We commonly think of our sex addict self as bad. And indeed the addict part of us does things that harm others and ourselves and that usually go against our deeply held values. We would like to distance ourselves from this part of us, to stamp it out.
In poetic language we think of the addict as a “dark passenger”. Clinically, we think of the addict behavior as a learned byproduct of early attachment injuries.
But in practice I believe that it is impossible to simply lock that evil twin in a closet or cut it out of us.
The addict doesn’t want to be suppressed in this way because on some level it is part of us, albeit a part that has become distorted.
Addict behavior is often, and accurately, described as reflecting survival skills that no longer serve their initial purpose. The groundwork for our addiction was laid down early on through powerful or frightening experiences and represents our deeply entrenched coping strategies. If our early life was harsh, stressful, insecure or isolating we will have put these coping strategies into play as a way to restore equilibrium in our situation, please our caregivers, and soothe or distract us from painful experiences.
The form that our coping strategies, and therefore our addictions take is determined by our developmental trajectory and our temperament. We may become avoiders and learn to dissociate from what is going on around us; we may seek to disappear. Later in life we may feel we cannot be bold and assertive, and that we do not deserve to have our needs gratified. Add to that the experience of sexual repression and such a person may become addicted to internet pornography.
What can our inner sex addict teach us?
One way to look at our inner addict is to think of it as being like our inner child. Our sexually addictive behavior has been described as an X-ray of our early trauma, things we learned to do to adapt to our history or to rewrite it.
The porn addict who loses himself in the internet for hours on end each day may have an inner child who desperately wants and needs to find sexual gratification without the sexual guilt messages that were handed down by his highly religious mother or father. In other ways he may have a “normal” life, but sexually he may be still adapting to an archaic situation.
The strength of the inner addict is that it is often a clever, self assertive part of us that we have split off and denied for a variety of reasons. What can we unearth if we embrace this inner addict, this survivor part of us?
Strengths of the inner addict
If the inner addict is a survivor it may represent:
A rebellious part of us; a part of us that feels angry about an injustice and wants to question authority.
A part of us that feels entitled to act selfishly and put ourselves first at times.
A part of us that wants to be a free spirit and escape responsibility; a part that wants spontaneity and joy that we do not allow ourselves.
A part of us that wants retribution; a part that wants to be strong and control things instead of feeling weak and controlled.
The inner addict is a doorway
If we can embrace those parts of ourselves that we have relegated to a shadow life, we can not only find a road map to unraveling our early trauma and freeing ourselves of our compulsive behavior. We can also integrate the strong and useful parts of our personality that were only able to express themselves through addictive acting out.
We started life as a being capable of great strength, confidence, joy and creativity. One way to find our way back is to use our inner addict as a model and trace our behavior back to the point in time when our ability to meet our selfish needs gave way to being furtive and deceptive; when that strong and joyous being got stifled.