What was I thinking?

How understanding your thoughts can help you recover from sex addiction and beat porn addiction

You wake up, the fog starts to lift from your mind, and the memories of the night before flood back in.  You pick up your phone and start deleting messages you made in the wee hours and quickly delete apps you’d downloaded the night before.  A hopelessness sweeps over you, and you say to yourself “what was I thinking?” and “How did I end up here again?”

Cognitive Distortions

The clients that come to the Laurel Centre seeking to overcome sex addiction and porn addiction, often ask themselves, and their therapist, these two questions.  Working with the sex addiction therapist, the client looks closely at their acting out behaviour and come to understand their individual triggers as well as faulty thinking – which we call “Cognitive Distortions”.  A cognitive distortion is a way of thinking, either consciously or unconsciously to do something that we know we should not do.  One common cognitive distortion that most of us have done in our lives is to park on double yellow lines and you may have thought “I’m only going to be two minutes” or “everyone parks on double yellow lines in this situation”.  The same applies for sex addiction and porn addiction.  Listed below are 10 common cognitive distortions which clients have identified for their acting out behaviour.

1. Rationalisation – “acting out is OK because I haven’t done it for ages which proves it isn’t an addiction” or “it’s not possible to masturbate without pornography”

2. Justification – “I can’t help it when I’m drunk” or “no-one could resist acting out when it’s handed to them on a plate” 

3. Minimisation – “I’ll only be online for 10 minutes” or “it’s not as bad as….”  

4. Magnifying – “I have had a horrendous day and I am so stressed that I cannot cope so I need to act out”

5. Blame – “if my partner was more into sex, I wouldn’t need to do this” or “if my work was more fulfilling, I wouldn’t act out” 

6. Entitlement – “I need to act out because I didn’t have much sexual experience when I was younger” or “I work extremely hard to support my family and deserve the occasional treat”

7. Uniqueness – “I’m a very successful person and people would expect me to enjoy sexual variety” or “I was born with a particular fetish and this is the only way to satisfy it”

8. Mental Filter – “last time I acted out was fantastic and I didn’t have any regrets” or “my partner is totally unreasonable all the time and so I need to act out”

9. Normalisation – “all men look at pornography” or “it’s instinctive to want to sleep with a beautiful person, or everyone wants to be desired”. 

10.  Invincibility – “I won’t ever get caught”, “no-one will ever know what I do” or “I won’t catch an STI”  

Correcting our cognitive distortions

Once you understand your cognitive distortions, you can identify when that thought first appeared, prior to acting out.  Being aware of our thoughts, gives us the power to either decide to act on that thought, to ignore it or to tell ourselves that thought is not correct.  Often, we can think we are powerless against our thoughts, when in fact, we do have the power to stop and correct our thinking.  When an intrusive thought pops into your head such as “I’ve had a really stressful day, I need to unwind”, you have  a choice to agree with that thought and self soothe with the sexual acting out behaviour OR argue with that thought, and say “yes I have had a stressful day, but going to a massage parlour straight after work is NOT going to de-stress me, I will feel guilt and shame as soon as I leave the parlour and I run the risk of my marriage ending.  Instead, I am going to go home and put on my jogging shoes and aim to get to 5k this evening”.  It takes a lot of hard work and determination, as well as a support network such as a therapist, friends, partner and/or a 12-step group to keep focused on correct thinking and maintain sobriety.

There’s a French proverb that says “there’s no softer pillow than a clear conscience” – so if you don’t want to wake up again feeling regret and hopelessness, become aware of your cognitive distortions and challenge them.