Have you had the situation where you decided to change a habit or behavior and are successful for a couple weeks (maybe longer), only to find the habit or behavior returning? I have. Change is hard. It is difficult to give up old habits and patterns of behaving and relating. How many times have you said to yourself and others that you are going to change and yet resort back to the old way of acting? Maybe you are just beginning recovery and are not sure about making changes others say you need to. What is the resistance to change about, and how can you overcome this resistance?That is what this article addresses.
Resistance is a force that pushes back against movement in a particular direction. In terms of dealing with sexual addiction (and addiction in general), resistance will be encountered as you try to change the old way of behaving. This resistance will manifest in several ways. The first resistance encountered will be simply to admit you have a problem that needs change. This admission is the first step in the recovery process. It is the step of honesty. Overcoming denial often results when the pain of our behavior is worse than the rewards it brings. Pain is a powerful motivator in breaking down resistance to change. Admitting the consequences of our actions can make us face reality and the pain it brings. It further helps one see the unmanageability of life and powerlessness over one’s behavior. When one sees the insanity of what you have been doing, you are ready to truly move forward in recovery. I have found that in the early stages of recovery, being in a recovery group and in individual therapy is indicated in order to break through the denial and have the needed support to deal with the pain of the addict’s life. I have more to say on denial a little further on.
In understanding resistance to change, one must take into account the physical impact of addiction. Research on sex addicts’ brains show a striking similarity to the brains of cocaine addicts. The implications in terms of treatment is that the hyperstimulation that comes from engaging in a sexual addiction alters the brain chemistry, leaving a clear biochemical component as one quits the habit. Withdrawal symptoms include distress, anxiety, restlessness or irritability when unable to engage in the behavior. Resistance can be experienced simply yet powerfully as the person goes through withdrawal. A person must consider a good evaluation by a therapist familiar with addiction with the possible recommendation for referral to a doctor for medication where indicated.
As a person begins to give up the old patterns of behaving, all of the emotions he or she has been medicating through the addiction will begin to come back. Simply put, there will be an awareness of emotional pain. Resistance here will be to find another way to medicate the pain. No one likes to feel pain, yet it is God’s way of driving us to look to Him to find solutions rather than in our own resources. Here again, one must confront and put into place new strategies for handling pain. Addicts generally have more than one addiction. So while stopping the sexual addiction, the addict may increase the activity in another addiction to medicate the withdrawal symptoms. Or while the person gives up the sexual addiction, he replaces it with another addiction with the majority of emotional and behavioral features remaining the same (Carnes, Pat. Addiction Interaction, p.2). Here, the person has not dealt with the core problems. He has simply found another way of self-medicating.
Perhaps the greater battle will be found in changing your belief system. The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things. We have this capacity to deceive ourselves. It also says that change comes by the renewing of our mind. When we get caught up in a pattern of acting that gets entrenched, we find numerous ways of defending that behavior. Stronghold beliefs (II Corinthians 10 3-5) are the ways we protect patterns and actions that we wish to engage in that are contrary to living the way God wants us to live. Denial is the way addicts protect sexual behavior that they want to continue to engage in. Resistance will be found in the reasons one continues to justify engaging in self-destructive ways. Rationalizations (‘I don’t have a problem, you all are just sexually too conservative’), minimizing (‘it’s not a problem’), and comparison (I’m not as bad as some of the others’) are just a few. In twelve step language, this equates to ‘stinking thinking.’ One must be relentless in rooting out distortions in thinking. In order to do this, the individual must ask help of others in the recovery community to confront distortions when they hear it. You must not allow pride (‘I can do this on my own, or I don’t need to tell others or ask for help’) to get in the way. Remember, it is your own thinking that has got you in the mess in the first place. We must recruit the help of the recovery community in overcoming resistance to change.
Recovery and change doesn’t just happen. Breaking through resistance is a daily battle that Paul reminds us in Galatians 5 of the spirit and the flesh at war with one another. Paul had to crucify the flesh and its passions. To overcome resistance, one needs to be honest. Find safe people where you can share and be held accountable. Get a sponsor to assist you to work through a twelve step program and establish and maintain sobriety will really be helpful. Establish good spiritual habits of devotion, bible study, and fellowship with other believers. Avoid isolating. We need each other in this battle.
See Every Man’s Battle for more help.