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Compulsive Self-Deprivation: Addiction’s Silent Partner

We think of addicts as supremely self-indulgent, and sex addicts especially so.  But every sex addict has an opposite tendency toward self deprivation.  In their acting out behavior sex addicts are selfish, reckless, deceitful and often rebellious.  They are usually repeating patterns of behavior that reflect traumatic experiences from early life. Sometime these were experiences of sexual trauma but often there were other stressful experiences that have become sexualized along the way.

Sex addiction is known to be a disease of extremes.  Sex addicts swing between out-of-control behavior and over-controlled behavior in an ineffective effort to bring balance to their lives.

Where does compulsive self-deprivation come from?

Self deprivation has to do with how you care for yourself.  Most often sex addicts come from families in which they experienced a lack of appropriate nurturing.  In adulthood, people tend to care for themselves the way their parents cared for them, or failed to care for them.

In other words you treat yourself the way your parents treated you.  Growing up with less than adequate nurturance, you may have no idea of what good self care should look like.  If your parents were rigid, distant or withholding caregivers you will learn that you are expected to “disappear,” and to disregard your own feelings and needs.  By being compliant in this way you as a child hoped to please your caregivers and gain their love or approval.

The seesaw

When a sex addict has grown up with inadequate nurturance and a pattern of using sex as a drug to relieve stress and pain, he or she will cut loose and engage in risky and self-destructive behaviors for a time.  Then the addict will often switch over into deprivation mode and completely shut down the  self-indulgent behavior and become the compliant child again, withdrawing and suppressing normal needs and impulses.

Common features of compulsive self deprivation

Compulsive self-denial or self-deprivation can take many different forms.  The behaviors can be superficially acceptable behaviors like religious asceticism and fasting or they can be extreme behaviors that qualify as mental disorders in their own right, like anorexia, workaholism and self-harm.

  • Not taking care of your basic needs

This includes neglecting all kinds of basic self care such as attending to medical needs and dental needs, neglecting hygiene,  allowing garbage to pile up, not repairing things that break down, not paying bills or taxes and not reaching out to significant people in your life.

  • Denying yourself pleasure and tolerating pain

This includes restricting food, going on unusual regimens and cleansing routines, compulsive exercise, excessive body piercing or tattooing, and cutting yourself.  It also includes avoiding sex and other pleasurable activities, hoarding money instead of spending it on legitimate needs and becoming over-involved in religious or spiritual practices that demand excessive self-denial and withdrawal.

  • Avoiding success and abundance and living in fear

This includes avoiding opportunities for success, working for free or for too little, overwork, going into debt, living in minimal surroundings and with a lack of fulfilling relationships or activities, and letting go of previous recreational pursuits.

How compulsive self-deprivation supports sex addiction

Self deprivation provides a platform for sexual acting out.  The addict says in effect “I have so little in my life that is gratifying therefore I deserve to spend as much time as I want on the computer looking at internet pornography.”

Episodes of self deprivation reinforce the sex addict’s idea that they are ineffective and cannot self-activate.  This supports a victim identity and consequently a sense of over-entitlement.  The addict says in effect “I cannot do things for myself because I am hopeless, therefore I deserve all kinds of special consideration and help.”

The deprivation of sex addicts supports dissociation.  The addict feels they are not on top of things and are chronically “checked out.”  They may feel they are forgetful, scattered and childlike.  The addict in effect says “I am so disorganized that I’m not responsible for my acting out behavior.”

Self deprivation vs. self actualization

Compulsive self deprivation is part of being stuck in a childlike state in which we can indulge in our addictive behavior. It involves the fantasy that if we are bad off enough someone will rescue us.  The reality is that in order to heal we must learn to rescue ourselves.

Compulsive Self-Deprivation: Addiction’s Silent Partner

Linda Hatch, PhD

Linda Hatch is a psychologist and certified sex addiction therapist specializing in the treatment of sex addicts and the partners and families of sex addicts. Linda also blogs on her own website at

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APA Reference
Hatch, L. (2019). Compulsive Self-Deprivation: Addiction’s Silent Partner. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Dec 2019
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