Recent brain science has shown that the pathways formed by bad habits never go away. I should repeat that, the patterns formed in your brain by bad habits never go away. The good news is you can weaken them significantly by replacing bad habits with good habits and strengthening the pathways for the good habits. In this way the patterns become very weak for bad habits and the patterns for good habits become stronger. So that’s half the battle right there, but what is the other half?
Sometimes the problem is we think we've overcome addiction when realistically we are only half way there. The other 50% is addressing the underlying root causes. And ironically enough, the addiction must always be addressed first before the underlying issues can be dealt with. Addictions keep us in a destructive cycle so we have to get out of that cycle before we can figure out what’s really going on. But getting out of the cycle of addiction is just Step 1. Step 2 is to now figure out what’s going on in the unconscious and to address it so we don’t fall back into our old ways.
While porn addiction may seem like the problem it’s equally important to figure out how we got there. What are your triggers? If you sought out porn every time you felt lonely, stressed, or unaccomplished, how will that change simply by quitting porn? You could be porn free for one year but the underlying feelings have not gone away on their own. The next time you feel lonely or stressed, will you want to resort to porn? Temptation can be hard to fight because we can’t make it go away. At some point, temptation will find you and the only question is, will you be ready when it does?
The good news is temptation is not as hard to deal with as you might think. What you want to do is works towards associating any tempting thoughts for porn with fear or disgust. In this way we can retool our unconscious reaction to help us stay away from the bad habit. When you see porn you want your reaction to be repulsion and not excitement. You can train your brain to feel this way, you just have to give it time. Think about how you used to view porn and what you thought of it. Work to change that perception.
Like it or not you will probably run into porn again. Even if you don’t seek out, life has it’s way of throwing challenges our way and we must be ready to meet them. Perfect example: I recently moved into a completely furnished house. I’ve been porn free for quite some time and haven’t yet run across it by accident whether online or on TV (probably helps that I don’t watch TV). So I’m in my new house and I turn on the DVD player to insert one of my many samurai films. I push eject and out comes a porn DVD. There it was and it wasn't even mine! I won’t lie, I was tempted to watch it for 2 seconds. Then, I immediately removed it and… broke the disc in half. You’re probably thinking “whoa, whoa, whoa, cool it there Tarzan!” but a reaction of genuine repulsion is important to overcome this thing long term. I genuinely feel porn is unhealthy physically and mentally so I broke it and trashed it. End of story.
The reason you need to change your unconscious reaction to porn is because as I just demonstrated, you will likely run into it again. And you will probably be tempted. So, how do you work to change the unconscious? Do the research and find out the negative aspects of porn. Find out why it’s not so great, why it’s bad for the actors, and how it’s not real sex. Knowledge is power and will help build your desire to NOT watch it.
Also, practice awareness of your temptation. Be aware when you are tempted and be aware you have porn thoughts. This is why many people recovering from porn don’t masturbate. Because if you have porn thoughts while masturbating this is counter productive to your recovery and is really no different than watching porn. It’s not the end of the world though. Your efforts are not wasted. Simply become aware of these thoughts and realize hey, I don’t want to masturbate with these thoughts and then don’t. You can change your unconscious over time.
Additionally, you want to figure out what’s going on with you. What are your unconscious feelings? What is your self-image? Do you resort to porn because you think you’ll never have great sex in real life? Is it because you don’t think you’re capable or deserving of a real relationship? Do you get too stressed and you don’t know how to release that stress? Whatever is going on with you, it can be addressed but first you must identify it. Once you identify it you can work towards addressing it. With porn out of your life you’ll find your confidence increasing and you can change your self-image to see yourself as a good partner, someone deserving of a loving relationship. You can see yourself as a success and not as a failure. You are not at the mercy of some addiction or habit. You can learn to deal with your stress in more productive ways like exercise or meditation.
For some of us finding out what’s going on in our unconscious can be really hard. Here’s three basic ways to work towards figuring it out:
- Practice mindfulness and being introspective. Spend some time looking within, thinking, and pulling for insights. Jot down notes about what you’re feeling when you’re tempted to watch porn and how you feel when a trigger arises.
- Practice mindfulness meditation. I won’t go into this here but there’s tons of information available on this topic. Here’s one source.
- See a therapist or psychologist who can help you work through finding out what’s going on inside you that are you are not necessarily aware of. This can be a useful way to discover what’s happening in your unconscious.
If you find this topic interesting I would highly recommend checking out the book Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior by Richard O’Connor. Have any suggestions for dealing with the unconscious? Please share them in the comments. As always, keep your chin up, together we can all overcome this addiction!