Trauma is something that most of us have experienced in one way or another, whether it was through abuse, abandonment, or a circumstance that we had no control over.
As children, when we do not have access to resources that help us navigate through the pain of these experiences, we will often develop coping mechanisms that can be unhealthy in the long term.
TRAUMA SETS US UP FOR FUTURE FAILURE
When a child experiences the trauma of abuse or abandonment, the brain is literally injured.
Trauma affects the brain’s ability to function in healthy ways to cope with future stress circumstances and environments, develop relational connection and intimacy, manage emotions, and make healthy decisions for self-care.
Donna Jackson Nakazawa, in a Psychology Today article, 7 Ways Childhood Adversity Can Change Your Brain, discusses how trauma, which she terms as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), affects our decision making and coping abilities.
She describes trauma as including:
Growing up with a depressed or alcoholic parent; losing a parent to divorce or other causes; or enduring chronic humiliation, emotional abuse, or sexual or physical abuse.
She points out that studies have shown that when a child experiences trauma, a hormone is released in the brain that reduces the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing emotion and memory, as well as managing stress.
She goes on to report consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE),
Recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies suggest that the higher an individual’s ACE Score, the less gray matter he or she has in other key areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, an area related to decision-making and self-regulatory skills, and the amygdala, or fear-processing center. Kids whose brains have been changed by their Adverse Childhood Experiences are more likely to become adults who find themselves over-reacting to even minor stressors.
She concludes that,
Kids who come into adolescence with a history of adversity and lack the presence of a consistent, loving adult to help them through it may become more likely to develop mood disorders or have poor executive functioning and decision-making skills.
It only makes sense, then, that when traumatic experiences of abuse or abandonment take place, we are going to be more susceptible to temptations to enter into numbing behaviors, that soon become compulsive and unmanageable.
TRAUMA CREATES A PATHWAY TOWARDS SEXUAL ADDICTION
Sexual Addiction does not necessarily happen in a vacuum, but may be predicated on a predisposition towards compulsive behavior, in an attempt to curb the emotional pain of childhood trauma.
Dr. Robert Muller, in an article in Psychology Today entitled, “Sex Addiction: A Response To Trauma?” states,
The trauma may be developmental, as in the case of a home environment lacking appropriate support for the realities of adolescent sexuality. Or, there may be excessive encouragement of sexuality early on. Trauma, such as sexual abuse, can also create unhealthy sexual development, interfering with physical, emotional, and psychological processes conducive to healthy sexual behavior.
Compulsive sexual behavior, then, is an attempt to find pleasure in the pain, but also leads to more disconnection and isolation to protect from any further potential pain.
This combination of avoiding the emotional pain and needing the “medication” of pleasure is a natural reaction to childhood trauma.
Sexual addiction, then, becomes the flight into trying to feel good in the midst of feeling so bad.
When people are hurt through abuse or abandonment, they become fearful of future pain, which drives them into disconnection and isolation, disabling them from experiencing meaningful and healthy intimacy with themselves or in relationships.
The National Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH), in an article on the affect of trauma, points out that,
It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm.
Deviant sexual behavior is actually an attempt to experience pleasure without intimacy. The fear of further relational hurt lures us into the fantasy that sexual experiences will replace our need for relational connection.
If we are attempting to change our sexual behavior without dealing with the trauma causing us emotional pain, and that instigated our need to protect ourselves, we will not be able to effectively overcome sexual addiction.
We must heal the wounds of trauma if we want to live in freedom and wellbeing.
THE TRAUMA MAY BE OVER BUT IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL IT’S HEALED
Just because something terrible happened to us in the past doesn’t mean that it is no longer impacting our present life. Burying our head in the proverbial sand isn’t going to erase the pain of abuse and abandonment.
In a section entitled: War, The National Center For Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTS), a government agency of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, describes the affects of trauma on those who experience combat.
Studies have shown that combat veterans are more susceptible to alcohol and drug addiction. Attempts to numb the pain of combat trauma often result in varied compulsive behaviors.
Continual choices to emotionally disengage from unpleasant thoughts and feelings often result in unmanageable addictive behavior, whether the abuse of substances, or deviant behavior such as dysfunctional sexual ventures.
This suggests that the affects of childhood trauma of abuse and abandonment may not show up in deviant sexual behavior until later in life.
If trauma is not effectively dealt with in our lives, the effects will continue to war within our thoughts and feelings throughout our life, causing many negative symptoms in every sphere of life.