Most of the men I see in therapy who struggle with sexual addiction and temptation have no idea what is driving their battle. What I often hear from them is that it seems like they were just born with an overactive sex drive. However, something else is going on in the person who uses sex in an addictive manner. Addictive behaviors do not make the addict feel good even though they would seem to. Instead, they numb a person to what seems unmanageable to him.
One of the most common factors that contributes to sexually acting out is shame from childhood wounds. By exploring and grieving these wounds, the roots of the weed of addiction are attacked.
No one would deny that it is important how we raise children. Good parents protect, nurture, correct, affirm, and discipline their kids, all the while knowing that they cannot always keep them from harm. Why is it then that so many adults say their childhood had no effect on them or they had no childhood hurts?
Often I hear statements like the following: ‘The past is in the past. Just leave it there.’ ‘What good would it do to blame others for what they did to me?’ ‘I can’t do anything about it so why bother.’ ‘The Bible says, ‘forgetting what lies behind, I press on…’ ‘ Let’s look at these objections to looking at the past, and consider what a healthy model of grieving one’s childhood losses might look like and bring about.
I would agree that there are ways a person can look at his past that would not be helpful. One such way is to play the blame game. Blame merely keeps a person just as stuck if he doesn’t address his wounds in the first place. Both options do not take the sovereignty of God seriously. God knows everything that has happened to us and his desire is to take the good, the bad, and the ugly and turn it into something beautiful for His glory. When we refuse to look at our past, we keep a door closed that God may want opened so He can move in and through us more freely.
When Paul writes in Philippians 3:13, ‘forgetting what lies behind,’ he is not commanding or even suggesting we forget our past. Rather, Paul is making a rhetorical descriptive statement of what he is doing. Much of scripture is telling stories of the past, many of them painful. Looking at the context of this passage, the past about which Paul says he is forgetting is limited. Paul says he is forgetting the accomplishments he had thought during his Pharisaical days gave him a right standing before God. He was not forgetting his entire life history, merely his religious performance. So this passage should not be used to avoid looking at the past.
One exercise I like to give my clients is an impact egg. I take a piece of paper and draw a large egg on it. Then I draw horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines on the egg to make compartments. I ask my client to draw or write something in each compartment that represents a story of impact in his life. Each story can be positive or negative and they need not be in chronological order, but should include ones as early as a man can remember. I encourage men to tell their stories of impact to as many others who will give a receptive ear. But men should make sure they tell someone who will give them feedback on their emotional processing as they tell their stories. I have heard heartbreaking tales of pain and loss told to me by the person who lived it as if he were describing the scores of a ball game- or worse, with a laugh. What this person needs is the feedback of a safe friend who can create the space to allow the emotion- whether it be fear, sadness or anger- to flow.
Most men learned at a very young age that it is not okay to be a male and show that you have hurts. We have all been made fun of, shamed, punished, or withdrawn from for showing emotion–especially crying. The impact of this is to send our emotional selves, our hearts, into hiding. When we are not able to feel for ourselves, we have to do something to take the pain away. Many turn to sex in an attempt to quell an ache they do not even know they have or just because it has become the repository for all unmanageable feelings. However, looking at our past and the wounds we have sustained can help open our hearts to allow God to break in with His healing touch.
For more help in the battle for purity see Every Man’s Battle.