Am I Going Crazy? Denial & Sexual Addiction

 Steven: “It’s not like I do this kind of stuff all the time. She is overreacting. Most guys look at porn and masturbate way more than me. I can’t believe we are taking up time and money sitting here talking about this issue. I’m sure we are taking up time people with real problems need.

Anna sits across from him on the couch in my office, with eyes red from crying, shaking her head. Is he for real? Does he really believe the words coming out of his mouth? What more, does he think she is foolish enough to believe them? The thought nearly throws her into a rage.

Anna (to me): “Am I overreacting? I mean, I feel so confused, like I am going crazy. But the thought of him looking at all those other women online and then lying to me about it is more than I can stand.

Denial and Sexually Addictive behaviors go hand in hand. They work together to allow sin to flourish in a man’s life. This is why understanding and rooting out denial is a top priority in Christian Counseling. Here is a basic framework for understanding what denial is, how to recognize it, and steps to deal with it:

What is denial?

Denial is the distortion of the truth through various means, allowing for the protection and continuation of destructive behavior. It is dishonesty, pure and simple. Deception can occur not only in what we say, but how we say it, both to ourselves and others. In denial, the facts are distorted and presented in such a way as to minimize the discomfort to the perpetrator.

Why Does He Need Denial?

We can understand this mystery by using a simple word picture. Imagine holding in one hand, your beliefs and convictions about sexual integrity. These beliefs are based on what the Bible has to say about sexuality and subsequent behavior. In the other hand, you are holding a behavior the Bible distinguishes as sinful (ie: viewing pornography, sexual conversations in chat rooms with anonymous partners, soliciting prostitution).

Now imagine holding these items up next to one another. They do not work together. In fact, they are fundamentally opposed. Attempting to continue possessing both leads to significant discomfort or friction. We call this cognitive dissonance. In other words, a person’s beliefs and behavior are at odds. A solution is needed desperately to lessen this uncomfortable friction.

How Does He Use Denial?

Denial becomes the lubricant, alleviating the uncomfortable friction between convictions and actions. In other words, Anna’s husband changed his perception of himself, his behavior, and his impact on others to allow him to continue act out sexually.

How To Recognize Denial:

Denial is sometimes difficult to spot, as it can be carefully woven into what the person is saying. Attempts to detangle or challenge it are often met with more denial, leaving the listener confused and upset. Here are 3 fictionalized men presenting with denial in regards to sexually addictive behavior. They represent some of the most common situations I see in my practice.

Examples of Denial:

Ryan: “I can’t believe you are making such a big deal about this! It is ridiculous! Now we are in an office with a guy we are paying to agree with you and say there is something wrong with me. You have to control everything. Why can’t you just be happy and thankful for what you have? If you are going to drag me into counseling for this, I should tell him about how you rarely have sex with me. I have needs, and if you are too selfish to notice them I have to get them met on my own.

Ryan is escalating and going on the attack with his wife. He is trying to make her believe she is being crazy by suggesting he has a problem. Not only that, but he is attempting to blame her for his actions, making a manipulative, guilt laden accusation. It’s a kind of smokescreen, which he hopes will distract his wife from the problem.

Joe: “ I can see how you would be upset. It’s a tough problem and may have impacted you in a way I did not intend. Anger is not going to help us figure this out, though, we have to be rational. I have been looking at porn, but it doesn’t effect how I feel about you. I love and want to be with you, only you.”

Joe is taking this hurtful behavior and reducing it down to a set of facts. He appears to be empathizing his wife, but he is actually putting her down by insinuating her experience of emotion is lessor and immature. He is also compartmentalizing. Joe wants his wife to accept that he is able to look at other women and lust after them without this impacting his relationship with her. For such a “rational guy” it’s an idea that is completely out of touch with reality.

Peter: “You always seem to get overly reactive and upset in stressful situations. It’s like when you get home from work all stressed out and I have to help you see reason again. We are Christians, but a lot of men struggle with this issue. I struggle with it quite a bit less than most guys. The stuff they look at is disgusting. I looked at naked women, but never went to those extremes. I can and have solved the problem, when you found out and I saw you were hurt, I stopped looking. Why are we here? What else is there to do?

Peter attempts to distract his wife by making broad statements about her behavior. He’s attempting to justify his own behavior while invalidating his wife’s emotions. He is also comparing himself to other men. In his mind, if other men look at pornography, it is not quite so bad. This is especially true since he has heard of men who look at it more frequently than he does and the “stuff they look at” he calls “disgusting.” Peter is practically a saint compared with them.

Dealing With Denial:

Denial is a form of deception in which a person attempts to deceive themselves and others. The goal is to be able to do both what they desire and change or control the way others respond. In the cases above, the husbands are attempting to reach into their wive’s lives and change their perceptions so they will respond in a more favorable manner. Wives who have experienced this do get angry, and it’s easy to understand why. So what can be done about it?

  • Attempt to argue the points he is making through denial.
  • Try to convince him to change his mind.
  • Tell him what to do/Tell him how it is.
  • Let him know his reasoning does not change the reality of his actions impact on you.
  • Tell him your perception of the problem, but own it as your perception.
  • Tell him what you have decided you are going to do.

Here’s Why:

1.) If you attempt to argue with his denial, he is prepared for this action. Do you really believe he thought you’d go down without a fight? He has been preparing for the inevitability of this conversation for a long time. He has been examining how he might present the situation most effectively, addressing points and counter points over the months or even years leading up to this moment. You, on the other hand, are walking into it blind.

2.) The best way to handle your formidable debate partner, is not to engage in debate with him. If you do, his response will be predictable. He will have additional denial tools he uses to combat your arguments. He may dig in his heels and get stubborn, focusing solely on disarming your arguments, rather than the content of your message.

Instead, if you tell him how you believe his actions have impacted you and your relationship with him, you are staying in your yard. In other words, you are telling him how the situation is for you. It’s less threatening and much more potent if you speak about what you know, and what is happening in your mind.

3.) Finally, in anger, I have seen many wive’s issue ultimatums to their husband’s. These are grand speeches or statements, fueled by emotion, and aimed at giving her a sense of control. The problem is, they never actually work. Like it or not, you cannot make him do anything, and, if you are honest with yourself, you don’t really want to.

  • The changes he needs to make should come out of his choice and desire to make them. If you do it for him you will spend the rest of you relationship looking over your shoulder for him to mess up. You will never be at rest because you must keep the pressure on him to ensure he “stays fixed.” Instead, let’s put you in a secure and safe position.
  • Decide what steps you are going to take as a result of his choices. These decisions you have made are independent of him, meaning, just like you cannot make his decisions, he cannot make yours.

If you are ready for things in your relationship to change, then start changing them. You control and are responsible for the part of the relationship you can change. And that change starts today. A few options are to attend counseling of your own, go to a support group, and cease sexual activity with him.

Denial happens in sexual addiction. It’s a sad truth, however, if you know how to spot and deal with it, as outlined above, you have moved from powerless to able.

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