Tony gives a "state of the union" address on working with people struggling with turning to pornography as a coping mechanism. He then interviews Chandler Rogers, CEO of Relay, an app that helps people stay connected and accountable on their recovery journey. Relay makes it easy to connect with a shame-free support group, an essential tool helping access recovery tools.
Chandler personally overcame a struggle with compulsive pornography use and then used his experience to give back to others by creating a group-based recovery app called Relay for people seeking freedom from unwanted sexual behavior. He built what he wished he had during his healing journey - tools to manage recovery goals, an SOS button to reach out when feeling triggered, and a system for accountability with peers, all in a private safe space.
Learn more about Relay and try a recovery group for free today: https://bit.ly/virtualcouch-relay
Find all the latest links to podcasts, courses, Tony's newsletter, and more at https://linktr.ee/virtualcouch
Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorder Course is Open! Visit https://praxiscet.com/virtualcouch Inside ACT for Anxiety Disorders, Dr. Michael Twohig will teach you the industry-standard treatment anxiety-treatment experts use worldwide. Through 6 modules of clear instruction and clinical demonstrations, you will learn how to create opportunities for clients to practice psychological flexibility in the presence of anxiety.
After completing the course material, you'll have a new, highly effective anxiety treatment tool that can be used with every anxiety-related disorder, from OCD to panic disorder to generalized anxiety disorder.
And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel for a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here https://youtu.be/-RkRq8SrQy0
Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/waking-up-to-narcissism-q-a/id1667287384
Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage.
You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.
Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ
Chandler Rogers Relay Transcript
Tony: Chandler Rogers, welcome to the Virtual Couch. How are you doing?
Chandler: Great. Happy to be here. Thanks, Tony.
Tony: Yeah, and Chandler and I were talking off the air. That's the official term, right? Like what the kids call it. And I, and the platform I'm using right now, which I'm not talking about openly just yet, because I had one bad experience, but other than that it's been amazing and Chandler has been a part of one experience where it didn't go so well. So, there's a part of me that is gun shy. We're gonna probably spin some gold and then the file's gonna be corrupt.
Chandler: Let's pray for some good luck today.
Tony: There you go. Let's just go for it. So Chandler, I think it's kind of funny, the way that you and I met was through the co-founder of the company that you work with named, Jace. And then Jace, talking about the way back machine, I think is like a nephew or something. To some friends of mine from high school, and I'm a very old man. So when they reached out to me and said, hey, we want to put you in contact with our nephew, honestly, I'm so used to people saying, because he needs therapy, right? And so then I half read the message and I think that's why I didn't get back quick because you know, I thought, oh, bless his heart, I don't know if I can help, but man, once I started reading why we're talking, it's kinda exciting. So maybe, why don't you tell my listeners, why are we talking, what are you guys, what are you doing?
Chandler: Yeah, so, you know, struggling with pornography was something that was always kind of a theme for me growing up, and one of the big lessons that is key to my story is realizing that not only was I not alone, but it is so much more effective to work through this not alone, to band together with other people who are in the same boat and to find a strong support system. We can talk, you know, more about this later in the episode, but Jace and I served, you know, in the same mission together for the LDS church. We went to New York City, we were out there and actually a big part of what we spent time doing those two years was helping a lot of people overcoming various addictions. And so it resonated with me a lot with my personal story and he and I came back to school and we were both in a coding class together, and I basically pitched him on the idea, like, let's build an app. And everyone was building kind of these random things that like no one was gonna use whatever people were building. It was just a project. But I was like, hey, what if we build something that actually could be meaningful?
And then built something actually totally not related to addiction. So we were like, maybe it would be, maybe it'd be cool to have an app that makes it easier for long distance family members. So kids that have gone off to college or moved outta the house, or even extended family, like grandparents. What if there's a platform better than other social media that was tailored towards families, helping them stay connected. And I think it was an interesting idea, but just didn't really get any, you know, traction to it, but I continued to think about some of the pain points and things that I had experienced and talked to a lot of friends who had experienced with overcoming pornography and continued to come back to a few themes. And we just realized we wanted to try to help make a difference, particularly in making it easier for people to find a good support system. That's what we ended up doing.
Tony: How long does it take to, this is kind of cool, how long did it take to build?
Chandler: Yeah. So we were total noobs at the beginning. We had no idea what we were doing. We were not like these engineering wizards going into this. Okay, I won't say we're engineering wizards now, you know, hopefully the users on the app don't know that, but no, it probably took us six months to get the first version out there, so it wasn't terribly long. But we learned a ton along the way. Tons of fun from a learning perspective, but meaningful at the same time because we were trying to actually get something that worked and actually worked really well into people's hands.
Tony: So was this the classic, this was the project that you were doing for school and then you end up getting a bad grade, but go on to make millions of dollars? I mean, are you starting with that?
Chandler: Well, the end of the story still has yet to be written. So millions of dollars, definitely not, you know, haven't paid ourselves anything from it yet, but, it quickly transitioned from just a project to, we were graduating and we had other job offers, like Jace was gonna go to Apple and do much cooler things there, probably. But, you know, we had started to actually see some really good signs of traction. And we had launched the app like six months before we graduated, and I think we had five or 600 paying users on the product that were interacting in these small, tight-knit teams. And they were getting, you know, results.Like we weren't necessarily, you know, nailing every aspect of it. And the way we look at it is like, we wanna continue to improve this thing for years, so it's not done, but we were really excited about what we were seeing so far, and we realized that we care a lot about helping people more than going and, you know, working for big tech companies. And so we decided this is what we wanna do. And so we didn't show up to our other jobs and instead we're doing this now full-time.
Tony: Okay. And so then the, and it's funny, full transparency, I didn't read the material initially and then I had a client where he was looking for something from an accountability standpoint, and then I was trying to sound really cool and I said, oh, I think I've got like a really cool, brand new thing that nobody knows about. And then I, and then when I started reading about it, then I really did feel like I could see how interesting or important this could be in the world of addiction, because the connection is so important. And I feel like I've facilitated 12 step groups forever. You know, I've worked with, I don't know, I think 1500 plus individuals trying to overcome pornography or other unhealthy coping mechanisms. And I feel like there's that part where the one-on-one concept of an accountability partner sounds great, but then I find that, man, it's one of those things where it sounds good until it doesn't, until they can't get ahold of somebody until they feel like the person's gonna, you know, they're just checking a box until they feel like they're bothering somebody. Or, I mean, so is that kind of some of the things that you guys ran into? Or why you created it?
Chandler: I remember from my story growing up, like I, you know, for many years thought, you know, let's try to do this on my own. Right? And so this is even a step before what you're talking about and quickly realize, I think that it just, A, sucks to try to get through this alone, it's really miserable. And then B, I just realized that it wasn't very effective. Like they, there's a, I think things about trying to work through a personal challenge like this and, and even other, you know, challenges not pornography, I think human beings I don't believe are designed to just navigate these personal trials alone.I think even like between us and God, like from a faith perspective, I think God wants us to leverage each other and work together. We're placed on this world together for a reason, I believe, but yeah, I think, you know, when I started adding just my bishop, my church leader as my one accountability person, just my therapist at another point in time, or just my wife, you know, in our marriage. None of those setups worked very well, and all of them actually were really tough for me personally because I had an existing relationship with them. So for me, the shame factor was magnified. Because I was like, yeah, it was, it was either kind of checking the box or there was a little bit of extra barrier to be honest, just because I hated letting them down and I felt like I was letting myself down when I let them down.
Because I think what I struggle with internally really with this challenge growing up was like, from the outside, people saw Chandler Rogers as this kid who was like doing well in a lot of things and did well at school and sports and like, and career stuff, right? And, at least I thought like no one would know the side of me and think that I'm the same person. So I struggle with this concept of self-worth, but I think a lot of people can struggle with this and still be a good person, still be a good follower of God, husband, like whatever it is, career professional. And, I think I had this light bulb moment as I realized I needed to expand my support system. Like at the same time I realized that it's not how many days in a row that I haven't looked at pornography that defines how solid of a person I am. We're all struggling with really difficult things and it's okay to be working through compulsive behavior and it's okay to need a wider support system to help them through it.
Tony: So tell me about how, I mean, I really am curious, I was joking with you beforehand of okay, I really wanna hear your story, I won't get into the nitty gritty of the product, but I really like this a lot because I do feel like, I always talk about, you know, you got your trigger. And with porn, I think it's more, it's typically, I call it crimes of opportunity. Somebody's bored or they just can, and so then, you know, you have the thought I could do this, and then the action, and I always say it's putting distance between thought and action. So I feel like that's where this could really come in handy of just to try to make a connection period that it isn't, hey, I'm struggling or, so what does it look like? What do you do? What's your group look like? How do you reach out to people within the app?
Chandler: Yeah, totally. So when I come into the app, the first thing that it will help me do is get matched with four to eight other people that are in the same boat as me working through the same thing in a way that's not scary and awkward. So it's not me having to go to my roommates or my buddies from work and having to open up. But these are people who are actively working towards the same goal. So I go through a little questionnaire and it helps first, find a team for me. Or if I'm already with an existing group, we have a lot of people in the app that are meeting, you know, Wednesday nights and they're using the app with their existing group because they realize, and this was my experience with the 12 step group or other programs that our group based the other six days of the week, we largely did not leverage that group and it was super dumb on us.
Tony: No, I think, and I think this would be amazing because the group, I do have my Path Back men's group is just growing and I feel like we all dig each other so much, but then people talk about, they look forward to yeah, the one hour on Wednesday and then there's this just, exactly.
Chandler: Yeah. It's like unsurprisingly, you know, WhatsApp and GroupMe weren't built to help recovery groups stay connected and accountable in an effective way. You know, they're good chat, you know, messaging platforms, but so, so this theme of like, what, what really is, it's more than a group chat. There is the group chat component, but once I'm in the group, we actually, on the connection component, we try to help make it easier for you to stay connected with your, whether it's like more than just that Wednesday night group or if it's a group that you're, you know, not meeting with live, we just help facilitate connections. So for example, we have some guided conversation prompts that will get auto generated or, or we'll help people select meaningful conversation prompts that we've worked with other clinicians to help, you know, generate different ways in which we can help people go deeper and form connection that's not just based around guys talking about how are you doing with porn today, but actually like what we were talking about, like, more substance than that. And also focusing on, you know, higher up the chain, I think on what's helpful.
But then what's really helpful, I think a lot of people have found about the app is this red flag feature. So a lot of people, I remember we'd come to group and we'd be like, hey, I had a setback or relapse this week. The guys are like, why didn't you reach out in the group chat? And I'm like, I have no idea. And so we tested this out early on and we didn't actually think this would be the thing people loved about the app, but it's really simple. It's literally just this button that's a flag that you press with one tap instead of having to type out a message and say, hey, I'm not doing well, or I'm feeling tempted right now. It can send a notification and it just lets the group, it doesn't even have to be like that you're tempted right now, we're trying to help train the emotional awareness piece like you were talking about, like I'm feeling bored. And I'm feeling stressed or anxious or whatever it is. That'd be a red flag. And then what's really cool is people want to respond to the red flags. So people I think are just as excited about how do I give support through Relay and not just get support. And I think that's helped a lot of people too, as we're trying to reduce the friction so that, you know, I can turn outwards a little easier than having to, you know, go through my phone and text people and ask how they're doing. There's a little bit more visibility in the app there. And so there are kind of like these daily check-ins too that I can schedule and customize that are more emotional oriented to help me understand that I am feeling bored in the first place so that I can raise the red flag and even if I don't raise that red flag, we have kind of some transparency and we're still maintaining user privacy and making it so it is, it is your personal journey, but for example, let's say, Tony, that I log this morning that I'm feeling stressed or tired cause I didn't get good sleep and you're in my group, you could actually come in and see, even if I didn't throw that red flag, that I was feeling stressed and tired and you could reach out to me and be there for me.
Tony: So could you even say, hey, what's the, what's up with the sleep? I mean, is it literally like, you can see, it looks like Chandler slept three and a half hours?
Chandler: Not that level of detail. Just like it's kinda logging, I'm feeling tired, I'm feeling bored. And usually, that's sparking conversations like, hey man, you've been putting that you've been feeling bored every day for the last few days you know, do you, do you have anything meaningful going on with work right now? Getting engaged in these different areas of your life. It's helping draw that awareness for people. The other component, kind of on the flip side of the coin is maybe you already have some things that you are trying to work on. So I am trying to spend, you know, time journaling every day to help me, you know, be more aware or I'm trying to exercise to be engaged in that area, my physical health, users can track that in the app. It's not just logging your sobriety with pornography, it's tracking those types of things. And then we're helping also surface that as a group so they can hold each other accountable on those types of things. And I can say, hey man, like how's your exercise going? I know you've been wanting to get more engaged in that area.
Tony: So okay, I'm thinking through this from the therapist lens of, we need, you know, I tell people all the time, all right, we need to go from not needing external validation to validating yourself internally, but then the reality is we still want, we sometimes want the attaboys, the kudos, and I feel like this is the challenge when somebody's accountability partner is their spouse or their bishop or somebody like that of where, I don't know it, sometimes it can almost seem pretty clingy or needy to then say, hey, I'm, you know, I'm exercising, you know, and I know that if the spouse is having a struggle or if they feel like if I don't give him praise and then he acts out, then he's gonna turn it on me, or, so I like this concept of we got a group of people and maybe it's a little easier to say to a group of guys, hey, I need some, I need some attaboys today. Because I feel like if you got a bunch of guys that want the words of affirmation as a way to connect that they're probably more willing to give it in other than a spouse that's saying, okay, if I don't respond or I respond the wrong way, for some reason, you know, maybe in the past it's been turned around and put on that spouse because you know, I think I see that all as a therapist.
Chandler: It can be super hard. I think, you know, tons of therapists that I've talked to have all sorts of thoughts about why the spouse is kind of the primary accountability is hard for both people. And so I think spouses actually have loved Relay, maybe even more than the dudes themselves, because they're like, okay, because I remember my wife asking me early on, she was like, so you've been open and like went to groups and stuff. She's like, you have all these people in your phone as contacts that you could be working more proactively with staying accountable to just connecting with more. But it sounds like I'm like your only accountability partner. Like I was being open with her, you know, what she wanted. And we talked about what was gonna work for us, but she kind of nudged me and she was like, why are you not like, I need it to not just be me essentially. And I think that's been really helpful for a lot of spouses.
Tony: It's funny too, part of when I started my group and no, I mean, 12 step groups work for so many people. They've been around for such a long time. But the part with the no crosstalk, and I understand that that's protecting people from the, you know, the grizzled sea captain in the corner that's saying, you don't get a kid, you know, or that kind of thing. But I feel like I kind of want some crosstalk from time to time with people. What's working for you? What's not working for you? And I even feel like in my, in my men's group, I've got some stuff I want to share. We've got some questions or prompts. And so I even feel like at times there's not enough of that, tell me about a victory or tell me what's working for you. So I'd imagine this would probably give a way to facilitate more of that too.
Chandler: Yeah. Maybe we're a little rebellious, it is more of the latter and not kind of the traditional avoiding crosstalk. But I mean, those are things that for me personally and as I've talked to tons of other guys, I think they feel kind of energized having that. And I don't think it's absolutely, it's not a silver bullet, right? Like it's not, you know, it's not something someone's gonna say as a brilliant idea of what's working for them. That's probably gonna change the game for me, but I think having that environment can be really helpful.
Tony: No, I like what you're saying because I do, one of my go-to lines is when somebody comes in and they've worked with other people in the past and I will often just say, hey, are you expecting that I've got some magic pill or secret phrase that once you learn and this thing's gonna be easier. And I've been talking a lot lately too, Chandler, about, I feel like it's, I've been calling it an individualized customized treatment program for each individual because I feel like my path back program is gold and if people adhere to it, then it's gonna change their whole life. But, I know that everybody's got their own stuff they bring to the table. And so anyway, I'm now, I feel like I'm now singing your praises, I just like that idea of a connection with a small group or even a larger group of people. I like the idea of hitting a red flag instead of even saying I'm struggling. And then I like the idea that you can have a variety of ways to respond because I like, and so I'll have clients from time to time. I'll say, you can text me, I might end up just sending you a meme or something. And I dunno, so can you guys do that within the app?
Chandler: That’s been one of our most requested features, Tony. I didn't realize that the memes were gonna be a huge part of it, but they were like, hey, we need to send these gifs, however you pronounce it, right? We're working on that right now actually.
Tony: Okay, so then do you guys have, and not that you have to have data or results or it shows that it helps you know this much more, or do you have that kind of data behind this as well?
Chandler: One of the things that we've actually been tracking that we are interested in is people's perception of how they feel like things are trending because we can't see and they're logging, you know, if they are logging it, there's sobriety data, right? Like how are the results going from an outcome perspective? And then we can see, which I think is even a little more interesting, how are people doing at those input type goals and systems and habits? Like I'm tracking my exercise, my sleep, my journal, spiritual habits, whatever it is, but we're asking people in a weekly reflection how they feel about the level of connection with their group because really one of the main outcomes we want is to help people feel more connected. And then we're asking them how they feel, do they feel like things are getting better, staying the same or getting worse? And 79% of our users report feeling like things are getting better within the first month of using the app. So that's kinda the main, you know, data we've found so far. And it's still early. Like we launched this thing a year ago but we're really excited and one of the things that I believe in to keep improving the results there is I want our users to talk to me. And so I make my phone number and my email very available because I just want to understand what people find really effective in the app and what they wish was different. And that's how people are like, yeah, I wanna send memes. And we're like, okay, we can go add that.
Tony: I noticed on the website too, Johann Hari, I dig, yeah, that, so that Ted talk, I mean the connection's the opposite of addiction. So is that a lot of what this, the whole concept is based off of?
Chandler: Yeah. And it, I would say too, like that that talk was one of the things that really connected the dots for me. And he really just talks about a few studies that they'd done. Even with substance abuse, so not just pornography addiction, they found that connection.
Tony: The rat amusement park, isn't it? Do you know that one off the top of your head, Chandler? I was just telling this in one of the groups.
Chandler: I’ll try to summarize this so I may butcher it.
Tony: I literally just had somebody text it to me a couple days ago, so no, let's talk about this before we wrap up.
Chandler: So I believe what happened, they had these rats in a cage, right? And I can't remember what the substance was. It was essentially they laced the water with…
Tony: They said it was cocaine, I believe it was. Is that what it was?
Chandler: Yeah, that sounds right. So they laced the water with cocaine and of course, essentially they found the rats wanted the cocaine water but the thing was that these rats were alone. They were individually contained like in their own cages. And then they set up the second test essentially with the rats together. So they had companionship, they had other rats with them. And what they found is actually that they stopped choosing the cocaine water and then said they essentially were choosing socialization and connection. And they reviewed the study multiple times and concluded there was something about connection that helped. I don't know if it is, you know, scientifically rewiring or just helping the healing process of overcoming compulsive behavior, and so that, you know, whether or not that's kind of a, I don't know, like a really clear cut principle or how that actually applies or what exactly that means for it to work. I don't know. But generally I think about the principle connection, helping and actually being central to the healing process. Not just trying to figure out, how do I stop a behavior? How do I get more meaningfully connected in my life and in my relationships and I think even connected with the things that I'm doing in a good way. Like you were talking about, whether it's my work or my family or other things.
Tony: Well, I was gonna say before, and that was before we jumped on, I told Chandler, and I think most of the people that listen to my podcast, if I tell them I don't do enough, I don't talk enough about this, but, yeah, I say that turning to porn is a coping mechanism when you don't feel connected in your marriage or your parenting, your health, your faith or your career in a nutshell. And I pulled up this study and I do, I love it. He says, Rat Park. They don't drink the drugged water. It was everything the rat could want food and other rats to befriend and colored things, shiny things. And then both water bottles are there, one with water and one with the drugged water, and they don't drink the drugged water.They hardly used it. None of them overdosed and so he talked about how addiction is largely an adaptation to your environment. And so I just, I think that's so fascinating because I often say even when people accept the fact that they can maybe drink the water or they can turn to porn, they would rather make a connection or do something that is of value because then they feel a greater sense of purpose. I like that a lot. Okay. So where do people find you? Where do we go?
Chandler: It's join relay.app.
Tony: Join relay.app. So, okay. Chandler, anything else that you want to share? I mean, I just, first of all, can I ask you, can you tell if you or Jace are the better coder? I mean, is that, is that a thing?
Chandler: Well, I'll give that title to Jace for sure. He has a lot more of it these days than I do. I've, you know, I stepped away from doing that a ton. Jace is great.
Tony: I was gonna say real quick, I just remembered, any on the streets of New York stories? I mean, did you guys have to get scrappy or throw it down at all, or did you get really good at, I dunno, what'd you see there?
Chandler: Man. I love New York. We didn't see too many sketchy things. I don't have that many funny stories. Some kind of wild things that just, you'd expect to see, you know, people peeing in random places and stuff like that. But Jace and I, I remember, we had a really fun day together out in the Hamptons, like the end of Long Island. So it's not probably what you're thinking of with like the city. We did both spend some time there, but yeah, I remember even when I met Jace that like, I don't know, we just clicked really well together and we were both just really passionate about trying to help the people out there, and I think we, we were both Spanish speaking, and so we saw a lot of people who were very isolated. So it again ties back to this theme of connection. We're trying to work through all sorts of personal challenges and just like realized how important, I guess that theme was as we were out there in New York together. So, no, no crazy stories. I kind of wanted more, I remember leaving being like, I hope, like I get shot at, but I live like that would be cool.
Tony: And do you miss any of the food?
Chandler: Yeah. I was telling my wife I'd love to move back there for the food.
Tony: What do you miss in particular? What was your favorite food?
Chandler: I mean, the Dominican food is really good. Just all, all of that, all of their types of food is really good. I also love Pupusa from El Salvador. It's hard to describe. They're like these little tortillas, filled with beans and meat and cheese, but it's a little thicker, like, okay. Anyways, it's super good. You're in California, right? You should go, they definitely have them there.
Tony: Oh, I'm sure they do. Okay. No, that sounds good, alright, Chandler Rogers, thank you for coming on the Virtual Couch, I look forward to seeing you maybe in the app and we can share a meme or two.
Chandler: For sure. Let's do it. Thanks, Tony.
Tony: Okay. All right. Thanks Chandler.
Exercise, meditation, prayer, and eating good food all sound like wonderful, emotional-baseline-raising activities. But depending on how you're doing them, they could also be a way to eliminate unwanted thoughts and feelings. Tony looks at "creative helplessness" and "emotional control strategies" and how they play into our search for happiness. Tony references Russ Harris' book ACT Made Simple https://amzn.to/3l3NeDJ
And follow Tony on the Virtual Couch YouTube channel to see a sneak preview of his upcoming podcast "Murder on the Couch," where True Crime meets therapy, co-hosted with his daughter Sydney. You can watch a pre-release clip here https://youtu.be/-RkRq8SrQy0
Subscribe to Tony's latest podcast, "Waking Up to Narcissism Q&A - Premium Podcast," on the Apple Podcast App. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/waking-up-to-narcissism-q-a/id1667287384
Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony's "Magnetize Your Marriage" virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you'll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage.
You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.
Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the "uh's" and "um's" that, in his words, "must be created by wizards and magic!" because it's that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ
Hey, everybody. Welcome to episode 359 of the Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, and creator of The Path Back, which is an online pornography recovery program that is helping people turn away from turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism.
And a funny thing on the topic of pornography, which seems like a bit of an oxymoron, I received some texts a couple from people that are very close to me, who asked me about a post on my social media this week, that there was a mention of cornography that is as in corn, C O R N, or people talking about their corn addiction. Now, this is not a situation where people are literally addicted to the delicious yellow, I don't even know if it's a vegetable or a fruit, but it turns into popcorn, which is one of my favorite things in the entire world. I guess technically I could fall into a bit of a corn addiction if that is the case, but we're not talking about that type of corn.
Apparently, if you use the word porn or pornography on certain social media platforms, then that will be the end of you. Your account will be banned and you will be sent to outer darkness for time and all eternity. So in order to get around that and to try to help people, because I really feel like we need to be having better discussions around the challenges of people that are turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism, you have to refer to it as corn, corn addiction, and the coauthor of my book, He's a Porn Addict, Now what? An Expert and a Former Addict to Answer Your Questions, Joshua Shea, has a pretty big following, especially on Tik Tok. And he is known as that corn coach or the corn recovery coach. So I am meeting the social media platforms where they are at. And we're just going to embrace it. And I am going to help people turn away from unhealthy coping mechanisms, especially turning to corn or cornography to try to get that dopamine bump and have them tune out from feeling less connected in their relationships with their spouses or in their parenting, their faith, their health or their career. There's your gee whiz file tip for the day that you are going to hear me talk more about people and their addictions to corn. And, again, it is not the fruit and or vegetable.
But let's get to today's topic. I want to talk about happiness. And before I do that, let me just encourage you to go sign up for my newsletter. Go to tonyoverbay.com. And we will not inundate you with spam. As a matter of fact we will most likely, still continue to not send out the newsletter on a regular basis, but I'm working with my friends at the Yeah Yeah agency to get a template together and to just get that word out more on a regular basis, because there are so many exciting things that are coming. The Murder On The Couch podcast with my daughter, Sydney. I don't think I've ever put so much into the backend of putting something out in a better way. And I can't wait to release that. And there's a clip that's on my YouTube channel and I'll put the link in the show notes that is just a couple of minutes and it gives you a little bit of a preview of Sydney and my back and forth in this podcast. And I'm excited about this. We have a lot of episodes that have been recorded. And it's probably not exactly what you are anticipating. There's some true crime meets therapy. There's a, I feel like there's all these other things as well. A father, daughter relationship. And we'll get to more of that down the road, but I would encourage you to be on the lookout for Murder On The Couch and then sign up and subscribe and follow, however you follow all of your podcasts.
So back to this concept of happiness today, I want to look more into the book ACT Made Simple by my favorite acceptance and commitment therapy author, Russ Harris. We're going to dig into ACT Made Simple. And before I even get to ACT Made Simple, we're going to talk about a concept today in ACT that sounds negative, but it's called creative hopelessness. And I really feel like by the end of today's episode, you're going to have a better idea of why it can be difficult to feel happy. And what real happiness consists of. And then a way to start to achieve more of a legitimate, real internal feeling of happiness. And based on a, probably a different definition of happiness then you may be used to, but first let's go to story time. And this is from the book, The Confidence Gap. And this is from Russ Harris. “Why is it so difficult to be happy?” And actually this might be from his book, The Happiness Trap, one of one or two, one of those books that I recommend them both. Russ said, “The modern human mind's ability to analyze and plan, create and communicate was not initially a feel-good device so that we could tell jokes, write poems or say, I love you.”
And this is where I often like to think of the concept of a court jester that you had to bring someone in and basically tell them, hey, be funny, make us laugh. And if they were not funny, the court jester could be killed. But that was not the design of the human brain, that it wasn't this feel good device. It was more of a don't get killed device. So Russ said our minds grew up in a way to help us survive in a world that was fraught with danger. So early on your goal was to eat and drink and find shelter and have more kids and protect your family so that you could survive. So truly it was more of this don't get killed device, but he said that the better we became at anticipating and avoiding danger, the longer we lived and the more kids we had. So each generation of the human mind became increasingly skilled at predicting and avoiding danger.
So now our minds are constantly on the lookout. They are assessing and judging everything that we encounter. Is it good or bad? Is it safe or dangerous? Is it harmful or helpful? But now it's not as much about animals or packs of thieves, but it's about losing a job or being rejected or getting a speeding ticket or embarrassing ourselves in public. Or getting a terminal disease and a million other common worries. So as a result, he says that we spend a lot of our time worrying about things that more often than not, will not ever happen. And on that note before I get back to Russ's “Why it can be so difficult to be happy”, that worry, I think also is tied into just this desire we have for certainty.
I was talking with my wife about this last night and it can just be really a cause of such stress and anxiety for, I think a lot of us when we just want to know. I mean, it can be everything from, we want to know what our kids are going to do when they grow up. And we want to know what retirement is going to look like. We want to know who's going to win the super bowl in a couple of weeks. And we just have this desire to know, and we crave certainty. And if you really break it down, that desire to know is there to try and calm our anxiety that our brain feels like if I can just know, then I will be able to feel better. And I'll just be that, I'll be able to be more in the moment, be more present, but in reality, we have to be more present to be okay with the idea that we don't know, because we don't know who's going to win the super bowl. We don't know what retirement is going to look like. We can have a good idea. But one of the most certain things in life is that uncertainty. And in the book On Being Certain, which I just, I feel like is one of those books that I think really helped me reframe a lot of the things that I think, and the way that I act. It. Basically posits this idea that certainty is, in my words, “adorable” that our brain craves this certainty and that our brain is even trying to trick us into thinking, no, you can find it if you ruminate and you worry and you think, and you overthink. You'll find that certainty that you're looking for. So just, just keep at it. But then that is exactly what can keep us stuck. And I often say that it's that concept of, we want certainty and our brain will even say, okay, what's two plus two? Well, it's four. And that I'm pretty certain of. That is very certain.
And so that feeling of certainty is there in our brain somewhere. So I feel like the more that we are seeking certainty, then the more maddening it can become because our brain says no, you know what? It feels like, old man, keep ruminating, keep worrying. And you'll find that two plus two aha moment. Trust me. So we keep worrying and wondering and ruminating. But again, we spend a lot of this time worrying about things that more often than not, will not happen. So then Russ says that we also have this inherent need to belong to a group. And early on, if your clan booted you out, how long would it be before you were devoured by wolves? And he says sometimes, literally. So, how does the mind protect you from getting booted out? Well, by comparing you to other members of the clan. Am I fitting in? Or am I doing the right thing? Am I contributing enough? Am I as good as others? Am I doing anything that might get me rejected? So he says, does that sound familiar? Because our modern day minds are continually warning us of rejection and comparing ourselves to the rest of society. So no wonder we spend so much energy worrying about whether or not people will like us.
And even as little as a couple of decades ago, we only had to worry about the people in our church or in our neighborhood or in our school or in our work. But now all we have to do is pick up our phone or glance at a computer screen. And we can find a whole host of people who appear to be smarter, richer, slimmer, more famous, more powerful than we are. I can't even tell you, I feel like even more so over the last two or three years I've always had people come into the office and say that they see people on social media and everybody seems so happy and successful. And that's where as a therapist and when I get to work with so many of these people, and I will say, we all have our problems, without going into detail or breaking confidentiality. And it's interesting because I feel like that has amped up a little bit more in the last year or two of people putting on some very, very big “look at us”. We are doing everything and it's amazing and wonderful. We have no problems or no fears or no worries or no doubts. To the problem where then others are seeing those people put themselves out there as perfect. And then starting to feel again, like what is wrong with me? So I think that's exactly what Russ Harris is talking about. Because if I go back to this, he says that “When we compare ourselves to others, then we can feel inferior or disappointed or sad and depressed.” And then he said, “And to make it even worse,” and this is the part that I felt like it resonated with me in particular, “our minds are so sophisticated that we can even conjure up a fantasy image of the person that we believe we would like to be. So we can even compare ourselves to a version of ourselves that we assume would be much happier. And that just sounds exhausting. So, what he's saying in that scenario is I can even create this version of me that has these rock hard, six pack abs probably full hair transplants, no wrinkles, and then just able to quote the works of Shakespeare, as well as the works of ACT founder, Stephen Hayes, and then make sense of all of it. So why am I not that guy? What is wrong with me? I must, I must strive for that. Perfection. And so that is part of why it can be so difficult to be happy. So again, the brain is a don't get killed device.
And I will take every chance I can to then go from there and to the book Buddha Brain, where the author Rick Hanson says, “but here's the problem there too, that your brain preferentially scans for, registers, stores, recalls, and reacts to unpleasant experiences more than anything else,” he says, “the brain is like Velcro for the negative experiences and Teflon for the positive ones.” So consequently, even when positive experiences outnumber the negative ones, the pile of these negative implicit memories grows faster. So then this background feeling of what it feels like to be you can start to become undeservedly glum and pessimistic. So we seek this certainty. Our brain is this don't get killed device. Not a, I am falling in love and everything in the world is wonderful and amazing device. And so the acceptance of that is where we can start to grow. And now let's jump into this. What Russ Harris calls in the book ACT Made Simple, “the emotional control agenda”. So if we just, again, start out with, I just want to be happy. In the book ACT Made Simple, and I'm on chapter eight, he says, “Have you ever had a client who just wanted to be happy? And that is all that he or she wanted from therapy?” And he says, “Of course you have. And I'm sure you remember well, how challenging that is, or that was luckily from now on,” he says, “you will have something to help you with these clients. Creative hopelessness.”
And he says, “Please don't let the name put you off.” So creative hopelessness in a nutshell, in plain language, he says that creative hopelessness is a process where one becomes aware that trying hard to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings tends to make life worse than better. So this is that concept where, when we are burning all these emotional calories seeking certainty, or trying to make sense of things that don't make sense or trying to prepare for a future version of events that more than likely will not happen, that is what can just start to feel like what is wrong with me, or I just don't feel happy. So that leads to this sense of hopelessness and the agenda of avoiding one's difficult thoughts and feelings. And out of that feeling of hopelessness can emerge a creative attitude toward finding new and different ways to deal with them. So if we look at hopelessness as where we find ourselves, when we're trying to control or avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings that can feel hopeless. We need to start to add a dose of creativity in there because now that I accept the fact that it feels that things can feel pretty hopeless. Well now, what am I going to do about that? So hopelessness, here we emerge a creative attitude toward finding a new and different way of dealing with this situation that we find ourselves in.
So Russ says, “The aim then is to increase the client's awareness of the emotional control agenda and the costs of the successive experiential avoidance,” which again, is doing anything other than the things that you feel would be good for you to do. And then to consciously start to recognize and acknowledge that clinging tightly to this agenda of control. This emotional control agenda is unworkable. So what do we have to do? We have to confront this agenda that you have, that you can control all of your thoughts and feelings and emotions. So while we look at what the client has done to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings as a therapist, we start to help somebody examine how they work in the short-term and the long-term. So sometimes avoiding something works in the short term because it alleviates the feelings of uncomfortableness or anxiety, but then how's that working in the long haul? If you can avoid something in the very moment, then what do we typically do? Well, we'll do it later. We'll put it off until tomorrow. And if we hit the mid part of a day, then we'll do it tomorrow. And if we hit Wednesday or Thursday, we'll do it on Monday. And if we hit the 16th of the month, we'll do it next month. And when July hits, we'll do it next year. So when we know or suspect that a client, you know, as a therapist is excessively experientially avoidant and doing everything other than the things that they are claiming that they want to do, you recognize that they are so attached to this agenda of emotional control. They're saying, well, I need to feel good. I need to feel good before I can do these things that are important. Or I need to get rid of these unwanted thoughts and feelings, and then I can do it. But in reality, we have to do to actually start to feel good. Or we have to do, to bring along these unwanted thoughts and feelings. And show them actually, who is boss.
So this creative hopelessness, it's part of the ACT model that we bring. If we know for a fact, or we feel pretty sure that a client is really cleaning tightly to an agenda of emotional control, that I have to control how I feel I have to get rid of these unwanted, unpleasant and difficult thoughts or feelings or emotions or memories. And I have to replace these things with good, pleasant, desirable ones. Here is one of those problems that I really do have with the mental health field in general. And I was one of these therapists for years, that just said, okay, but what is going right for you? Or, you know, that thought leads to an emotion and that emotion leads to a behavior. So just change the thought, like you just need to be happy or if somebody doesn't call you back, instead of being frustrated or angry, just think, oh, maybe they dropped their phone in the lake. Maybe that's it. And so that would lead to an emotion of, oh, okay maybe I'm not so bad in the behavior. I can go about my day.
But then the person might leave the office and think, wait. I just paid for that guy to tell me that maybe my friend dropped their phone in a lake when in reality, I think that my friend just doesn't really care for me. So in other words, we can try to just say, okay, don't think that, or we can try to say, well, maybe it's not as bad as I think it is. And at that point, maybe I'm wrong and maybe everybody does love me and they just all forgot about me and that's completely okay. But in reality, we're still trying to control. We have this agenda of emotional control that I have to control how I feel. I have to get rid of the unwanted or unpleasant or difficult thoughts or feelings or emotions. And I just have to replace them with good and pleasant and desirable ones. So Russ says we've all got this agenda to some extent. It's normal. And we even talk about when you really dig deep and to act as much as I like to talk about this concept of experiential avoidance, and that's doing anything other than the things that I feel like I want to do or must do. That in reality, a little bit of experiential avoidance and moderation doesn't ruin our entire lives or our days.
But when a client is clinging desperately to this agenda of trying to have this emotional control, well, then at that point, then the experiential avoidance is high. And at that point it really does become very problematic. And again just by way of making sure that I realize I assumed that everybody has listened to everything and they know exactly what experiential avoidance is in the world of acceptance and commitment therapy this is a really powerful concept. So experiential avoidance and I'll stay in this text of ACT Made Simple. So Russ Harris says, “Let's look at another core process that gets people hooked on their thoughts and their feelings, it's experiential avoidance, and this term refers to our desire to avoid or get rid of any of these unwanted experiences and then anything that we do to try to make that happen.” Now these experiences in ACT, we call them private experiences and a private experience means any experience that you have that nobody else knows about unless you tell them. So that's your thoughts, your feelings, your memories, your images, your emotions, your urges, your impulses, your desires, your sensations.
So all humans are experientially avoidant to some degree. And why shouldn't they be? And there's an ACT metaphor that explains this I think in a little bit more detail, it's called the problem solving machine. So as a therapist, I would say if we had to pick one ability of the human mind that has enabled us to be so successful as a species, it would probably have to be problem solving, which basically boils down to this. A problem is something unwanted. And a solution means we avoid it or get rid of it. Now in the physical world, problem solving works really well. If you have a wolf outside of your door, you get rid of it, either with rocks or you throw spears at it. Or you shoot it, or if there's snow or rain or hail, when you can't get rid of those things, but you can avoid them, hiding in a cave or building a shelter or wearing protective clothing. So a dry arid ground, you can get rid of it by irrigation and fertilization, or you can avoid it by moving to a better location.
So the human mind is a problem solving machine and it's really good at its job. And given that problem solving works so well in the material world, then it's only natural that our mind tries to do the same with our inner world. So this world of thoughts and feelings, memories, and sensations and urges. But unfortunately when we try to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts or feelings, it doesn't work. And if it does, we end up creating a lot of new problems that can make life even harder. So experiential avoidance then actually increases our suffering. So he says we'll return to this problem solving machine metaphor later, but for now, consider how experiential avoidance increases suffering. Addiction provides one of the most obvious examples. So many addictions begin as an attempt to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. Such as boredom or loneliness or anxiety, guilt, anger, sadness. So in the short run, gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex, cigarettes, will often help people to avoid or get rid of these feelings temporarily.
But over time, a huge amount of pain and suffering results. So the more time and energy that we spend trying to avoid or get rid of unwanted private experiences, the things that are happening internally to you, your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, your beliefs, all of these things. The more we're likely to suffer psychologically in the long run and, and things like anxiety disorders. He says provide another good example. It's not the presence of anxiety that creates an anxiety disorder. Because after all anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all experienced. Anxiety can be there as a warning. It truly can. But at the core of any anxiety disorder lies this excessive experiential avoidance. Of trying to avoid or run away from these feelings, thoughts, uncomfortable feelings that are happening inside of us. So Russ Harris says a life dominated by trying hard to avoid or get rid of anxiety, that actually then increases your anxiety. So he says, for example, suppose I feel anxious in social situations. So in order to avoid those feelings of anxiety, I stopped socializing. But my anxiety gets deeper and more acute. And now I have a social phobia. There's an obvious short-term benefit of avoiding social situations. They get to avoid anxious thoughts and feelings, but the long-term cost is huge. You become isolated. Your life quote gets smaller. And then people find themselves stuck in this vicious cycle. And he says, alternatively, I might try to reduce my anxiety in social situations by playing the role of a good listener.
So I become very empathetic and caring toward others. And I discover a lot of information about the thoughts and feelings and desires of other people. The other people I'm talking to, but I reveal very little or nothing of myself. Again, this helps in the short term to reduce my fear of being judged or rejected. But in the long term, it means that my relationships lack intimacy or openness or authenticity. Now Russ goes on to say, he says, suppose I take Valium or some other mood altering substance to reduce my anxiety. Again. The short term benefit is obvious, less anxiety. But the long term costs of relying on he quotes “benzodiazepines or antidepressants or marijuana or alcohol” to reduce our anxiety, could include A, a psychological dependence on the substance, or B, even a physical addiction, C, physical and emotional side effects, and D, financial costs. And failure to learn more effective responses to anxiety and which therefore maintains or can even exacerbate the issue. So he says that another way that I might respond to social anxiety would be to grit my teeth and socialize, despite my anxiety, that is to tolerate the feelings, even though I'm distressed by them.
So from an ACT perspective, and this is what I love. I love this about ACT. That sounds like that exposure. I just need to get in there and do it. But from an ACT perspective, this too would be experiential avoidance. Why? Because although I am not avoiding the situation, I am definitely struggling with my feelings and desperately hoping that they'll go away. So this is tolerance, not acceptance. And there's a big difference between tolerance and acceptance. He says, “Would you want people you love to tolerate you while you're present, hoping you'll soon go away and frequently checking to see if you've left yet? Or would you prefer them to completely and totally accept you as you are with all of your flaws and foibles and be willing to have you around for as long as you choose to stay?”
So, Russ Harris says the cost of tolerating social anxiety, that is gritting my teeth and putting up with it, is that it takes a huge amount of effort and energy, which makes it hard to fully engage in any social interaction. So as a consequence, you start to miss out on much of the pleasure and fulfillment that accompany socializing of just being in the moment, being present, observing, noticing, being open, vulnerable, funny, charismatic, connecting. This in turn then will increase your anxiety about future social events. Because you're already predicting that I won't enjoy this or it'll feel awful or it's too much effort. He says, “Sadly, the more importance that we place on avoiding anxiety, the more we deeply have anxiety and we develop anxiety about our anxiety.” And it becomes this vicious cycle and it's at the center of any anxiety disorder. Because he says after all, what is it? The core of a panic attack, if not anxiety, about anxiety. So again, attempts to avoid unwanted thoughts and feelings. I can actually increase them. There's the paradox.
For example, research shows that suppression of unwanted thoughts leads to the rebound effect, meaning that it will increase the unwanted thoughts, both in intensity and frequency of the unwanted thoughts. Other studies show that training to suppress a mood will actually intensify it in a self amplifying loop. So there's a large and growing body of research that shows a higher experiential avoidance is associated with anxiety disorders. But again, that doesn't mean you can just jump in there and just exposure therapy yourself into happiness. Because is that tolerance or are you truly learning to accept and be in the moment? So talking about this growing body of research, showing that higher experiential avoidance is associated with anxiety disorders, excessive worrying, depression, poor work performance, higher levels of substance abuse, lower quality of life, high risk of acting out sexually can lead to concepts like borderline personality disorder, or a greater severity of post-traumatic stress disorder. Long-term disability, higher degrees of overall psychopathology. So it's hardly surprising that he says that then a core component of most ACT protocols involves getting a client in touch with the costs and futility of experiential avoidance. I mean, this is often an essential first step to pave the way. For a radically different agenda, experiential acceptance.
But, of course, you know, that is going to take work. And I'm not trying to say that just because you're aware, hear what I'm saying, that is going to be easy because it's going to be a little bit of a long road ahead. But then what's the key? It is learning how to figure out what matters to us. Here comes those values. And then throw in a nice dose of mindfulness and learning how to pause and slow down your heart rate and get out of your fight or flight of your brain, your amygdala. And learning how to be in the moment and live by things that are of value and importance. But that doesn't mean that your anxiety goes away. As a matter of fact, it'll probably still be there. But you'll learn more of a concept around acceptance. And not that you have to then have this avoidance.
So back to this concept of creative hopelessness. So now we can maybe understand a little bit more where creative hopelessness gets its name. Because what we aim to do is to create a sense of hopelessness in the agenda of controlling your feelings. So it's not about hopelessness in your future or yourself or in your life. It's hopelessness and the agenda of controlling your feelings. Therefore let's get creative. So we aim to undermine this agenda so we can open our clients as therapists up to a whole new one and agenda of acceptance. And a lot of the ACT textbooks often refer to this new agenda as willingness. So once we identify the hopelessness of trying to control, let's get creative and let's start to lean into willingness. That is the willingness to have your difficult thoughts and feelings. As opposed to fighting with them or avoiding them. So creative hopelessness is rarely a one-off intervention. Russ Harris says, “It's usually something you need to revisit session after session as a therapist. But usually each time you revisit it, it gets a little quicker and a little easier to do.” And so, it's interesting and I love before he goes deeper into the concepts around creative hopelessness. He says, okay, we need to get clear on a couple of concepts. So one is the emotional control strategies.
So emotional control strategies or anything that we do primarily to try and get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings or overt or covert behavior that's predominantly motivated by experiential avoidance. So these emotional control strategies can include everything from exercise, guilty, prayer, meditation, alcohol, heroin, suicide attempts. And he makes a note that if exercise or prayer or meditation are predominantly motivated by values, then we would not call those emotional control strategies. So, I have a value of fitness. That's a core value of mine. So exercise is a vehicle. So I moved that into, okay. That is living my value based life. If I am turning more to exercise instead of ruminating, worrying, beating myself up about things. So you really call things emotional control strategies, only if the main intention of those activities is to avoid or get rid of unwanted feelings. And creative hopelessness work will ask a client to look openly and non-judgmentally at all the emotional control strategies that they're using, but we don't judge those as good or bad or right. Or wrong or positive or negative.
Because we really want to just see if those strategies are working or not in terms of creating a better life. And this is where I love the fact that at the core of ACT is you. You are you, you are the only version of you and we can take in data from the peanut gallery or those that we really do appreciate and care about, and we do want to know what other people think it's just kind of in our nature. But ultimately you're the only one who knows how you feel. So I may ask others for their opinion or what do you think I should do or do you think this is good? But at the end of the day, this is where ultimately you and I love that you can look at a concept like exercise. And is that an emotional control strategy or is that a value? And that is completely up to you. And when I talk about value based living, I give this pretty dramatic example of a value of honesty, that if you grew up in a home. And that home, there was no honesty. Then you may have a value of almost, I want to say brutal honesty. But then your brain is going to say, okay, well, yeah, but you might hurt somebody's feelings. And in the world of ACT, well, I'm not even arguing that, that's not, we're not arguing the truthfulness of that statement. It may very well be true and probably is true, but is that a workable thought toward my value based goal of honesty?
But if you grew up in a home where there was an insane amount of brutal honesty, then maybe you have more of a value of compassion. So then your brain is going to “yeah, but” you and say, well, yeah, but you may not be honest. And at that point, then if you are the only version of you and you know what that means for you, then I'm not even arguing if that's a true or false statement. It's true. I'm not going to be completely honest at times because I have this value of compassion. So I love that we can even carry that over into these emotional control strategies that something like exercise. Is it a value or is it an attempt to control or move away from our run from your emotions? He talks about targeting all emotional control strategies. So, in a word, you know, Russ says, do we target all emotional control strategies? And he says in a word, no, with a whole bunch of O's. Because he says, “Recall that the whole ACT model rests on the concept of things being workable, workability.”
So is this behavior working to help you build a rich and meaningful life? So if your emotional control strategies are working to enrich and enhance your life, then keep doing them by all means. Keep doing the exercise away. If you have a value of knowledge, then Google everything. But if you do not have a value of knowledge, then Googling things can be a form of experiential avoidance. He said, “However, the reality is that most human beings overly rely on emotional control strategies. And when we use them excessively rigidly or inappropriately, our quality of life will suffer.” And he says, take eating chocolate for an example. He said, when we mindfully eat a piece of good quality chocolate appreciating and savoring it, we feel good. Assuming that we like chocolate. So if we use this as an emotional control strategy, flexibly and moderately, it enriches our life. It is workable, but if we do it excessively, then it might start to have a cost of health, such as weight gain. Plus if we are in intense, emotional pain and we eat chocolate to try and distract ourselves from it, then it's unlikely to work. And I love that he then goes back to this example of exercise, and for example he says, when we exercise, we often feel better. At least afterward. He says, if not at the time.
And exercise also improves our quality of life. Therefore, if we exercise as an emotional control strategy and we do so flexibly and moderately, then that's generally workable and good. But if it becomes excessive, like the client with anorexia spends three hours a day in the gym to keep their body in a state of wasted thinness, then even something as positive as exercise will have its costs. And in addition, he says, ACT postulates that even life enhancing activities such as exercise or meditation or healthy eating will be more satisfying and rewarding when they're motivated by values such as self care. Rather than being motivated by experiential avoidance or trying to escape these unwanted feelings. And I will say openly and honestly that the reason, I so appreciate talking about ACT and exercise in this framework, as a former ultra marathon runner and running a dozen races of a hundred miles or more and six times around a track for 24 hours and doing up to 125 miles. And I don't know, a hundred, 150 marathons and ultra marathons, that I know that there was a period of my life and it was when I was doing a career that I really didn't care for in the computer industry that I didn't even know how much that I didn't enjoy that. Because I didn't even know how much I would enjoy doing something that I find value in of therapy, writing, podcasting, or helping people. I now understand that that was why I turned to ultra marathon running. In that scenario, then my exercise was a form of experiential avoidance, trying to escape feelings. And then there is nothing quite like the pain of mile 80 at two in the morning of a race when you even question your own sanity of why on earth am I doing this?
And heading down a little hill, the feeling in your quads or a calf. So just the, I can't even describe what that feels like, but boy, I'll tell you what I'm not thinking about in that moment, going back to work on Monday. So I know that that exercise in those moments truly was a form of experiential avoidance. He also gives the example. He said, for example, have you ever eaten yummy food primarily to push away feelings such as boredom or stress or anxiety? And a few weeks ago, I did an episode, I think I called it “The Psychology of the Churro”, and I really had that feeling in Disneyland recently. It was fascinating that if I was bored, I could go get a churro and it would be amazing and it would push away those unwanted feelings of boredom and it was a satisfying experience when I can slow myself down. But then at that point, when that was my third or fourth chiro after eating also the beignets and also eating whatever huge lunch that I had, not so satisfying. So he says, contrast that with occasions when your eating was motivated by value is around savoring and appreciating your food or connecting and sharing with loved ones. And which one was more rewarding, you know, was it inhaling a churro? Or was it sitting and enjoying an experience and savoring a meal with loved ones?
Similarly, he said, if you do charity work motivated by values, around sharing and caring and giving and helping you'll likely find that far more rewarding than if you're mainly motivated by trying to avoid feelings of guilt or worthlessness. So if you are giving to the homeless man on the corner, because you feel guilty, that's going to be a completely different experience than if you are giving to that person, because you have a value of charity. So then as therapists, we try to help clients take action guided by your values, rather than by experiential avoidance. Rather than trying to just avoid these feelings or thoughts. So we want to get clients consciously moving toward what is meaningful rather than simply running from what is unwanted. So he said to really hammer this point home, suppose you exercise primarily motivated by values, such as self care. Or you pray motivated by values around connecting with God. He said we wouldn't class those as emotional control strategies because your primary aim isn't to control how you feel. But we would classify them as emotional control strategies. If your main purpose in doing them is to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. You know, I work a lot in religious contexts with the concepts around scrupulosity which is this OCD of religious thought. So if you go back to the way that Russ just pointed that out, if we pray and we do spiritual things, because we have a value around our spirituality or connection with God, then that's a completely different experience of prayer or confession. As a purpose of doing that to get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings of guilt or shame.
So then back to this creative hopelessness as an intervention based on workability. We're going to ask a client to take a good, long, honest, and mindful look at all of your emotional control strategies and see what they cost you. I would love for you to connect with the reality that our emotional control strategies often work in the short run to make somebody feel better, but they don't work in the long run to make your life rich, full and meaningful. So I said at the beginning that I wanted to challenge the definition of happiness and this by no shock comes from another Russ Harris book called The Happiness Trap. And there are two definitions that he mentions. And the happiness trap of happiness. And I feel like these are again some of those times where I don't want to just say that the light bulb came on the concept around why I just love acceptance and commitment therapy so much, but there are two very, very different ideas of happiness in the world. So Russ says, “What exactly is happiness? We all want it. We all crave it. We all strive for it. Even the Dalai Lama has said the very purpose of life is to seek happiness. But what exactly is it?” He said the word happiness has two very different meanings. The common meaning of the word is feeling good. In other words, feeling a sense of pleasure or gladness or gratification. We all enjoy these feelings. So it is no surprise that we chase these feelings. However, like all human emotions, feelings of happiness don't last. No matter how hard we try to hold onto them. They slip away every time as we'll see a life spent in pursuit of those good feelings is in the long-term, deeply unsatisfying.
In fact, the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. This is that concept of where “I'll be happy when”. I'll be happy when I get a hundred grand, I'll be happy when I get a nice car, I'll be happy when I graduate college, I'll be happy when I have a family. And while those things may bring this pleasurable feeling, but then like all good feelings in the long term, they go away. And so then we're chasing the next good feeling. The next good feeling. So he says the other far less common meaning of happiness is living a rich, full and meaningful life. So when we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, we move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy. And we clarify what we stand for in life and we act accordingly. Then our lives will become rich and powerful and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality.
And he says this isn't some fleeting feeling. It's a profound sense of a life well lived and all those such a life will undoubtedly still give us many pleasurable feelings. It'll also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness and fear and anger. Because again, like we've talked about today, the goal is not to avoid those and not to try to run away from those. Because he says, this is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotion. So this is that part where I just feel like I want to shout from the rooftops. I want to testify. I want to sing the praises of just finding the real version of you, what it means to be you, your values. What you are all about, what you like, what you don't like. And the more you can learn to find that what really makes you tick and understand that is still going to come with all the highs and lows and ups and downs in life. But as you start to take action on the things that matter and really lean into your values and then acknowledge the fact that if I am experientially avoiding things just to avoid pain or discomfort, then I'm going to continually live in this world of fear and avoidance. But when I learn what really matters to me and I start to lean into what it feels like to be me, is to take action on the things that matter, the anxiety or the fear isn't going to completely disappear. But you're going to start to create a whole new relationship with it. And it is just going to become another thought or another feeling. And there it is. And I have lots of thoughts and I have lots of feelings. But I'm starting to do, I'm starting to do things that really make a difference for me, or matter for me.
And that will allow me to be more present in my life. And that is back to this definition that is feeling this full range of human emotion. But it's also going to just give us this profound sense of a life well lived, and I cannot say enough that that is something that we don't know what that is like until we do. And so it is worth it to take the effort and work to get to that point and really find this just true happiness in life, because I know that life can be challenging and difficult to say the least, so that's why I desperately want to talk about ACT every chance I get, because I want each and every one of you to have this profound sense of a life well lived because it does make everything just more worth living.
Taking us out per usual, the wonderful, the talented Aurora Florence, and it's more than ever, I feel like the song “It's Wonderful” is needed when we talk about things, the way that we talked about them today, because when you start to figure out what it feels like to be you, then in fact life really can be wonderful. All right, we'll see you next week on the Virtual Couch.
Tony tackles the topic of pornography today in a completely strength-based, hold-the-shame, become the person you always wanted to be way. He addresses the age-old question of whether or not pornography addiction is even a diagnosable condition...and better yet, does that matter? Tony shares his views on “the voids” in one’s life that typically lead to the brain wanting to cope, or check-out, by viewing pornography. These voids include the lack of connection in marriage, in parenting, not feeling satisfied in your career, not feeling good about your health, and feeling disconnected with your concept of faith. Tony reads from his book, “He’s a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions” available through the following links: https://amzn.to/33fk0U4 paperback https://amzn.to/38hRcx3 Kindle version https://amzn.to/2G30PDu Hardcover version
Please subscribe to The Virtual Couch YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/c/TheVirtualCouchPodcast/ and sign up at http://tonyoverbay.comto learn more about Tony’s upcoming “Magnetic Marriage” program!
Tony's FREE parenting course, “Tips For Parenting Positively Even In the Not So Positive Times” is available NOW. Just go to http://tonyoverbay.com/courses/ and sign up today. This course will help you understand why it can be so difficult to communicate with and understand your children. You’ll learn how to keep your buttons hidden, how to genuinely give praise that will truly build inner wealth in your child, teen, or even in your adult children, and you’ll learn how to move from being “the punisher” to being someone your children will want to go to when they need help.
This episode of The Virtual Couch is sponsored by http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch With the continuing “sheltering” rules that are spreading across the country PLEASE do not think that you can’t continue or begin therapy now. http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch can put you quickly in touch with licensed mental health professionals who can meet through text, email, or videoconference often as soon as 24-48 hours. And if you use the link http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch you will receive 10% off your first month of services. Please make your own mental health a priority, http://betterhelp.com/virtualcouch offers affordable counseling, and they even have sliding scale options if your budget is tight.
Tony's new best selling book "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" is now available on Kindle. https://amzn.to/38mauBo
Tony Overbay, is the co-author of "He's a Porn Addict...Now What? An Expert and a Former Addict Answer Your Questions" now available on Amazon https://amzn.to/33fk0U4. The book debuted in the number 1 spot in the Sexual Health Recovery category and remains there as the time of this record. The book has received numerous positive reviews from professionals in the mental health and recovery fields.
You can learn more about Tony's pornography recovery program The Path Back by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs, and podcasts.
Is Pornography Addiction Real - 2020-09-15
[00:00:00] Coming up on today's episode of The Virtual Couch, we're going into the world of compulsive behavior, specifically pornography or that word that must not be named. And I know for a lot of you, when you hear the topic, you're probably thinking hard pass. But stick around for a bit. And I promise you that we are going to learn something new today that will either help you or somebody that you put turning to pornography as a coping mechanism for I know you name it, stress, boredom, loneliness, anger behind them once and for all. That and so much more coming up on today's episode with the Virtual.
[00:00:39] Hey, everybody, welcome to Episode 223, The Virtual Couch. I am your host, Tony Overbay. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist, certified mindful habit coach, writer, speaker, husband, father of four, ultramarathon runner and creator of the Path Back, an online pornography recovery program that is helping people reclaim their lives from the harmful effects of pornography. If you are anybody that you know is ready to put turning to pornography as a coping mechanism behind them once and for all, and trust me, it can be done and a strength based, hold the shame, become the person you always wanted to be. We then turn to path back recovery dotcom, and there you will find a short ebook that describes five common mistakes that people make when turning to pornography as a coping mechanism or trying to put pornography behind them once and for all. How many times have I said that I just got it wrong, but I was trying to go off the cuff here, no script and that's what I get for that. So head over to Path Back Recovery.com and again, download that short e-book that describes here we go, five common mistakes that people make when trying to put pornography behind them once and for all. Ganpat back recovery dotcom. And you can find me on Instagram at Virtual Couch and on Facebook at Tony Overbay, licensed marriage and family therapist and stop by TonyOverbay. com, completely redone website.
[00:01:45] And you can sign up there to find out more information about actually a path back reboot that is coming up soon that I am so excited about and the magnetic marriage course that is getting close. I will have a lot of announcements coming up in the next probably one to two weeks about how you can find out more about that. But the quickest way is to go to TonyOverbay.com and sign up to find out more information about all kinds of things. And then there's all right there on the home page. Is the parenting positively in the not so positive of times? That is a free course. It's going to remain free. And I highly encourage you to go there. The feedback has been great. The a lot of people have taken the course and there's even starting to be some nice feedback within the course of things that have helped people along the way of parenting. So let's get to today's episode. And I'm going to be real.
[00:02:29] I have wasted over an hour this morning. I got into my office a little after 4:00 a.m. trying to get a podcast recorded before I started seeing clients today at six and I had the camera up. I was going to put this episode on YouTube, actually recorded about five or ten minutes and then realized that there were some parts that I wasn't recording and tried to go back in and suck some audio out of a video file and then started recording again.
[00:02:52] And at some point I just felt, you know what, I need to reboot, I need to restart. And so I'm doing this, that this episode is not up on YouTube as a video. But I always put the audio episodes up there as well. There are some people that like to consume their podcasts on YouTube, so you still can find it there on the virtual couch YouTube channel.
[00:03:08] But I wanted to talk about pornography today, and I have been I deal with it on a daily basis. This is still as far as the clients I see during a week, I see a healthy amount of couples. I also see a significant amount of women that are trying to get out of relationships with people who may be struggling with narcissistic personality disorder. So helping women recognize trauma bonds and able to break free from their little of anxiety, a little bit of depression. And then I still see a fair amount of clients each week that are trying to put pornography behind them once and for all. And the mode or model that I take is a very strength based approach. And it's one where when I was going on the road interviewing, doing some interviews for my book, he's a porn addict. Now, what an expert and a former addict. Answer your questions. I like to say that so far I am 0 for I think fourteen hundred people that I've helped in having shame be a component of recovery. And I just I want to just talk off the cuff today about pornography and compulsive sexual behavior. And so forgive me if I'm going to sound like I'm going all over the place, but I think it's significant to say that even a decade or more ago when I was starting to do this work, working with pornography and compulsive sexual behavior, that there really wasn't as much of a strength based model. There's still a little bit of a debate in the professional realm of a more of this medical model or this 12 step model, this addiction model versus a a more of a positive psychology strength based model. And I have been working with this strength based model for a very long time. And that is what gets results, in my opinion. And I can again say after doing this for almost 15 years and helping about 14 hundred individuals and then people that go through my path back online recovery program, then the strength based approach has been very effective.
[00:04:54] What does that mean by a strength based approach? I like to tell the story that when I got into counseling and I was working at a nonprofit, I was working with people that were struggling with. And let me just tackle this right out of the gate. I'm going to use the phrase pornography addiction and I'm going to talk about compulsive sexual behavior.
[00:05:12] And I might or I might just say struggles with pornography and why. So one of the first questions that I get truly is, is my husband an addict? And I'm going to pull some things out of my book a little bit today, which is sounds so pretentious. I know it does, but I really am proud of this book. With that I did with Joshua Shea, it's continued to sell copies for professionals, for the betrayed and for the the betrayer. And I think it just really answers so many good questions about pornography, addiction, compulsive sexual behavior. But so here's chapter one. The first question asked is, how do I know if he's actually an addict? And here's my comment on this. So when a client comes into my office to talk about her partner, who she thinks is an addict, so usually begin to list all the reasons that she's sure he's addicted to pornography, and then she'll ask me the question, how do I really know? And so at this point, I recognize that she's doubting herself and questioning her intuition. And this usually happens for one of two reasons. Either one, she thinks that she's not qualified to make that diagnosis or most commonly, she doesn't want it to be true. And so I'll hear the client's entire monologue about her partner's behavior, a behavior that led her into my office in the first place, only to hear her say, but I'm probably wrong. And what I feel like she's really thinking is, please tell me I'm wrong. And chances are she's not wrong. But there is help and there's hope. And so there are countless definitions of addiction and each with its own little nuances.
[00:06:35] But for the work that I do, I like the definition proposed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which is ASTM.org and it state's addiction is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain impairment and behavioral control, craving, a diminished recognition of significant problems with one's behavior and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. So like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. And so without treatment or engagement and recovery activities, addiction is progressive and it can result in disability or, according to the ACM, even premature death, because we're probably talking there of drug overdose and that sort of thing. OK, but here we go, though. But to me, the exact defining of the word addiction is largely a matter of semantics. So if pornography is affecting your relationship negatively and you suspect that it's an issue that needs to be dealt with, the labeling of addiction or not, addiction becomes irrelevant. And if it's negatively affecting your marriage or your relationship or your family, it needs to be treated whatever you want to call it. So I have couples that come into my office and one is adamant that I label the other an addict, while the quote addict may be adamant that he or she need not be labeled. So we could spend the entire session worrying about labels and trying to define addiction. But that's just wasting crucial time that could be spent on repairing a relationship and overcoming the negative behaviors that brought them there to begin with. So this need to label or not label comes up in other areas of my practice as well in my dealing with clients who may or may not be, let's say, on the autism spectrum.
[00:08:10] Some come into my office and talk about not being good with social cues or having blind spots and the like and finding out that they are on the autism spectrum or being labeled autistic is a relief to them because it's finally an answer to explain their behavior. But others walk through the door and clearly exhibit classic signs of autistic behavior, yet repeatedly expressed that they do not want to be tested or evaluated for fear of being labeled because they're afraid that people will then treat them differently. So the labeling issue is a universal concern and the label doesn't change who you are. It doesn't change the behaviors exhibited and it doesn't change what needs to happen next on the path of dealing with the behavior. But if your behavior is causing problems in your relationship, whether or not you are clinically identified or labeled as an addict, then I feel that's when you need to seek professional help. So I just go off on that tangent because I will most likely use interchangeably the word pornography addiction or pornography, compulsive sexual behavior, or trying to rid yourself from pornography once and for all. And and I doubt that anyone is paying this much attention to my intro over the last three years. But I have shifted it from pornography addiction to trying to overcome turning to pornography as a coping mechanism, because I feel like that really is at the core. What most people are struggling with is this turning to pornography.
[00:09:23] It becomes this almost robotic or zombie like impulse and then it doesn't leave anybody feeling good after that. So they do want to put that behind them once and for all. So I hope that helps. But so back to when I started working in this nonprofit, I would get men that would come in to me and most of them were not honestly, they were not coming to me and saying, I am. I have a pornography addiction. Usually it's, hey, my wife wants me to come in or I got caught or my marriage is in trouble. There are some people that come in and say, I got to get this behind me. I really do. And part of that, I think, is the shame that even has to for someone to say I have a problem and that I want help with that. And that's a big reason why I did create the path back, because I wanted people to be able to address this regardless of if they are coming into a therapist's office or if they want to do that in the privacy of their own home. Because I feel like I do not meet with people who for the most part, say that they really enjoy looking at pornography and it makes them feel better after and it makes them feel more connected with their spouse. So I got men that were coming into my office and I recognize that the traditional training is a lot of behavioral modification.
[00:10:31] So when someone is feeling triggered, for example, or wanting to look at porn, then you're treating that. You're teaching them how to, I don't know, go run outside or do push ups or call a friend or that sort of thing. And so I found that most everyone coming in was almost looking for some silver bullet or some new thing that they've never heard before that would help them immediately get rid of pornography in their lives. But I identified quickly what I like to call this concept of voids. And so I found that I could teach behavioral modification all day and the person is going to do it at times or sometimes they're not. But what I really felt like was identifying that most people were turning to pornography as a coping mechanism wherever they felt these voids and identified five key voids. And one is when they don't feel connected with their partner. And that is why I dove into the world of emotionally focused therapy and did more couples work. The second one is when they don't feel like they are connected with their kids or as a parent or they're not being the parent that they always want to be. And that's what led me to my study with the nurtured heart approach, which is the at the foundation of my parenting positively course that you can go take for free right now, going tonyoverbay.com.
[00:11:41] Another one is people struggling with their faith. And so if you look on my podcast episodes, just go to my website and search for anything that has to do with faith journey, faith crisis or stages of faith. And I have episodes there where I talk about ways to really connect with your faith, where you aren't doing it just because you think that's what you're supposed to do, where you can really tap into your own values that are connected to your faith journey. So we've got the couples peace, the parenting, peace, the faith peace. And then I found that a lot of a lot of people aren't happy with their career. And I'm talking about whether it's their career. They always wanted to be, I don't know, an attorney, but they're an engineer or if somebody is a stay at home mom and they always wanted to have a career so it can go in any of those directions where if they don't feel connected or they don't feel passionate about what they're doing on a day to day basis, that can cause these voids and then wanting to turn the brain saying, OK, I want to check out I want to turn to pornography as just the just the like a little bump, a little dopamine rush.
[00:12:43] And then and then the fifth one/void is their health. And I feel like that's one where a lot of if we want to face it, most of us, I think, anticipated that we would be in pretty good shape when we were adults. But then the stress and life and incredibly tasty food comes into play. And it's really easy to turn to food as a coping mechanism as well. And so look at those five areas. And I don't want that to sound heavy. I want that to sound no pun intended after the food one, by the way. But I want that to sound like, oh, wow, that makes sense, that if we can get your marriage dialed in a little bit more of your relationship, if you're not married, if we can get your parenting dialed in. And of course, if you're if you're young and you don't have kids, then obviously that doesn't mean that we don't worry about that one. But your career, your faith and your health. And it's not that we ignore what to do when the temptation, the siren song of temptation hits. It's not that at all, but we address that. But we also go in and we talk about how to address these voids and how to get people dialed into more of a value based life.
[00:13:42] And and this is where I love acceptance and commitment therapy. So when someone's figuring out their unique set of values based on their life experiences, all of that nature, nurture, birth, order, DNA, abandonment, rejection, those sort of things, when someone figures out their value and then they're more likely to live this more purpose filled life when they're turning to their own value. I have a big value of authenticity. And that sounds clichéd. I know, but it's something I really didn't figure out until I was probably in my 40s, because up until that point, I really was a pretty big people pleaser. And so there were times where I would not speak my truth or my mind because number one, I felt like it would be abrasive or that it would be a negative thing. And number two, I just felt like I couldn't I felt like I needed to be so nice and that I couldn't be authentic and open. But once I recognized that value of authenticity, then I realized that, man, I feel so much more empowering to deal with that need to be authentic than it did to be a people pleaser and try to avoid conflict, because there's so much I could I could do whole episodes on those last two sentences that I said. But so treating the voids in someone that is struggling with pornography addiction is absolutely the way to go.
[00:15:00] Now, the problem is that people often say, OK, they've been caught or they want help. And so it is go and sin no more, never do it again. And the big problem with any kind of addictive behavior is that the person that is struggling with that addictive behavior has had so many go and sin no more moments in their own life so many times where this is the last time. And then when they have not necessarily dealt with these other areas of life and dealt with them over an extended period of time, then they find themselves falling again to the siren song of temptation and then beating themselves up and. Thinking what's wrong with me and often going on a bender and realize that when I talk to clients, sometimes they don't know what a binder is, a binder is just borrowed from the world of alcoholism. And it's where someone has a relapse with acting out with pornography. And then they just feel today shot. And if it's a friend on a Friday, they're like, there goes the weekend. And if it's the 16th of the month, they say there goes the month. And if it's August, they say there goes the year. And I'll work on this next on Monday or next month or I'll start on in January.
[00:16:07] And all of those are these experiential avoidance components where it's kicking that can down the road where, you know, absolutely to get control of an addiction or an addictive behavior. Let's not wait till Monday. That's just a story my brain is trying to tell me. Is that all right? We'll wait till Monday. Well, we need to deal with it right now, as a matter of fact. So I hope that makes sense when we talk about the concept of addiction in general and where I come up with these voids that we're trying to work on each one of those voids. And I think that does lead right into again, I'm going to read out of the book where the next question was, is there a difference between pornography addiction and sex addiction? And so I said similar to the answer to the first question, this one comes back the labels and whether or not they are relevant. So to be clear, until recently, there wasn't anything in either the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is called the DSM, or the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases, which is the ICD that talked about sexual addiction or pornography addiction. Now, recently, the WHO updated the ICD to include compulsive sexual behavior disorder, which is CSB D How about those four acronyms as a mental health condition?
[00:17:18] And so while this designation doesn't exactly meet the standard for addiction, it is definitely the strongest statement made by a body of experts in the field of sexual mental health. So I say, let me share a very 30,000 foot view of what's happening to the brain with doing pornography. So when a man and I'm going to say, man, it can be a woman as well. When a man is watching viewing pornography, when he watches porn, his brain releases the feel good drug dopamine. And there is some fascinating research and I've got some very early episodes that I realize now are almost three years old. So they're hard to find in the archives, but fascinating research around what is called the Coolidge effect. So the idea is that a male will mate with a receptive female once and then he can experience a period where he is not interested in mating. However, if you bring in another receptive female, he will then mate again and so on and so on until he, in essence, can no longer move almost to the point of death. So this phenomenon has been observed in many different species in the animal kingdom. So what's happening is that this, quote, lower brain or reactionary brain was designed to see a female who could possibly help the male bring forth kids to assist in tilling the land and harvesting food so his brain pours out dopamine in order for him to hyper focus on her, to do whatever it takes to convince her that he is her man.
[00:18:33] So what research now shows is that the lower brain can't differentiate between the real woman in front of him or the pictures and videos that it's seeing on a computer screen. So it will see another, "willing female" on the screen and pour out dopamine saying I got to get her to. But so now with this endless supply of willing females and you can probably see where I'm going here, the brain continues pouring out dopamine, basically creating this dopamine binge, which actually kills off many of the dopamine neural receptors of the brain. So this causes the brain to need to see more and do more to get that same rush as there aren't as many dopamine receptors there to receive that feel good drug. So the addict will start looking for more, sometimes shocking or twisted or taboo things to get the rush.
[00:19:18] And so sometimes this can lead to people experimenting with things that are outside their relationship or people outside of the relationship because they simply want that dopamine rush. And so typically there is a period of time before pornography, quote, addiction becomes a full blown sex addiction where the individual will begin to explore what it would take to actually find a partner to have sex with. It's like they become addicted almost to the hunt. The dopamine rush comes from that hunt or the exploration. So sex addicts aren't necessarily are not necessarily they are not looking for long term relationships. They just want a quick fix. And so I've had so many clients in my office explaining that the progression from just viewing pornography or even just images to then viewing pornography to exploring sites that will allow you to connect virtually with someone online and then ultimately finding ways to meet up with a real individual for the sole purpose of a sexual encounter. And again, this is that just trying to get that dopamine rush, whether it's only pornography or both pornography and sex, the outcome for the individual is the same that it's all about. It's all about satiating the evergrowing desire and obtaining the requisite dopamine rush that the user needs to feel satisfied. So much like the move from pictures and a magazine to videos or Internet pornography to strip clubs, to massage parlors, to meeting up with an actual partner, the addict is looking for the next rush of dopamine and keeps needing to push the bar higher in order to feel.
[00:20:38] Sexually gratified so with other types of addictions, you often hear the term gateway, so an example would be marijuana as the gateway drug to harder substances. But while your partner may not be there yet and may never get there, I have seen too many situations where pornography was the gateway for acting out sexually. So anecdotally speaking, I have never had a sex addict that hasn't been addicted to pornography. And I have also had clients with severe addictions to pornography that have never acted out sexually. And again, I realize that I'm using the term addiction, even though I already identified that we could even challenge that word addiction rather liberally. And I want to continue to read. I did not realize I would be reading so much from my book and I really would encourage you to get a copy, especially I know a lot of mental health professionals. Listen to the virtual couch tonight that is so flattering and it contact me for a discount on a copy or something, but or it's on Amazon. It was just on sale. But to get the book, the stuff that Josh Joshua Shay is addressed from the answering these questions from the addict perspective is phenomenal.
[00:21:42] And so we we get a question and we both answered it and we had no idea what the other person was saying. And I just really am grateful for the flow of the book. So let me there's a quote. There's a paragraph I want to get to here. And so the question the next one I wanted to address was, was he this way when we first got together? So my answer was, typically spouses ask this question because they want to know one of two things. Number one, how did I not see this until now? And number two, did I somehow drive him to this behavior? And I just say this. The first is a loaded question of how did I not see this until now? If you've been together for many years, there are so many ways that you're both different from each other in so many ways in which you have both changed over the years. And I'm not saying that is a bad thing. Is he the same person you fell in love with and married? Probably not 100 percent, but neither are you. And again, saying that in a very straight face, the hold the shame love you kind of way. And I can tell you, based on seeing hundreds of individuals and sitting with them collectively for thousands of hours, that this is not an addiction that pops up overnight.
[00:22:38] However, it is an addiction that is steeped in this is so key: guilt, shame, secrecy and isolation, all of which are developed over time as the addiction progresses. So if this addiction was there prior to when you met and were dating, then your partner probably hoped that the sex life that you would eventually share would be enough to take away any desire to view pornography. And unfortunately, unless addicts begin doing serious recovery work, simply getting into a monogamous relationship is often not enough to address the addiction. Now, again, I'm not trying to paint this just broad stroke, brush canvas, all these other art analogies. If you can tell that I'm not an artist, that is, if someone has struggled with this, then they are not. They will continue to do so in marriage. This is that thing where everybody's relationships are different, everybody's personal experiences that lead them to their relationship is different. And so, unfortunately, where I'm going with this is is the acting out sexually, whether in a committed relationship or a one night stand, won't satisfy the addictive nature of pornography. So if the person is actively trying to put this past them actively in recovery or and again, this is where it gets a little bit cloudy, but even if they're aware and trying to work with this, if they've admitted that there is an issue or problem, then we're on the right path. So I believe here's the paragraph I really wanted to get to. I believe that the addiction has very little to do with the spouse, although I can understand how difficult that might be for the spouse to accept.
[00:24:10] So this addiction began with the husband's early exposure to pornography, to him then becoming, quote, sexualized young, where the wiring of the brain began to view a lot of his life through a sexually charged lens and addiction. As I mentioned earlier, springs from this well of unmet needs and this lack of connection. So, again, he's most likely feeling disconnected from his work or his school or his health or his relationships and his faith and his brain is turning to pornography whenever he's not feeling good about himself or the situation. And so over time, turning to pornography has become habitual and instinctual. So sometimes I share with clients that no one typically picks up something like smoking in their 20s or 30s. And the concept is similar. With pornography, there is early exposure that leads to an addiction of turning to porn for stress relief or to numb out or to cope with problems. And by the time an addict is married, looking at pornography is how they may react to any and all of some of the above stressors. So and I'm not trying to paint this as a negative thing. I want to continue to have this conversation. And I want people to feel people that are hearing this. They're going to be men and women that are hearing this episode that I want them to recognize right now that you are OK, that you are normal, that early exposure to pornography is not your fault. No 10 year old or now the average age of first exposure is somewhere between 8 and 11. That is not something that that is that.
[00:25:35] I know you didn't wake up in the morning and say, I think I want to find some porn. It's something that has been put in your place to put in your way, it is something that whether it is by advertisers, whether it's too easy to access it on the computer, whether cousins or older brothers or dads or mom, I've heard every version of this that has left pornography up on the screen or people at school or showing things on phones or long gone is the day of IF a person sees, its WHEN, especially as youth. And so it is so important to have the conversations about not if I've seen pornography, but I would always bring up in our family nights. Hey guys, when's the last time you saw something pornographic and almost saying, how did they get that through? I would hear about people posting things on Pinterest or on Instagram or those sort of things. And I want you to know, parents that are listening to this, I just I plead with you to not have the reaction of an immediate. Oh, my gosh, give me your phone. Where's the hammer? Let me bust this up. You will never have that thing again because it is introducing this filth into the home, that sort of thing. We want to be able to have the conversations because your kids are going to be out in the real world, whether under your watch or down the road. And what we really want to do is give them these coping mechanisms. These tools or these safe places to be able to go to and talk to you about seeing pornography or if they have a hard time putting it behind them once and for all, or if in hearing this episode that you can help them feel their voids, that you can help them recognize that they are enough or they do have worth or you can find very productive activities for them to engage in.
[00:27:16] I've had people have their kids join individual sports. I've had them and somebody do competitive Pokémon. I've had people do chess. I've had people, do you name it, crocheting, artwork, teaching kids, tutoring kids, volunteering at an old folks home, learning to play music for the first time. Those are things that can be done to start to build this confidence and fill those voids and raise their emotional baseline up to a place where they can turn away from the siren song of pornography. So I hope that is something that is not as scary, but that I'm I want you to know that. Yeah, it's I wish it wasn't here. I really do. But we'll note that one of the first things in the book, The Road Less Traveled that I loved by him. Scott Peck says that life is difficult. And as soon as we recognize that life is difficult, the fact that life is difficult no longer really matters. Because once we've embraced that, OK, life is going to be difficult, then we can transcend the fact that life is going to be difficult. It no longer gets becomes a big giant wall in front of us.
[00:28:17] We know that's coming. That wall is coming. So now we're going to prepare for or going to run through the wall. We're going to climb the wall. We're going to go around the wall. Are we going to get some tools to break down the wall? Because the wall is going to be there. So we're going to run into that wall.
[00:28:30] We're going to run into those situations where our kids are going to have struggles or challenges with pornography. And we're going to look at that and say, hey, champ, thank you so much for telling me about this. Let's do this. What can I do to help? I'm we're on it. Not oh, my gosh. I was so afraid of this day. Now here it is. And what am I supposed to do? And I'm a horrible parent, because that's not the case. And there's a wonderful talk by a person named Dieter Utchdorf, and he talks about he's a pilot. He loves to tell stories about flying. And he talks about if you and I'm going to butcher this quote from the talk, but he talks about if you take off and then a plane is one degree off course, then over the span of, I don't know, hours or thousands of miles that you it will be so much further away from its intended destination. And so I liken that to early exposure to pornography. So when someone has seen pornography, let's say at 10 years old and I often give this example and I'm really thinking of one of my teachers, Mrs. Anderson, I don't know where she is these days, but I remember sitting in a class and I can remember the individual right now, real life example. I won't say his name, but I remember him saying basically, look at this Mrs. Andersen's figure, look at her shape. And I remember thinking, I can see Mrs. Andersen. She's annoying. I think she's got long hair.
[00:29:45] She's really mean. And I look back on that. And I learned later that he had he had definitely been exposed to pornography early. And so to him, Mrs. Anderson was a female that he saw, just like he saw the women that he saw on pornography. And I'm so old. That was probably a magazine that he saw, I don't know, maybe a filmstrip or something like that. But I look back on that now and it makes so much sense. So to me, Mrs. Anderson was an annoying teacher. To him, She was a sexualized being. And so that's what early exposure to pornography does. And that's where I feel like that now, where a few degrees off. And so at some point when someone then is exposed, then it's almost like the world changes a bit for them. And I don't want that to feel like, oh, my gosh, the world's changed. It's OK. That makes sense. And so now from that point forward, that person, that teenage boy, for example, who is a normal, teenage boy, he's going to have all those female hormones are coming, to procreate, replenish the earth, that's a built in part of a factory setting. And so then and seeing and having these sexual desires and that sort of thing, that it's almost OK that's been unlocked. It's been unlocked early. And so now that is going to frame a little bit of their experience to live a little bit, a lot of their experience from that day moving forward. I buried the lead in one of the reasons that I really wanted to talk about this, and I'll end with this story and I have so much more I would love to share on this, but I do want to try to keep these episodes somewhat short, short ish.
[00:31:10] But a couple of weeks ago, I was asked and I alluded or I talked briefly about this on an episode a couple of weeks ago, but I had been asked to come on a national radio show and talk about pornography in the pandemic. And the truth is that the use of pornography use has skyrocketed since people have been sheltering in place. And when people have been around their computers and they're bored and they have just too much time on their hands, because I really do believe the biggest trigger that leads to pornography use is not, oh, some guy sees a hot chick, that old cliche, it's boredom. It's I call them crimes of opportunity. It's where somebody nobody's home or they're by themselves. And there's the computer. And their brain is so used to saying, hey, I know what we can do. And then they turn to pornography. Then they feel bad. Then they say, I'm not going to do it again until the next time. And then they think, what's wrong with me? And it's just this continuing shame spiral. But I was asked to go on this national radio show and I really didn't know a lot about the host and turned out the way we traded some emails.
[00:32:10] And he was very complimentary. And on his own Facebook page, I said that I'm a friend of the show and he said, I'm a brilliant author, so I love that. I appreciate that. But when I went on and I totally I really I can understand where he was coming from, but he brought me on to talk about it, and then he just jumped right in and said, hey, I don't think pornography is a problem. And so I think that was supposed to rattle me. And then on my first time to that rodeo, not even my tenth time to that rodeo. And so I said, hey, that's fantastic. And if that's not something that you think is a problem or struggle with, then my I can't I'm not going to try to convince you of that. And I talked about the concept of psychological reactance, which is that instant negative reaction of being told what to do. So if someone doesn't feel like they have a problem or someone doesn't feel like something is a problem, me telling them that it's a problem is actually going to, you know, trigger this psychological reactance. The person is actually going to dig in a little bit deeper. And I disagree. And so I got a sense that was where the conversation was going. So I just said that if that if he didn't feel that it was a problem, then that's wonderful for him. And I said, but for the fourteen hundred or fifteen hundred people that I've worked with individually that have decided that they did not like pornography as a component in their relationship or that it was something that they were turning to far too often.
[00:33:26] So they weren't as productive as they could be at work or it made them less of feeling like a connected parent, then that's a problem. And I don't think he was prepared for that, because then he continued to say, I watch it with my wife. And I said, man, then you guys would not need my help. And that is fantastic. But for the people that I work with, the people that are turning to me that want to put that behind them, that feel like it, it has made them less present in their relationship than I can. I can help people with that. And and he was pretty funny at that point. And he said, I turned to cake. I think that with frosting is a coping mechanism. And I said that, my friend, I can help with that. If that is a coping mechanism you want to put behind you, then I can work with that. So I appreciated that. But it was really I really enjoyed getting on and talking about that. If someone is saying it is not a problem for them, then I will tell you it can be difficult to work with. So that's the hard part about if somebody is being told to get help, but they really don't feel like it's a big deal or they feel like they have it under control, then Number One, they're probably going to have a little bit of that psychological reactance.
[00:34:27] They're going to double down and say, well, it's not really a problem. Or and here's the part that I really wanted to end with. And I had a podcast I did for a group called Leading Saints, and it's talking to ecclesiastical leaders and I highly recommend it. It's called Taking Shame out of the bishop's office. And it's a way that when people are struggling with pornography, addiction or compulsive sexual behavior, they don't feel good about it. They don't. And I again, I know that's the case. And so when they come into my office, the last thing that is helpful is for me to say, man, do you know what this could turn into or do you know how bad this is? And we just have a tendency as humans that when a teenager or a spouse or somebody comes and confesses or gets caught, we don't say, hey, thank you so much for coming in or I appreciate you dealing with this because we've got this and I know that you're going to be able to make it through this. And that is the response we need. We need to be able to win again if our kids come to us honestly with any issue or problem, do some mindfulness work like crazy so that when they say, hey, I wrecked the car or I'm struggling with pornography addiction or I'm failing a class. That school that our reaction is, hey, I am so proud of you for coming to me.
[00:35:42] I really appreciate that that takes guts. And so we're going to figure this out. Let me know what I can do to help. Let me know if you need me to be an accountability, buddy. If you want some professional help when the world of the school, if you need a tutor, whatever you need. I am just so proud of you for coming to me. And we've got this because it takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to go to somebody and say, I'm struggling with anything. So that's my ultimate goal when dealing with pornography. Is it a bad thing? And it objectifies women and it warps sexuality and it's it's a component and well over half of divorces. Now, according to I think it's the American Lawyers or Attorneys Association. Yes, all of those are true, but it's individuals that are struggling with this. And so we need to treat them like individuals as well. And if you're hearing this and you are struggling and you've tried to put this behind you and have been successful, it's not too late. And there are so many people that I've worked with that have spent a fair amount of time literally like coming into my office and saying I didn't do the homework or relapsed again or so. And it's as if they want me to say, Oh, man, yeah, you're like super broken. Go ahead. You can go and just act out like crazy. And yeah, I guess I couldn't help. No, it's not the way it works. It can be a little bit of a journey.
[00:36:57] It can take more time than one would anticipate, but that's just the way that it works. The old cliche of it is what it is. But just being aware and seeking help and trying to put distance between thought and action, those are the things that are going to get you back on this path back to that person that you always wanted to be or a person that you dreamed you could be. And that is somebody that isn't turning to compulsive sexual behavior as a coping mechanism. So I appreciate you taking the time to stay with me. If you have questions I would love to do, I'm going to start now. Here's a sneak preview of the new revamped Path Back program is I am going to be doing some Facebook lives. I am going to be doing some Q&A. I am going to be doing as part of the Path Back program, some weekly calls and answering questions and working with individuals. And so I would love your questions. You can send them through my website at Tony Overbay.com. Just go to the contact page and just send me any questions you have about pornography, compulsive sexual behavior, any of that. And I'll try to get to those on a future episode or a Facebook live. Those are going to be archived. And I'm just grateful for you spending this time with me. And I look forward to seeing you the next time on the virtual couch and have a wonderful, fantastic day.