When approaching recovery from sex addiction, why is it important to work with a professional who specializes in this area? One of the reasons is the knowledge that compulsive sexual behaviors are often less a product of sexual arousal, and more of an attempt to cope with unattended shame or trauma. With that understanding, those who have training in sex addiction therapy can provide a form of secure attachment that is necessary to address both shame and trauma.
In his book, Brainstorm, Daniel J. Siegel, MD describes three elements that must be present in a relationship in order to experience a secure attachment. Secure attachment can be seen as the foundation of intimacy in which a person in a relationship can experience a healthy level of interdependency in terms of getting their needs met. The Three S’s give us an anatomy of secure attachment in which we can evaluate our strengths and weaknesses in close relationships.
The Three S’s
Being Seen: Siegel describes this to mean that “our inner mental life is sensed beneath our behavior”. Sometimes we act or speak in ways that don’t fully match our internal experience or our true nature. Though we may strive to be fully congruent internally and externally, most of us are humans and therefore “perfectly imperfect”. Being seen means that someone has knowledge of our internal world, provides empathy, and validates our experiences. Having that knowledge, those attachment figures are aware of our needs, sometimes without saying a word. Here’s the catch…in order for others to know our internal worlds, we must be vulnerable and share that internal world. Oh, and in order to do that…you guessed it, it’s crucial that you have some awareness of your internal experience. Or at least be open to exploring it with someone trusted, which can come from therapy or a group who understands what you’ve experienced.
Being Safe: Siegel explains that being safe means that we feel “protected from harm” in the world and with our attachment figures. It means that we can go out and face a threatening world knowing that we have a secure base to return to. Our attachment figures can’t protect us from everything, but knowing that there is someone who has our well being in mind can make us feel just enough security to explore the world without being debilitated by fear. In order to do this, we must first trust that those who we are vulnerable with aren’t a threat to our emotional and physical safety. A therapeutic environment that does not add more judgment or shame is part of feeling safe.
Being Soothed: Simply put, Siegel says that being soothed means that “when we are distressed, our caregiver’s response makes us feel better”. Think about this…how many times has someone approached you with a problem that you couldn’t solve right away? How many times did your attempts to “fix” the problem get met with frustration. Before we can attempt to solve problems, it is important that we attempt to make others feel comforted and at ease. To give them reassurance that we won’t abandon them (safety), and that we are attempting to connect with their experience (being seen). Part of the soothing and comfort that is provided in therapy and groups is knowing that we have someone there as we explore memories that are painful.
As you reflect on these components of secure attachment, think about how addiction might have been an attempt to meet attachment needs, as well as how addiction might fall short of secure attachment. Though behaviors of sexual addiction might provide temporary comfort, the end result is often that it causes more discomfort. In addition, we can certainly argue that those same behaviors can cause threats to our physical and emotional safety. And when we are attempting to attach to objects, there is no opportunity to be seen or understood. Thus the need for a secure person-to-person attachment. For some, therapy can be the first experience of secure attachment, and a gateway to developing other relationships that provide the same. Equally important to our relationships with others is our relationship with ourselves, which is why it is necessary to ask how we are meeting those 3 S’s for ourselves. Can I see the positive aspects of myself and practice self compassion? Can I develop and maintain boundaries for my safety? And when things go blue, can I find comfort within, while also allowing myself to reach out for comfort?