Why Do Members of The Church Struggle MORE w/ Pornography?
Did you know: studies show that members of the church and people of faith struggle MORE in sexual addiction recovery programs? This fact may come as a shock to some while no surprise to others.
A non-religious person might say "well that makes perfect sense! Religion is sexually oppressive and emotionally scarring.” Whereas a Christian or other religious person might respond "well that doesn't make any sense at all! Doesn't God help heal and save those in recovery?”
Well yes! God absolutely does, but there are several limiting beliefs and pitfalls that keep Christians and other people of faith in the addiction trap.
Over the last few years studying porn and sexual addiction recovery, I have witnessed and identified some of these key pitfalls that hinder the recovery process. Whether you are in recovery yourself or supporting someone else, understanding these pitfalls will change how you approach faith and healing in sexual addiction recovery.
The first pitfall of faith in recovery is an unhealthy relationship with God.
Shame is undeniably one of the top five triggers for addiction and one of the biggest reasons why individuals stay in the addiction cycle. The cycle begins with shame which triggers urges (flight mode or the desire to escape reality or the present), which leads to relapse, which triggers greater shame, and so on.
You may be familiar with the scripture as quoted by Abraham Lincoln: “A house divided cannot stand.” When a person is internally conflicted or divided like this, they will struggle to have clarity and success on the path to recovery. They are battling themselves and God, while fighting for survival emotionally and spiritually, and feel they are losing on all fronts.
When a person of faith struggles with addiction, the guilt and shame they feel is also significantly magnified. Not only will they feel personally shameful about relapses, but they have the added fear of judgment from God and their faith community. This is why so many struggling with addiction leave the church–it becomes too emotionally painful to bare the shame and continue the cycle. It feels easier to run away than to address the problems and make necessary changes.
As long as an individual has an unhealthy or chaotic relationship with God they cannot have a clear conscience and will inevitably struggle with self-esteem, self-respect and self-confidence. This lack of self-confidence can lead to hopelessness and depression, again, making recovery more difficult. The cycle looks something like this:
Poor relationship with God > low self-esteem > relapse > difficulty feeling God’s love > shame > low self-esteem > relapse > and so forth
The journey of recovery requires great resolve and courage in the face of challenges. Although the process can increase an individual’s self-worth, there seems to be a baseline required for successful execution and enduring the challenges of recovery. So how do you escape low self-esteem when the process of recovery itself requires a certain level of self-worth?
This is where I think 12-Step programs have it right. The solution to escape this cycle is in humble confession to God which has the power to take one from the chaos of sin and shame, to a place of grace and hope. This happens through submission to His will and an offering of a “broken heart and contrite Spirit”. It is overcome by the small, daily, religious practices of studying one’s scriptures, praying, and asking for forgiveness. It is in admitting you cannot do it alone and having faith that with God all things are possible.
This kind of self-worth is built on a foundation of faith in God and a clear conscience before Him. This does not require a person to be perfect at all times, but rather it comes from a peace of mind in doing one’s best and a faith that God will help them overcome the rest.
The second pitfall of faith in recovery is misconceptions about the process of recovery.
Stories of miraculous healing and instant relief from urges and temptations are wonderful and to be celebrated, however, these are frankly very rare. More often than not, even the most faithful individuals have to face a serious uphill battle when battling addiction.
The fact is simply that God does not often remove the consequences of our actions. In this case, including the withdrawals and urges of addiction. As a parent, He seems to say, “I told you over and over. I warned you not to get tangled in sin because I knew it would hurt and be as a cord around your neck. Nevertheless, I will forgive you and walk with you on the journey home.”
Successful recovery is achieved in taking personal responsibility for not only the addiction itself, but the consequences as well including urges, withdrawals, triggers, damages, and all other effects of the addiction. It is only through a complete and humble ownership for one's actions and their effects that one begins the path to recovery.
The third pitfall is having the wrong reasons for recovery.
“Because God said so.” “Because it’s wrong.” “Because others will judge me.” “Because I’m not worthy for certain opportunities in the church.”
Typically beliefs such as these result in men who feel frustrated, sexually oppressed, and remain stuck in the addiction cycle. Alternatively, by choosing better reasons for recovery that focus on the real benefits and the positive effects on one's life, can one begin to make significant progress towards recovery.
It’s important that individuals struggling with pornography and their faith understand that God gives us commandments because He loves us, he sees our potential, and He wants us to be happy. Why does God limit sexual expressions and activities? Because He loves us and has a perfect understanding of our bodies, minds, and potential.
Recovery from pornography it’s not a matter of shame, guilt, or arbitrary rules. It is something that is meant to have a powerful effect on your life for good, so choose reasons that are positive and inspiring rather than focusing on the negative.
The fourth pitfall for religious people in recovery is an unhealthy view of sex.
Urges are a part of who we are. We just need to refine and bridle them.
Sexuality is a core part of our biology and our eternal natures. It is something that God designed us with and because of that, urges in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. It is only how we act on them that marks the difference between sacred and sinful.
Simply having a desire for a partner or sexual pleasure does not make you a bad person. However, indulging in those thoughts or seeking out illicit sexual experiences that go against God‘s purposes can keep you from a meaningful connection with Him and from reaching your highest potential.
Alternatively, some may feel overwhelmed by cultural messages that glorify or encourage sexuality and and find this at odds with their faith. This can leave them feeling confused and discouraged. If one feels torn between God’s word and worldly messaging, it is important to get “off the fence”.
As the Biblical scripture says: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
Conquering Sexual Addiction With Faith
If you are conquering this addiction for yourself:
Although you may be coming from a rough place spiritually and mentally, take hope in knowing that many have been in your shoes and successfully conquered. You are not alone and you CAN succeed.
As you walk this road, I encourage you to have faith and look to the future with hope and optimism. You are on the right path–the same path walked by even King David, a chosen man of God, after he fell to lust and sexual sin. Your sins are known by God, and yet He has offered you forgiveness.
Furthermore, try to remember that although He loves you, forgives you, and wants you to be happy, He also wants you to grow. Just like a child learning to walk, He sees the value in your stumbling. He is watching as you continue to fight, push forward, and stand back up from your falls. That is the process of becoming strong and reaching the potential He sees in you!”
(Above passage taken from the book: “Fight The Beast: The Proven 30-Day Method for Sexual Addiction Recovery” by Heather Nielsen)
If you are helping someone else:
Remember that the faith and recovery journey is deeply emotional and personal. The greatest contribution you can make is to be a loving support, and provide a shame-free, safe space for the person struggling to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of what they are going through. Pray for them, pray with them if they feel comfortable, remind them of God’s love and faith in them, and most importantly be patient. Know your role is critical to their success and you are doing an important and appreciated work.
Boost Recovery With Fight The Beast
Whether you are struggling for yourself or helping someone else, we invite you to take advantage of the many resources at FightTheBeast.org. We offer a wide variety of free and paid resources including accountability partners, free events, group support, coaching plans, and our proven 30-Day recovery programs. Recovery doesn’t have to be lonely or difficult with proven strategies and expert support.
About The Author:
Heather is the Founder & CEO of Fight The Beast and author of the curriculum. She has dedicated her life to this cause and works tirelessly to help her clients and community achieve freedom from porn. (Read more here.)