Sex addicts and most likely addicts in general have some growing up to do. They tend to be more emotionally immature than non-addicts. This is usually explained in terms of an attachment trauma or “relational” stress in childhood. This lack of appropriate support and direction from parents in childhood means that the person does not internalize appropriate emotional controls, that is they do not learn to control themselves from within.
As addicts recover from addiction they gain emotional skills they never had before.
Dimensions of Emotional maturity
- The ability to modulate emotional responses. Addicts tend to have an all or nothing emotional response. When they respond they become overly emotional and take a longer time to return to baseline. They are easily flooded with emotion to the point of impairing functioning.
- The ability to tolerate frustration. Another emotional skill learned as we grow up is the ability to tolerate a frustrating situation with a level of self control. Addicts tend to respond to frustrating situations as disasters rather than having any perspective.
- The ability to delay gratification. Emotionally immature people have trouble planning and working toward goals. The ability to give up immediate gratification is necessary for anyone to go about life in a successful way.
- The ability to control impulses. The mature self has the ability to see that feeling the urge to do something is not the same as doing it. The recovering addict has a level of control over his or her behavior and can put boundaries around what is inappropriate to say or do. This is the basis for making logical choices like whether to act on impulses or not to.
- The ability to be reliable and accountable. Addicts are often self centered and not good at dealing with the everyday requirements of life like being on time, fulfilling obligations and telling the truth. As they gain emotional maturity they gain the ability to get out of themselves and think about the impact of their actions on others and on their own lives as well.
Recovery skills promote emotional maturity
The process of recovery from addictions is in many ways a process of completing the process growing up. The work that goes on in addiction treatment involves changes that allow for that process to occur.
Looking at the addict’s core beliefs. The addicts assumptions about himself, acquired in childhood are largely negative. Addicts feel they are basically unworthy and unlovable. They lack trust and don’t feel that others will be willing or able to help them. Looking at these negative core beliefs about oneself is a first step toward being able to question them. Addicts in recovery begin by getting honest about what they are doing and feeling. It allows the addict to contemplate the idea of change.
Connection. In recovery addicts are helped to see that they are not so alone or so different and that there are other people to connect with. This in turn allows for learning the emotional skills of accountability and honesty. They come to realize that what they do matters and has real life implications for themselves and for the people in their life.
Self reflective ability. The recovery process involves learning to stop and reflect on what is going on inside of oneself in any situation. This is amazingly absent in most practicing addicts. Impulse control and emotional regulation are impossible if the person lacks the ability to observe their inner state. It is only through developing this “observing ego” that the recovering addict can have the means to look at things more realistically, self-regulate emotional responses without resorting to drugs.
Tolerating feelings. In giving up their drug of choice, addicts begin to feel all the feelings they have been running from. Abstaining from an addictive behavior means being forced to deal with emotions like insecurity, self-hate, and loneliness. In this way the addict begins to have the means to see and label their own emotions and connect with painful memories that they may have buried. You can’t deal with a problem if you can’t allow yourself to feel it.
Feelings are only feelings. When we gain emotional maturity we accept our feelings but we are able to deal with them effectively. We have choices. Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource