To their partners and spouses, many sex addicts will, at some point in their addiction, seem to lack a conscience. They may lie, cheat, exploit others, think only of themselves and disregard the harm to others. And they will often be able to do all this while keeping up a façade of social acceptability.
When you’re around a sex addict, it’s easy to see them as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of person; liable to slip into a primitive and depraved state when your back is turned. Sometimes even the addicts themselves feel that they are two people, one of whom is decidedly anti-social.
The majority of sex addicts (at least those we know about) are not “sociopaths.” They do not qualify under the diagnostic term of “antisocial personality disorder.” Their behavior takes on this appearance for some very understandable reasons.
What causes the addict to behave without conscience?
- Creeping Denial
Sex addicts try to avoid feeling shame. They also know on some level that others would disapprove of their addictive behaviors. In order to keep the feelings of guilt and shame at bay, sex addicts find ways to minimize, rationalize, or justify their behavior. In so doing they build up a layer of denial.
Over time, this habit of denial can then spread to other areas of the addicts life leading to dishonesty and disregard for risks and consequences in general.
- Going it Alone
Along side of their public “normal” life, most sex addicts conduct their sexually addictive life such as anonymous hook-ups, online sex, prostitutes, strip clubs and so on, in secret. In other words they lead a “double life.” They are intimacy avoidant and can’t integrate their sex life into their normal life. This leads to withdrawing from people generally and becoming a closed system, often seeming to lack empathy.
- Narcissistic Over-Entitlement
One of the defense mechanisms sex addicts use to justify their behavior is narcissistic over-entitlement. They come to feel that they are special and that they deserve to act out sexually for one reason or another. They are important, over-worked, stressed out, and just plain different from everyone else.
This is what sex addiction therapists call being “terminally unique.” They come to feel that the rules for others don’t apply to them.
With treatment the sex addict can re-connect
The reason we know that most sex addicts we treat are not truly sociopathic is that most of them have the capacity to change the way they live. With treatment and support they can learn not only to overcome their sexually compulsive behavior, but they can learn to live in honesty and integrity. They can gain self esteem and drop the narcissistic mask of self importance. And they can gain intimacy skills and connect with others. They can experience true empathy.
Are some sex addicts real sociopaths?
Some sex addicts actually do have a diagnosis of anti-social personality disorder. But because they lack the ability to genuinely connect with other human beings:
(1) They will not feel motivated to seek help, and will not respond to treatment, perhaps even ending up in prison, and
(2) They may not actually be addicts but may simply be as opportunistic and self-serving in their sex life as in life in general.
People with antisocial personality disorder have a poor prognosis in any case. As you can imagine, it is important for the treating professional to understand what it is they are dealing with, but it may take some assessment to separate out the truly anti-social personality from the addict who has just built up an elaborate wall of defense and denial.
What about other diagnoses?
But you might ask “what about sex addicts having other diagnoses such as depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD?” There is reason to believe that sex addicts can have many different kinds of other psychological problems along side their addiction, although these other diagnoses don’t predictably cause sexually addictive behavior.
Addicts who have a co-occurring psychological disorder, such as a mood disorder, can and should get help with their psychological disorder and their sexual addiction for optimal treatment of both.