From whence the addictive drive? Understanding sex/porn addiction beginnings.

Reclaim Sexual Sanity:  Find Recovery Now by Calling 212-673-5717 for an Initial Consultation.  See www.sextreatment.com for 35 full-length articles about sex addiction and for details about my private practice.

From early infancy, it appears that our ability to regulate emotional states depends upon the experience of feeling that a significant person in our life is simultaneously experiencing a similar state of mind.                                                                 –Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.

Sexual recovery emcompasses many aspects of individual growth and development.  Gaining control over sexually compulsive behaviors is just the beginning of recovery.  Intrinsic to getting well is altering the underlying addictive process inherent in all addictions.

One of the characteristics of that process involves impaired self-regulatory ability.  Individuals afflicted with sex addiction have difficulty regulating their inner emotional processes and difficulty regulating their behaviors.

The pre-frontal cortex (the area of the brain negatively impacted by chronic iviewing of internet porn) is responsible for self-regulation.  Where does this impairment come from?

It comes from very early-life interactions with the mothering figure.  The formation of the child’s brain circuits is influenced by the mother’s conscious and unconscious emotional states that are impacted by stress, anxiety or depression.  These states influence the parent’s emotional interactions with the infant.  Attachment and attunement, two crucial aspects of the infant-parent relationship are the determining factors.

The right hemisphere of the mother’s brain, the side where our unconscious emotions reside, programs the infant’s right hemisphere.  In the early months of life, the most important communications between mother and infant are unconscios ones.  Incapable of deciphering the meaning of words, the infant receives messages that are purely emotional.  They are conveyed by the mother’s gace, her tone of voice and her body language, all of which reflect her unconscious internal emotional environment.  Anything that threatens the mother’s emotional security may disrupt the developing electrical wiring and chemical supplies of the infant brain’s emotion-regularing systems.

The effects of maternal moods on the electrial circuitry of the infant’s brain were demonstrated by a study at the University of Washington, Seattle. The study compared the EEG’s of two groups of infants:  one group whose mothers had symptoms of depression, the other whose mothers did not.  The infants of depressed mothers showed EEG’s demonstrating that the left-side of brain activity was effected in such a way that the influence of positive, youful infant-mother exchanges did not occur.  Significantly, these effects were noted only in the pre-frontal area of the brain, where the centers for self-regulation of emotion are located.

What infants need to cultivate a basic sense of safety, trust and self-regulation were signals that the mother is aligned with, reponsive to and participating in their mental states on a moment-to-moment basis.  Empathic immerson in the infant’s world was missing.  This sharing of emotional spaces is called attunement.  Emotional stress on the mother interferes with infant brain development because it interferes with the attunement contact.

Attunement is necessary for the normal development of the brain neuro-pathways and neurochemical hardware of emotional self- regulation.  It is a finely calibrated process requiring that the mother remain in a relatively nonstressed, nonanxious, nondepressed state of mind.

The tense or depressed mothering adult will not be able to accompany the infant into relaxed, happy states.

Infants whose caregivers were too stressed or depressed, for whatever reason, to give them the necessary attunement will grow up with a chronic tendency to feel alone with their emotions, to have a sense that no one can share how they feel, that no one can “understand.”

Attunement is the quintessentail component of a larger process, called attachment.  Attachment is simply our need to be close to another.  It represents the absolute need of the utterly and helplessly vulnerable human infant for secure, safe closeness with at least one nourishing, protective and available parent figure.

In human beings, attachment is a driving force of behavior for longer than in any other animal.  It is present throughout our lives.  We may attempt to satisfy the lack of human contact we crave by various  means, such as addictions, particularly sex/porn addiction which is characterized by a driven, compelling need to make a pseudo-connection to a source of validation and security.

Addiction is fueled by an unconscious longing for the perfect, blissful state of attunement missing from very-early life.  Because it is an infantile state, it can never be recovered in a mature, regulated, imperfect manner that characterizes most adult, reality-based attachments.  The addict’s perceived need to experience a safe, blissful state overrides and impairs his ability to get adult, appropriate needs met through connection with a loving other.  This results in an intimacy disorder which is said to be at the heart of sex addiction.

What’s to be done?  As we were wounded in relationship, we are cured by a relationship with an attentive, empathic therapist and by immersion in a caring community such as a 12-step group.  Therapy helps you to relinguish the dire need for perfect attunement that results in self destructive sex addiction and to replace it for  healthy ways to get legitimate needs met.

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