Narcissism, Porn Use, and AddictionProof that Porn Users are Narcissistic

Any clinician who treats sex and porn addicts on a regular basis can tell you that our clients, both male and female, tend to be highly narcissistic – a quality that often makes for a tempestuous therapist-client relationship. Simply put, evidence from the field strongly suggests that sex and porn addicts are nearly always self-centered and self-absorbed, often to an extreme degree, not only sexually but elsewhere in their lives. Of course, it’s nice to have scientific research that backs up what we typically see in our practices, and a recent study, Narcissism & Internet Pornography Use, accepted for publication in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, does exactly that.

The authors of this research, Thomas Edward Kasper, Mary Beth Short, and Alex Clinton Milam, all from the University of Houston, Clear Lake, asked 257 people to answer questions about Internet pornography use while also completing three commonly used narcissistic measurements – the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), the Pathological Narcissism Inventory (PNI), and the Index of Sexual Narcissism (ISN). Participants ranged in age from 18 to 61 with a mean age of 29; 63% were female; 89% were heterosexual; the sample was racially diverse.

After more than two decades spent working with sexually addicted women and men, the results of this study are not surprising to me in any way. 79% of participants reported “ever” viewing Internet pornography, with 44% stating that they “currently” viewed Internet pornography. Women in the survey spent an average of 30 minutes per week using porn, while men spent an average of 3 hours. Most importantly from my perspective, those who had ever viewed Internet pornography scored higher on all three narcissism inventories than those who hadn’t, and individuals who said they currently viewed Internet pornography scored even higher on two of the three measures (the NPI and the ISN), with the third measure (the PNI) approaching but not reaching statistical significance. These results held for both males and females.

Extrapolation of the Findings

The study discussed above did not specifically address sex or porn addiction, so the findings cannot be applied directly to a sexually addicted population. However, it is reasonable to assume that sexually addicted users of Internet porn – especially porn addicts, who typically spend at least 11 or 12 hours per week using pornography (and often double or triple that amount) – might score even higher on the narcissism scales.

If so, this would correlate nicely with what we already know about sexual addiction (and addiction in general). Essentially, sex addicts engage in sexual fantasy and behavior not for pleasure, but for the sense of emotional control and escape that sexual intensity provides. Like other addicts, sex addicts use sexual fantasies and experiences to avoid emotional stressors, life challenges, and the pain of underlying psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, attachment deficits, unresolved early-life trauma, etc. Rather than seeking to feel better, sex addicts want to be distracted from their feelings. In other words, they seek emotional control over the unpredictable experiences that life brings us. When times get tough, sex addicts (and addicts in general) seek to disconnect. Instead of reaching out to others for support, they go for the quick fix that involves only them and their need/desire for control over what they feel.

Understanding Narcissism (Briefly)

Narcissists are typically thought of as being self-centered, grandiose, and overly entitled. And often they are all of these things. This suggests that narcissists have an over-inflated sense of self-worth and self-esteem. However, that is a cultural and social definition/assumption, not a clinical one. Clinically speaking, narcissism is a defense/coping mechanism used to deal with inherent and deeply rooted feelings of shame, inadequacy, and unworthiness. So even though many narcissists are successful in their careers and elsewhere in life, internally they are insecure and fragile. If you don’t believe me, try telling a narcissistically wounded client that he or she has some narcissistic traits (without first inuring that person to the concept) and watch the reaction, which I assure you won’t be pretty.

Conversely, there are people that we would typically not think of as narcissists (no fancy car, no grandiosity, no endless talking about themselves) who are so deeply self-focused upon and bonded with their feelings of shame and low self-worth that they simply cannot (or won’t) succeed in life. They too are narcissists. In other words, trumpeting your successes and puffing yourself up like a blowfish is one kind of narcissism; another kind is not allowing yourself to feel good and to succeed.

Unsurprisingly, chronically low self-esteem and various forms of profound narcissistic wounding are nearly universal among sex addicts (and other addicts, as well). Most often inadequate parenting, childhood emotional neglect or abuse, and either overt or covert sexual abuse are the underlying culprits for sexual addicts. These complex trauma issues cause people to feel shame about who they are, which in turn influences the ways in which they connect (and don’t connect) with others. In short, their addictive sexual fantasies and behaviors provide not only sexual intensity and pseudo emotional connections, but control over that intensity and feeling of connection. This is especially true with Internet porn, where the user controls their entire experience and therefore remains emotionally safe and insulated from the highly interpersonal experience of shame. (We can’t feel shame in a vacuum; it requires other people.) So is it any wonder that narcissism and sex addiction typically travel in tandem?

Treating Narcissistic Wounds

As mentioned above, dealing with highly narcissistic addicts in a therapy setting can be quite difficult. In fact, these individuals usually enter treatment only after their addictive behavior patterns have spun their lives into chaos and they desperately need concrete help. Unfortunately, because their true sense of self-worth is deeply rooted in shame and disconnection, they tend to feel unsafe in any sort of emotionally connective relationship (hence their use of non-intimate sexuality as a way to “numb out” and avoid the vicissitudes of life and other people). As such, these individuals can feel threatened by therapy, and they will often try to control what happens in the therapy room – deferring, deflecting, and denying as if their life depended on it. They will resist assignments and other learning experiences, preferring to think that they already know everything they need to know. Or they may do the opposite, trying to be the “perfect patient” and hoping to feel admired and validated by the therapist – but without the emotional risk of telling the therapist that what he or she thinks actually matters.

All of this, of course, is a part of the diagnostic and healing process, as the client is showing the therapist his or her emotional deficits in real time. It is therefore incumbent upon the therapist to be warm, empathetic, and genuine, even while being confrontational and challenging. In other words, the therapeutic alliance must feel safe and non-shaming to the narcissistically wounded client. Otherwise, he or she might shut down, offer a false self-presentation, or even leave therapy altogether. Usually it helps if you acknowledge how painful it is for the client to feel criticized (i.e., shamed) by anyone in any situation. If you let the client know that this is how nearly all sex addicts (and other addicts) feel while in treatment, that person may feel safer, less judged, and therefore more willing to open up. Most of all, when the client deserves praise for his or her honesty and bravery, give it, as it can reinforce the tiny amount of positive self-esteem that the client actually does possess.

It is important to remember, above all, that recovery from shame (and the narcissism and sexual addiction it sometimes produces) is a process of connecting. As Brené Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly, “Because shame is a social concept – it happens between people – it also heals best between people.” As such, your client needs for you to be safe and non-shaming in the therapy room, even when you provide feedback about deflection and denial. That person probably also needs supportive recovery outside of individual therapy, including sex addiction focused group therapy and twelve-step sexual recovery meetings. SA, SAA, SCA, and SLAA are all nationwide twelve-step programs for sexual recovery. Substance abusers can find support in groups like AA and NA.

If you are struggling with treatment of a highly narcissistic sex addict, consider recommending inpatient treatment. Interestingly, a stay at a “sex rehab” clinic often appeals to the narcissist’s need to be special. If so, you can use that to your advantage. Residential sex addiction treatment facilities can be effective with troublesome clients for two major reasons. First, they put narcissistically wounded people into a structured social learning environment with similar individuals, allowing them to safely connect with peers in healthy ways (maybe for the first time ever). This alone can greatly reduce internalized shame. Additionally, inpatient treatment centers typically do an excellent job of breaking through clients’ denial and opening them up to seeing themselves as they truly are and accepting honwar feedback without having to anticipate rejection, even when discussing the most difficult and shameful aspects of their addiction. Giving these narcissistically wounded clients the opportunity to fully be known and accepted in a safe, honest, and transparent environment can be an incredibly useful step toward helping them internalize what it feels like to let go of control and be connected, appreciated, and included.

 

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, he founded The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles in 1995. He is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction,and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships. For more information you can visit his website, www.robertweissmsw.com.

 

 


Comments


View Comments / Leave a Comment

This post currently has 4 comments.
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.

Trackbacks

No trackbacks yet to this post.






    Last reviewed: 10 Jul 2014

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2014). Narcissism, Porn Use, and Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2014/07/narcissism-porn-use-and-addiction/

 

Purchase Cruise Control now Purchase Untangling the Web now

Check out Robert Weiss' books today.

Subscribe to this Blog:
Feed


Or Get a Single, Daily Email (enter email address):

via FeedBurner



Recent Comments
  • Lynn: Remarkably: After a 9 yr marriage to an abuser and cheater I thought I had found a friend I could trust. I...
  • Cynthia: Sounds like a bit of a chicken and egg problem. You said that “sex addicts will tell you that they’re...
  • Brian: I liked the clear statements of negative consequences of sexual/porn addiction. The addict naturally...
  • The Peak Oil Poet: Unfortunately Olivia you make two mistakes 1. you still fail to recognize the true sociological,...
  • olivia: (Most of) You guys are incredibly sad & immature. It’s a biological aberration to be monogamous?!...
Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code



Users Online: 12240
Join Us Now!