Lots of people have written about the problems that underly sex and porn addiction. Often you’ll read about how difficult childhoods, particularly those with absent or non nurturing parents, leave people feeling unable to trust others to meet their needs, and so they turn to an addiction to comfort themselves. There’s also a lot written about how trauma can set people up for addiction. The impact of trauma on the brain leaves many people with a constant sense of generalised anxiety that addiction can effectively soothe. While those who experienced childhood sexual abuse may in turn ‘abuse’ sex as a way of feeling good about themselves. But there’s an increasing number of people who come for therapy who feel they had great childhoods and can’t identify anything dramatic enough that could have caused them to become an addict. For these people, seeing the addiction as a problem that can be overcome is often harder than for those who have experienced trauma or childhood problems because they may be more likely to see their behaviour as an inherent part of their personality, rather than a consequence of something else.
The truth is that none of us had ‘perfect’ childhoods, nor a pain free transition into adulthood. Life is complex and difficulties hit all families. When we talk about childhood attachment issues or abuse we tend to immediately conjure up images of abandoning parents, regular beatings and verbal abuse – regrettably this is the reality for some, but problems are often more subtle than this. What’s more, even the most loving and attentive parents will sometimes let their children down, often through no fault of their own. For example, we know that post natal depression can have a significant impact on a baby’s developing brain. We also know that children are sensitive to parents’ unspoken emotion, so if a parent experienced a bereavement or a mental or physical health problem the child will have experienced it also. Other influences might include bullying or teasing at school which can leave people with low self esteem and a vulnerability to feeling victimised, even when they’re not. And those who felt isolated during adolescence, perhaps because of feeling different from their peers or because of regular house moves, may find that their dependence on masturbation for comfort becomes more deeply entrenched.
The issues in childhood and/or adolescence may appear mild to the onlooker, or indeed on reflection by the adult who’s thinking about their background, but children don’t have the same resources as adults to manage the stresses and strains of life. And hence many of us can find ourselves unconsciously burdened by unresolved issues, simply because we haven’t recognised that there are issues to be resolved. One of the goals of our individual therapy and our recovery groups is to tease out what those issues may be. They may not be huge and they may not fall into the categories of trauma or attachment, but we are all influenced by our childhoods, both positively and negatively.