Sanctuary for the Abused

Monday, March 27, 2006

Common Questions About Domestic Abuse Against Men

Q: Why haven't I heard much about this problem?

A: A number of factors contribute to the lack of awareness about domestic violence against men. Men know that there is little support they will receive if they tell others they were abused by their girlfriends or wives, and are more likely to be ridiculed than taken seriously. Men are expected to take abuse "like a man" and not complain.

There are many social messages which tell us that it is OK for a woman to hit a man. On television, women slapping men in the face or kicking them in the groin is often portrayed as a justifiable act, sometimes even as humor. Rather than thinking that a woman hitting a man is violence, we are led to think, "he must have done something rude to her to deserve being hit."

This double standard also contributes to the under-reporting of domestic violence against men. Both men and women are much less likely to think of it as a crime for a woman to hit a man than the other way around.

Sadly, the women's movement, which has done an incredible job of raising awareness of domestic violence against women, has not been particularly supportive of abused men. Erin Pizzey, a founder of the battered women's shelter movement, has been very outspoken about the need for male shelters and services, but has been silenced at every opportunity. [1] Richard Gelles, a leading sociologist in domestic violence research, has also written extensively on the political activism which has attempted to undermine the credibility of domestic violence against men. [2]

Q: But aren't women injured more than men?

A: Yes and no. When it comes to physical abuse, men are on average larger and stronger than women. However, women can easily make up for this inequity by using weapons, anything from kitchen knives to a frying pan. And according to the statistics, they do. [3] Women also don't only attack in self defense. A great deal of research has repeatedly confirmed that women are as likely to initiate a violent fight with their partner as men.

The physical abuse of children by mothers is yet another example where women have a physical advantage over their victims, and is a rarely-acknowledged aspect of domestic violence.

Also, domestic violence isn't just about hitting. A violent relationship is also when one person controls the other's self-esteem through manipulation, threats, and coercive actions. Many men are quite vulnerable to emotional manipulation by women, and some men have been emotionally destroyed over the years through verbal abuse from their partner. The scars from emotional battering are often just as painful as those from physical abuse, if not more so.

Q: Why don't men leave violent relationships?

A: Often, for the very same reasons that women don't leave violent partners. Men can have as much psychological dependency in a relationship as women, and still care about and want to support their partner. Men don't typically have the kind of emotional support network with their friends the way many women do, so this dependency can be very strong.

Also, married men with children know that in divorce court, it is very difficult for fathers to gain full custody of their children. Often, abusive wives are abusive mothers, and many fathers choose to endure abuse, sacrificing their own physical safety and sanity, rather than leave the children they love unprotected and at the mercy of a violent mother.

Q: So what's the solution?

A: The solution must first begin with the acknowledgment of battered men and a willingness to listen to their pain. Talk to your friends and family about the problem - you may be surprised at the number of men who have dealt with abuse, even those who never acknowledged it this way themselves.

Shelters and hotlines which serve men are also a much needed resource. Many men have nowhere to turn for help, and this needs to change. There are only a handful of shelters and phone lines which were created to serve abused men, compared to hundreds across the country for women.

Q: What should I do if I know a man who is being abused?

A: First, be willing to listen and provide support for this person - remember, he probably doesn't have anyone else to turn to. Contact a local domestic violence shelter and ask if they know of any shelters or resources for men. Also see the section on Advocacy and Services below.

Q: Where can I find more information about domestic violence against men?

A: There are many informational resources on the internet about abused men, including the following:

Domestic Violence Research at UNH:
The work of Dr. Murray Straus, a UNH Sociology professor for over 30 years and founder and co-director of the UNH Family Research Lab, has been instrumental in raising awareness of the domestic abuse of men. His groundbreaking work in domestic violence has been replicated and confirmed by more than a hundred other studies, which all found that men and women are assaulted by their partner at about equal rates.

The Fiebert Bibliography:
This 20-page bibliography examines more than 100 studies which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. Research Flyer:
Please see our research flyers for more information about domestic violence research.


The Battered Men's Helpline --
As one of the few resources in the country that was created to serve abused men, the Battered Men's Helpline is a non-profit organization which supports battered men with a toll-free hotline. Their number is 1-877-643-1120, access code 0757. They are based in the Portland, Maine area but have assisted men all over the country.

SAFE: Stop Abuse For Everyone --
SAFE is a non-profit organization advocating for underrepresented domestic violence populations, including straight and gay men. The website has an international list of local resources, an online support group, references to research, news, essays, and offers training programs on how to provide services for these populations.

Domestic Violence Against Men --
This web site also has many essays and resources about domestic violence against men and services for battered men.

Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project:
While most of the information presented in this flyer has referred to heterosexual relationships, domestic violence can also occur against gay men. GMDVP offers shelter, guidance, and resources to allow gay, bisexual, and transgender men in crisis to remove themselves from violent situations and relationships. They are based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

News and Media Reports

The Men's Activism News Network:
Tracks news stories on men's issues, including domestic violence against men. Encourages activism through awareness and letter writing campaigns.

The DesertLight Journal:
An e-mail newsletter edited by Trudy Schuett, which also tracks news on men's issues, focusing on domestic violence and father's issues.

1: Erin Pizzey authored a book, Prone to Violence, in which she described the resistance to her efforts to create the first shelters for battered men and women in Britain. Pizzey received death threats from women's groups shortly after writing it for supporting shelters which serve battered men.

2. Gelles, Richard J. Who's abusing whom?: Domestic violence and political correctness, The Women's Quarterly, Fall 1999.

3. 1992 National Alcohol and Family Violence Survey, conducted by Dr. Glenda Kaufman-Kantor from the UNH Family Research Lab.
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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I Think I'm Addicted To Sex!
Understanding the Warning Signs of Sexual Addiction

By John D. Moore, MS, CADC

Imagine living in a world where your every thought was consumed with obtaining sex. Imagine, for example, that your drive to have sex with another was so strong that it prevented you from carrying out daily activities, such as going to work, attending to your household chores, paying your bills or attending to other important obligations. In fact, imagine that this compulsion to have sex was so overpowering that it caused you to forsake your family, relationships and perhaps, even your own personal safety.

Does this strike a chord of familiarity with you or someone you know? If so, you are not alone.

The typical behaviors that have just been described are common signs of a person suffering from what is known as sexual addiction. To be sure, it is a problem that is often misunderstood and widely undetected. So how do you really know if you or someone you love may be suffering from this affliction? Consider the following behaviors as possible “red flags”. What follows are some of the more common characteristics of a sex addict, however they are not intended to serve as a complete behavioral list.

Sexual addiction is indeed serious. It affects countless numbers of people around the world and destroys lives in the process. Sexual addiction is a family disease, meaning that it affects not only the addicted individual but also the entire family unit. It is also a disease that is progressive in nature, meaning that it does not get better on its own, nor does it go away over time.

It is important to state that just because you enjoy having sex does not mean that you are sexually addicted. In fact sex is a healthy activity. However, the problem comes into play when your need for sex becomes such that it turns into a dependency. If this has become a concern for you or someone you care about, consider reading more information on the topic. By reaching out for help, you are really reaching in.

About the Author:

JOHN D. MOORE, MS, CADC is the author of Confusing Love With Obsession: When You Can't Stop Controlling Your Partner & the Relationship (Writer's Club Press), a book containing a variety of case histories regarding people who use controlling behaviors in personal relationships. Moore is a certified addictions counselor in the state of Illinois and a Professor of Health Sciences at American Public University.
You can learn more about John and his book at:
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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Survivor Issues in Group Therapy

By Catherine McAlpine, LCSW-C, and Barbara McCormick, LCSW-C

(site owner's note: while this article deals with childhood sexual abuse, I believe it applies to ALL types of ABUSE - including Adult Domestic Violent, Verbal & Emotional Assault and Psychological Rape. )

In 1989, we began working with female survivors of childhood sexual abuse in small, supportive groups. Survivors frequently feel isolated and believe that they are unique in being subjected to the trauma of abuse and the associated neglect, loss of trust, and loss of self-esteem. Survivors often face post-trauma symptoms of depression and anxiety, and have trouble maintaining personal relationships. In bringing women together in structured, confidential, and supportive groups, we help survivors "normalize" their experiences and post-trauma responses to abuse, and enhance their progress in individual therapy. Factors that influence the group members' feelings and self-images are recurring topics for discussion in survivor groups.

The Healing Process
As therapists we have listened to and learned from dozens of women who have called or met with us for consultation and those who have spent many hard, painful hours in therapy sessions. We have consistently been struck by the depth of commitment these women have made to moving beyond their feelings and experiences of victimization to a sense of wholeness, competence, and strength. These women have been devoted to their own work while being sources of strength and encouragement to each other in group.

As with other forms of human or self-development, the process of healing occurs along a spectrum. Phases are not separate, distinct steps: they are more of a gradual back-and-forth movement toward wholeness. Imagine the ebb and flow of a tide washing upon a shoreline. Movement is subtle, change is gradual. There is a state of constant motion.

Groups are powerful therapeutic tools for sexual abuse survivors. Providing an opportunity for recovery and developing self-awareness in the context of relationships are essential to healing. The tasks of the group allow for identification and understanding of post-trauma symptoms; personal development of the core self; socialization; and a practice arena in which to test new emotions, thoughts, and actions. Additionally, the influence of and validation by peers who have similar life experiences and the genuine ability to "know what it was like" are freeing and healing forces for the survivor. No longer isolated and "different," the group members join together around their common secrets and shame.

We begin our groups by helping each member develop goals upon which to focus as they work within the group. This process is handled in a confidential and supportive manner. Each person writes down her areas of concern. These notes are collected, and members participate by reading an anonymously written issue. This initial step enables all members to participate without expressly disclosing their own experiences, thus avoiding the anxiety of direct personal disclosure. In the process of discussion, members move toward a consensus of group goals. Shared and agreed upon tasks are important for establishing an agenda for the group's therapeutic work. Group members immediately experience a sense of relief and the dissipation of feelings of isolation.

The dynamics of families in which sexual abuse occurs include family rules of "don't talk" "don't trust," and "don't feel." As survivors define their personal recovery goals, recurrent themes that encompass the stages of healing (included within the broad categories of self-esteem, power and safety, trust and intimacy, and developing feelings or an emotional repertoire) emerge. These form the foundation of survivors' lives. The process of group therapy allows women to experience relationships that are caring, reflective, and validating. Through the transference and mirroring of these relationships, personal growth and progress toward wholeness are achieved.

Worthlessness and Guilt
Typically, children raised in abusive families experience emotional deprivation as well as physical abuse and neglect. This absence of caring relationships further complicates how survivors view themselves and intensifies problems with development of self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. When one parent is perpetrating abuse, survivors frequently receive little nurturing or positive feedback from the non-offending parent, who tends to be emotionally absent and has few resources to help the child develop. Understanding these dynamics helps survivors build the confidence and self-care skills necessary for recovery.

The post-traumatic effects of sexual abuse distort beliefs in how the world responds to survivors and their perceptions of how they fit into their families, social situations, and work environments. Feeling good about oneself, one's body image, and one's sexuality are often concerns for survivors. It's difficult to feel positive about oneself when the physical pain and emotional confusion inherent in sexual abuse is perpetrated against a child who has not yet developed a strong sense of self. Survivors' experiences teach them that they are not able to control what happens to their own bodies, and that their bodies may be dirty. Many survivors disassociate from physical feelings as a result of the abuse. It often seems like an insurmountable task to survivors to perceive themselves as healthy sexual adults later in life or even to cope with feelings of sexuality.

Improving confidence, independence, and care of oneself is a necessary step for survivors to improve their self-esteem. Feelings of worthlessness and guilt need to be closely examined at the root and then challenged. Understanding the impact of abuse on the self-worth and how this has delayed growth through appropriate developmental stages is an important task for survivors. Education is essential for survivors to reach genuine understanding.

In addition, guilt is often experienced by survivors because they perceive that they have participated in sexual abuse or allowed it to occur. They may feel shame because they have not disclosed the abuse, or perhaps they have enjoyed the physical sensations of the body's natural responses to it. Sharing this shame in group allows identification with others as well as emotional release. Disclosures often help dispel feelings of shame about the abuse. If not dispelled, guilt and self-blame may cause survivors to sabotage themselves or act out when progress occurs.

Powerlessness and Lack of Safety
The dynamics of childhood sexual abuse require the victim to surrender to a perpetrator. A more powerful person imposes his or her will on the child. This person is trusted and looked upon by the child as the model or mirror of what is normal and correct in behavior and perceptions. Boundaries within the self and in relation to the outside world are violated. Control and the safety of one's body are not learned. Feelings of being safe are never experienced.

Survivors often express this experience by taking care of others, more than themselves: "If I say no to what others want from me, they will leave me" or "I can't stand up for myself." Therefore feeling okay about saying no and being in control of one's life also emerge as recurring themes in the group. Upon entering group, survivors often discuss how they have given all that they can give. The need to learn to give back to themselves in a safe manner becomes the focus of therapy.

Discovering and experiencing boundaries in their personal lives are shared and tested in a group setting. Other group members support and encourage changing behaviors. Developing ways to keep safe while feeling and becoming more effective in relationships leads to letting go of the past. As the group moves together through this process, trust in the group grows. The individual learns that it is right to be self caring. Internal and external boundaries are defined in relationships. Most importantly, group members learn to trust themselves and their inner voices.

Lack of Trust and Intimacy
Survivors develop defenses against a world and relationships in which they have experienced repeated violation, abandonment and assault. These necessary defenses often have the secondary effect of preventing or inhibiting intimacy. Survivors may have frequent, intense but brief relationships or may tend to the other extreme of total isolation. Although survivors may crave normal physical and emotional closeness with others, their defensive patterns and lack of basic trust may prevent such intimacy.

In therapy groups, survivors have identified the desire to feel less alone as one of their goals. Having felt themselves outsiders, different from others because of their abuse and shame, survivors now want to break through their isolation. They are ambivalent about their desire for closeness, however, because of years of failed relationships. Having decided to risk making the connections inherent in individual and group therapy, survivors have identified their need for others as a means toward recovering the self.

Group therapy allows a survivor to experience a number of relationships in a controlled, limited way, which allows gentle exploration and self-expression. There are opportunities to try out new patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving with little danger of backlash or attack. Established patterns of avoidance and nonconfrontation are challenged. Survivors begin to feel validated in making these changes and build some basic trust in themselves and others. The learning or modeling component of group therapy allows survivors to learn from each other and to visualize the support of the group when testing new patterns in "real" life. These positive experiences allow for a generalization from the group to specific relationships, then from specific relationships to the larger context.

The most difficult places for trust and intimacy to develop are in close friendships and with sexual partners. Survivors often split into public and private selves. They have learned to present an image which is designed to protect the 'true" self from hurt and abandonment. This defense, which was developed as a means of protection, becomes a barrier to closeness in the process of healing. An intimate relationship or emotional bond is impossible through the barrier of a false self. The removal of this mask is a slow process of "check-share-check" through which survivors are slowly able to reveal parts of themselves in an honest way while maintaining a sense of safety.

Intense Emotions
Therapists are familiar with dissociative disorders and defense mechanisms, such as repression and denial, employed to deal with overwhelming feelings. People develop the strategy of splitting their minds from their feelings as a necessary response to an external or internal threat to the self. Children who experience a reasonably safe and loving environment do not need to separate their cognitive and emotional selves. Because of the efficiency of dissociation, survivors often have a hard time identifying and voicing their feelings. Survivors describe themselves as being a "talking head and shoulders," not being aware of physical pain, and not having an emotional response until hours or weeks after an experience.

Building connections between thinking and feeling can lead to crisis for the individual. Feelings are sometimes described as an iceberg or glacier that suddenly thaws. The intensity of sadness, guilt, rage, grief, fear, or disappointment is a flood of repressed physiological and emotional responses.

In the past, allowing these emotions to emerge was too threatening to a survivor's sense of self. Often, expressions of feeling were followed by experiences of abandonment and rejection or by an impulse toward self-harm. The therapy group provides a safe environment in which intense feelings can be expressed without loss of love or security. The ability of other survivors to identify with and accept these intense emotions "normalizes" the individual survivor's experience. The expression of highly charged content allows the survivor to work through both the cognitive and emotional elements of their lives. Bringing together the head with gut feelings facilitates integration.

As healing progresses, negative and strong emotions become less threatening. After a period of intense affective expression, a more moderate level is reached. Emotions are expressed as they occur. There is less need to hold back or repress experiences. The reliance on dissociation is replaced with strategies more consistent with the present. Moderation of intense feelings allows for greater intimacy and attachment with others.

Recovery from childhood sexual abuse is the process of bringing forth the parts of self that have been damaged by abuse, neglect, and deprivation. Tasks of the healing process are accomplished as survivors gain control over their personal and emotional lives, establish boundaries as well as bonds in relation to others, and can feel more alive. Group therapy provides a safe, supportive environment in which survivors at all stages of healing can learn from and help each other.

Catherine McAlpine and Barbara McCormick are therapists who have worked extensively with survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

When Men Are Victims

Reprinted by Permission © (1996) by Eric
The Awareness Center is The Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault (JCASA)

Fraidy cat. Wussy. Cry baby. Don't be such a baby. You're acting like a girl. What are you afraid of? Don't be afraid. You have no right to be afraid. There is nothing to be afraid of. You shouldn't be afraid. What are you crying about. Big boys don't cry. Quit your crying. That doesn't hurt. Grow up and act your age. What's the matter? Can't you take care of yourself?

Ever hear comments like that? If you're like me you've probably heard them all your life, ever since you were a little boy. It was very early in childhood that we were taught to deal with our pain. Our mothers told us to stop crying, our teachers told us to be quiet, and our mentors told us to deal with it and buck up and be a Man. So we learned to say, I can handle it. I'm fine. It wasn't shameful to admit we were hurt, but admitting we couldn't handle it, oh boy that was a one way ticket to being a Loser. And being a victim, well geez, you might as well hang a note on your back that says, Kick Me. So what do you as a man when you've been victimized? There's not much help available, unless you're rich, well insured, and surrounded by a loving fully functioning family and an incredible support group. How many of us have that? What little help that is available for victims is usually directed towards women that have been victimized, and the staff often has a biased view of men and are ignorant of men's emotional needs. So what's a fella to do?

First of all, I would like to say to anyone who has suffered through some kind of trauma (whether that's a car accident or a sexual assault or a history of childhood abuse) and is experiencing extreme emotional reactions:

You are not sick. You are not crazy. You are not "mentally ill." There is nothing "wrong" with you. What is happening to you are normal, natural reactions to an extraordinary experience that you have survived. It was an experience that was beyond the capacity of any human being to handle, and it is going to take some time for your system to process it and integrate it. You are going to encounter a tremendous number of people who don't understand that, who are uncomfortable with that, and will want you to control yourself. Ignore them, and stay away from them. Find a safe place to attend to your own healing. Surround yourself with people who will let you process the experience at your own pace, in your own unique way, and will help you move forward with dignity, grace, and compassion. You are a survivor.

Having said that, I think the first thing you need to do as a man is to tell yourself, I need help. Asking for help is not something we have been socially conditioned to do. Not only is it often seen as a sign of weakness, but most of the social support systems in this country are geared towards taking care of women who have been victimized. There are no crisis hot lines or shelters for battered men, there are no hot lines for male victims of sexual assault, there are no halfway houses for men recovering from a life of prostitution, and there are very few resources for men or boys who are victims of childhood sexual abuse. The few resources that are dedicated to men are things like soup kitchens or shelters for men who have fallen so far they are homeless. They may be good places to start if you have an addiction problem and need help getting back on your feet, but they often times don't have a clue about the depth of pain and anguish that a trauma survivor has. And you will probably need a lot of help healing that.

One of the main sources of help I have found in my own healing has been the support I have gotten within 12-step recovery community. The 12 step movement began when Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935. Dr. Bob and Bill W. put together a program that addressed the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of the disease called alcoholism. For perhaps the first time in the history of the western world there was an organization with a mechanism to heal wounds of the spirit. That program gave birth to hundreds of different 12-step programs, which in my mind are all dedicated to healing wounds to the spirit. Through these programs thousands of people have found the courage, strength, and hope to heal from the insanity of what they have lived through. In my experience Alcoholics Anonymous is not just a bunch of people who have problems with alcohol. Most of the people I have met through AA have survived one or more horrendous traumas, and they were abandoned or neglected or abused by their family of origin. You don't know how powerful it is to walk into a room filled with people who have lived through the insanity that you have faced, and have them tell you that you are welcome, and that your story is real, and that you are not making everything up, and that what you did in order to survive was normal. Unfortunately that's not something our medical -- psychotherapeutic community understands. Each group is different, and it is helpful to remember that everyone is in a different stage of healing and recovery, and that some people haven't been able to escape the painful reality of their own situation. AA and other 12-step groups are designed to help people help themselves, and to provide a structure for personal growth. Part of the healing process involves telling your story, and hearing other people's stories as well, and I know of few forums that are better than a 12 step meeting. By the way, most of the people I've met in 12-step groups were abused in some way, shape, or form in their family of origin.

There are many ways to ask for help: private and group therapy, workshops, 12-step recovery programs, books, and even videos. I suggest you experiment with different approaches and find what works for you. Some approaches can be confronting, others warm and gentle. You may need different approaches and techniques at different phases of your healing. Sometimes what may seem most confronting is actually a lesson needing to be learned. Don't concern yourself with being efficient and timely. Time may not heal all wounds, but all wounds heal at their own pace. But no matter what route you take, I think the most important step is finding people who can provide you support as you work through the emotional repercussions. There will be plenty of people who will simply not understand what you are going through. You may want to change them, to make them understand, or to act differently than the way they do. You may want people to act compassionate, or to be outraged, or to get excited, or to cry with you. Give it up. You can't control how other people will respond, and you can't change them. All you can change is yourself. Let people respond to you as they will, and seek out those people who respond positively and can support you. But be aware of the charlatans who talk about providing support, but don't walk the walk. There may be times when you feel alone and isolated and that nobody understands or cares. That is the most important time to reach out. Call suicide hot lines. Go to 12-step meetings. Find support groups. But get support.

I've also found a great deal of healing in the men's movement, although just like the feminist movement, there are many different factions and interests. Check out some publications and groups and keep your eyes and ears open and you can find some kindred spirits. One great thing I have found in the men's movement is the freedom to do things in my own way, to not have to do something in a way that is Nice, or Gentle, or Quiet, or Feminine and Pretty. I can be as ugly and as loud and as unexplainable as I need to be. I can let it all hang out so to speak. But beware, when you let it all hang out, things might happen to and within your body that can only be described as . . . unusual. Normal body functions may seize up and fail, strange tremors or numbness might happen in certain areas, unexplainable aches and pains might appear. Most "trained" medical professionals will look at those symptoms and dismiss them as psychosomatic (and tell you to get over it because it's all in your head), or they may want treat it as a physical disorder and medicate or operate or who knows what. But sometimes all that is really happening is that your system is trying to process an overwhelming experience and your body is reacting. So take care of your body. Get good nutrition. Get plenty of rest. Drink LOTS of water. Take long baths. Do healthy things that make you feel good. Get a massage. Get plenty of hugs. Play with puppies and kittens and teddy bears. And lastly, find a safe place to let whatever is happening in your body run its course. Find a place where you can cry and let your body tremble. Shake your head and mutter, "bugga, bugga, bugga, bugga, bugga." Hit pillows and rage. Throw rocks. Spit into the wind. Swear out loud. Walk. Dance. Do jumping jacks. Rock yourself to sleep. Move your body in whatever way you can. And remember to BREATHE.

P.S. Give yourself some credit. After all, you're a survivor. And one hell of a man to boot.
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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sex and Love Addiction

by Dale Kay Lillak, LMFT

The idea of sex and love addiction conjures up all sorts of images, however, this addiction is as painful as any other. You may be asking, "What is sex addiction or what is love addiction? Can we be addicted to love? How would we know if we are addicted to sex or addicted to love?" To begin to answer these questions and to start to understand sex and love addiction, it is important to understand why the idea of addiction becomes associated with sex and with love.

Addiction is a process which occurs over time in a persons life. Addiction is usually associated with repetitive behaviors, obsessive thinking about a person or behavior or, in the case of substance addiction, a particular drug. Initially the behavior and the thoughts feel good and are even euphoric causing the person to want to repeat the behavior and thinking pattern. The key ingredient for addiction to occur is the feeling of euphoria the person gets from the behavior. Feeling good is very reinforcing, and humans will seek out what feels good, even if the good feeling is brief and short lived. With addiction comes obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, lost time and productivity, lost relationships and marriages, lost physical and mental health. The addiction becomes the underlying drive for the person’s life.

Sex Addiction
Sex addiction can range from solitary compulsive masturbation to predatory sex crimes. This article will focus on what Patrick Carnes in his book Out of the Shadows refers to as the Level One sex addict. The behaviors associated with this level of sexual behavior are usually within the range of what society views as victimless. Sexual behaviors which occur between what appears to be consenting adults, even if the behavior is illegal, is tolerated and even encouraged, and is often considered victimless. An example would be prostitution. Prostitution is a crime, and participating in sex with a prostitute is a crime in most parts of our society. However, it is tolerated by our society and often viewed as behavior between adults to which both consent--it becomes viewed as a necessary evil. In this view no one is victimized by the other.

Besides prostitution, other behaviors which are in level one include: pornography, strip shows, peep shows, compulsive masturbation, massage parlors, repetitive one-night stands, multiple sex partners, cruising in bars and restrooms, and so forth. More recently we have cybersex, phone sex, or e-sex. The sex addict may participate in one or many of these behaviors, but the behavior is repetitive, compulsive, and driven. What may have begun as a curiosity regarding pornography, soon evolves into obsession. What was meant to be one trip to a prostitute becomes repetitive, expensive, and time consuming--not to mention demoralizing, shame producing, physically dangerous, and emotionally draining. Often the thrill of risky, clandestine behavior is enough to continue the pursuit. The obsessive thinking takes up ever growing amounts of time, even as the compulsive addictive behavior may be becoming less and less rewarding.

Most often these behaviors are done in secret. The addict may reveal the tip of the iceberg to a friend, but rarely the extent of the obsession. If the addict is married or in a relationship, the secret must be covered up with lies and deception. Money spent must be allowed for in the budget. Time lost must be accounted for. Even while the behavior continues to reinforce the obsession, the act becomes hollow and shameful for the sex addict. The problems associated with the addiction begin to outweigh the pleasure derived from the behavior.

Love Addiction
It may seem incongruous to place love and addiction within the same context, but if you understand how the addictive process occurs in people’s lives, then it becomes easy to associate the two ideas. Addiction occurs when a person gets hooked on the feeling associated with a behavior. In this case love. Our culture tends to place a high premium on the love between intimates. We view love or romantic love as the basis of a relationship. If there isn’t romantic love, if we don’t feel "in love" with the person we are less likely to think about a long term commitment or marriage. The "in love" feeling is euphoric, and it is quite reinforcing. The longing associated with that early bloom of romantic love is well known and is the subject of love songs, romantic movies, and love stories. Romantic comedies act out the interplay between two people as they move from strangers to being in love. The film expresses the longing, the delight, the humor, and sometimes the pain of romantic love.

Love becomes addictive when that feeling of euphoria which occurs during romantic love becomes the goal. The early stage of a relationship when the other is still unknown, when we can look endlessly into their eyes, when the sound of their voice causes our heart to race, is the bonding stage. This early stage (the beginning, the first meeting, the first kiss) is followed quickly by the first weeks and months of the relationship, and the physical arousal level is high. Researches who have studied human behavior are quite aware of the hormones and endorphins which are secreted in greater amounts during this stage, and which further act to reinforce the bonding. This chemical process can be addictive. That euphoric feeling becomes what is sought after and what triggers the addictive cycle.

Love addicts can be recognized by their movement from relationship to relationship, multiple marriages, affairs while in a committed relationship, and their general focus on the next man or woman who might come into their lives. The flight in and out of relationships soon looses its thrill, and the love addict is left with pain and loss. Some love addicts may be hooked on fantasy lovers. Fantasy lovers are people the addict loves and longs for from a distance. These people may not actually go in and out of relationships, but instead spend large amounts of time in chat rooms, reading romance novels, or going to movie after movie. This frantic behavior is an attempt to feel good. To replicate the feeling of being in love. Unfortunately, what usually occurs is deadening depression. Chat rooms, romance novels, and movies are not negative in themselves, they are meant to be entertaining, stimulating, and fun. For the love addict, these pursuits become the tools of their addictive process. While some love addicts go from person to person, others addict to one person. This love addict creates a fantasy relationship and tries repeatedly to fit the person into the fantasy. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, the love addict will continue the fantasy of being in love with the perfect mate.

Sex and Love Addiction
Sex and love go hand in hand. When we are in love it often follows that we have sex with that person. We even call it making love. However, for the sex and love addict, love and sex within the same relationship becomes stale and boring after awhile. The first blush is off, the bloom has paled. In short, the hormones aren’t pumping quite so fast. That euphoric feeling has died down, and the real work of the relationship begins. At this point the sex addict will increase their addictive behavior and the love addict may begin to look elsewhere. The addictive cycle begins (if it ever ended) anew. The cherished hope within the sex and love addict that the new relationship will be enough to break the cycle is met with failure, loss, and shame.

Recovery from sex and love addiction can occur. The process of recovery is much like recovery from substance addictions. First, the addict begins the process of healing by identifying the painful damaging behavior. By acknowledging their behavior is addictive and destructive, their lives become open to growth and change. The addict learns to recognize how their thinking, their feelings, and their behaviors lead them into the addictive cycle. Frequently, sex and love addicts are depressed and anxious, and begin to feel worse before they feel better making the recovery process painful.

There is help. The sex and love addict is not alone. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, a 12-Step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, offers the addict a place to learn about themselves and the addictive process. The tools of recovery are available if the person is willing to take the step into a new life. Another important tool for recovery is counseling. Counseling can help the person understand how their unfinished business from the past is affecting them today. They can begin to unravel how the addictive cycle works in their lives.

Dale Kay Lillak is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She can be reached at (408)260-9995, email at

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous can be reached at (408)450-2681.
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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Defense Mechanisms That Affect Relationships

by Lynne Namka, Ed.D.Psychologist and Author

Sigmund Freud said, "The ego expels whatever within itself becomes a source of displeasure." A defense mechanism is a habitual behavior that distorts reality to suppress thoughts and emotions that might bring up ego threat. Defense mechanisms function in life to help us deal with stress. However the defenses keep people from being real and living life to the fullest.

Repression is a defense mechanism first described by Sigmund Freud, as a way that people keep unpleasant memories out of their conscious mind. Repression is a compensatory style that deals with threat and stress by blocking unpleasant emotional experiences that might bring up anxiety, distress and vulnerability. Being split off from feelings is called alexithymia.

Repressors have a chronic inaccessible filter that keeps them from experiencing the world through their emotions. They feel attacked and then distance and isolate from others when they are stressed. They avoid talking about and rehashing unpleasant experiences as this adds to their stress. They become inaccessible to others when they feel the problem has been solved by their solution of dismissing it. They are conflict avoidant and cannot tolerate working things out to the satisfaction of their partner. They often deny that there is a problem and have a lack of insight about how their distancing bothers others.

Repressors have one emotion--from A to A. They can feel and express anger. Anger is a substitute emotion for the hurt and disappointment they might feel. Anger takes them out of the emotional flat line and becomes their dominant emotion. They are stressed by having to deal with others on an emotional level and change the subject or evade the issue to keep people who are upset from bothering them. They tend to be more aggressive and have a higher belief in themselves than most people.

On the positive side, Repressors are often less neurotic than those who express their feelings easier. They can see events objectively without emotions clouding up the issue. Repressors remember fewer negative experiences from childhood. By minimizing the unhappy events, they distort reality and can even believe they had a happy childhood when they did not. The research literature suggest that they protect themselves from discomfort by superficially taking in negative events. They spend less time processing unpleasant new events and have the ability to dismiss them. This defense allows them to experience unpleasant emotions less frequently than emotionally intense people. They do not form associations between negative experiences and internal arousal such as anxiety. They need repeated trials to link a negative experience with negative emotions. The assumption in the research literature is that repressors have a lack of emotional links in the brain which tie negative emotions to experiences.

People who repress their feelings view themselves as "thinkers" and proudly use their intellect to process information. Talking and problem solving take preference over feelings. They can be highly analytical like Mr. Spock of the Starship Enterprise. They often intellectualize which is trying to explain emotionally painful feelings through thought. Sometimes they feel superior over people who are more emotional and dismiss this style of dealing with stress.

Often they put people down who are emotional. They just don't "get" feelings and talking things out! Since they do not process their own emotions, they don't have a clue when it come to understanding emotions in others. They do the worst with partners who are highly emotional and insist on sharing feelings and who try to make the Repressor responsible for their anxiety that remains when there is no clear cut solution to the problem. They do best in relationships with a partner who leaves them alone and who does not insist on their engaging in continual emotional discussion. They do best of all with a partner who does not need closure on problems and has the ability to sweep conflict under the rug, however that rarely happens as they more likely to choose partners who are in touch with their feelings.

Opposites do attract! Remember each style is just a defense mechanism to deal with stress. Emotional pursuers and emotional distancers are drawn to each other and thus the great comedy of life begins! People often see their own attitudes and behavior as "normal" and overestimate the worst in others. They see others as bad while excusing the same traits in themselves. They often assume a "False Consensus Effect" - that others perceive things the way they do. We all have a bit of projection in us, but some people have the need to blame others big time, thus obstructing their own growth and learning.

Projection is a common defense mechanism where a person gets upset with a trait in someone else that he wishes to deny in himself. They suppress the knowledge that they have the same trait and externalize blame on the other person. They are highly sensitized to the unwanted behaviors in others and transfer their horror and anger at their own unwanted inner trait to an outside person. Much of their internal thought or words during an argument is focused on blaming the other person. People who project blame often feel a hidden stigma and shame at possessing a disgraceful personality trait so they "project"or transfer anger on others to distract themselves from knowing the truth about their own self. They become so highly sensitized to the presence of their unwanted traits that it interferes with their social informational processing. So they don't see reality as it is and then operate out of their misperceptions. How do you know if you are projecting your anger on others?

Preoccupation and judgments about others' behavior is projection. If you spot it, you got it! Another form of projection is to transfer the arrows and slings of life onto "bad luck" or "fate." People who project often have other defenses such as Overgeneralized Thinking, which is the habit of making statements that emphasize that things are always that way. Examples of this type of thinking are: "He never considers my opinion. You always put me down. She always tells me what to do. I have to do all the work. I never get a break. Why can't you ever get it right? and "I can't stand it. I can't take anymore." Overgeneralization language uses words like "never, always, should and everybody or nobody."

People who blame others frequently have a habit of Focusing on Right And Wrong and Dwelling on Perceived Injustice. They often say "It's not fair!" and dwell on the negative. Keeping score of slights from others and dwelling on them creates a climate of hurt and suspicion. Having a list of "shoulds" for the partner which are inconsistent with his or her personality will undermine a relationship. Focusing on unfairness keeps them caught in anger, resentment and grudges. (Hey, life frequently is unfair, but focusing on it only makes you more miserable!) People who blame others or situations without taking responsibility for their contribution to the problem never get the sense of satisfaction of growth. By refusing to see their own errors, they lose the opportunity to change the very aspects of themselves that keep them stuck.

The Narcissistic Stance - "I Want To Feel No Way But Good" Narcissism, according to Freudian theory, is an irrational belief that the person they choose for a partner will give them perfect love and make up for all the hurts and slights of their life. People with narcissistic thinking and behavior strive to defend their fragile self esteem through fantasy and have a huge blind spot in their way of thinking. Fantasy and unrealistic expectations take the place of life. People with narcissistic tendencies have other defenses and errors in thinking such as denial, repression of feelings, black and white thinking and externalization of blame. They are often rigid and have a strong need to be right. They feel an increase in self esteem when they get what they want and feel no remorse at using others. They are supersensitive to criticism and either attack the other person or they leave the scene. They can pout and give the silent treatment or hold grudges. This combination of these defenses which distort reality often set them up for failure in partnerships.

Now we all have a bit of narcissism and indeed need some of it to survive. Otherwise we would end up giving away everything. Getting a good balance between taking from others and giving to them is called "Healthy Narcissism." People with severe narcissistic traits long for ideal love that will take care of their fragile sense of self and give them unconditional love. The yearning for getting unconditional love is a unresolved need left over from childhood. Most adults realize unconditional love would be nice. It rarely happens as people we love usually hold us accountable for our actions in some way. People with narcissistic traits distort their self image (again in fantasy to believe that they are superior to others). They think too well of themselves as a defense to cover up their sense of shame deep within.

Grandiosity is a distortion which prevents them from blaming themselves and becoming depressed or disintegrated. The two greatest fears we humans have in relationships are fears of engulfment (smothering, being controlled by someone else) and fears of rejection and abandonment. And to spice up the human drama, our greatest longings are the needs for connection and the opposite need for space and individuality. What a set up for problems! And so the couple dance is set playing out these great, universal themes. People with narcissistic traits play both these fears out in the relationships with their significant others, yearning for closeness and fearing it the same time. In the narcissistic mind, there is a gap between the idealized love and the actual day-to-day dealings with their partner. They long for symbiosis with the idealized love to stabilize the self, but they fear being traumatized by the partner. They seek refuge in being seen as the good guy and try to gain approval and recognition. When this does not come forth readily, they feel wounded, hurt and attacked. Constantly seeking attention and approval puts them in the precarious position of always needing something from somebody else. As they believe that they are right and others are wrong, they rarely admit to faults in themself. They are not interested in reading self help books and pooh-pooh feelings. They do not want to come to therapy and often have the myth of "I can do it all by myself" while it is apparent to others that they cannot.

Fantasy is an attempt to process information, emotions and unresolved pain to make up for what they did not have in childhood. They place unrealistic demands on others to make them feel better. J. S. Bernstein defined this defense as a person's "Learning to feel no way but good and to demand success when he did not feel good." They cannot tolerate negative emotional distress and turn it on others (project) by saying they are bad. They insist on having things their own way which is an unreal attitude that sets others off against them. When they don't get what they want, they feel devalued. Since they cannot tolerate the feelings of fear, hurt, anxiety, helplessness and despair, they defend against them. They deny and rationalize their own contribution to the problems to preserve their own internal fantasy of being all good and right.

They also suffer from the Repressor and Projection defenses described above. Narcissistic people always are Repressors, but not all Repressors are Narcissistic. Narcissists have a lack of insight about understanding and processing of feelings. Instead, they deny their feelings and run from them. They avoid taking risks to love and never learn to develop true intimacy. They would rather threaten their relationship than face humiliation, embarrassment or injury to their self esteem. They are slow to learn the all important skills of commitment such as sympathy, understanding the intentions and motives of their partner, compassion and empathy. They may even choose someone to love who is even more narcissistic and selfish than themselves thus mirroring their own problems. True intimacy and a lasting partnership require the skills of dealing with conflict.

After the euphoria of a new relationship wears off, each partner's values and belief systems begin to rub against each other. At this point negotiating conflict is necessary for the relationship to continue effectively. Narcissistics often discount the issues in the relationship and pull away from their partner. The narcissistic defenses of becoming angry, shutting down, minimizing and distancing keep them feeling safe in the moment. But the partner becomes highly threatened and angry thus weakening the relationship.

The antidote to narcissistic behavior is to understand how the defenses work, identify and correct the errors in thinking and learn to tolerate frustration, anxiety, sadness and shame. By learning to be straight first with the self, and then with others, these unhealthy defense can be lessened. Then the person can learn to live in the world of reality even though it hurts at times instead of turning to a fantasy which can never be gained. For more understanding on this topic, read Narcissism and Intimacy: Love and Marriage in an Age of Confusion by Marion Solomon. With hard work, people with narcissistic defenses can learn conflict negotiation and appropriate, safe anger expression. Education, self searching and therapy is needed to resolve these defense mechanisms which interfere with the ability to be happy. As they can learn to become more real with their feelings, they will gain self esteem by stretching and growing, even if it means being vulnerable to uncomfortable emotional states. As these skills are learned, they can achieve more satisfying and balanced relationships with others.

Lynne Namka is a happy psychologist based in Tucson, AZ, and the author of many books to help people live satisfying lives. Her latest book is on conscious aging for older women called A Gathering of Grandmothers: Words of Wisdom from Women of Spirit and Power which is available at and Email her at or call 520-825-4766. Visit her website at
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