How to beat porn and sex addiction with an “attitude of gratitude” – Part One

Benefits of practicing gratitude when struggling with sex addiction 

Before we dive in to exploring the power of gratitude in sex/porn addiction recovery, I want to briefly introduce myself and let you know a little bit more about your author. My name is Harriet, I am the Communications Manager here at the Laurel Centre and it is my privilege to bring readers valuable information and resources to ignite hope and inspire positive change in their lives as they navigate the highs and the lows of addiction recovery. I’m grateful to play a small part in this work by managing this blog which leads me nicely on to the topic of my first post – gratitude.

If you’re anything like me, when you hear or read the phrase “attitude of gratitude”, you probably roll your eyes and cringe at the feel-good sentiment which seems overly simplistic. But I have some bad news (though it really is good news, of course), this is actually one of the things that popular psychology has got right. Practicing an attitude of gratitude really can be transformational and it’s the closest thing to a silver bullet that we’re ever going to get when it comes to mental wellbeing. Gratitude isn’t just a fluffy, feel-good emotion, in fact, it has been scientifically proven to improve virtually all aspects of daily life including quality of relationships, mental health and even physical health.

Now, when I say, “scientifically proven”, I can assure you that I’m not just pulling that term out of thin air. What I mean is there is legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific research on the topic undertaken by professionals that has been deemed both accurate and invaluable***. Research has shown that practicing gratitude and cultivating a grateful mindset has the following benefits:

1. Reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.

    Practicing gratitude has been shown to reduce our levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Instead, it activates the part of the brain that releases dopamine which makes us feel good.

    Furthermore, we often experience anxiety as a result of worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, but practicing gratitude helps us to live fully in the present and therefore reduces the likelihood of dwelling on anxiety-inducing thoughts.  

    2. Reduces feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts.

    Cultivating a grateful mindset naturally produces more positive thoughts and an optimistic view of the future which can help you get out of negative thought patterns which may lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.

    3. Helps you regulate your emotions and develop more resilience.

    Taking the time to reflect on all the things you appreciate in life has the effect of helping you keep perspective and balance your emotions. Many people who practice gratitude report feelings of personal growth, transformation, and resilience in the face of hardship.

    4. Improves physical health.

    Believe it or not, having a more grateful outlook on life also has physical health benefits. Research has shown that it can improve quality of sleep, increase your immunity to illness and some people even report feeling fewer aches and pains as a result.

    5. Improves quality of relationships and connection.

    Being grateful for the people who support us and showing that appreciation strengthens our relationships and deepens our connections. Gratitude can improve your ability to empathise with others, value their contribution to your life and, quite literally, make you a nicer person.

    6. Finally, gratitude has been proven to help people recover from addictions, including sex or porn, and stay in recovery.

    There are a few reasons why practicing gratitude seems to have such a positive impact on those recovering from sex or porn addiction. Essentially, gratitude is shown to be the driving force for positive change. It can help you to stay motivated and driven in your recovery as well as providing a means for self-reflection and emotional healing. Also, one researcher highlighted how recovery, in itself, produces feelings of gratitude which, in turn, help fuel continued recovery.

    “Life improves with recovery, such improvement is recognised and appreciated, and gratitude is the natural consequence. Relief and thankfulness likely would attend the lifting of the substantial burden of addiction. Therefore, recovery itself might prompt gratitude.”  – Amy R. Krentzman.

    The relationship between gratitude and reward in sex and porn addiction

    Gratitude is also closely related to the concept of “reward” which is, in turn, connected to sex and porn addiction. Now we’re all guilty of telling ourselves after a long, hard day that we deserve a treat – a reward – but this can be problematic, especially if your chosen reward is damaging and addictive sexual behaviours.

    In theory, there is nothing wrong with liking and having rewards, in fact, they’re constantly used as motivational tools. From childhood when you got gold stars in school to adulthood when you receive a bonus from work. But frankly, as we grow up, we tend to realise that hard work and challenges are not always rewarded. Sometimes, well, life just isn’t fair. And if you haven’t come to this realisation yet, it can be a tricky one to swallow and have a negative impact on your self-esteem. You might think there’s something wrong with you or you’re somehow unworthy because you’ve worked hard but you don’t seem to be getting rewarded for your efforts. So, whilst it’s ok to enjoy rewards and feel motivated by them, you cannot be dependent on them. You have to engage your more mature and rational brain and realise you don’t need a reward, you’d just like one. And additionally, you must consider the consequences of getting such a reward and choose rewards which are healthy.

    Practicing gratitude is connected to rewards and addiction in two simple ways. Firstly, feeling as if you deserve a reward is a common trigger for addicts, but when we’re grateful for what we already have, we’re less likely to seek rewards because we already feel rewarded. There is simply no perceived need for them. Secondly, when we do choose to reward ourselves, the options for reward become far greater and broader as we appreciate so many more things. Simply put, the more grateful you are for the small things, like being out amongst nature in the sunshine, the easier it is to reward yourself, and reward yourself more frequently. Positive rewards, little and often, are an important part of self-care, and the more grateful you feel, the more satisfying these will be.

    Next time, we’ll take a closer look at how you can practice an attitude of gratitude in everyday life with some simple exercises to help you beat sex or porn addiction.

    If you’re struggling with sex or porn addiction and want someone to talk to, you can use our ‘Talk to a Therapist’ service to find out more about the services we offer, both for people struggling with addiction, and those who love them.

    We also run a 6-day residential programme which has been proven to be effective for long-term recovery – you can read our peer reviewed results by clicking here. Our next course starts on 3rd June 2024 so please do get in touch ASAP for more information or if you’d like to sign-up. 

    ***

    Gratitude, abstinence, and alcohol use disorders: Report of a preliminary finding by Amy R. Krentzman. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. (2017).

    Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention by Robert A. Emmons and Robin Stern. Journal of Clinical Psychology. (2013).

    Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective wellbeing in daily life by Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (2003).