Psychological factors in sexual acting out

Part 3/3 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)

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).

by Sorotzkin, Dr. Benzion (See all authors)


Other factors that enhance the illusion

There is often another factor that makes it especially difficult to control these impulses by some people. Those who grew up in homes that were especially harsh and punitive were often led to feel that the Torah's limitations on sexual expression exist for the sole purpose of depriving them of pleasure. No one has attempted to explain to them that it is for the person's own benefit, even in this world. When a person experiences multiple emotional deprivations in his life, this additional perceived deprivation can seem intolerable, thereby enhancing the appeal of the illusion.

If the family puts undue emphasis on external values, such as physical beauty, or impressing others, this can also enhance the appeal of pornography (the ultimate chitzonious). Sadly, this emphasis is not limited to secular culture. It is alive and well in the religious community as well.

Another manifestation of a simplistic and superficial perspective on this issue is the wide-spread belief that getting married will solve these problems. Here too, if we were dealing with a normal yetzer hara, this would likely be true. Since we are dealing with a manifestation of a frustrated emotional need this "solution" is, unfortunately, not effective. Understanding this point will help us be less surprised that a person would seem to prefer to act out in a solitary manner because of the illusion of intimacy rather than by interacting with someone he professes to love where he could enjoy true intimacy. However, if we appreciate that adult intimacy is bi-directional where each partner needs to consider the needs of the other in addition to their own, we can better understand this phenomena. The emotionally deprived person is looking for the intimacy of a parent with a small child where the caring is unidirectional. Often he can only find it within the illusions accompanying solitary self-soothing.

This seeking of a unidirectional relationship is sometimes manifested by a person in a committed relationship acting out with another person who is being paid. The payment obligates the provider to focus totally on the needs of the customer. Of course, the fact that the provider's motivation is purely financial makes this "solution" as short lived as the illusion.

The association between acting out and "emunah issues"

Chazal speak about the association between sexual acting out and emunah issues (e.g., Sanhedrin 63b). I would like to briefly touch upon a psychological aspect of this association that I have encountered in my clinical work. A frum person who is acting out sexually (or in any other serious manner) will experience intense guilt and profound shame. He will see himself as worthless and deserving of severe punishment, especially if his parents responded to his childhood misbehaviors with intense criticism and/or rejection. This will drive him to intensify his efforts at controlling his behavior. Unfortunately, these efforts will most often turn out to be ineffective since the effort involves suppression due to terror as opposed to change resulting from growth. The failure to change intensifies the self-loathing and terror of retribution. At some point the person will develop a strong resentment toward Hashem/Yiddishkiet for putting him into this untenable situation and so he becomes alienated from Yiddishkeit. Or as one young man put it: "It's not that you don't believe in G-D, it's just that you don't want anything to do with Him. Just like I don't want anything to do with my [abusive] father, even though I believe he exists!"

In conclusion, to be successful in overcoming addictions to sexual acting out, it is important to understand the psychological factors that can transform a "normal" yetzer hara into an addiction. Even more importantly, is the role such an understanding could play in prevention. When children are raised to be emotionally healthy, they are spared from dealing with yetzer haras beyond the normal range.

For more articles by Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin on-line see here.

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