The essence of sex addiction: Dysfunction in the mother-child relationship

What’sthe bottom line when it comes to sex addiction? Basically, acting out is an act of self-soothing. More on the reasons how and why people get caught up in the cycle of sex addiction here, from a therapist who’s been helping people for decades.

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Why do people get caught in the cycle of sex addiction? A review of the underlying compulsion to resolve loneliness, fear, and depression through sex here. But keep in mind that there is hope for resolving old feelings or beliefs through therapy! In fact, counseling for sex addiction can help restore a healthy sense of vitality and sexuality. As always, we invite your questions about the essence of sex addiction at the end.

Sexual compulsion is self soothing

Sex addiction is a bitch to overcome.

The suffering of people who have this syndrome is enormous. Sexual acting out is the sex addict’s only way of soothing himself. It relieves loneliness, depression, boredom, fear, emptiness and anxiety. Yet, the negative consequences can be devastating.

The life of a sexual compulsive becomes very small. The freedom and flexibility of his life is impaired. Interest in other people and activities is diminished. The unrelenting need for a sexual “hit”, or what I have termed, “the euphoric haze”, drives the addict to spend untold hours in the world of sexual fantasy and obsession.

How is sex addiction different than other addictions?

What makes sex addiction different from other addicts and makes it so resistant to sex addiction treatment is that sex is our most innate, pressing need. It is about our most innermost wishes and fears, our sense of who we are, and, indeed, our very identity.

Sex addiction, with time, begins to take higher and higher costs. Friendships abandon them. Activities and interests they once enjoyed are left aside. Financial security becomes unstable as so much money is spent on sex. Conflict or divorce from the significant other is common.

The root of the mother-child relationship

Addicts usually have had a dysfunctional mother-child relationship. An unemphatic, narcissistic, depressed or alcoholic mother has low tolerance for a child’s needs. She is unable to give the the child the attention and nurturing that result in the development of a healthy personality in later adulthood. This results in:

  1. separation anxiety
  2. fear of abandonment
  3. a sense of self-fragmentation

This sorry state of affairs creates high anxiety that compels the sex addict to retreat to the “erotic haze” where he experiences safety, security, and diminished anxiety as well as the quelling of an unconscious wish to establish and maintain the missing, yet essential tie to his mother. In acting out, there is the hope that he can find an idealized “other” who can embody and make concrete the longed-for nurturing parent.

However, this approach is doomed to failure. Inevitably, the other person’s real needs start to impinge on the fantasy. The result is frustration, loneliness and disappointment.

Deprivation in childhood requires healing

One of the main problems people have with defining sex addiction is really in understanding how and why it manifests. Addicts generally experienced profound deprivation in childhood. The emotional injury is usually within the realm of the mother-infant interaction. As an adult, the addict experiences anxiety in all intimate relationships and replaces sexuality for the early relationship that was never there to soothe him.

Sex, for the addict, begins to be his primary value and a confirmation of his sense of self. Feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and depression and anxiety instantly disappear while sexually preoccupied, through acting out or through spending as many as ten hours a day looking at pornography.

When sex addicts have this narcissistic view – other human beings as suppliers of desperately needed gratification to build up a shaky sense of self – and not view others as whole people who have their own feelings, wants and needs of their own, they deprive themselves from the satisfaction of mutual, reciprocal, intimate relationships in real life. Sexual acting out is used as an elixir to get satisfaction without having to negotiate the reality of the ups and downs of in intimate relationship.

The hope of Sex Addiction Therapy

In sex addiction recovery, dysfunctional relationship patterns are brought to conscious awareness so that the person can make changes in them. The overall goal of sex addiction therapy is to build a relationship that, through empathy and understanding, helps the sex addict to learn to regulate emotional states without acting on them. The personal goal is that the sex addict creates an integrated self with enhanced self-esteem who can experience a sexual fantasy without being overtaken by it or without it leading to something damaging.

Someone in therapy learns to:

  • regulate his own moods
  • to find available, supportive healthy relationships
  • to enjoy pleasurable, satisfying activities to replace the time and energy previously spent with sexual preoccupation

Eventually, the end-goal of sex addiction therapy is to free him to put sexuality in its proper place and to free up energy to gain satisfaction from real relationships, pursue creative or intellectual goals, obtain pleasure from hobbies and activities and maintain healthy self-esteem, thus allowing him to end his debilitating isolation. Thereafter, he is able to love, to enjoy deeply satisfying sex that includes emotional and spiritual aspects as well as the physical, to actualize his potential, and to experience being an integrated member of the human community.

Questions about the essence of sex addiction

Are you wondering if you’re a sex addict or not? Are you stuck in the same patterns and don’t know how to quit sex addiction? Please share your thoughts or questions with us in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

About the author
Dorothy Hayden, LCSW, has been treating sex addicts and their partners for 15 years. She has been interviewed by HBO, CNN and "20/20" about cybersex and sex addiction. Author of over 25 articles and one e-book, "Total Sex Addiction Recovery - A Guide to Therapy", she is considered a thought leader in the field. While based in Manhattan, NY, she works with individuals worldwide through SKYPE.
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