If I had to sum up concisely the reason my husband is a sex addict, I would say it’s because of self-hatred.
Sex addicts aren’t all the same as one another, of course, but experts like Dr. Patrick Carnes, Dr. Linda Hatch, Dorothy Hayden, Ella Hutchinson, Robert Weiss and Dr. Douglas Weiss agree that sex addicts have terrible self-esteem.
Carnes, in his book Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, describes an addict who arrives at the gym to work out and feels that people are looking at him funny. He assumes they’re judging him — thinking that he’s a loser. He leaves the gym and instead of going home, finds a prostitute. In his twisted mind, this addict thinks that he’ll feel better about himself through his sexual “acting out.” (Spoiler: of course it doesn’t work. Every single time a sex addict “acts out,” he or she feels even worse than before.)
Has your sex addict partner admitted to feelings of desperate loneliness, misery, and self-hatred? If not, and you’re on speaking terms, it’s worth asking about. But from what I’ve read, it seems like a lot of men and women who are sex addicts are not usually ready, in the beginning of recovery and certainly if they’re still active in the addiction, to be vulnerable, to admit their insecurities, or be honest at all. That’s why I think it might be helpful for you to read what another sex addict has to say.
I understand that partners in our position are often advised to “focus on our own healing” without worrying about the who, what, why and when of our partners’ addictions. But for me, personally, understanding addiction in general, sexual addiction specifically, and my husband’s state of mind, has been tremendously helpful as one component in my healing process. (I’m the type of person who likes everything to make sense, and fit a logical explanation.)
With my husband’s permission, I’m sharing his own words as he explains his thought processes and why he turned to sexual acting out. Each quoted paragraph is from a separate text message he sent me in the last six months, as I asked him again and again why he did what he did, as part of my efforts to make sense of everything.
***TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains quotes from my husband about his sexual acting out (nothing graphic) and his suicidal ideation. Please do not read this if you think it may negatively impact your mental health. If you or someone you know struggles with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7.***
“It was the only way I knew how to numb the pain. I’ve hated myself for as long as I can remember. I tried to escape what I saw in the mirror; I tried joining the military, I earned my degree, I ran for office — anything I could do to try and be someone whose reflection I could stand to look at in the mirror. But that same ugly, fat, weak guy was always there looking back at me. Nothing changed me from being me, no matter how badly I wanted it to. In my head, acting out sexually allowed me to imagine being somebody else, if only for a short time.”
Please note that my husband is not an “ugly, fat, weak” person. But as he’s only recently confided to me, he has thought so since childhood, when he was called those terms and more by his peers at school in a vicious cycle of bullying that lasted a few years. Being bullied does not automatically equate to becoming a sex addict or any kind of addict later in life, but study after study shows that peer abuse, like all other types of abuse, has a negative impact on the developing brain and can lead to many mental health problems.
Another thing to note is that he isn’t being manipulative, making excuses, or trying to evoke pity by telling me how he felt about himself. He is responding to my direct questioning and has always included in his messages and our conversations that there was no excuse for acting out sexually, which violated my trust, his vows, and his personal values.
Why did I turn to this? The only thing I can say as a reason is that lust (arousal and orgasm) seemed to counteract and silence my crippling insecurities. I simultaneously avoid and need people. I see people as people who will be annoyed by me, not really like me, feel disgusted by me, judge me. This taints every relationship. Even our kids, who adore me, I have a nagging doubt that when they’re older, I’ll be an embarrassment to them. Sexual acting out got me in that ‘haze’ you read about, and it felt like the only interactions I had with people where those insecurities were silenced.”
In this quote above, he is alluding to the fact that while “acting out,” he always pretended to be someone else who looked and acted differently than him.
For further reading about the “erotic haze” and how sex addiction functions to temporarily allow the addict to escape unpleasant emotional states like the one my husband described, this article gives a brief explanation: Dorothy Hayden’s “More Underpinnings of Sex Addiction”.
Self-hatred permeates all of his explanations:
“I’d imagine dying and think that all you would remember me as was the *** clown that never followed through, the guy who never stood up to his parents, the guy who kept looking to you as the manager, the guy who always asked if we were OK, the guy who was weak and couldn’t even express what he wanted half the time. I always loved you, but I felt so afraid you didn’t love me back, not really. I felt so unlovable. I felt all my flaws and didn’t see how you could love me or want me. I felt ugly, wretched, and pathetic. I’m so sorry I dealt with those feelings as I did.”
He has described feeling the same intense anxiety and feelings of inadequacy in every relationship in his life — with his boss, with colleagues, with his parents and siblings, and even with our young children, who adore their very engaged, encouraging, and loving dad. He described his thought process about the kids by typing out a typical train of thought or conversation he’d have with himself:
“They love you because that’s what little kids do! Who are they gonna compare you to? Wait until their eyes are open and they see how screwed they got in the father department. They’re gonna wish they had one of their friends’ dads instead of a pudgy, indecisive little ***** who couldn’t assert himself for ****. You’re their first “man”? What a joke! Who would want you for a father?”
Extremely negative self-talk, like this, would contribute to his near-daily suicidal ideation. And then he’d turn to sexual acting out as a way to escape.
“If there had been a way to get dopamine in a needle and shoot it up, I would’ve. I wanted the feeling because it seemed like the only way to shut up the nearly perpetual suicidal/self-hating soundtrack being played inside my head.”
He elaborated on this again:
“I didn’t know any other escape. Things seemed so terrible I believed the best thing I could do for you and the kids was to die and make room for someone better. Those thoughts never went away, not with prayer, not with work. I didn’t have anyone I felt like I could talk to. I felt trapped in my own head. It seemed like the only way to quiet the thoughts. I’m so sorry.”
It only distracted him temporarily — while he was in the middle of doing it. He never once actually felt better about himself because of it, which he could see almost from the moment he was caught.
But it seems as though he was unable to think clearly and rationally until that point. After each time he had “acted out,” he would swear to himself that he’d never do it again — only to realize hours or days later that he had just done it again, and feel sick with guilt and self-disgust all over again.
I know this was a long post, so thank you for reading this far. What has been your experience with your partner? Has he or she been vulnerable and honest about the real reasons for sex addiction? Has what you heard from him or her been similar to what my husband has written?