Holding on to Hope

So I'm committed to starting my recovery again.

I first attempted recovery about 10 years ago, when I was 29 years old but sadly it didn't stick. I had a very good year though. I was doing much better socially, I was looking after my health and I was largely free of porn use. But then the wheels came off. Difficult feelings started to come up, I started to struggle with sexual fantasies and I tried to suppress them. I was going to a 12-step group at the time and I made it into my one source of hope. I think that having a "higher power" felt comforting because, in head, that would mean that I wouldn't need other people as much. I tried to deal with my shame by getting close to another person who seemed as mired in shame as I was. We ended up dragging each other down. I was only just getting a handle on my shame and fear that had been built up through years of acting out. The things that he was sharing with me triggered these feelings of shame and fear in me again and I sank into despair. I gave up on recovery for 6 months. I regained all the weight I had lost. My shame and fear made me feel isolated from people again. I started using porn again as a way of escaping from those feelings. When I tried to start my recovery again, I felt so disheartened by how badly I had trashed it. I never quite managed to get it restarted. I was simply too angry with myself. Whenever I felt a craving, I would go into a spiral of blaming myself and trying to convince myself that it wasn't really happening.

I was so disappointed in myself that I ended up back in denial. I kept telling myself that my real problem was anxiety and depression and not addiction. I told myself that the reason the first attempt at recovery hadn't worked was that I hadn't dealt with my anxiety and depression. While it's true that I do have issues with anxiety and depression that go back to childhood, and it's true that I didn't deal with these issues in my first attempt at recovery, that doesn't mean that I don't also have a porn addiction. I know that there's no way that I can deal with my other mental health issues if I'm constantly over-stimulated sexually and my mind is conditioned to escape into porn and sexual fantasy every time things get difficult.

And those are my key reasons for really committing to recovery again. Having strong cravings to look at porn and to indulge in sexual fantasy are basically really inconvenient. Resisting these cravings is mentally exhausting. I need to learn to manage them and reduce them so that I can free up my mind to to work on my other issues and start living the life that I want to live.

My history
My issues with sex go back a long way, to before I found internet porn. I grew up in a household where there was a lot of sexual shame. I also suffered from depression and anxiety from a young age, had little motivation to do anything and had a really poor self-image. The fact that I was depressed meant that immediate sources of pleasure were the only thing that really excited me - things like eating sugary foods to excess and masturbating. I think that my mental health issues also contributed to my poor impulse control. The sense that sex was something shameful, I think added to my curiosity about it which made me feel even more drawn to it.

On top of all this, I was bullied at school, often in a quite sexual way. For example the experiences in school changing rooms at an all boys school. I felt like my sexuality was a sick joke. I tried to present myself to the world as asexual. The other boys would also try and get me to look at pornographic magazines to make me feel uncomfortable.

While I was going through puberty and started to have sexual responses to women that I saw in TV and films, I would feel perverse. The feelings sometimes upset and scared me. I don't think it helped that I was going to an all boys school and didn't know any girls my own age. All my sexual feelings were about images that I saw on screen or in print.

I started to collect images of women from newspapers, my mother's women's magazines, fashion catalogues etc. Masturbating to them in secret felt very emotionally charged for me. I was angry at being made to feel so ashamed. I sort of embraced the feelings of perversity. Feeling attracted to beautiful, confident women while I was feeling so bad about myself triggered feelings of humiliation. Feeling humiliated started to feel like it was part of my sexuality.

We first got dial up internet at home in the late '90s when I was about 15. I was fearful of using it to look at porn because I knew how my parents would react if they found out. But my curiosity got the better of me. When I knew that my family were going out, I would look forward to sneaking looks at a few images at a time. I was nervous about staying on the internet for too long in case my parents tried to call and found the phone to be engaged and suspected what I was doing.

I discovered pornography that fuelled my humiliation fantasies. I was starting to get hooked. A few years later when I started thinking about going to university, I remember that one of the things I was looking forward to was the ability to look at porn without having to worry about my parents finding out. By this point, I was going to a mixed gender school and there was a young woman that I liked and was attracted to but I found that I couldn't get turned on when I thought of her. This worried me.

I started to act out the humiliation fantasies on myself, eventually to the point where I injured myself in an embarrassing way. It was nothing too extreme in the big scheme of things but it scared me a lot due to my naivety and shame. I didn't know where to turn for support. I fell into a serious depression about it. I couldn't believe that I had done this to myself. I found it distressing that the same sexual fantasies kept going round in my head even though they had led me to harm myself. I started to ruminate over all the times I had been humiliated while I was growing up. I was looking for something or someone to blame for how I had become so messed up. It was the only way that I could think of to stop blaming myself.

I kept going as best I could. At university, I tried to resist using the internet connection in my room to look at porn. Again, I gave into temptation. I was initially worried about getting into trouble with the university about it. When it seemed like there would be no consequences, I started looking more and more frequently, for more extended period of time. I knew that something was wrong but I didn't know how to stop. When I wasn't acting out, I simply tried to not think about it.

After I left university and started to look for jobs, I resolved to quit looking at porn. I still masturbated to fantasies based on what I had seen in porn though. I didn't feel equipped for the world outside of university. I channelled my frustration into my sexual fantasies. Shortly after I was offered my first job and was waiting for all the referencing to be done so that they could offer me a contract, I started to worry that the employers might somehow find out about my porn habits. I hadn't exactly been discreet about it and had used an email address containing my real name to sign up to pornographic newsgroups. I thought the employers would find it so extreme that they would have second thoughts about employing me. This feeling escalated into the concern that someone could find out about my excessive porn use and I would be exposed as a pervert and my life would fall apart. This wasn't based on anything in reality. It was just a lifetime of sexual shame and compulsivity talking. One some level, I knew this but that didn't stop me sinking into unmanageable levels of despair. The despair that I felt put immense strain on my relationship with my family. I still didn't know where to turn to. I didn't even know that my behaviours could be thought of as an addiction so I just felt sick with myself. My porn habit continued. I continued looking back to my childhood for something to or someone to blame. It was still the only thing I could think of to try and stop hating myself and feel human again.

It was another six years before I found sought out sex/porn addiction treatment and by that time, my head was a complete mess. I'll write more about my first attempt at recovery in my next post.
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First attempt at recovery
As I said in my last post, it was after I had been offered my first job that I first started to really consider what people would think of my online porn habits and how out of control they looked. I remember the day that it dawned on me and I kind of went into shock. Realising how out of control I had been brought back a lifetime of issues with sexual shame all at once. My tendency towards depression and anxiety made it hard for me to keep the feeling in proportion. Since I had nowhere to turn for support, the feeling of shock spiralled out of control in my mind. I genuinely feel that it was a kind of trauma. I tried to live with that trauma all by myself for 6 years before I discovered that the problem could be considered an addiction. In that time, I had resigned myself to never feeling well ever again.

Once I found out that it could be considered an addiction, I started to attend a 12-step group and I found a therapist who specialised in sex addiction treatment. The first thing that the therapist did was to speak to me about confidentiality and reassure me that I was safe in therapy with her. I can see why she said that, as there is so much shame about this issue. And there was even more shame about it back in 2011 when the issue was not as widely known about. Since I had been so scared for so long, I felt a wave of relief at what she said that. However, I wasn't ready to share everything right away. Unfortunately she couldn't offer me a regular appointment at that time but offered to fit me in when other clients cancelled. We started to fall into a routine of fitting in an appointment every 1-2 weeks. I tried to talk to her about the level of fear that I had been feeling. She tried to reassure me that out of control porn use often takes people to very dark places and they are usually not to blame. However, I think I needed to talk about it and deal with it as a trauma.

One of the difficulties that I faced in recovery was untangling all the different issues involved. I think I clearly had pre-existing issues with anxiety and depression and some difficult issues stemming from my upbringing and experiences at school. I also have a lot of sexual shame which led to me having some early experiences with pornography that I found genuinely traumatic. And the sexual shame definitely made the experience of the addiction especially traumatic. It was difficult to work out which of the consequences I was dealing with came from which issues. At that particular time, I think that the main issue by far was the trauma - the disproportionate shame and fear that I felt. I think that was really what I needed to focus on at the start of therapy. Without dealing with the trauma, I simply wasn't in the right mental state to move forwards and work on the other challenges of recovery.

It was also kind of confusing to me that my issues with sex clearly pre-existed my discovery of online porn and definitely pre-existed my first experiences with using porn on high-speed broadband. I'm not sure whether you would call my pre-internet sexual behaviours an addiction or whether it was more like an obsession and compulsion driven by extreme levels of sexual shame. There was also the issue that my behaviours escalated so quickly on discovering internet porn and then again on starting to use high-speed broadband porn. My obsessive reaction was immediate, not something that developed with repeated use. I think this shows the way that sexual addiction and issues with sexual shame interact. Shame-driven obsession drives repeated use that turns into addiction. I think I've also read that stress puts the brain into a state that's more strongly drawn to immediate rewards and also makes the brain's reward pathways more easily shaped by experience. I've also read that feelings of shame themselves activate the brain's reward pathways which is perhaps why feelings of shame and the thoughts associated with them are so hard to get out of our heads.

Later on in therapy, she tried to get me to look to my future and set some goals for myself. This brought up quite a lot of issues for me and I won't go into all of them here. I'll just write about the main issue I had with this, which was that I had stopped seeing any kind of bright future for myself. In the 6 years, I had spent beating myself up about my behaviours (without even realising that it could be thought of as an addiction) and trying to make myself feel human again, I had simply stopped having any hope for the future and started to live in an eternal present where I was only just coping. Trying to feel positive about the future was deeply painful. I was too stuck in shame and regret. I found it comforting to talk about my past and about how my addiction developed. It gave me the feeling of being human again. I wanted to feel connected to the sense of safety that my therapist had given me when she said that I was safe to share anything with her.

My recovery became driven by shame. I tried to achieve extreme levels of control over my sexuality. This was my way of trying to deal with the shame of being so out of control. It also related to my childhood experiences of sexual shame. In particular, my efforts to control my sexuality were linked to the idea that I formed in adolescence that it was humiliating for me to experience sexual feelings towards attractive women. I hated that it made me feel that they had power over me - the power to make me have sexual feelings that I didn't want to have, the power to make me feel humiliated. I hoped that if I achieved these extreme levels of control over my sexual feelings then I would be able to avoid the feeling of humiliation that went with them.

I resisted making the positive changes that my therapist was suggesting. She challenged my resistance and I actually did start making some positive changes but I initially did it with the attitude that I was resigned to it rather than feeling especially positive about it. I no longer felt like I could be honest about the way that shame was weighing me down so my resistance was making me feel stupid. I felt resigned to making positive changes in the sense that I realised I could no longer resist them.

While the positive changes started to add up and give me a much better life, I still felt the shame inside. I remember one day when I realised all the positive changes that I was capable of and the shame that was the reason why I had been resisting them for so long. I started to feel like everything positive about me had come from my therapist. I hated the fact that I had needed someone like her to bring about positive change in me. It felt awful.

I ended therapy abruptly and started to throw myself into a 12 step group. I think I wanted to replace my therapist with the higher power of the 12 steps. If I was so ashamed that I had to feel like someone or something else was the source of all that was good in me then I would rather it was a higher power than a therapist.

This is when I ended up getting too close to someone in the group who seemed even more mired in shame than I was. As I said, I allowed him to drag me down. I invited him to share things with me which I wasn't able to handle. He asked me to support him with things that I wasn't able to handle. I didn't feel able to say now after how I had declared how important the 12 step group was to me and how it had "saved" me. My feelings of fear and shame rose to the surface again. I felt utterly stupid. I felt that to go back to my therapist would make me feel really small. I did email her to say I'd messed myself up and she replied with some advice but said it wasn't a good idea for me to start seeing her again.

The feelings of shame and fear led to despair. I couldn't believe I was stuck with these feelings again. I felt separate from the world again. I felt at a distance from all the new friends that I had made. They couldn't understand why I was suddenly acting so differently. I started to turn to porn and sexual fantasy again as a source of comfort.

I almost deliberately trashed my recovery because of how my therapist made me feel. I felt absolutely sickened by what I had done. It's been difficult to pick myself up again ever since.
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I thought I'd write about this under a separate heading because it's such an important aspect of my condition and of why my first attempt at recovery went so badly wrong.

My understanding of grandiosity is that it is often a defence mechanism against feelings of shame. A person convinces them that they possess a specialness or importance that is out of touch with reality as a way of avoiding feeling the pain of their wounded self-esteem. Grandiosity seems to be particularly common amongst people with addictions. Their loss of control causes them to lose self-esteem which the grandiosity covers up. But also, they may have wounded self-esteem from childhood or other events in their lives. They may develop grandiose traits that help them to avoid feeling the pain of this wound but it is also stops them from dealing with the source of their pain and is a factor that pre-disposes them to addiction in the first place.

In my case, my grandiosity stems from childhood bullying but also from highly critical parents. Both my parents had been abused and neglected as children and had spent significant portions of their childhood away from their own parents. They simply had no idea how to be parents. I don't blame them but their primary parenting tool for changing their children's behaviour was to "make the child feel so bad that they'll do good."

On top of this, they had high expectations for me to achieve academically. I showed early academic promise but often failed to perform to my best. I think it was largely the anxiety and depression that were holding me back. When I wasn't performing well academically, my parents seemed distraught and I felt like I had lost my one source of self-esteem. When I did start performing well again, I worried that I was a fraud that would eventually be found out. I definitely became grandiose about my academic performance - my one source of self-esteem which I secretly felt incredibly insecure about.

My grandiose tendencies made it hard to accept my addiction. I kept trying to make sense of how I could have fallen into addiction and rationalise it and reconcile it with my grandiosity.

My grandiosity made it hard for me to accept help from my therapist. Admitting that I needed someone else to help me to understand my own feelings, thoughts and behaviours made me feel incredibly small. My therapist actually told me that my grandiosity was getting in the way of therapy. She tried to be as kind as possible about it and reassured me that it was a defence against shame and that I needed to find a way to nurture my hurt "inner child". I wanted to do this, especially after the unfortunate interactions in the 12-step groups. But the feelings of fear and shame were too strong. I felt like I had missed my chance. I felt ashamed of my grandiosity and this shame fuelled more grandiosity which in turn fuelled more shame. I got stuck in another downward spiral.

I think that grandiosity also messed with my ability to pursue meaningful goals in my life. Setting goals reminds me of what I am currently not and do not currently have. My fragile self-esteem finds this very difficult to sit with and reflect on. I sink into despair or I frantically try to escape the feeling of being not ok. The need to set realistic goals punctures my grandiosity. Realistic goals expose my shame rather than motivate me. I try to avoid setting goals altogether. I choose to escape into grandiose fantasy instead.

I think that the way around this is to try and rediscover my authentic pride in myself. To take pride in learning, even learning from my own mistakes and learning from others. To develop myself out of a sense of pride as opposed to doing it as a way to escape my feelings of inferiority. I think I need to "embrace the journey" and learn to find the journey rewarding in itself.

This is another way of dealing with shame that played a big role in my addiction and in why my first attempt at recovery went so badly wrong.

Realising that your behaviour is out of control brings a lot of bad feelings. One way of dealing with this is to simply stop fighting it and pretend that you like being out of control.

Furthermore, being out of control and needing someone else to help me regain control recalled childhood feelings of when, as a child, my parents had to do their jobs and act to alter my behaviour - but unfortunately shame was the only tool that they had to do this with. A child's natural response to their parents trying to control them using shame might include defiance. I think I projected my parent's use of shame onto my therapist and took the same childish attitude of defiance towards her efforts to change me. This especially became a problem after I had ended therapy with her and I think it is a key reason why my behaviours escalated.

I felt absolutely sick that it was my childish grandiosity and defiance that caused me to sabotage the progress that we had made in therapy. I think this is why I found the experience so difficult to move on from.

I think that's enough about the past for now. I'll write about my current situation in my next post and how I'm approaching recovery now.
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Day 25

I kind of started this attempt at recovery by accident. I moved house recently and I think the internet connection at the new place is blocking "adult" material by default. My housemate set it up and I haven't worked out how to turn the blocker off yet. I was tempted once or twice but came to my senses before I worked it out. I have also installed blocking software on my PC and smartphone.

I've had a few slips by searching for photos of women on social media but I'm still counting this as day 25 because I've been moving in the right direction and holding on to my desire to give this stuff up.

My main motivation for quitting is that cravings are basically really inconvenient and distracting and resisting them is draining. I truly believe the neuroscience that shows brain changes involved in these compulsive behaviours. I want my brain back. I want my focus back.

I'm in a pretty difficult situation at the moment. My anxiety and depression have caused me to make some really poor financial decisions over the past 17 years. I'm sure that the brain-fog of addiction didn't help either. I'm literally hundreds of thousands worse off than I could have been if I'd just been able to make some slightly better choices. I've been chronically indecisive in my life. I got into one of those patterns where I kept thinking that I would be able to making the decision in a few months, next month, next week, tomorrow and then found myself in the same situation a few years later, finding that making no choice is also making a choice. I would then panic and try to make up for lost time as quickly as possible and either burn myself out frantically trying to make the perfect decisions or would make decisions on impulse. I'm in a situation where I need to make a decision pretty soon. My anxiety makes me feel pressured to make the decision as soon as possible. I find it hard to switch off my mind. I'm getting flustered and freezing up. I'm looking into getting more medical help to deal with the anxiety and depression.

I must remember that, even though I have anxiety and depression as separate conditions, I still have the addiction too and will need to address that before I can be effective at addressing my other mental health conditions.

My biggest triggers right now are the mornings when I wake up with feelings of dread about the decisions that I need to make. When I try to seek out pictures of women on social media etc, it just feels really dark at the moment. I know that this behaviour has contributed to so much sheer waste in my life that will have a lasting effect on the rest of my life. It's a horrible thing to have to face.

One thing that I'm trying to consider in this attempt at recovery is the dangers of attempting to rigidly control urges. I've read that it's unhelpful to attempt to suppress thoughts, feelings and urges if this results in us feeling threatened by those thoughts, feelings and urges. People tend to end up monitoring their minds for these threatening thoughts, feelings or urges and therefore they will be primed to think of the very thing that they're trying to avoid thinking, feeling or doing. My history is full of this unhelpful suppression of thoughts and feelings. I think it actually played a role in how my addiction developed in the first place. Strong feelings of sexual shame caused my sexual thoughts and feelings to become highly emotionally charged and I tried to avoid them which caused them to strongly rebound into my mind. When I became exhausted with this process, I would give in and I learned to revel in the feelings of shame that came with indulging my sexual urges. While this isn't addiction in itself, it certainly drove obsessive sexual fantasy and porn use which led to addiction. The worst thing that I used to do was to beat myself up simply for having certain feelings and cravings.

I brought this attitude into my first attempt at recovery and it set me up for a spiral of attempting to suppress sexual urges, followed by relapse. Because suppression of urges can work temporarily, it's easy to assume that it's a basically good approach to rely on suppression to prevent ourselves from acting on urges. When the strategy eventually fails, we assume that it's because we didn't try hard enough which leads to shame and self-criticism.

It's also important to remember that the opposite of suppression isn't self-indulgence. The most sustainable approach for the long-term appears to be to learn to notice cravings, accept them, but at the same time to also remember that we don't need to act on them. This is easier said than done though. Once an addiction has developed, the cravings have become incredibly strong and the brain's ability to reflect on cravings while holding onto the idea that they don't need to be acted on has been diminished. Therefore, I don't think that this is a strategy for self-control that I can rely on at this stage in my recovery. These brain changes are why I'll need things like porn blockers for a while.

However, learning about this gives me an idea of what I'm aiming for in my recovery instead of aiming for a lifetime of rigid self-control. One particularly important lesson is to try to not see my cravings as a threat and to try to reduce my strong emotional reactions to them. This is no easy task though given the history that I've had with this, the traumas that it's caused me and what it has cost me. I'm not exactly sure what the way around this is but I think I'm working it out. I don't have time to think how to word it now but I think it relates to ideas such as self-compassion, self-forgiveness and acceptance. Acceptance of the things that I cannot change - and I cannot change the past and it's consequences. Reaching out for support has helped me to tolerate and accept the consequences, up to a point (although I'll probably still need to vent my frustration about my situation in this journal from time to time).

Since I've spoken about acceptance and I should probably also talk about the fact that I also need to remain aware of my ability to change the future and how I respond to the challenges of the present. I also need to learn to be wise enough to know what I can't change and what I can. There's certainly a lot of things that it would not be wise to push myself to do at this stage of my recovery. There are many things that I can change in the longer-term but cannot change yet.
Day 27
Yesterday morning, I briefly indulged in a fantasy about something I saw in porn a few months ago. This morning, I searched for non-nude pictures of celebrities but didn't feel that interested. Not ideal, but I wasn't enticed to actually try and look at porn on my phone though.

Mornings are the toughest time for me so I thought I'd write something about the reasons why. I tend to see the negative in things. I have some important decisions to make and it feels like whatever I do, the outcome will be negative. I feel it weighing down on me in the mornings.

Once I get up, I feel better. I'm still not great at facing the decision but I'm better placed to do it than when I'm in bed.

I think I need to remember to stay calm as best I can, list the pros and cons the best I can and then accept that I may not make the best decision.

People say that you shouldn't make big decisions early in recovery. But postponing a decision is still a decision and if I postpone this one, it will be very costly so I think I'm going to need to take a risk.

I think this shows the importance of not being addicted and is the whole point of allowing the brain to rewire. Even if my porn use doesn't have any direct consequences, I believe that my brain is still affected. When it comes to making important decisions or dealing with challenges then I'm simply not mentally prepared to do it.

The thought of acting out should make me feel sick when I see what it has done to my life. I need to remember that but also remember to look to the future and believe that it can be better. I guess it's hard to strike a balance between feeling sick at what this addiction has done to me and also not seeing my cravings as a threat.

I think another thing about acting out in the mornings is that it's just a habit. I don't feel turned on by the idea. It's just what my brain is accustomed to do before I get out of bed. I think the compulsion adds to the feelings of anxiety. I've got to remember that my porn use does nothing for me emotionally - all I'm doing is feeding a craving, and the cravings will pass in time.
I'm crying.

I can't believe the wreckage of the last 10 years. All the time spent in denial. I would read all the blogs and articles where people say that this isn't a real addiction. I believed them because I wanted to believe them.

10 years wasted because porn addiction treatment made me feel small. I'm still stuck in my unsatisfying, lonely life. Future damaged too - I may never be in a relationship. I may never be in a job that I find rewarding. I need to make an important decision now with a brain that hasn't recovered from years of over-stimulation and abuse.

It hurts so much.

All I have now is my recently rediscovered faith.
Just a few more thoughts. Writing is helping me to come to terms with things.

As I've said before, one of the reasons that my first attempt at recovery went so wrong is that I didn't find a way to strike a balance between dealing with my shock/grief and looking to the future and setting goals. I didn't feel comfortable setting goals because I was still dealing with so much shock/grief. When talking about the future came up in therapy, I resisted. My therapist tried to challenge my resistance and seemed to become frustrated - the idea that I was "being a victim" came up a few too many times. I started to feel bad about myself and ashamed about not being able to work on goals. I didn't feel able to say why I found it so difficult and to ask for help.

I sought comfort in my 12-step group where I was getting to know people who I thought would stand by me no matter what. Even if my worst fears came true about how people would react if they found out about my addiction, I thought that I would still have the support of the people in my 12-step group. I felt safe.

When everything went wrong with my recovery in the 12-step group, I started to think that my therapist had been right. When I came out of the depression that I had fallen into, I tried to rush headlong into pursuing goals to prove that I wasn't a "victim". This idea of being a victim is something that I'll write about in more detail at some point. I think there's useful things about the idea. However, the way I took it at the time was not helpful. Like so many things, I interpreted it as another way to criticise myself to motivate change - as in saying to myself "don't be such a victim!" to try and make myself snap out of feeling depressed and when I was frustrated.

I'd lost sight of the way that the comforting of difficult emotions and working towards goals should interact. I remember something that someone told me about the origins of the word "comfort". It comes from the Latin word "comfortare" which means "to strengthen". Knowing this origin gave me a new perspective on the idea of comfort. Comforting ourselves should not be seen as a way to withdraw from the world, but as a way to strengthen ourselves so that we can deal with tomorrow's challenges. This idea became difficult for me as I was searching for comfort in the 12-step group and not working on my goals there but on the other hand, going to a therapist who was trying to get me to work on goals but hadn't helped me to work through the shock and grief that were the reasons that I found it difficult to set goals.

I'm going to try and balance these two aspects of recovery this time. I'm not sure exactly how though. I think it comes down to using wisdom to balance acceptance and change again. Accepting myself exactly as I am, even though there are things about myself that I want to change. Realising that some of the things that I want to change about myself will not be immediately possible, in part because of my current emotional state. And learning to accept this fact, with compassion rather than frustration. Realising that working through my current emotional problems are the things that I need to work on at that time, even though there are other things that I would rather work on changing. I suppose that the thing I need to be wary of is convincing myself that I'm not ready to pursue goals because I'm not emotionally ready. I think I can avoid that, if I stay reflective about it and maybe deliberately ask myself the question every week: "what goals are you ready to start pursuing now?"
Day 28
So I keep having these flashbacks to my first attempt at recovery 10 years ago. It comes up a lot.

I remember after I relapsed just after I turned 30. I gave up on taking care of myself physically. Someone commented on how I was falling back into bad habits - he didn't know about this addiction but he noticed that I was over-eating again and regaining the weight that I had lost during my recovery. I said it was because I was depressed. He tried to motivate me and he said that I needed to keep up the good work because if I was stuck in bad habits when I was 40 then it really would be a depressing situation. I think my defiance crept in. Part of me thought "I don't care" and "you don't know what I'm going through". All the shame and fear that comes with this addiction that I had to deal with in secret, how it weighed me down.

So here I am, almost 40 years old and still dealing with the same issues. I'm trying to avoid regrets and stay positive but I'll come back to that later in the post.

I'm also thinking about what I got wrong in my first attempt at recovery. I said that the 12-step group felt like a safe place for me. However, I didn't actually share the depths of my shame and fear with them. Most of what I said was indirect, over-thought and, to some extent, a performance.

The next problem was that I had tried to share the depths of my shame and fear with my therapist and still wasn't quite fully honest. I dropped strong hints that it was what I needed to talk about but never directly said it. I needed time to build trust but I didn't want to give myself that time. My therapist tried to draw it out of me in a very direct way and I backed off a bit and started to edit myself. When I tried again to say what I needed to say, my therapist said that she "couldn't rescue me". I took this to mean that I needed to be strong and that I shouldn't talk about it anymore. I don't think I was really asking to be rescued. I was asking for help in dealing with how traumatised I was. When we started to talk about group therapy, I said that I wasn't ready because of the level of shame and fear that I felt. I wasn't sure that other sex addicts (for example people who had been sleeping around behind their partners' backs) would be able to identify with what I was going through. She said that I didn't need to share anything that made me feel uncomfortable or that I didn't want to. While I'm trying to let go of my resentment towards that therapist, I do think this was a particularly bad response. I needed to talk about this, even though I didn't particularly want to. I needed to deal with the trauma of living in shame and fear for over 10 years.

The more I think about it, the more I'm aware that this feeling of shame and fear was such a stumbling block in my recovery. I sought out recovery in order to deal with that shame and fear. Being able to label my problem as an addiction temporarily took away some of that shame and fear. I told myself that if I had an addiction then it meant that I wasn't simply a pervert. This muddled up my thinking. I can now accept that my unhealthy attitudes towards sex contributed to the development of my addiction and to my struggle in fighting it - and that my addiction reinforced those unhealthy attitudes towards sex. I needed to look at those unhealthy attitudes to sex - but it was difficult for me to not blame myself for having them and to come to the conclusion that maybe I was a pervert after all.

Another problem was that my primary motivation in recovery was to deal with the shame and fear. Recovering from the addiction was a secondary motivation. I wanted to recover from the addiction as a way to deal with the shame and fear. For me, this was not a sustainable motivation. It led me into an unhealthy attempt to rigidly control of my sexuality as a way to try and escape from the shame and fear. It was also driven by my unhealthy attitudes to sex.

I don't think I did anything wrong in entering recovery to deal with my shame and fear. I think that's an initial stage of recovery for lots of people. Some treatment models for sex addiction even have initial stages of recovery that include dealing with shock and dealing with grief. However, I was never able to move past these stages. I wasn't able to build enough trust with my therapist to deal with the shame and fear in therapy. I wasn't even able to be fully honest in my 12-step group.

Over the years, I have managed to deal with the shame and fear to some extent - through other experiences of therapy and through general reading around the subject. I have learned to look at my unhealthy attitudes to sex and the role they have played in my problem. I think I can now do this without blaming myself. There's one self-help book that I had a look at which talks about understanding my arousal template and thinking of some parts of my addiction as "courtship gone awry". I found these ideas useful because they helped me to understand what my unhealthy attitudes to sex mean for me and my recovery. When people talk about men's unhealthy attitudes to sex, they often talk in terms of cultural attitudes and the conversation can come across as quite shaming and blaming towards men who hold these unhealthy attitudes. Bringing the focus back to me and my experiences as an individual, as opposed to talking about it at the level of culture, has helped me to look at this with more self-compassion.

So I'm coming back to what my motivation for recovery is this time.

I recently quit smoking. Over the years, I have smoked sporadically but was thankfully never hooked for long periods of time. This time, I started to chain-smoke though. The stress of trying to sort my life out caused the habit to get very out of control. There are lots of reasons to want to quit smoking including health reasons but the main reason that I've resisted the cravings to start smoking again is that feeling that constantly needing to have another cigarette every hour or so was really inconvenient. My motivation for quitting is to not be addicted anymore because I want my mind to be fully my own again and to not be pulled around by cravings. I realised that these cravings were just making the stress of my current situation worse and not better. Once I realised this, and really wanted to not be addicted, I found it much easier to resist.

Likewise, my motivation for quitting porn is the desire to not be addicted any more. I want my brain to heal so that I can focus on living my life. My motivation for quitting is no longer as a way to deal with the shame of my past but to have a better future. I still have some grief to deal with but I'm not allowing it to sap my motivation. I'm reaching out for support in dealing with the grief. My future will never be what it could have been if I hadn't had this addiction. It will never be what it could have been if I'd dealt with this addiction 10 years ago. I'm coming to terms with that and understanding why I wasn't able to deal with it 10 years ago. But my future can still be something good if I am not addicted. I am lucky to have not lost so much more than I have done and I a feel grateful for that.
So back to the present.

Decision making is so hard for me. As I get more time of abstinence from porn, my head is definitely starting to clear but there's a long way to go.

I'm really blowing it with some decisions that I need to make now.

Very frustrating but I won't let it stop my recovery. Very anxiety provoking. I'm seeing a psychiatrist tomorrow. Hopefully they'll be able to help me with that.
Another flashback to my first attempt at recovery.

I remember in my last session with the therapist that I was seeing. I said something about what my addiction "was" like rather than what it "is" like. The therapist made a comment about how positive this sounded - I was putting my addiction in my past.

In many ways, I think I had actually beaten the addiction really effectively. However, I was still so full of shame. I actually wanted to believe that I was still an addict. I felt like I still needed the 12-step meetings where I had to go and say I was an addict. They felt like a source of security to me. I was still so full of shame that I didn't feel able to join the rest of humanity. Being a "recovering addict" was the only positive identity that I had and I didn't want to give it up.

As I said before, I also didn't want to give my therapist credit for helping me to put my addiction in the past. It hurt my pride too much to need expert help from someone who had never suffered from a serious addiction themselves.

What stupid reasons to throw away my recovery!

I'm still focused on moving on. Just getting out all the grief that I'm carrying.
I’m at a stage where the self-hatred is coming on strong so I thought I'd try writing about it.

Weirdly, I think the first thing that comes to mind is gratitude. The whole idea of it fills me with self-loathing. It's so hard to feel grateful when my whole life feels like a disaster of my own making. Gratitude feels like a very lame way of consoling myself.

I think that part of the problem is that the way that I come across the idea of gratitude often makes me feel that I shouldn't feel frustrated or upset or any grief about what has been lost. Gratitude is not some magic trick that makes all negative emotions go away.

This sense that I shouldn't feel certain feelings or that I'm not allowed to feel certain feelings is a really strong one for me and it goes back to childhood. I was first diagnosed with depression/anxiety when I was 8 years old. My mother claims to have no recollection of this happening but it's quite clear from my medical records that it did and I also remember it quite clearly. I think my parents were worried about how it would reflect on them to have a child with mental health problems. I remember my parents trying to manipulate me into telling the person who was treating me that I was feeling ok after all. I can remember laughing on one occasion and my mum saying that it indicated that I wasn't really depressed. I think there was a lot of denial and clutching at straws to prove that there wasn't really a problem. My medical records contain a letter from the psychologist to my doctors saying that I wasn't being taken to the appointments. The psychologist said that my father said that I was feeling better (which I wasn't). The psychologist said that I was at risk of becoming depressed again if I didn't receive treatment. I think my parents grudgingly took me to the remaining sessions with the psychologist. There's another letter from the psychologist saying that I was doing better was still at risk of becoming depressed again and may need further treatment. She asked that my parents and I be honest and seek out further treatment if I did become depressed again. Needless to say, my parents made me feel deeply ashamed of being honest about my feelings after that.

I can remember going through a phase where I would burst into tears because I was so bored. My mother would mock my crying.

It's such a basic approach to parenting. "Make the child feel bad about expressing negative emotions until they shut up - problem solved!". As though I was some kind of stimulus-response machine that could be made to feel exactly how they wanted me to feel by shaming all negative emotions. In other words, "making me feel so bad about being depressed that I felt good".

When people talk about gratitude, I hear the same critical parent telling me to suppress and hide my emotions: "You're so ungrateful. What do you have to be depressed about? What do you have to be anxious about?".

It's not that my parents were neglectful of my emotions or that they ignored them - they instead had very strong negative reactions to my emotions and tried to change the way I expressed them or change my feelings altogether. I think the worst part of it was that they used humiliation and shame to try and control me.

This obviously had the opposite of the intended effect. Feeling ashamed of my feelings of depression and anxiety and trying to suppress them only made those feelings bounce back harder and stronger and caused me to focus on them more.

I think this goes to the heart of my addiction. I find that the following video explains it quite well.

I think that what drives so much of my addiction is that I've learned to feel contempt for my emotions and for my need to be emotionally cared for. A pattern that was clearly set up in childhood. It certainly give me a lot more insight into what it means to be triggered. It's not just my emotions themselves that set me on the path toward addictive behaviour but the contempt that I've learned to feel for my own emotions puts me in the frame of mind where I feel like I need to escape them and obliterate them.

I think that this unfortunate pattern played out in therapy 10 years ago as well. When I heard things such as "I can't rescue you", I felt it meant that there was no point in talking about what I was going through. When I heard about my "victim" mindset, I felt ashamed of my feelings of hopelessness and fear. When I heard about "emotional intelligence", I felt that I wouldn't have to feel the way that I did if only I wasn't so stupid.

I know that some of this would have been me projecting my childhood experiences onto my experience of therapy. However, I do think that the therapist used some of these concepts in an incredibly clumsy way and I did end up in group therapy with people whose experiences were very different to my own - there's no way I would ever feel comfortable sharing my feelings with them.

In particular, I feel that the clumsy use of the word "victim" did a lot of damage. The therapist's seemed to be using the word "victim" in the sense that I should be so ashamed of being a victim that it would motivate me to change. I think that the therapist did pick up on my projection of her as a "critical parent" and I do think that she reacted and fell into that role in a very unprofessional way.

There's a lot more that I can say about my victim mentality and I'm sure that it's something that I'll return to.
So resentment seems like a good thing to write about next. It seems to be a key topic in addiction recovery and is famously a key part of Step 4 of the 12 steps.

I have found that some 12-step groups can be highly judgemental about how people handle their emotions. In some meetings people seem to adopt an excessive level of stoicism to the point where any expression of negative emotion is seen as a weakness. The tone seemed to me to very much be "don't feel that, the program says you're not supposed to feel that.". The "just for today card" that comes from AA says "I will not show anyone that my feelings are hurt; they may be hurt, but I will not show it". Encountering the idea that my feelings must be hidden was very hard for me, given my background. I'm sure that I'm not the only one to have got into a bad pattern with 12-step groups where I kept going back hoping to find emotional support but to be met with the message that my feelings must be hidden which recalls feelings of humiliation that only intensifies the emotions and leads to yet more "advice" that my feelings must be hidden.

I think that this unhelpful approach to emotions in 12-step groups really comes through in how people approach resentments. I'm writing about how people approach the subject in meetings and sponsorship rather than how it's dealt with in the Big Book of AA, which I'll probably write about later.

People will talk about how the word resentment comes from the French word "ressentir" which means "to feel again". They'll talk about how we may have been wronged in the past but if we keep ruminating on it then we're "doing it to ourselves". So if you find yourself reliving past hurts then just keep saying to yourself "why are you hitting yourself? why are you hitting yourself?" and that will supposedly help you to get over it. Don't have resentments - they're bad for you.

I found that this attitude didn't leave much room for compassion or awareness of my emotions. It made me feel embaressed of my emotions and sent me back into the desperate desire to avoid feeling anything. I'm sure that there's a better approach.

I think that the following is a really good blog post on the topic of resentment:

I'll try to briefly give my understanding of it here.

When faced with a threat, our nervous system can respond by going into fight or flight mode or if our nervous system concludes that we are incapable of fighting back or of running away, it may send us into a "freeze" response.

If we are mis-treated, this may trigger feelings of anger which are connected to the nervous system's fight response getting the body ready for attack. However, if we are in a position where we are not able to fight back it may be dangerous to express this anger in case it further provokes the person who is mis-treating us. This will start to activate the nervous system's freeze response. It is experienced as defeat.

Resentment can be a way of avoiding this feeling of defeat by internally keeping the fight response active and maintaining our anger even though we have no way of fighting back.

The brain has a way of vividly recalling highly emotional experiences - it naturally makes us re-experience the emotions of the original experience when we encounter things that remind us of that original experience. When we encounter something that causes us to relive the original feeling of defeat then we may again use our resentment to keep ourselves angry and avoid feeling that defeat once again. If the experience of defeat was especially hurtful then the memory may be very easily triggered and we may come to habitually use resentment as a defence against it.

I imagine that it may be particularly easy to form habits around resentment because of the way that resentment involves a sense of anticipation and hope that one day we will be able to act on our anger.

So resentment serves a purpose in helping us to avoid painful feelings of defeat. However, it comes at a cost. The above blog post says that when resentment becomes habitual, "Consuming thoughts and desire for revenge, retaliation, annihilation, vengeance, and so forth, could become the way the brain operates while idle. In extreme cases, resentment would drive the resented individuals’ thoughts and actions to the extreme of them actually losing themselves, and the sense of who they are or what their values are, which could lead to damaging mental disorders." and "if the goal of retaliating is never achieved, the sense of defeat that wanted to be avoided could appear at any given point, activating more extreme autonomic nervous system defences that could culminate as trauma, or any other mental disorder like depression.".

I'm going to write more about this but I'm getting quite tired now. I'll return to this tomorrow.
I've been thinking about what to do with this understanding of resentment.

Firstly there's the idea that our threat system is sensitive to being triggered by things in our environment that remind us of the original sense of defeat - and our "freeze" response is becoming activated as a result. And there's our habitual response to the sense of defeat of using resentment as a way to activate our anger to avoid feeling the defeat of the "freeze" response. Being stuck between freeze and flight is exhausting.

I find the idea that I'm resentful quite challenging. I find the idea that I shouldn't be resentful even more challenging. It seems to heap even more shame onto me. "Don't be so resentful - experience your defeat - accept that you were too pathetic to stand up for yourself."

I think it's important for me to acknowledge this response.

Perhaps the initial way to deal with resentments is to look at the original event that caused the sense of defeat. I guess it's usually not that difficult to work out what it is that you're resentful about. What's harder is to accept that the resentment is serving a purpose. It's not only anger anymore. When looking at resentments, it's tempting to keep trying to justify that the anger is valid. It's hard to let go of doing this because it may mean facing up to the original sense of defeat.

I think that this is probably only safe to do with a sense of compassion for oneself. A sense that we are valued. An ability to step back from our tendency to blame ourselves for the original sense of defeat.

Then, I guess that the next step will be to compassionately lead ourselves out of the freeze response and into a more active frame of mind. I think it again comes back to the roots of the word "comfort". The Latin word "comfortare", meaning "to strengthen".

I think that experiencing the original anger will also play a role here. Experiencing it without the subjugation that stopped us from expressing the anger in the first place.

I've also been thinking about how all of this ties into the 12-steps:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Step 4 is where people look at resentments in more detail. Listing the people, institutions or things that we are resentful towards, identifying the reason why we are resentful towards them and identifying in what way we were hurt (eg. our self-esteem was hurt).

Perhaps it's not always useful to follow the Big Book's advice to look for our part in why we were hurt. Many of the things which hurt our self-esteem come from childhood and it's difficult to place too much blame on a child for why they were hurt. This is where I can begin to spiral into self-blame.

I once expressed this to someone in a 12-step group and he said to look at why I was holding onto the resentment. I took this to be another way of saying "Why are you hitting yourself? Don't have resentments, they're bad for you.".

I think the reason that I was holding onto those resentments was, as was described in the article that I Iinked to in my previous post, to avoid feeling the original sense of defeat. Maybe this is what the big book is talking about when it asks us to identify the reasons that we were hurt. I think it's easy to take what the 12-steps say about this in a way that becomes very self-judgemental. As in "who was I to think I had any right to be hurt by this?" rather than in a way that explores what it means to have your self-esteem damaged as a child and why it is hard to move on from. The original hurts to low self-esteem might give rise to people who are overly-sensitive and who manage their lives and relationships in such a way that they play a role in creating further problems for themselves.

I think that this also plays into ideas about grandiosity and narcissistic wounding. I'm going to re-read what the Big Book says about resentments and about Step 4 in general as I'm sure that it's a lot more subtle than I remember it being based on my memories of how we discussed it in the meetings.

I think the steps around step 4 give an indication of how the 12-steps create a sense of safety about letting go of resentments. For example, in Step 3 "the care of God as we understood him." and in step 6 "becoming entirely ready".

I think there is also something very interesting in the passivity of the steps "Humbly asked Him (our Higher Power) to remove our shortcomings.". We're not forcing change on ourselves or wrestling with our feelings and thoughts. I'm wondering how this ties into the idea of taking a step back from our thoughts and feelings without trying to control them.
Thank you for your detailed writing.
It is very good and filled with great self reflection and understanding.
I really appreciate you saying this. I wasn't sure if anyone would read what I was writing since my posts are so long. I've been trying to recover for years so I have lots of ideas going round in my head that I've never quite been able to put into practice. Writing them here has really helped me to organise my thoughts about recovery and begin to act on them.

I've been wanting to read more of other people's journals. It's been hard to though because I've had so much stuff flying around in my head from all my years of recovery. I'm hoping to get more engaged with community on the forums here soon.
After writing about resentments, I thought I'd write about bullying which is the cause of one of my resentments.

I found this article which I think gives a good summary of the issue and the consequences that bullying can have.

I think that one of the biggest blocks that I had in working through the effects that bullying had on me was accepting that there were any effects at all. A lot of people seem to think that, while being bullied is a very unpleasant experience, it's one that people should be able to move on from.

A few things from the article really stood out for me.

"People used to think that bullying is a normal behaviour, and in some instances, that it could even be a good thing – because it builds character," explains Louise Arseneault, a professor of developmental psychology at King's College London in the UK. "It took a long time for [researchers] to start considering bullying behaviour as something that can be really harmful."
Some teachers would tacitly endorse bullying by turning a blind eye to obvious issues, while others – a rare but toxic minority – actively sided with the bullies.

I think I wrote earlier that I went to an all-boys private Grammar school in the UK. I found it to be a highly unpleasant environment. Some of the teachers certainly did actively encourage bullying and even engaged in bullying themselves. I think there was this idea that bullying was character building. I think there's actually quite a lot that can be said about this.

It ties in with ideas that I've already written about. The idea that it's possible to make someone "feel so bad that they do good". I think my parents took this view as well The idea of using shame as a way to motivate change. For example, if a child seems lazy or unfocused and the teachers resort to criticism and humiliation to motivate change (or so they claim).

If someone is sensitive to criticism and gets defensive, I think people have a tendency to want to criticise them more. I don't know whether people think "who does this person think they are to believe that no one should criticise them? They need to learn to take criticism so I'm just going to keep criticising them". I don't think this attitude it helpful though, especially with children. It would be more helpful to look into why they are so sensitive to criticism and help them to work through it rather than simply piling on more criticism in the hope of "breaking" them so that they learn to take it and do as they're told.

There's also the idea of the "drama triangle" where people take on the role of "victim", "persecutor" or "rescuer".

One approach to breaking free of this unhealthy dynamic is to reframe the system as "creater", "challenger" and "coach". I've also seen this expressed as "warrior", "challenger" and "coach".

However, I think there is a danger with this kind of thinking. A person may actually be a "persecutor" and may actually have bad intentions of causing upset and harm to their "victim". But they can hide this by saying "I'm only challenging you, why are you being such a victim?!" and use this to heap even more criticism and shame onto their "victim". It's very easy for a "persecutor" to masquerade as a "challenger" and for them to label someone as a "victim" as a way to cause more shame and harm.

I have a book on my reading list called "Overcoming Depression" by Paul Gilbert. I've skimmed through some of the chapters. I think he talks about a lot of the same things that people are getting at when they talk about the "victim mindset" but he does it in a way that's based in Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). I'm pretty sure that he doesn't use the word "victim" once. Instead he talks about the neuropsychology of how people lose their drive and assertiveness and how they can rebuild it in a sustainable compassionate way rather than by criticising themselves.

I'll come back to this tomorrow as I have some more thoughts on it that I haven't worked out how to express yet.
So I thought I'd continue writing about bullying.

Another quote from the article:
Anyone who has been victimised as a child will understand the feelings of shame that these kinds of experiences can bring. And the consequences do not stop there. Recent research suggests that the effects of childhood bullying can linger for decades, with long-lasting changes that can put us at a greater risk of mental and physical illness.

Such findings are leading an increasing number of educationalists to shift their views of bullying – from an inevitable element of growing up, to a violation of children's human rights.

I'm glad that the writer used the phrase "violation of children's human rights". I know it sounds dramatic but I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that things do happen to children in schools that, if they happened to a prisoner or war, would contravene the Geneva Convention which forbids "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment". Maybe this is a slight exaggeration but I don't think it's too much of one when you take into account that these things are happening to children. In my case, there was the coerced public nakedness of the school changing rooms which was accompanied by humiliating comments from the other boys about my genitals and my body in general. The humiliation also lapsed into violation of my physical boundaries.

Some more quotes from the article:
Some teachers would tacitly endorse bullying by turning a blind eye to obvious issues, while others – a rare but toxic minority – actively sided with the bullies.

Certain types of bullying may also be tolerated because they reflect broader social prejudices.
individual cases of bullying are often the product of a wider culture that tolerates victimisation.
I think that this also rings true. The damage was not done by unkind comments or actions from my peers. It was done by the school, as an institution, cruelly reminding me on a daily basis that I was at the bottom of its social hierarchy.

It was the kind of school where sport was seen as an important part of every boy's development. My physical fitness was extremely lacking - the result of some physical weaknesses but also probably due to me being very inactive as a result of my depression. In such an environment, my inability to take part in sports was not just a weakness but a stain on my entire character. Many teachers seemed to see me as a greedy lazy degenerate who deserved no part in decent society. This is honestly not an exaggeration. Many people who experienced being an overweight child in an all-boys grammar school will know exactly what I mean. Some teachers would seem to take delight in telling me that the fact that I couldn't take part in sports indicated that I would never amount to anything, no matter how clever I was. This kind of school culture clearly encouraged bulling from my "peers" - who, within the school culture were not really my "peers" at all but my social betters.

I think that I was set up for this to be a particularly damaging experience by my experiences at home but it was still a highly toxic environment to be in as a child.

I want to keep writing about this. My mind keeps going back to the idea of the "victim mindset". Some ideas that come to mind about the victim mindset are:
  1. it's wrong to say someone has a victim mindset simply because they suffer lasting effects from a highly negative experience. Eg. loss of confidence, overactive fear response, anxiety, being highly reactive to criticism.
  2. there are various ways in which a person's mindset can change in response to suffering these lasting effects which makes it harder to reflect on these effects and deal with them.
  3. a lot of these changes in mindset are probably driven by shame and might involve a loss of compassion for self.
  4. it involves resentment. The idea of subjugated anger, a sense of defeat that stays with us and we keep re-experiencing the anger as a way to avoid the sense of defeat that keeps being triggered even after the original event has long passed.
  5. it involves a sense of inferiority.
  6. it involves shame, self-blame and anger directed at self for not being strong enough to stand up to those who mis-treated us
  7. It involves shame and self-blame for suffering lasting effects due to the negative experiences. Eg. loss of confidence, anxiety.
  8. perhaps self-blame is avoided by re-experiencing anger towards others, similar to resentment. Looks like blaming others.
  9. it involves feeling that we need to justify why we are experiencing lasting effects from the negative experience. Feeling the need to justify the lasting effects to others.
  10. people often talk about self-pity. Could self-pity a maladaptive attempt to develop self-compassion? I think there's a quote about self-pity arising from a lack of self-compassion. I can't remember what it is exactly. I think I heard it on a podcast. I definitely think that the way that I would relive the past was a way to try and avoid self-hatred.
  11. once my sexual behaviours started to veer into self-destructive and shameful acts, I started to relive past victimisations a lot. I don't think this was as simple as me wanting to "blame others" for my own mistakes. I think it was acknowledgement of how damaged I felt. I wanted to seek help for how distressed I was about my own actions but I felt too much shame about them. So talking about how damaged I felt by past experiences seemed like the best way to keep myself going.
  12. I think that it's overly simplistic to see the "victim mindset" and self-pity as just being about "poor me", an avoidance of responsibility, a tendency to blame others. I think that seeing it in this way can be harmful as it further blocks the self-compassion that is needed for recovery.
I read some of the book "Overcoming Depression" today. I think it has a lot of material in it that might help me to understand all of this a bit better. I'm looking forward to reading more of it and writing my thoughts here as a way to make sense of it.

I'll finish by writing one more memory that I have of bullying at school. I was walking along a corridor with a friend when there weren't many people around. Someone who was standing in a doorway quietly stuck his leg out to trip me up. I fell onto the hard concrete floor and stood up feeling quite shaken. I was pretty sure they did it on purpose. I'll obviously never know for sure. My friend was surprised that I didn't show any anger. I didn't even show that I was upset. I think I can remember feeling that my suppression of my emotions was the right thing to do.
So just putting some more thoughts out there.

The role of understanding my past

My initial motivation for wanting to find an explanation for why my problems developed was to try and reduce my shame about it. I felt that if I could find the particular combination of factors that explained things then it would mean that I wasn't to blame for them. My hope was that, if anyone found out about my problem and tried to blame or shame me for them, then I could point to this explanation to show that I didn't simply have a weak character caused by my genetics. In effect, I was “preparing my defence” in case anyone tried to judge me. I was looking for a simple explanation, because I knew that's what judgemental people usually expect.

I knew that the reasons why people end up the way that they do is almost always a combination of genetics, influences from close family and wider society, and the other more “random” events that occur over the course of a person's life. But this didn't seem enough to assuage my shame. Someone judgemental could always say: “This other person had it so much worse than you yet they didn't develop the same problems.”.

With time, I realised that trying to explain things in this way was a futile task. I think the best way to explain how I now think about this is by using several analogies.

Firstly, consider the simple physics experiment of the “double pendulum”. As the name suggests, the double pendulum is made up of one pendulum attached to the end of another pendulum, which is in turn attached to a fixed point with a hinge. If the double pendulum is lifted up and allowed to swing, the path that is traced by the end of the pendulum can be very complicated. Furthermore, a very slight change to the point that the double pendulum is lifted to can give rise to wildly different paths being traced by the end of the double pendulum. There are various Youtube videos demonstrating this effect.

The way that small changes to the starting position of the double pendulum's swing can cause it to follow wildly different paths is an example of chaos theory in action. The motion of the pendulum is following basic, deterministic laws of physics but in practice, there is very little that we can do to predict the path that it will follow because it's impossible to measure the starting position with perfect accuracy.

If the motion of something as simple as a double pendulum can display such “chaotic” patterns of movement showing such sensitivity to small changes in initial position, imagine how much more difficult it would be to explain why one person develops depression, addiction or compulsive behaviours whereas another person with a very similar childhood does not.

In his book "The Upward Spiral", Alex Korb explains the complexity of mental health development by making a comparison with the famous “butterfly effect” thought experiment that is used to explain chaos theory – the exact timing of when a butterfly in California flaps it wings could theoretically make a difference to whether a major storm occurs in New York. I prefer the double pendulum example because it's much easier to demonstrate in practice.

Korb goes on to say that understanding the development of mental health problems is much like understanding social history or understanding the economy. We may not be able to explain with mathematical precision why a certain combination of factors caused an economy to dip into recession at one particular time but not another or why inflation started to get out of control in one year but not the year earlier. We certainly won't be able to make precise predictions about the future of the economy. However, it is still worth studying the system, as we may be able to pick out key themes in the way that factors interact. These insights can guide our future actions.

The brain is a complicated system that can, under some circumstances, fall into negative self-perpetuating states such as depression, compulsivity and addiction, much like how the economy can fall into the negative self-perpetuating states of economic depression and spirals of on-going inflation. Studying how the economy fell into these states can inform policymakers' decisions on how to get the economy out of them. Likewise, considering how our mental health issues developed can give us insights that will inform our recovery.

I hope that the above ideas will help me to avoid keeping falling into the trap of looking back over my life in minute detail to try and “prepare my defence” against the judgemental people of the world who I imagine might ask me to explain themselves. I hope that instead I can continue to look at my past like a historian or an economist looking at a complicated system in the hope of finding insights that will guide my recovery.

However, I know how extremely difficult it is to avoid this trap when I feel deeply ashamed and the shame is constantly going round in my head.

I'll try to keep in mind how important it is to remember that these things are complicated. If I do start asking myself “why do I have these mental health problems whereas other people haven't, even thought they went through so much more hardship that I did?” I'll try to remind myself that no one knows how I would have responded to their childhood situations and no one knows how they would have responded to mine. Yes, their childhoods may have been significantly more difficult in very obvious ways but there may have been certain very idiosyncratic protective factors that they had which I didn't – events that enabled them to realise they had the strength to get through it, occurrences that made them realise that they didn't need to blame themselves for what they were going through. My understanding is that scientists are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of these very idiosyncratic factors in the development of mental health issues. I think it's referred to as "non-shared environmental factors". It's something I want to read a bit more about.

For now, I'm thinking about this idea of needing to justify myself that has blocked so much of my recovery.

This is a blog that I'm going to read more of:

we can understand the evolution of the human ego and persona as arising out of the fact that with propositional language came the problem of having to justify one’s self to others.

the ego must narrate what is happening to the primate experiential self and do so with the task of developing a justifiable narrative of events. This means that there should be filters associated with how the ego construes the experiential self. Specifically, it should work to filter out impulses, images, ideas, and feelings that are unjustifiable. And it should then work to develop justifiable narratives for those experiences, drives, and images that are acknowledged. In addition, powerful thoughts and feelings that the ego cannot control or deny should be experienced as alien and “ego-dystonic.”

Of course, therapists of a psychodynamic orientation have long identified precisely these kinds of processes and dynamic relations between self-consciousness and subconscious processes. Indeed, the idea that the ego sits atop the more animalistic portions of our mental lives and filters out undesirable processes via repression or suppression and then rationalizes those portions to manage our sense of self in the relational world is a basic set of insights from the Freudian tradition.

There's a lot of stuff that I'm still sorting out in my head but I think it's all coming together into something that will help my future recovery.


Respected Member
interestingly we are reflecting the same things at this time.
I am studying hoarding disorder and i find many characteristics that hold true for the PMO addict.
please find some time to study text on hoarding.
i find books by gail steketee very good.
the psychological precursers are very similar to what was being described on your previous post.
Gail's books will hold key to better understanding and more importantly, suitable therapy methods.
Another idea that I've been thinking about a lot lately is how the process of changing my behaviour in addiction recovery can recall the feeling of how my parents acted to change my behaviour when I was a child.

There's an old book on this subject that I found useful called "I'm OK, You're OK". It was written in the 1960s but I think some of the ideas are still relevant today. It's a self-help book that's based on the "Transactional Analysis" approach to psychotherapy.

I think that the general idea of the book is as follows. A child's parents will inevitably have had to attempt to alter the child's behaviour and this will usually have involved discipline or disapproval. Since the child loves their parents, depends on them and wants to gain their approval, this discipline or disapproval will often be felt by the child as a message that they are “NOT OK”.

I think that one way of understanding why there is so much pain for the child in these “NOT OK” feelings is to remember how children tend to think in extreme black and white and often do not naturally appreciate the shades of grey in between. Being presented with their “badness” in specific situations, can easily be turned in a child's mind into the feeling that they are “all bad”. I'm sure that this can be managed if the child is made aware of their mistakes and imperfections gently by a loving, empathic parent and the child trusts that their parent will still love them and accept them despite their mistakes and imperfections.

The use of the phrase “NOT OK” as a shorthand for a child's feelings of being unacceptable and painfully inadequate is an example of the unusual “cutesy” humour that's used throughout a lot of writing on transactional analysis.

It's important to remember that the parent may not be intending to hurt the child and make them feel terrible but it can happen simply because of limitations in the child's thinking. Another book on transactional analysis (“What do you say after you say hello”) points out “when parents interfere with or try to influence their children's free expression, their directives are interpreted differently by the parent, the onlookers and the child himself.” The process of understanding how a child arrived at the conclusion that they are "NOT OK" is not always about finding a way to blame the child's parents for this feeling.

Transactional Analysis proposes that there are three parts to our minds. These parts are called "Ego States".

Child Ego State
The "Child Ego State" or simply "Child" for short (spelled with a capital letter to distinguish it from an actual child) is made up of all the feelings of what it was like to be a child. Many of these memories will be of feeling vulnerable and fearful and of the "NOT OK" feelings that arose from parental discipline and criticism. The Child Ego State also contains positive memories of childhood curiosity and discovery and feelings of being loved and comforted by their parents.

Events later in life may “hook the Child Ego State” and cause the person to relive these childhood feelings of being vulnerable, fearful and “NOT OK”. This “NOT OK” feeling can be incredibly emotionally painful and people naturally and unconsciously find ways to avoid feeling this pain. The ways in which they try to avoid this pain can shape their lives.

The Child Ego State may “Adapted” in the sense of conforming to the Critical/Controlling Parent's demands or it may be “Free” in that it is allowed to be spontaneous, energetic and curious.

Parent Ego State
This Ego State is made up of childhood memories of what parents did or said: “all the admonitions, rules and laws that the child heard from his or her parents or saw in their living... Likewise are recorded the coos of pleasure of a happy mother and the looks of delight of a proud father.”.

The data in the Parent Ego State is recorded with little or no editing. Since the child was so dependant on the parents and the child's mind had not yet developed, they would have little capacity to assess and modify messages that they received from their parents. Harris writes: “whether these rules are good or bad in the light of a reasonable ethic, they are recorded as truth from the source of all security when it is important to the child that he please and obey them.”.

Other memories will also be stored in the Parent Ego State: “Any external situation in which the little person feels himself to be dependant to the extent that he is not free to question or explore produces data that gets stored in the Parent Ego State.”

The messages in the Parent Ego State may be classed as critical/controlling or nurturing.

Adult Ego State
This Ego State is made up of all the information that the person has found out through their own experience, awareness and original thought, different from the “taught concept” of life in the Parent Ego State and the “felt concept” in the Child Ego State.

One of the goals of transactional analysis is to develop the Adult Ego State and to make it aware of the Parent and Child Ego states so that it can appropriately go about life and respond to challenges in the present without being unduly influenced by them (but can also take their content into account when appropriate).

Another goal is to tap into the Free Child Ego State so that we can interact with the world in a joyous way - for our Child Ego State to feel “OK” as much as possible rather than “NOT OK”, reigned in by the present day values of the Adult Ego State rather than by a Critical Parent Ego State. Another goal might be to establish a Nurturing Parent Ego State in place of a Controlling/Critical one.

In "I'm OK, you're OK", the author also writes that we must be prepared to make the decision to believe that we are “OK” using our Adult Ego State, and to hold onto this belief even when our Parent Ego State is being critical and the Child Ego State is feeling “Not OK”.