This week, Linda and I wrap up the series on stinkin’ thinkin.’ While I’m predominantly focusing on the irrational thought, “my acting out is my wife’s fault,” the psychological/emotional issues behind this thinking apply to many of us – at least at times.
It's Not MY Fault
Last week I focused on the problem of parallel, contradictory belief systems that may be competing for control within the addict. Today, I’m discussing a further complicating factor for many addicts. This is what Dr. Lehman refers to as an “external locus of control.”
Like most of the Shepherd’s House group, Lehman believes that many of our men are stuck in the “infant” stage of development (for more on this: Living with Men or The Life Model). As such, there is a natural tendency to believe that others are responsible for our wellbeing. Of course, for the infant – others are responsible for their wellbeing. However, as we mature we are supposed to become responsible for ourselves, and eventually others.
For the addict with the external locus of control – others always bear responsibility (in his mind) for keeping him happy. If he is not happy: someone else is to blame. Moreover, there should be no need for him to communicate his needs – others “should just know.”
Is this rational thinking? Yes and no. It’s rational if we are reaching out to God and looking for comfort from Him. Few sex addicts are doing this however. They are generally looking to people to know their needs and comfort them. This isn’t rational thinking, and most addicts recognize this most of the time. However, like the trauma-based beliefs, an external locus of control “feels” true… particularly when the addict is triggered.
Thus a common scenario will be the sex addict acts out and blames his wife – because she rejected him. When questioned further about this rejection it seems he had a bad day at work, and when he got home his wife didn’t greet him with the enthusiasm he was hoping for. He wanted her to help him regulate his emotions… without him communicating his need for comfort. When she turned out to be busy (or frankly, was processing her own trauma and thus had nothing to give him emotionally) he felt rejected. Rather than looking to the One who always accepts him, he moved into the addiction cycle.
Healing from the Stinkin’ Thinkin’
Please understand that I am not excusing sin. God tells us we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear… and we’re not. Even addicts know this when they are thinking straight.
However, many sex addicts have found it beneficial to understand why they get into “stinkin’ thinkin’” mode. They find it helpful to pinpoint the lies they believe about themselves and others. The reality, though, is that, “understanding it” often does not resolve the issue.
In Immanuel prayer, and other forms of prayer ministry, we are on the look out for lies people believe. Once they are identified, they can be renounced, forgiveness asked (where there was sin), and God invited to replace the lie with His truth. Moreover, if a vow has been made around a lie (e.g. “you can’t trust women” turns into “I’ll never trust a woman again.”) these vows need to be renounced.
However, Lehman argues that we don’t tend to get full resolution from trauma-based beliefs (and external locus of control issues) unless we do the work while we’re triggered and that belief track is dominant. Immanuel prayer enables people to go into a trauma memory (where the belief originates) and ask Jesus to bring his truth to bear on the situation while they are triggered. The result is resolution of the trauma (and its pain) and the dis-arming of the lies.
God With Us
While prayer ministry is always best done with others (ideally two others) the reality is that we don’t always get the ideal situation. The good is is that God is already three (in one) others, so if it’s just us and him, this can still work.
In Beyond Betrayal, I relate a number of stories, from my early days on this journey which show me interacting with God. Some of these follow an Immanuel Prayer model where I visit a memory with Jesus. Other “Immanuel moments” are just me inviting Jesus to comfort me during the immediate pain of betrayal trauma. These stories all represent key healing moments for me in my journey.
We may not have the power to link two unrelated, parallel belief tracks… but Jesus can. The bible urges us to “cry out” to Him when we are in distress (triggered?). What do we ask Him for in those moments? Simply the truth about ourselves, and (when applicable) others.
Likewise, we may not have the ability to change our external locus of control to an internal locus of control. That’s ok too. The bible tells us God wants to be our “refuge” and our “safe place” anyway. If we attempt to look to Him when we are triggered (rather than others) He will always meet us1.
Will He “feel” more real than our trauma? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. However, I believe even the act of reaching for the Truth will have a healing effect on us. It may not be immediate, but I believe this whole process can make us – and our stinkin’ thinker – ultimately, more resilient.
1: Dr. Lehman also points out that some with an external locus of control expect God to do everything for them. They have difficulty accepting that there are some basics we are responsible for: like choose to come to him, repent, etc.
Being blamed — on top of being betrayed — is devastating.
A member of the community, Linda, wrote this poem recently. Perhaps you can relate.
Sometimes I'm in a daze. Sometimes I'm at peace. My eyes are fixed on a point about five feet in front of me.
I steal a glance at the horizon and feel a surge of hope.
I have no idea where I'm going, but I keep walking, one foot in front of the other.
The hair on the back of my neck rises and I feel a pinprick of fear. I push it away and keep walking.
It happens again. I push it away.
Again and again I push it aside,
but it's getting stronger, demanding to be acknowledged.
I've been here before. I start to panic.
I fumble through my toolbox, looking for something that helped the last time. Hurry! I'm running out of time.
I don't understand! Why isn't anything working?
Why can't I make it stop?
Dread envelops me.
My gaze shifts.
I'm not looking ahead. I'm looking down and I'm hundreds of feet above the ground.
Wait a minute. This doesn't make sense.
I close my eyes.
I must be dreaming.
I look down again. Beneath me is a giant pit.
It's filled with jagged rocks and sharp metal rods.
I'm confused. I'm dizzy. Why am I not waking up?
I try to close my eyes again, but they won't stay shut.
I look at my feet.
I'm standing on a beam, barely six inches wide.
The air leaves my lungs.
I crouch down on my knees and wrap my arms around the beam. I start to shake. I'm terrified. It's coming.
Please, God! Not again!
Pain slams into my chest with tremendous force.
I lose my grip and struggle to stay on the beam.
I feel myself beginning to slip. I don't think I can hang on.
The pit waits with anticipation.
The pain is indescribable. Shards of glass inside my body, ripping me apart with every breath.
But I can't breathe. I can't think. I can't stop thinking.
This isn't real. This isn't real. This isn't real.
My body contorts, my mind is on fire.
Time loses all meaning. I disappear.
The tears stop. Just like that.
I'm so confused! What is happening?
How did I get here? I don't want to be here!
Who is responsible for putting me here????
This doesn't make sense!!!!
I demand answers!!!
Each thought fuels the anger.
The anger gives me strength.
It builds and it builds and I'm in control.
I will NOT give in. I will NOT cry!
Not one more tear, never again!
I scream! I curse!
I curse! I scream!
The anger is in control. I disappear.
How long have I been here?
I can't remember the last time I felt the ground beneath my feet. I no longer have the will to stand up. I see no way off this beam.
I'm crying again.
Another time lapse.
My eyes are fixed on a point about five feet in front of me. I steal a glance at the horizon and feel a surge of hope. It think it's closer than the last time I looked!
Yes, it is! I'm sure of it!
I put one foot in front of the other, determined to get there one day.