Overcoming Pornography – Changing Core Beliefs

Objective 13: Changing Core Beliefs

The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. (Ezra Taft Benson, “Born of God,” Oct. 1985 general conference)

As President Benson indicated, real change starts from the inside. Part of this can include identifying false core beliefs and replacing them with beliefs based on truth. Ask, “What are some eternal truths about who you are?” Include the following truths in the discussion:

  1. I am lovable.
  2. I am a son of God.
  3. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love me perfectly.
  4. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is effective for me.
  5. No one is beyond the reach of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
  6. I am enough as I receive the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
  7. I am of worth, regardless of my behavior.

Continue the discussion with questions such as:

  1. What distorted core beliefs, thoughts, or actions keep you from believing and embracing these truths?
  2. If you were to accept these core truths, what would be different about your thoughts, feelings, or actions?
  3. The Holy Ghost may choose to speak through our emotions and feelings. How do I distinguish between my own thoughts/feelings/emotions and the Spirit?

Intervention 1: Reframing Negative Labels

Aid the client in learning to question and reframe his negative labels.  Make a table on the board with four columns titled “Label,” “Evidence For,” “Evidence Against,” and “Reframe/Reinterpretation.”

Overcoming Pornography – Correcting Distortions

Intervention 1: Differentiating between Perfection and Perfectionism

  1. What is the difference between seeking after perfection and being perfectionistic?
  2. What did your family believe about perfection and perfectionism?
  3. How did this relate to your feelings about yourself? about the gospel?

Discuss perfection in relation to development. Review Matthew 5:48 together, and discuss footnote b. Consider the following talks in relation to your client specifically.

  1. J. Devn Cornish, “Am I Good Enough? Will I Make It?” Oct. 2016 general conference.
  2. Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection Pending,” Oct. 1995 general conference.
  3. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” Oct. 2017 general conference.
  4. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk “You Matter to Him

As appropriate, show the client the video “Forgiveness” which teaches us that there are Three types of forgiveness: exoneration, forbearance, and release. Exoneration is when we work to restore the relationship and act as if the event never happened. Forbearance means we are cautious but do not dwell on the event. Release involves letting go of pain and anger, even when the relationship cannot be restored.

  1. In what situations might each kind of forgiveness be appropriate?
  2. How can you benefit from forgiving or being forgiven?
  3. What might be your next step in forgiving or accepting forgiveness?

Intervention 2: Seeing Things as They Really Are

Have the client read Elder David A. Bednar’s fireside address “Things as They Really Are” (Ensign, June 2010, 16–25). (The video is available at speeches.byu.edu.) Provide the client with questions to ponder as he reads the talk, such as:

  1. How does Satan attempt to create confusion in your life?
  2. What counterfeits feel real? Why? What distortions do they lead to?
  3. What can you do to develop discernment in understanding what is real and what are counterfeits, distortions, and distractions?

Alternatively, you can discuss the above questions after reading the following quote from Elder Bednar’s talk: “The Father’s plan is designed to provide direction for His children, to help them become happy, and to bring them safely home to Him with resurrected, exalted bodies. Lucifer labors to make the sons and daughters of God confused and unhappy and to hinder their eternal progression. The overarching intent of the father of lies is that all of us become “miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27), and he works to distort the elements of the Father’s plan he hates the most.” (David A. Bednar, “Things as They Really Are,” Ensign, June 2010, 18)

Overcoming Pornography – Learn Boundaries

Objective 11: Learn Boundaries

Boundaries in life are like fences we put around ourselves and our family members. Boundaries can help keep out negative influences and thus make us safer physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Boundaries can also be unhealthy. For example, in an effort to protect ourselves, we might build rigid, wall-like boundaries that keep out positive as well as negative influences.

Intervention 1: Defining Boundaries

On a whiteboard or piece of paper, draw a stick figure to represent the person. Then draw a square around him with room to write both inside and outside the square. Ask the person what things he wants or needs in his life, and make a list inside the square. Then ask him to share the things he sees as hurtful or unhelpful in his life, and list these outside the square. Ask the person:

  1. How can you increase your connection to the things within the square?
  2. How can you put up boundaries between yourself and the things outside the square?
  3. What situations will make it difficult to create and maintain these boundaries?

Discussion Questions

  1. What are boundaries?
  2. Why are boundaries important?
  3. How do you define and establish your own boundaries?
  4. How do you communicate boundaries to others?
  5. Do boundary violations lead to pornography use?
  6. Why are compassion and empathy important?
  7. How are boundaries protective and preventative?

Overcoming Pornography – Repair Relationships

Objective 10: Repair Relationships

Intervention 1: Understanding How Pornography Affects Interactions with Others

Introduce the idea of sexualized thinking. Sexualized thinking may include objectification, distraction, and intruding thoughts or images.

  1. What are the subtle ways pornography is changing you?
  2. How does pornography affect your view of others?

Intervention 2: Find Appropriate Support, Build a Support Network

Explain that men benefit from having friendships with other men and sharing feelings and emotions with each other.  A key aspect of change is seeking to connect in healthy ways when one is triggered or in moments of stress, depression, loneliness, boredom, or anxiety.

Intervention 3: Strengthen Your Relationship with Christ

Strengthen Your Relationship with Christ: Read Matthew 11:28–30 with the client. Discuss what a yoke is and how it fosters mutual connection.  The Savior wants us to connect with Him. He cannot and will not abandon or forsake us. He wants to be there for us, and He is present with love, understanding, and patience.

Overcoming Pornography – Learn about Healthy Attachment

Objective 9: Learn about Healthy Attachment

Discuss the basics of John Bowlby’s attachment theory.  Discuss the client’s attachment needs that lead to a desire for pornography. Discuss how pornography is a poor substitute for the real intimacy the client is seeking.  Ask questions such as:

  1. What does intimacy mean?
  2. What are the difference types of intimacy?
  3. Discuss various areas of intimacy including sexual, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical intimacy.
  4. What are some ways to achieve intimacy?
  5. How is pornography an attempt to find intimacy?
  6. How does pornography harm real intimacy?

Overcoming Pornography – Learn that Emotions are Gifts

Objective 8: Learn that Emotions are Gifts

Intervention 1: Emotions Provide Information

Reframe the emotions as information that helps us understand our experiences. Some emotions motivate us to act, some are protective, and others lead to vulnerability. Regardless, all inform us about our experiences.

Intervention 2: Emotions Are neither Good nor Bad

Remind the client that emotions are not sinful. To feel a certain way—whether the feeling be lust, anger, or some other emotion—because of seeing or hearing something is not to sin. Experiencing a temptation is not the same as committing a sin.

Intervention 3: Temptation is not sin

After the initial emotional experience, we choose how to respond. For example, we sin when we entertain lust or choose to act on it, when we dwell on our anger or choose to act on it, and so on. Discuss how temptation can come in the form of emotions and how experiencing a temptation is not a sin. Christ was tempted while He lived on earth (see Matthew 4 and Hebrews 4:15–16).

Intervention 4: Recognizing Emotional States

Understand the core emotions, what they feel like, their functions and how they relate to behavior.  Create a list of alternative behaviors for when he feels the emotions that are most likely to lead to pornography use.  Discuss how attaching language to the emotion (naming it and discussing it) slows the automatic response. It helps move the emotion from the midbrain to the prefrontal cortex, which allows for logic and reasoning. Moving the emotion into the prefrontal cortex gives the client time and ability to make decisions.


Overcoming Pornography – Move Towards Recovery

Objective 7: Move Towards Recovery

Intervention 1: Understanding Needs

Help the client understand what his needs are, including physical and emotional needs. Consider asking the following questions:

  1. Do you need to escape? feel loved? feel powerful? something else?
  2. When was the last time you felt loved, capable, and so on?
  3. What can you do to feel that way again?

Consider giving examples, like saying a prayer, listening to music, or reaching out to and connecting with others.

Watch: “Everything You Think You Know about Addiction Is Wrong” by Johann Hari (ted.com). Discuss how connection is a powerful need and how addressing this need can be an important part of managing pornography problems.

Overcoming Pornography – Identify Triggers

Objective 6: Identify Triggers

  1. What do you believe your triggers are?
  2. What emotions, people, places, things, thoughts and activities trigger you?
  3. What needs are you trying to meet by using pornography?
  4. What are you trying to avoid?

Common Triggers include:

  1. Dopamine dump
  2. Heightened preoccupation and intensity to seek out pornography
  3. Heightened preoccupation and intensity to masturbate
  4. Difficulty in completing daily activities due to distraction
  5. Patterns and rituals that have previously led to pornography use
  6. Strong or uncomfortable emotions (feeling rejected, anxious, fearful, overwhelmed, vulnerable, lonely, ashamed)
  7. Relationship distress
  8. Sounds, smells, tastes, touch, sights
  9. Other triggers the client identifies

After discussing which triggers affect the client, help him plan alternative behaviors he can turn to when experiencing a trigger. Help the client identify at least two alternatives for each trigger.

Overcoming Pornography – Learn about the Compulsion/Addiction Cycle

Objective 5: Learn about the Compulsion/Addiction Cycle

Intervention 1: Recognizing the Dopamine Dump 

The mesolimbic dopamine system in the brain is often called the “reward pathway.” It activates the nucleus accumbens, the “reward center” of our brain.  The brain is wired to make us feel good when we seek out activities that are essential to the survival of the human species. For example, eating, drinking, being nurtured, or having sex When we engage in one of these behaviors our brain is flooded with dopamine, which makes us feel good. This good feeling increases our desire to repeat the activity.  When a person uses pornography and sexual feelings are aroused, dopamine is dumped into the brain.

Intervention 2: Understanding the Brain 

The frontal lobe is predominantly responsible for critical thinking, judgment, decision making, problem solving, and impulse management. The midbrain is primarily responsible for emotions. When this area is hyper stimulated it floods the brain and body with hormones such as oxytocin, which is a chemical that bonds you to other people and helps you feel pleasure.  When dopamine and oxytocin are released too frequently your brain changes to compensate by lowering the amount of receptors for each chemical.  You experience this as “tolerance” or needing more of something for the same pleasure over time.

Intervention 3: The Compulsion Cycle

Help the client identify when he needs to take action and use healthy coping strategies and when he needs help, support, and accountability. Map out with the client the last time he acted out, which likely followed the compulsion/addiction cycle illustrated below. Assist the client in understanding how his acting-out behaviors may be an unhealthy way of dealing with a stressful event.

Preoccupation: Consider explaining preoccupation as a buildup of emotion that the client feels can only be relieved by the acting-out behavior. The goal is for the client to become aware of the issue, be empowered to do something different, and avoid acting out.

A ritual may be defined as a specific routine. For example, a ritual may include closing a door, sitting in the same place on a couch, turning on the computer, or going to a certain website. Ask the client what his rituals may be.

Overcoming Pornography – Learn More about the Brain

Objective 4: Learn More about the Brain

Intervention 1: Creating New Neural Pathways 

Studies have found that our experiences change how our brain is wired.  The brain wires together different neurons (brain cells) and those wirings become stronger with repeated experience.  Changing your behavior can create new connections in the brain and make old connections weaker.

It develops neural pathways by creating connections between neurons and then reinforcing those connections through repeated experiences. When an individual develops healthy habits to replace unhealthy ones, new neural pathways are created in the brain, and old pathways become weaker.

Discuss this concept: “The brain can change; therefore, I can change.” Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KLPxDtMqe8

Invite your client to choose a small habit he can work on changing for at least a week and notice if it gets easier or not.

Intervention 2: Replacing Old Pathways with New Ones 

Walk back and forth with your client.  What would happen if we continued to walk back and forth across the carpet for a long time? It would become easier to walk across because it would become worn.

When we use pornography we create pathways in our brain that are easier to walk across. It takes effort, but it is possible to get out of the path and create a new one.  New brain connections are created when you repeat new beliefs, behaviors and relations with others.

 Have the client make a list of old pathways he’d like to replace. For every old pathway, have him write a corresponding new pathway he’d like to create.

Intervention 3: Understanding the Healing Process 

The healing process can be painful, discouraging, and prolonged. Healing is not always linear or predictable as setbacks can occur so be patient with the process and don’t give up hope.  Addressing behavior alone will never result in complete healing as you need to heal from the inside out as well.

Read: “The Master Healer” by Carole M. Stephens (Oct. 2016 general conference).