Correcting mistaken thinking is the basis of some approaches to therapy. The idea simply put is that what we think controls what we feel. So the way to become happier healthier people is to change the ways of thinking that cause us problems and hold us back.
So the cognitive approach says if think that I am unworthy of love I will feel ashamed of who I am and this in turn will hinder my relating. The other way to look at it is that I feel ashamed of who I am and therefore I think I am unworthy of love which in turn hinders my relating.
In practice it is never as simple as taking a person who thinks he or she is stupid or unattractive and then convincing them otherwise.
Mistaken thinking is based on unexamined beliefs
Thinking you are unworthy of love is not the result of rational thought. It is an article of faith. It is a core assumption, a core belief that underlies your thinking. And it is laid down in childhood and is part of a belief system you adopted in order to survive or to fulfill the expectations of caregivers.
In sex addiction treatment we confront the core beliefs of the addict which according to Patrick Carnes’ work are:
- I am basically a bad, unworthy person
- No one would love me as I am
- My needs are never going to be met if I have to depend on others
- Sex is my most important need
These core beliefs of the addict are well known to addicts themselves. Prior to treatment they are not conscious thoughts but are unconscious beliefs that shape the addicts emotions and behavior as well as their thought processes.
Feeling unworthy and unlovable will sometimes lead the addict to experience fear in the presence of someone who is attractive. The fear will make the addict want to withdraw. At the same time believing that “sex is my most important need” will make the addict tend to view the situation in sexual terms and to “sexualize” the other person. The belief that “I can’t depend on anyone to meet my needs” will motivate the addict to engage in behavior that will provide an outlet such as internet pornography or another addictive sexual behavior.
Other examples and variations
Some addicts carry the unconscious and unexamined belief that they are inferior and that their sexual attractiveness is the only thing that makes anyone want them. This will drive their behavior when for example they go for a job interview or meet a new person they want to impress. They may look or act in a sexual or seductive way, thus injecting sex into a situation where it is inappropriate. They may seduce the interviewer rather than getting the job.
Some addicts feel that they have a great need for closeness and nurturance, but this will tend to be “sexualized.” They will have trouble finding intimacy in relationships (“no one could possibly love me”) but will be drawn to sexual massage parlors.
So our core beliefs about ourselves influence us on a deep emotional level. Much of sexually addictive behavior is carried out in a kind of automatic way in a state of semi awareness. This is the case with behavioral addictions generally such as hoarding, gambling and eating disorders. In many cases the addiction is hard for the addict to see.
Once all this is brought to a conscious level, the sex addict will have a chance to look at the core beliefs and how they were formed and begin to challenge them. It is only when these assumptions and feelings are brought to a conscious level that they are accessible to us. On an unconscious level they can reign supreme and have unfettered control of our behavior.