You’re at the supermarket with your husband. While you’re in the checkout queue, you pick up your mobile and begin scrolling through the dozens of contacts. Although you have already managed to have sex with 4 of them in the last 24 hours, you’re desperate to arrange another hook-up. You remember calling in sick to work recently and cancelling meeting friends to accommodate sex. Does any of this sound familiar?
What is Sex Addiction?
Although most people associate the condition with men, sex addiction can affect all genders equally. However, females report greater shame, possibly due to cultural expectations (‘boys will be boys’ and ‘good girls don’t do this, that and the other’…)
Compulsive sexual behaviour diagnoses linked to sex addiction were first recognised over 40 years ago. However, due to the associated stigma, this controversial disorder often remains hidden. Psychology studies have shown brain changes within the reward centre of the brain, associated with addiction, illustrating the powerful drives motivating behaviour in those with sex addiction.
Sex addiction* can be described as engaging in persistent and escalating patterns of sexual behaviour, despite increasing negative consequences to self and others including threats to health, finance, relationships and even the risk of arrest. This encapsulates the sheer desperateness of the situation. As with all addictions, the negative impacts increase as the addiction increases.
Sex addiction can be any sexual behaviour that feels ‘out of control’. It’s not necessarily the behaviour itself that constitutes the addiction, rather the dependency on it. The addicted person gradually has to intensify the behaviour to achieve the same results. Most will have tried to stop or limit their behaviour countless times, but despite knowing the risks, they can’t seem to.
For some, the behaviour does not venture beyond compulsive masturbation, phone/ computer sex or extensive pornography consumption; but for others, it can progress to illegal activities…exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene communications and in some extreme cases, abuse.
Signs and Symptoms of Sex Addiction
As no person is the same, the behaviours will vary. However, there are common behaviours attributed to someone in this position. For example, due to an excessive sex drive, they will be preoccupied with having sex. This may interfere with daily life, such as work performance. It would not be unusual to find those addicted engaged in compulsive relations with strangers.
As with anyone who battles addiction, they may lie, in an attempt to cover their behaviours. They may become skilled at hiding their behaviour for fear of being found out. They may lie outright about their activities or partake at times and places they know they won’t be discovered. Addicts describe the compulsion as moments where they feel they are being controlled by a force greater than themselves.
Warning signs include:
Pornography (legal or illegal)
Exhibitionism/voyeurism Sadistic/ Excessive sexual pursuits
Although the above signs can signal sex addiction, it’s important to remember there may be other explanations for these behaviours.
Emotional Symptoms of Sex Addiction
Anyone in the grip of addiction will feel guilt after engaging in the activity. The behaviour may have negative personal and professional consequences, yet unable to stop, they pursue their next high. This behaviour pattern gradually erodes away their self-worth. An addict will live with feelings of depression, shame and hopelessness.
What About Life Partners?
Although addiction to sex is a genuine condition, some people may claim to have a sex addiction as a way to explain infidelity in a relationship. However, genuine sexual addiction in a relationship can be distressing for both parties. Partners may experience shock, hurt and anger at the deceit. They may feel betrayed in a way usually attributed to an affair. On top of the effort to rebuild trust is the realisation they may have to face a future of trying to support their partner through recovery. Some partners may have no idea about their partner’s addiction (such is the skill of an addict to hide their disorder). The point of discovery may be the point when the addict breaks down, finally admitting their struggle or the moment a partner uncovers the truth. Partners may experience self-doubt as questions bubble up, “Why did my partner satisfy their needs outside our relationship?”
The Difference Between Sex Addiction and a High Sex Drive
It’s important to remember that enjoying sex does not constitute sex addiction. **Enjoying a healthy activity, such as sex is completely normal. Even cheating or engaging with prostitutes, whilst this may cause relationship problems, it doesn’t necessarily equal sex addiction. Also, differences in sex drive levels between partners doesn’t mean one person has a sex addiction. An addiction, like any addiction, is the point where you are having sex not for pleasure, but to help you fall asleep, face the day and cope with withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to recognise the differences.
What Are the Dangers of Sex Addiction?
If protection is absent, obvious risks would include contraction of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, possibly leading to serious long-term health problems. Continually putting yourself in vulnerable positions may lead to a greater risk of attack. As mentioned previously, sex addiction may destroy relationships. At the sharp end of the point, there are connections between sex addiction and sex offending. Just over half of convicted sex offenders are diagnosed sex addicts. The tragedy is, the problems this sector of society suffers are so severe, imprisonment may be the only option to ensure society’s safety. However, sex addicts will not necessarily become sex offenders. Equally, not all sex offenders are sex addicts.
What’s Behind Sex Addiction?
Sex addiction has been linked to insecure attachment, poor impulse control and childhood abuse. The behaviour, developed as a coping mechanism, is an attempt to numb painful emotions. The growth of internet technology means increased accessibility to graphic content. Chronic consumption plays an influential role and early, persistent exposure to sexual content may result in ‘sexual conditioning’. Sex addicts may act out of a need for control as a perverted expression of anger.
What Should You Do if You Think You or Your Partner Has a Problem?
A vital component for any relationship is communication. If you feel there is a problem, as hard as it may be, the courageous and sometimes relationship-saving action to take is to voice your concerns. If your partner has previously struggled with addictions and you’re aware of their pornography consumption, it may be worth asking if their use has increased or become problematic.
What if Both Partners Have a Sex Addiction?
You may think on some level, this would be the perfect match. Admittedly, while each may understand the other in a way other partners may not, the problems experienced would be exacerbated. Just as it would be a toxic combination of both partners were addicted to a class A substance, both partners addicted to sex could create an enabling environment fueled with denial which only serves to perpetuate the problem. Many addicts experience a period of denial before entering the realms of acceptance. The first step is to accept the problem. The next step is to treat the issue with the importance it warrants (and each other with the respect you both deserve) and source expert assistance. It’s impossible to confirm sex addiction without a professional assessment.
What if My Partner Won’t Accept They Have a Problem?
If your partner can’t accept they may have a problem it’s unlikely they would benefit from therapy. However, it’s still beneficial to reach out for personal support. It may transpire the problem is not addiction, but something else affecting your sexual relationship.
Where To Turn?
This may be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. To admit to yourself and/or your partner there’s a problem is the first step. Addiction is nothing to feel ashamed of, no matter what societal messages may have you believe. Addiction is a powerful controller that can be too big to handle alone. That is not a sign of ineffectiveness or weakness on yours or your loved ones part, rather an indication of exactly how difficult an addiction can be to handle alone. Please remember you are not alone. There are many others battling the same addiction. With the right help, it’s possible to overcome the obstacles to achieve recovery.
An option could be a therapist (ideally a sex addiction specialist). An assessment will reveal whether or not sex addiction therapy would be beneficial. Some people may assume only the person with the addiction needs help. However, you can seek help as a partner. Sourcing support for yourself will harness the strength you need to support yourself and your partner. The benefits of speaking with a therapist about how to move forward can be life-changing. Successful treatments involve individual therapy for the addicted person, individual therapy for the partner and couples therapy to support the relationship.
What is Sex Therapy?
The term ‘sex therapy’ may sound confusing, but don’t worry…everyone keeps their clothes on! The sex therapist won’t have sex with anyone or physically demonstrate how to have sex! Sex therapy, like any other psychotherapy, treats the condition by talking through feelings. You can work with your therapist to gain self-awareness and find healthy coping mechanisms. Whereas other addictions involve discontinuing the use of the substance, the goal of sex addiction treatment is not to banish sex. The aim is to develop a healthy attitude towards it. The therapist’s role is not to take sides or to help persuade anyone. Their role is to help you explore personal challenges and guide you towards finding your own way through.
Get in touch
The Henry Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy The Old Station House,
*The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity
**professor of neuroscience, David J. Linden, in his 2011 book ‘The Compass of Pleasure’
For most young people the first brush they have with overwhelming anxiety is around exam season and the lead up to it. Often teachers will begin to reinforce the importance of GCSEs or A-levels a full year before they are set to commence and that pressure can be mirrored at home where parents and family members remind them that they need to do well in order to get to the next academic stage. This extra worry, stacked ontop of usual teenage stress can cause a tinder box of emotion, where merely the thought of an exam or revision can send a young person into panic mode.
It is not uncommon to hear around the exam lead up of teens struggling to sleep properly, finding themselves unable to focus on work, feeling clouded with a sense of dread or experiencing panic attacks for the first time. Being bombarded with all these intense emotions can feel really scary and in a time where this young person already feels a bit out of control, the idea of not being in control of your own body or mind can feel really frightening.
As an adult onlooker it can often be hard to remember quite how difficult this time is for young people and easy to forget that we know what life is like post exam results, whether they were good or not. Education is also often portrayed as a formulaic, linear process where we meet one requirement in order to continue onto the next stage. In times where GCSEs or A Levels are looming it can feel as though if you don’t meet the mark you need all will be lost.
The cultures within family structures can also add a lot of pressure when it comes to exams, whether you are part of a gifted family or you are the first one aiming to get to uni, the expectation of parents, siblings and the wider family can play a huge part. It is important to remember that all is not lost if you dont meet the grades you are expecting or aiming towards. Although it is a pain, there is always the possibility of redoing most things in life- exams included.
Sometimes there is a sense that we should never be stressed and that in order to have good mental health we should feel happy and relaxed all the time and that if we are feeling worried then we are somehow broken. It is worth remembering that once exams are over (or if you are particularly anxious, and the results are back) the feelings of being acutely stressed will subside. One of the few things that is good about exam related stress is that it is time limited and once the work is over you can relax a bit. In times of really heightened emotion it can be useful to remember that these feelings will pass, even if at the time they feel like they won’t! It is also important to understand that almost everyone gets overwhelmed when they have exams or tests and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling the same way.
In the midst of exam season, make sure you manage your time and take regular breaks, move away from your work space when not working and allow yourself proper down time when not revising. If it is possible, have a dedicated place to work away from your room or even your house so that you can properly switch off when the revision stops. Taking care of basic functions should also not be overlooked, getting enough nutrition, sleep and exercise becomes all the more important when you are feeling overwhelmed.
However, if you feel that you are finding exams particularly difficult to cope with or have a young person in your life who is really struggling, now may be a time to reach out and find some help.
At The Henry Centre in Southend we have a number of therapists trained to work with children and young adults who will be able to provide an outlet to explore how their client is feeling and how best to cope in this heightened time. Why not get in touch today and see if talk therapy would be beneficial to you
Those who are an old hand at complementary therapies such as yoga or meditation will be well acquainted with mentions of the exotic sounding parasympathetic nervous system. In brief, this is the part of the nervous system- the nerve network that affects all our bodily functions- which is concerned with the so called ‘rest and digest’ actions in the body. It is the part of the nervous system which works in conjunction with the sympathetic nervous system, which takes care of the more active ‘fight or flight’ type responses. These two parts work together to carry us effectively through stressful times, allowing us to activate our need to react quickly to situations and then calm ourselves down again after.
While we are naturally always seeking to find equilibrium, with the two parts of the nervous system working together to make sure that we are not stuck in either of these flight or flight, or digest and rest modes for too long, sometimes we can get stuck. In times of consistent high levels of stress our nervous system can get locked in to staying in a heightened state and it is in these instances that it can be hard to then get away from this panicked feeling. Being able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in times like this can help calm both the body and brain down quickly and help restore a sense of peace.
It is interesting to note that in general there is a huge societal push to overcome this very important need to rest and restore. You only need to take a quick glance in a bookshops self help section to notice that a lot of it is aimed at showing us how to get the most out of every waking second, how to maximise our skills and how to hone productive habits. This idea of working at full capacity and powering through stressful times is not often sustainable and keeping yourself in such a heightened state can often result in a huge crash later on.
It is therefore important to relearn how to harness the power of slowing down and to be more in tune with when your body and mind need to rest. Using simple techniques such as mindful breathing, journaling and slow meditative movement such as yin yoga can make a real difference when you are feeling overwhelmed. Being in touch with nature has also had proven positive effects on the parasympathetic nervous system; stroking a pet, watching the birds or going for a walk in a green space can all help regulate your energy levels. A lot of these techniques can feel a little elaborate when you are in the moment but even just standing outside and breathing 10 deep breaths into your belly can help bring your parasympathetic nervous system into play and give you a sense of control over the stressful situation you are grappling with. And the great news is that the more you practise activating this part of the nervous system, the quicker you will be able to utilise it and use it intuitively.
If you feel however that you are suffering symptoms of being overstimulated on a regular basis and are finding it hard to regulate your mood and emotions, why not get in touch with a mental health professional who will be able to guide you through figuring out what is keeping you in this high state of stress. Here at The Henry Centre, Southend we have a number of highly qualified counsellors and psychotherapists who have the skills to help you work through what is going on in your life at the moment and try to discover the root cause as to what is stopping you feeling at your best.
Wrath- the intensified feeling of anger, the one which means we are beyond control of our emotions or actions, is included in the Bible’s 7 deadly sins. Whether you are of a Christian inclination or not, the avoidance of descending into full blown fury is something which is universally sought. Taking the higher ground, turning the other cheek and walking away are spouted as helpful advice in het up situations but for many of us it is just not that easy.
Often the first manifestation of anger we immediately think of is physical or verbal attack. Saying cruel or threatening things or being physically abusive, whether that is in a domestic setting or a bar brawl, can be upsetting and scary for everyone involved, whichever side of the altercation you are on. In fact, recognising anger in yourself can often bring up lots of feelings of shame- as we feel somehow that we should be above behaving like this and should be more in control of our emotions. Feeling as though maybe we are not completely in control of our actions can make us feel that we cant keep ourselves or those around us safe, which in itself can feel quite frightening.
Frequently, we find that we ignore the parts of ourselves which we do not like or feel comfortable with and so we shut these feelings out, burying them and hoping that if we don’t look too closely at them, they will rot away and cease to exist. If only it were that easy. In this instance, blocking out the feeling of being angry just serves to push it down deeper into your psyche where it festers until you can no longer ignore it. It may then seem that an angry outburst can arise at an unexpected time, totally disproportionate to the situation at hand and the cycle of feeling shocked and shameful continues.
Quite honestly, feeling angry is a very human emotion. It is also a wonderful defense mechanism which shields us from our ego from being damaged. There is a saying that ‘anger is sadness’s bodyguard’ and it is a feeling that goes hand in hand with other emotions such as jealousy, feeling threatened, being wronged, being humiliated, feeling ashamed. It is often the emotion that peeps its head above the parapet before we are really aware of what it actually is that has upset us. For example, when we are embarrassed in a public sphere we can have a tendency to direct our angry feelings towards the person who made us look silly or find fault outside of ourselves. This protects us from feeling like we are the ones who have played a part in this embarrassment, even though there is a chance that we actually have.
The first step to taming your anger is to recognise it, and if at all possible, in an uncritical way. Try to be curious about it and consider what has happened to trigger you to feel this way. Are you being brought back to a previous time where you felt threatened and you needed to protect yourself? What changes are happening in the body and what feelings are being bought up? When did you start to feel that feeling of anger or lack of control start to rise? Can you step away from the situation that is triggering you and try to cool off? Sometimes merely recognising our temperament changing can give us valuable time to distance ourselves from what is upsetting us, take a few deep breaths and try to get a different perspective.
One of the big things to remember is that feeling angry is ok. It’s an emotional response and one that we need to be careful how we act on, but there is no shame at all in feeling it. Finding a healthy outlet for it when things build up is another important stage. Moving our bodies, whether that’s going for a walk or doing a workout can help burn off the energetic feeling that accompanies feeling angry. Smaller actions like screaming into a pillow or tensing your whole body, holding for a count of twenty, then releasing are also more discrete ways of moving that angry energy through you. Writing can be a great outlet for feeling angry, journaling and letting the pages know just how irritated or hurt you are can help you empty out all the angst-filled thoughts swimming around in your head. Talking things through with a trusted friend or sitting with the feeling and gently asking yourself what else is going on can also be really useful.
If you are feeling as though you are not in control of your emotions, and are finding that anger, either directed outwards or towards yourself is becoming a problem then it is well worth speaking to a mental health professional about it. Being able to speak candidly, without any fear of judgment can be a really cathartic process whereby you can explore what your relationship with anger is like and how you can have a better handle on how to deal with your emotions when life gets difficult. To find out more get in touch with The Henry Centre today to find out more.
Sleep is much like gravity; in that it is an integral part of life and our existence and yet it is still not fully understood.
When placed in an MRI machine different parts of the brain can be seen lighting up, busying away while we snooze, our bodies do quiet repair work while we slumber, we feel healthier and full of energy after a good night’s sleep, and conversely the lack of decent sleep can leave us feeling terrible.
Not only is it harder to concentrate when we are knackered, prolonged overtiredness can also start to affect us physically. As with a lot of health issues, mental health is often put on the back burner and we find that it is only when our bodies start to ring alarm bells that we actually pay attention to what isn’t quite right.
But it shouldn’t take falling asleep at the wheel (quite literally in some instances) for us to make sure we are treating our sleep patterns with the respect they deserve and command. Lack of sleep can often trigger unregulated moods, feeling snappy, irritable and confused, as well as making our ability to cope with stressful situations that much more difficult.
While lack of sleep can make us feel terrible, both mentally and physically, it can also be a marker of other mental health issues that may be bubbling under the surface. Depression is often characterised by an inability to feel invigorated, even if the sufferer is actually sleeping more than usual. This lethargy can make even the simplest of tasks feel impossible and so the vicious cycle of feeling too tired to proactively improve one’s mental health is followed by the very real feeling of just wanting to hibernate.
In times where exhaustion sets in it is important to cast an eye over what is going on for you in this specific time of your life- is there the chance that work or relationships around you draining all of your energy, is your diet deficient in vitamins such as B12 or iron which can present in a general lethargy, is your body and brain running on anxiety which can only be sustained for so long before exhausting us?
Often life can become such a bombardment of worries, whether it is the current cost of living, job insecurity, bereavement, illness or relationships which take their toll on your time and resources. Some of us are still grappling with unresolved trauma which leaves us in a fight or flight mode which is not maintainable for long periods of time. Taking steps to calm this instinctual part of the brain can go a long way to restoring energy levels and ability to sleep at night.
Often struggling to get to sleep can be a result of lingering anxiety from the day and it is better in these instances to try and focus on relaxing, whether that is by using breathing techniques, emptying your mind by journalling or listening to calming music, than focus specifically on falling asleep. It is often the case that the more we try to force sleep, the more it evades us, which in turn ramps up the anxiety that tomorrow is already ruined by a bad night’s sleep.
It’s also important in these instances to try and enforce a clear sleep routine and practice good ‘sleep hygiene’. Making sure that you keep to a schedule where you are up and out of bed, reinforcing that being in bed is for sleeping, not just general lolling around in the day can make a marked difference. Trying to go to bed and wake up at a regular time is also important, as it helps to reset our internal circadian rhythm.
Make an effort to try and unwind before bed, if possible stop using screens which can be overstimulating a good half hour or so before you intend to go to sleep- instead try reading, doing light exercise like yoga or listening to music or a podcast.
If you are particularly sensitive it may also be a good idea to limit caffeine in the second half of the day and while a large glass of wine can sometimes do the trick of knocking us out, by the time our bodies metabolise the alcohol we often wake up, meaning that in fact we have another broken night’s sleep
If after adjustments to your sleep routine are still not helping you feel well rested it may be time to turn your attention to the possible psychological factors at play. Often the best way to alleviate stress which is disrupting our sleep patterns is to try to work through just what it is that is keeping us up at night.
If you are suffering from lack of sleep or you are finding that you are struggling to function despite the amount of sleep you are getting, it may be worth getting in touch with a mental health professional who will be able to help you figure out what it is that is troubling you. Sometimes the root cause is not immediately apparent and it may take some digging to find out just what it is that is troubling you.
Here at The Henry Centre we have a number of highly qualified counsellors who are able to guide you through the process of finding out what steps to take to get you feeling back to the best version of yourself.
In recent years there has been a lot of discussion around mental health and counselling, particularly when it is relevant to seek help and when it is not. A somewhat old fashioned idea is that because it was something that wasn’t spoken about or sought after in the past, therapy was not something that was necessary either then or now. However just because people don’t talk about their mental health, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all is well. In lieu of speaking about emotions, many have historically used unhelpful coping mechanisms to deal with the feelings they are having, such as aggressive outbursts, misuse of drugs and alcohol, self harm and disordered eating. Often these coping mechanisms can run in families and traits such as being hot tempered or being incredibly withdrawn can pass through several generations unnoticed before someone decides to look at these symptoms critically. It is at this point, where patterns that have started to become problematic, that trauma being passed through the generations need to be looked at carefully.
There is a claim that mental illness can sometimes run in families and that can be quite blatant when looking at some family lines. That’s not to say however that this is necessarily due to irregularities in the brain or genetic make up, and perhaps more instead to do with how trauma and coping mechanisms get passed through the generations. Particularly in British culture there is a real sense that we need to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ and just ‘keep calm and carry on’ instead of admitting that we have a problem that maybe we can’t deal with on our own. It is important to remember when looking at the dynamics in families that a lot of issues are often normalised or overlooked and so are often not thought about with a clear perspective. It is often only when you speak to someone outside of a family structure or to a mental health professional that even saying a scenario out-loud can highlight how unusual or unhealthy that thing might be.
These patterns can go back centuries, from so-called ‘shell-shocked’ war veterans returning home traumatised from war and inadvertently inflicting this trauma onto their immediate family, to children growing up in poverty or in abusive households who then adapt to survive and pass these adaptations down to their own kids later on. Being able to use the therapeutic process to pick apart what behaviours you have learnt or situations you have had to adapt to deal with within the family structure can be a really cathartic process. Sometimes we can find that particular character traits are things we have learnt from those who came before us and are not useful to us anymore. Being able to separate what is and is not ‘your stuff’ can be really important in finding out who you are as a stand alone person.
If you feel as though you are struggling with your mental health and are in need of a trained therapist to help guide you through the patterns in your family that you may be continuing and finding are not serving you well, why not get in touch with The Henry Centre in Southend. With a number of mental health professionals in house we have the right tools to work alongside you and make your journey to better mental health as effective as possible.