Psychological factors in sexual acting out
Below are some excerpts from a fascinating article by the religious psychologist and therapist, Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin. The article is called "Psychological Factors in Sexual Acting Out" and it is vital in helping those who struggle with intense sexual desire and unhealthy addictions to understand the roots of the subconscious needs they are trying to fill. Once a person understands this, they can fight it better, both on their own and through therapy (see our Therapy Page for Therapy Options).
Some may protest the above title. "Why do we need to look for psychological explanation when someone acts out sexually?" they protest. There is a simple explanation. It's called taivah (lust) and yetzer hara (evil inclination). Looking for psychological explanations, they assert, merely serves as an excuse to act out.
Perhaps we can address this legitimate concern with the following example. If a frum person occasionally transgresses the prohibition against lashon hara (slanderous speech) we can indeed attribute this to the yetzer hara (evil inclination). The appropriate treatment would be learning mussar. What about someone who incessantly speaks lashon hara without a break? How likely is that to be purely an expression of an over-active yetzer hara? It is far more likely to be a result of a deep sense of inferiority which often induces a need to put other people down in a desperate attempt to bolster one's self-image. If this person tries to deal with the problem just by learning mussar, it will likely just make his problem worse, since it would further depress his self-image thus increasing his impulse to speak lashon hara. Psychological help is needed to repair the inferiority complex that is feeding the excessive need to put others down. Only then can he deal with the "normal" yetzer horah for speaking lashon hara via mussar.
The same is true of kedusha issues. There are certainly the normal taivah impulses that necessitate the learning of mussar in order to control these impulses. But there are often psychological factors that cause the problem to reach levels way beyond the bounds of normal taivah. In such a situation, it is often imperative to first use psychological means to deal with these extraordinary impulses to bring them down to normal levels where they can be effectively addressed via mussar.
In a recent report on a Nefesh sponsored workshop on "Understanding Internet Addiction" Dr. Rachel Sarna cites similar comments made by two leading experts in the field, David Delmonico, Ph.D. and Elizebeth Griffin, M.A.:
While it may appear that addictions are pleasure-seeking behaviors, the roots of any addiction are usually traceable to suppression and avoidance of some kind of emotional pain. Addiction. is a way to escape from [a] reality. too full of sadness. or too devoid of joy. Emotional trauma in early life may be the source of most addictions. Everyone is [potentially] at risk. However, people who suffer from low self esteem, distorted body image and. ADHD are even at greater risk than others. [p.14, emphasis added].
The frustrated emotional need of a vulnerable person can hijack his normal sexual drive in a desperate attempt to assuage its pain. The fact that the acting out involves his normal instinctual need - and may, for example, intensify when his wife is a niddah - can fool people into thinking that it is simply an exaggeration of a normal drive. This is why well meaning advisors will often push marriage as a cure for sexual acting out. The many married men with this problem provide irrefutable evidence that the intimate relationship of a loving couple bears only the most superficial resemblance to the acting out behavior and therefore, this "cure" is doomed to failure.