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 purpose only. Listeners are advised to seek professional help where appropriate. This podcast may not be suitable for minors.
Welcome back to the Modern Triad Podcast.
Well, the time has arrived. The Olympics are here. After waiting all year, they’ve finally started and I’m quite excited about it to be honest with you. I spent a lot of time over the weekend catching up on what’s going on. Not easy to see everything that I wanted to see though, you know? It’s one of the downsides of living in Britain at times like this because I don’t get to see enough in terms of what the American teams are doing. I love Britain. I’ve lived here for quite some time, but I have to say, when it comes down to the Olympics, my heart still belongs to America and I would love to be able to see a lot more of what the American teams are up to. But, that’s ok.
There’s still a lot of good that’s on. I watched over the weekend, including a few sports that I’m not necessarily up to date on or up to speed on, like rugby. I watched the Women’s Rugby Sevens over the weekend. They did very well, had two very strong outings so they’re going to advance throughout the process. In addition to that, I watched a bit of the gymnastics competitions, watched a bit of swimming, so it’s all there. It’s all good and I’m looking forward to carrying on and seeing the world’s best athletes compete against one another in such a beautiful place.
For all its problems, I have to say I think Rio is perhaps the most beautiful city that I’ve ever seen. I had the pleasure of visiting there several times and just the natural landscape that is the setting of that city is just very difficult to surpass. Throw in the mix a lot of friendly people and a fascinating culture, and I have to say, having the Olympics in Rio - for me, at least - it’s been a joy to watch.
Anyway, on today’s programme, we’re going to discuss guilt and shame; two terms that - not exactly sure what they mean all the time in terms of, is there a difference between the two of them? Do they mean the same thing? I’m going to argue that there is a difference between the two of them and that difference is very important for us to keep in mind when it comes to addressing how we view ourselves and also very importantly, managing uncontrollable sexual behaviour.
Perhaps the helpful thing to do, I will say, is to start off with somewhat of a definition of terms - guilt and shame. For me, guilt is really a feeling of remorse and responsibility that you might feel after you engage in certain behaviors or have certain thoughts or actions of which you don’t approve. Alright?
That’s pretty straightforward - you do something and as a result of doing that, you start to feel bad because in some way you have this sense that you’ve done something that you don’t agree with. Guilt is the more straightforward of the two, I think.
Shame is different because I think it’s a more generalized sense of feeling unworthy or bad in some way. Alright? So let’s break this down a bit further. If we go back to guilt, I think guilt - it actually has an object or a reason that you can attach your feelings to. You don’t have to question why you feel that way. Shame, it doesn’t have a direct reason to which that feeling can be attributed.
As a result, guilt is associated with a much greater conscious awareness. So you have a sense of the fact that you’ve done something wrong and you know that your feeling relates to that. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re walking down the street and there’s an unfortunate homeless person that you happen to cross, who asks you for money and you politely say no to them. Even though you’re polite, as you continue on down the street, you might have this feeling inside that, “You know what? I didn’t do what I was supposed to do there. I believe in helping people that are in need and I refused to help this person that asked”. Right? So that’s one side of you speaking, that’s the guilt. The other side of you though, might be saying, “Well, the truth is I don’t have a lot of extra money to go around to give to other people”. Or you might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t know what that person is going to do with that money, so perhaps it would do more harm than good to give them money at this point at time”.
So you have these two parts of yourself that are actually in conflict and the result is, you decide not to give money to the person and the guilt arises out of the conflict of these two parts of yourself that you hold internally.
Shame is often a background feeling of which we are unaware, or that impacts our thoughts and feelings and our behaviours. Shame is more of this generalized sense that we carry around with us in the background that becomes active as we encounter certain circumstances, which mean it’s appropriate to start feeling a bit of the shame, yes? So, feelings of shame, therefore, can actually pre-date specific problematic behaviours about which you might be guilty. I think this is a very important point for us to consider here. When it comes to guilt, it’s very clear; you do something or you don’t do something and you have a negative feeling about it. When it comes to shame, it’s almost like you’re primed as you go through life, to start to feel bad about yourself or unworthy, right?
Freud writes about this. He, in one of his essays that he wrote in the twenties or so, discusses the way that wayward youth get into trouble. He talks about wayward youth and criminality. I just want to read you this quote briefly and discuss a bit more about it after I’m done. He says, “It was a surprise to find an increase in the unconscious sense of guilt can turn people into criminals, but it is undoubtedly a fact in many criminals, especially youthful ones. It is powerful to detect a very powerful sense of guilt which existed before the crime and is therefore not it’s result but its motive. It is as if it was a relief to be able to fasten this unconscious sense of guilt onto something real and immediate”.
I’m going to read that last sentence to you again because I think it’s the most important in this passage. “It is as if it was a relief to be able to fashion this unconscious sense of guilt onto something real and immediate”, so we carry around with us this generalized sense of guilt, of unworthiness and we attach it to something in our environment, either something that we find or we actually do something that reflects how we feel about ourselves inside. That is shame; the shame pre-dates the behavior. Whereas with guilt, the feeling of guilt comes after the behaviour - a very important distinction there.
Now I want to say a couple of things about the quote that I just read. Please understand, I am not in any way equating uncontrollable sexual behaviour with criminality. It’s just that Freud’s quote discussed criminality. What I wanted to do was to use that quote to look at the underlying principle. The other thing is that I think Freud emphasizes youth in that quote because with youth, there’s less of a sense of self that’s developed. Therefore, the sense of self is only partially developed and it’s harder for you to withstand the pressures of the social code that our parents have, or that others have for us, yes? As adults, we’ve a stronger sense of ourselves and how we view the world, yes? Whereas when we’re young, we tend to adopt the values of other people because we haven’t lived enough of life yet to develop our own point of view on the world.
Also very importantly, this quote hints that many people that suffer from uncontrollable sexual behaviour actually behave in a way that confirms how they view themselves. I often talk to clients who say to me and scratch their heads, “I don’t understand why I do this, you know? This is not who I am, this is not what I want to do and how I want to behave. Why do I behave this way?” Well, I think the response to that is actually quite multi-faceted, but one of the important components going into that answer or response is this underlying sense of shame. We carry around with us this idea or this view of ourselves as being unworthy, as being bad. Therefore, as situations occur in life that allow us an opportunity to confirm that view of ourselves, well, we immediately tap into that shame that was there underneath and begin to feel bad and this is very important because it leads on to the feeling of the cycle of addiction. I’ll talk a bit more about that later.
So you’ve talked to us about guilt. You’ve talked to us about shame. Guilt is pretty straightforward; I’ve done something wrong or haven’t done something that I should do. I feel bad about it. Shame is a bit more complex - where does shame come from? How is it generated? Fair question, I say to you. This is my answer: Now, there are several components to the creation of shame. The first is that we internalize a social code that we learn from others around us.
This starts in early childhood, so usually more times than not, it’s our parents that we learn our social code from. They tell us the difference between right and wrong. As I say this, I have this image in my mind of a young child with a parent next to the child in front of, let’s say, an oven. The parent says to the child, “Oven. Don’t touch the oven because it’s hot”, and I can almost see in my mind, the young child or young infant parroting back to the parent, saying, “Oven, hot. Oven, hot”, shaking his finger back and forth indicating that he understands the oven is not to be touched.
Yes, the social code starts off as an external thing. It starts off as an artifact or creation, product of a relationship that we have with the people that are important to us as authority figures. It ends up being something that we internalize, so then it’s no longer necessary for our parents to consistently say to us, “Don’t touch the oven”. We internalize it so that we begin to tell ourselves that we shouldn’t touch the oven, so that we can enter the kitchen without the impulse to go near the oven or to touch it because we’ve already set the rule in place within our minds.
I want to point out that social codes can have conflicting elements so one can, for example, believe in the freedom of sexual expression while at the same time believe that, well actually, monogamy in a very traditional lifestyle is probably best, yes? As an example, Freud really talked about the social code and its internalization as being something that comes about, basically, from the relationship with the father, something that comes about between the father and the child. Well, we need to update our thinking about that because we now know and accept that fathers, mothers, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, neighbours, can also be a part of helping us to form a social code that we internalize, alright? So it’s important to update our thinking in that regard.
This initial social code becomes less important over time because as we grow into our teenage years and into adulthood, we begin to have significant life experiences and therefore we begin to internalize new rules or additional rules that go on top of the social code or in some instances, supplant it totally. We develop our own perspective and sense of what’s right and wrong in the world, but I still think that initial social code is very important and at times when life becomes difficult that we regress back to that early social code, yes? When we’re faced with certain challenges, we might be less strong as individuals in our own right and revert back to a child-like state where what our parents told us becomes the rule of the day. So in short, shame arises because of an internal conflict that we have between certain behavior or feelings or thoughts and actions that we experience and this internalized social code that we have within us.
I think it might be helpful if we become a bit more concrete about this and give a few examples, alright? So let’s do that now by taking a look at a few.
The first one: let’s say you come home late after a night of drinking excessively and you also had sex with a stranger, despite the fact that you have a girlfriend waiting for you at home to whom you wish to be faithful, alright? As a result of being unfaithful, you have these bad feelings about yourself. Would you call these feelings guilt or shame? I think this is an example of guilt. You’ve got a very specific behavior and instance of that behaviour, to which to attach your feelings. The fact that, in this instance, you cheated on your girlfriend despite the fact that you don’t wish to, that’s guilt.
Let’s take a look at another example. You’ve recently had a two-day binge watching porn after going three months without watching any and you feel pretty bad about this. Is this an example of guilt or shame?
Again, I think this is guilt, because there’s a specific behavior - binge watching porn - that you’re engaged in that’s something that you don’t want to do and that you don’t think you should be doing. Therefore, the negative feeling has a specific behaviour or reason to which to attach it - guilt.
A third example: you walk into a job interview with a woman manager and begin to hesitate and stammer as you speak with her, making eye contact as little as possible. You become deeply sad when she tells you you didn’t get the job. The negative feelings that you feel about yourself as a result, do you think these feelings are guilt or shame?
Now I think this is a very interesting example because what I’ve found is that a lot of clients that I see who watch too much porn and who masturbate too much, once they stop watching porn and once they cut back in their masturbation or cut it out, what they notice is they feel less shame, they’re better able to make eye contact and carry on conversations with people face to face. So I think this is a very realistic example. I think this example describes shame though because simply by virtue of being in the room with this person, in an intimate setting, let’s say - but it’s intimate in a professional way, I don’t mean anything else by it - you have these doubts and these feelings and this idea that you’re uncomfortable with yourself, yes? That comes about as a result of shame. You brought that into the room, it didn’t occur because of something that happened in the room that you did or said. That is shame.
Let’s keep going with this, I like this. You get both angry and nervous when your boyfriend discovers an old link to a sex worker’s site in your browser history, even though you promised him you would never use sex workers again. You haven’t used the site, but the accusation by your boyfriend makes you so angry that you telephone a sex worker anyway and immediately regret having made the call. Is this guilt or shame?
This one, I think is a bit of a trick question because it’s a bit more complex. I think it’s a bit of both. I think you might feel shame initially, upon your boyfriend’s discovery of your sex worker link in your web history or browser history, right? You haven’t done anything wrong. It’s an old link, but immediately you feel as though you’re guilty, as though you’ve done something wrong, yes? That would be more of an instance of shame. If you weren’t coming from a position of shame, you could probably readily stand up for yourself and say, “I don’t appreciate your looking at my browser history, but just so you know, that is a very old link. I haven’t looked at that website in quite some time. I’ve given you my word and I intend to keep it”. If though, you’re feeling as though you’ve been gripped by shame and you’re well within it, then those negative feelings and the accusation might just lead you to feel worse about yourself and be more aptly called ‘shame’.
Guilt, though, comes about later, because your response to the accusation is to actually do the thing that you don’t want to do, which is to pick up the phone and call the sex worker. After feeling bad about making that telephone call, I would say that’s guilt, because there’s a specific action or behaviour that goes against the way that you want to behave, that has made you feel negative. That’s a good example. I hope that difference is clear there.
Let’s take a look at one more. You visit your parents for the weekend and your father attempts to comfort you when you tell him you missed out on a job promotion. He says, “Don’t worry about it, son. You weren’t cut out for a career in management. Be happy with who you are”. Is this guilt or is this shame?
To me, this is textbook shame, and what I like about this example, is that it goes back to the beginning. It goes back to the relationship with the parents. It helps us understand how our behavior in terms of sexually acting out today has its roots in behavior that had nothing to do with sex at all. This demonstrates a relationship between a father and son where the father probably thinks he’s saying something very supportive and something that’s right by lowering the expectations of his son. But in actuality, within the son, all it does is confirm a sense of being unworthy, a sense of being less than other people, a sense where progress is capped for him.
With respect to uncontrollable sexual behaviour, shame is the more important of the two emotion, since it’s the fuel source that provides the bulk of the momentum of the addictive cycle. I’ve mentioned this before, but if you haven’t already, please go to the PhocusLife.com website and there you can sign up for the free three-video series. One of those videos includes a detailed discussion of the addictive cycle, and within that shame features quite prominently. So, go to the PhocusLife.com homepage if you haven’t seen that free three-video series and you can download it there. That’s PhocusLife.com, P-H-O-C-U-S-L-I-F-E.com.
Now, the sense of shame and the addictive cycle, that actual sense is strengthened within each revolution of the addictive cycle as the guilt you feel for acting out sexually each and every time confirms your underlying sense of being unworthy, of being someone who’s not worthy of love, trust, nor happiness. So, what’s important here is if you address the shame in your life, you’ll go a long way towards taming uncontrollable sexual behaviour. Shame is really the lynchpin, it’s the engine of the addictive cycle and we have to work to eradicate it.
I feel like I’m being too negative here, so how do we spin this in a bit more of a positive fashion? What can we do about it, in other words? Well, your relationship to shame can be changed, right? This is one of the things that therapy is for. You go to a therapist and you work, either individually or you work in a group. You work as part of a couple’s therapy with your partner. Let’s say, you work towards redefining how you view the world and how you view yourself.
Apart from therapy though, you can perhaps, if you feel comfortable doing so, talk with friends or family members that you trust about how you feel about yourself, about how you view the world. You can let them in on as much as you feel comfortable letting them in on about the predicaments that you face in daily life. It’s very important as well to become more aware when your emotions don’t match the current situation, so if you’re feeling a great deal of shame and you’re carrying that into a conversation with your boss, you’re not going to present yourself in the best possible light. So. we can be aware of our shame and counteract it by behaving in a way that’s different from how we feel until we can get to the point where we feel better about ourselves. This is one of the ways that we can limit the damage caused by our shameful history as well as our current shameful feelings about ourselves.
Another positive thing that I’ll mention is that people can sometimes bond over shared experiences of shame. I think this is great. Again, therapy groups, this happens quite often or anonymous groups. If you go to one of those twelve-step oriented groups, people often bond over experiences of shame that they have in common. But, you can form friendships as well on this basis. Romantic relationships also sometimes come about as a result of a shared experience or position towards shame. But, I’d be careful in this instance with friendships and relationships, to make sure that the old behaviors and ways of shaming oneself aren’t transferred into the new relationship. Because both people are so comfortable with the shame, sometimes there’s this tendency actually to behave in shameful ways towards one another in ways that are tolerated and not very helpful.
Now, the depths that we’re brought to by shame provide the opportunity for sharply improved sense of self and life once its menacing influence has been brought under control. This is something really important. Things may seem pretty dark today, but they can be much better tomorrow. You’ll feel a marked increase in how you feel about yourself once you can address these shameful feelings. It gives you a new lease of life, a new perspective, a new way to be in the world.
That’s all I have for this week. If you haven’t already, please be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or follow us on Stitcher, SoundCloud or Google Play, whichever platform you prefer to use. It’s very important and you’re helping us to reach other people who might be interested in the work that we do and also helps you to share with other people that you know who might be interested.
We’ll be back next week with a discussion of the role of fantasy in uncontrollable sexual behaviour. It’s important because I think it’s present within all sexual addictions although it manifests itself differently within each. Until then, let this be the day that you decide to turn things around. Nobody else is watching. No one else even has to know, but it could make all the difference in the world. This is Rodney. I’ll talk to you next week.
This was a podcast provided by Rodney Collins of PhocusLife.com. For additional information, contact the website or contact us at email@example.com.