itself typically in one of two ways. The most common is the scenario whereby there’s a loving mother yes, but her behavior is often unpredictable and perhaps disrespectful of the emerging boundaries of the child as he develops a stronger sense of self. Now, in the early days of life we should think of this as motherhood that’s a bit obsessive. Envision a mother who can’t enjoy the smile of her infant for very long because the joy of a smile evokes a deeply seated fear that something will go wrong. Or, consider a mother who dotes on the child one moment yet retreats into her own world at other times ignoring it’s cries for warmth, feeding or a diaper change. The mother may be suffering from depression or a demanding life at work outside of motherhood, so there might be reasons why she’s retreated or behaved erratically in the way that she’s behaving. This isn’t a judgement on her or other primary care giver if it’s not the mother who’s playing the primary role here.
But it’s just important to think about this in terms of the impact on the development of the child and the child’s experience. The child learns that instead of having his needs tended to after crying his needs will actually be satisfied according to some random pattern over which he has little control. The lack of connection between his communication and getting his needs met leads to an inability to establish boundaries with his mother that allow him to develop a separate sense of self. He has little impact on the world yet is completely beholden to it to survive in his defenseless state as an infant.
It’s really important that children develop a sense of cause and effect, the sense that I have these feelings, these emotions that develop inside. I can express them through crying or through physical activity or smiling, as an example, and there’s someone there to read my signals and to feed back to me that they understand and they will provide what is necessary. In doing so, this goes a long way to alleviating fears, anxieties of children and developing a sense of self, a sense that there is a me that can communicate and talk to others and in return receive what is needed. Crying without rescuing, on the other hand, means that the infant must find some other means of calming his fears and anxiety. The most common means is to really fantasize about having the desired event delivered. What I mean by this is if the child is hungry, well then the bottle appears in fantasy. If the child is cold, he imagines being warm again, wrapped in his blanket and so on. So, although it doesn’t happen in actuality, through fantasy the child learns to escape the current predicament until help arrives.
Now, this retreat into himself often becomes a basis for fantasy that makes porn and a fantasy attached to other sexual activities so familiar and enticing later in life. It comes as no surprise if you’re used to retreating into yourself and fantasizing as a defense mechanism as a way of coping with the problems of life, later when you’re an adolescent, a teenager or when you’re an adult and you suffer difficulties with intimacy, relationships or with the world at large, you might also turn to that same strategy of fantasy to solve your problems.
Now I’ve talked a lot about the mother so fa,r but it’s important to note that the father doesn’t escape scrutiny in this scenario ether. I said already that I think it’s very important for us to take a look at not just the mother but also the father and perhaps at a later date we can talk about the role of siblings and peers. Usually, the father in this scenario is a rather emotionless figure. He has difficulty dealing with the mother’s intensity and unpredictability and tends to regulate it, not through conversation, but rather retreating when things become too intense. So as examples, I’m talking here about a father who might work incredibly long hours or who might travel a great deal for work and may also spend an extraordinary amount of time with friends hanging out at the bar or at sporting events. He’s really basically anywhere but at home living with his family, providing a counter to his partner’s sort of erratic impact on the child but also not being there as a supportive element for the mother or primary caregiver as that person struggles to deal with the infant and the infant experiences as a parent or caregiver. So this is the first scenario that I wanted to outline for you.
The second scenario that I often see with clients is less common, but it does occur with some regularity. Now, in this scenario the intense unpredictable behavior actually belongs to the father, not the mother. The father is often physically or emotionally abusive to his partner and anger and strict regulation of behavior are commonplace. So, we’re talking about a family that’s a bit of a pressure cooker family where people walk on egg shells, where the mother is concerned and is afraid that she’s going to set off the father’s angry outburst. And, the child bears witness to this. And so, although he may not be the immediate target of the father’s wrath he sees that life is unpredictable, that life is very intense and needs to find some way of coping with this. And because the child has not developed a strong sort of ability to process emotions early on (that’s something that takes time to develop), he escapes into fantasy in order to deal with this. He removes himself psychologically from the moment because he can’t physically.
Now, there are several elements that are common to these two scenarios that I think it’s very important to keep in mind. The first is, that as mentioned, fantasy is a primary mechanism of defense for the young child. The child is young. It is physically limited in terms of being able to escape. It’s emotional network, in terms of the neurological network, is not developed, so there is limited assistance there that can be provided. Escape through fantasy is pretty much all that can be done for the child as a defense. Secondly, the unpredictable back and forth movement of the parent’s behavior between intense love and anger and indifference through depression, self-absorption or physical absence, mimics the adult sex addict’s feelings of loneliness when outside of a relationship and smothering when within one. I’ve talked about this on previous podcasts, and I’ve written about it on the website in the Resource Centre. If you haven’t read those postings, please take a look at them.
This is something that sex addicts deal with all the time. They want to be in a relationship badly, desperately when they’re not in a relationship, because they feel isolated and lonely. But, once they’re within a relationship, because they lack the tools and the ability to establish boundaries for themselves and to communicate effectively with their partners, they often feel swallowed up as though they’ve lost themselves within the relationship. They feel a bit smothered. This I think really starts in childhood by internalizing the experience of the parents and with the parents.
Now, it’s important as a third point to keep in mind that this dynamic requires the participation of both parents or caregiving figures, not just the mother. So, I think it’s time for us to move away from this idea that really it’s the mother’s fault. It’s the mother who lacked somehow in caregiving. This is a systemic thing that involves the entire family unit, I believe. And finally, the lack of mirroring and empathy with a child leads to a diminished sense of self and difficulty in maintaining boundaries with others.
So, because the child doesn’t develop a strong and secure sense of self or sense of cause and effect where through communication they can express their needs and have someone responds, there isn’t that strong sense of self. There isn’t a strong sense of boundaries, and there is a lessened sense of security which leads to greater anxiety and a need to deal with that anxiety somehow in life.
Of course, as an adult addiction is one way to deal with that. It numbs the feeling of anxiety, the sense of loneliness, isolation or of being overpowered through too much emotional intensity when in a relationship. In summary, who we are now is influenced a great deal by what we experienced as children. Therapy is aimed at helping us understand these linkages, to feel their impact and to make choices that allow us to escape, to minimize or to accept negative consequences. This is all very, very important.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our talk on the role of the childhood family in sex addiction this week. Like I said, go back and look at some of those blog postings within the Resource Centre, and if you remember there is even more information within the membership area regarding this for you to take a look at. If you haven’t subscribed yet to our podcast, The Modern Triad Podcast, you can do so on iTunes or follow us on Stitcher on SoundCloud or some of the other platforms on which you might find us, like Google Play. Please do. it helps us to get the message out and hopefully will help to share things with people that you care about. Thanks again for coming and listening this week. I look forward to speaking with you next week. And remember, let this be the day that you decide to turn things around. There’s nobody else watching, and no one else has to know. But, it could make all the difference in the world. See you soon.
This was a podcast provided by Rodney Collins of phocuslife.com. For additional information contact the website or contact us at email@example.com.