Good morning all,
I hope your weekend has begun well, and that it will afford you time with those your care about. I relish this time of year – the weather is turning, allowing for time spent outside; there is a newness about the landscape in general; potential seems more palpable – summer is around the corner. The changing of seasons leads from the old to the new…
Change from the old to the new. Change always provides the potential for something good, something better, something fresh, something different – something. On the other hand, change can also result in regression – its about how we respond. Given the opportunity we can slip little by little into something we no longer recognize. It is often difficult to catch the shift, as we are very good at justifying little changes. Big ones, not so much.
Anyone using pornography for any length of time can attest to this, as the images we view initially do not satisfy for long. Things we saw three years, three months, three weeks, even 3 days ago just don’t do it anymore. I have used the phrase “it creeps” in this space before, meaning the viewing of increasingly deviant forms of pornography is gradually incorporated over time. Most of us do not begin looking at violent forms of pornography involving rape, for instance, but some of us get there. If we were exposed to that type of pornography initially, we would likely recoil in disgust, easily identifying the messages behind such porn (misogyny; complete focus on satisfying self at the expense of another; that women really want and enjoy violence/multiple partners/animals/inanimate objects/family members/neighbours/etc. involved in their sexual practices regardless of what they say; etc.). But we justify, little by little, until we get there.
You are likely saying something along the lines of “I do not want to look at women being raped, I cannot justify or reconcile this. But when I am viewing porn I cannot seem to help myself. I hate myself for it, but I don’t know what to do. I understand that it is completely wrong – how can you say I have justified this?” Good question. For those of you thinking “I am not there, nor will I ever be” – maybe, maybe not.
Let’s take a few sentences to speak about our brain. Our brain does not have a moral compass. Our brain works really hard to reinforce behaviour that brings it pleasure, and to avoid behaviours that bring pain. When we do certain things that result in the release of serotonin and dopamine, our brain characterizes these things as good. Viewing pornography and masturbating does a very good job releasing these chemicals. Our brain then associates the activities as good. Once these behaviours are established as good, it is difficult to change them. Definitely not impossible, but difficult.
As the images we initially viewed lost their stimulating affect, our brain is requiring more stimulation in order to get the chemical payoff it is hoping for. So we continue to look at different images until we find some that allow us to climax. These images are then associated with the chemical payoff. The next time around these images will likely be involved, regardless of whether we are keen on it or not – your brain has dictated them as good. It will creep, it will get weirder and weirder the longer you are involved. Most men who view child pornography do not begin with child pornography – it is a gradual progression.
A science teacher I had in high school spoke of trying to boil frogs he and his father had caught. They were planning a meal for his mother, who apparently enjoyed frog’s legs. Not sure why boiling was the chosen method of cooking, but it was. And they also had to cook them alive for some reason. The whole point of his story was that if you tried to place a live frog in a boiling pot of water it would simply jump out. However, if you put it in the water and slowly raised the temperature, it would not leave the pot and eventually boil to death. I was skeptical. Wouldn’t the frog feel the increasing heat and jump out? ”Definitely not” stated my teacher, as “the frog becomes acclimatized as the heat is increased. If you do it too fast, it will jump out. If you do it slow enough, it will not realize what is happening, and remain in the pot.”
I have not attempted to boil any frogs, so I cannot attest to the accuracy of his statement. According to Wikipedia, a very reliable source:), some 19th century experiments demonstrated the premise to be true if the heating was gradual enough. I wouldn’t doubt if Dr. Malik was involved in some of those 19th century experiments given his age.
Regardless of the accuracy of the frog boiling story, the message can be easily applied to pornography addiction. You would recognize the more deviant forms of pornography for what they are if you where thrown right in. If your brain has the chance to acclimatize and associate more and more deviant images with a strong chemical reward, it will do so.
This is where the struggle between our brain and our mind comes in. I have already explained what I mean by the brain – no moral compass, only concerned with promoting behaviours that release serotonin and dopamine, and avoiding pain. The mind is the term I will use for our consciousness. This is where our morality lies. This is where we sort out what we value as defining our character, who we are, what it means to be us, what makes up our identity, etc. Our mind and our brain battle for control. Our brain wants the chemical release, while our mind wants to preserve our integrity. When our brain takes over, our mind is often left far behind, leaving us feeling very out of control.
Recognize your environment. Are you in a boiling pot of water? Is is getting ever hotter? If it keeps you mired in things you do not wish to do, change it. Challenge your justification – would your 10 year younger self be okay with the things you are doing? If not, probably time for a rethink.
This is hard – no doubt about that. Change usually is, especially the good kind. Get some help – you will flourish given the opportunity…
Juniper Tree Counselling and Psychotherapy Services (www.junipertree.ca) offers individual and group pornography recovery treatment options. Individual (children, youth, adults), couple, and family therapy services are also available through Juniper Tree.
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