Who Watches Porn? 3 Key Predictors of Porn Use

What if I told you that your use of pornography could reveal your way to healing? As a licensed mental health counselo. I’ve seen firsthand that sexual brokenness is the stage through which the work of redemption can play out in our lives. Although we are prone to hiding or despising our pornography use, I invite you to the counterintuitive path of curiosity. The journey to freedom from pornography involves the humility to recognize there is far more you do not understand about why you use it.


Who Watches Porn? 3 Key Predictors of Porn Use

I recently completed research on over 3,600 men and women struggling with unwanted sexual behavior, be that pornography, an affair, buying sex, etc. I found that the sexual fantasies, porn searches, and sexual behaviors we pursue are not random. They are a direct reflection of the parts of our story–past and present–that remain unaddressed. If you want to find freedom from pornography, you must identify the reasons that bring you to it.

Related: What Your Sexual Fantasies (Might) Say About You

Perhaps you’ve found yourself not able to turn off your allure to porn. If so, a far more beneficial approach to recovery than combating lust is to focus on the themes that drive and necessitate your use of pornography. Until these themes are transformed, you will find yourself in the same, pernicious cycle of pornography use. So who watches porn? Here are three major themes that predicted pornography use from men and women in my research.

Those with a Lack of Purpose

There was a very predictable increase in pornography viewing for men who experienced a lack of purpose in their life. The main takeaway is porn appeals to men who do not know who they are or do not know how to get what they most deeply desire. If you lack purpose in your life or you feel an acute sense of paralysis in your career, pornography can easily become an incessant squatter in your life.

Futility and lack of purpose are opposite sides of the same coin. In Genesis 3, the curse for a man is that everything he does will be characterized by futility. Genesis 3:17 -19 (NLT) states the curse for a man: “All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you…By the sweat of your brow you will have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.” Men intuitively know that even in their greatest seasons of accomplishment and connection, there will be a looming sense that it will all fade away. Futility is the ominous experience that whatever we attempt to build will inevitably fail, crumble, or be surpassed.

It is against the backdrop of futility that pornography seduces men. Pornography is appealing precisely because it creates a world without thorns or thistles.¹ Only requiring you to bring your lack of purpose, your futility, and your disappointment, porn will give you a world where, for a moment, it all goes away. The madness of pornography use is that it appeals disproportionately to men who lack purpose and identity. When these men attempt to find freedom from porn, they inevitably fail because they attempt to maneuver through life without their most dependable getaway car. Their failure then becomes further evidence that they are consigned to a lifetime of futility.

Those Who Experienced Sexual Abuse

The heaviest consumers of pornography in my research were 8% more likely to have histories of past sexual abuse. As awful as it might sound, trust is the paradoxical foundation of sexual abuse. The majority of people who have known sexual abuse were groomed by someone they knew–their parent, brother, sister, babysitter, neighbor, or pastor. Trust sets up the diabolical impact of abuse–the same person that ushers us into sexual arousal (which may include the introduction of pornography) and sexual shame is also the one who delights in us, connects with us, and pursues us.

Perpetrators of sexual abuse are aware that their victims likely come from dysfunctional family systems. They carefully position themselves as the antidote for the harm, neglect, or boredom a child is experiencing. The madness of sexual abuse is that the initial relationship feels so right before it begins to feel so wrong. They may comment on how strong your arm is, how nice your outfit looks, or invite you to a privileged position within a group of friends. These initial moments of praise and attention set the stage for future sexual abuse.

Later in life, pornography becomes appealing because it recreates some of the original sexual experiences established in the sexual abuse. In porn, like abuse, we feel bonded and aroused by the same material that also ushers us into sexual shame and secrecy. Many people who have histories of sexual abuse often devote a lifetime to combatting pornography at the cost of healing the harmful sexual template established in abuse.

Those Who Feel Shame

The more you feel shame, the more porn you will watch. It might sound obvious that shame drives pornography use, but the stagger power of it may alarm you–men in my sample were 300% more likely to pursue pornography for each unit of shame they felt about their behavior. Women were 546% more likely to increase their porn use depending on the level of shame they experienced. It has to be said, shame, not pleasure, drives pornography use. As a clinician and researcher I am convinced of this reality: we are bonded to shame and judgment, far more than to erotic material.

Related: Silence–The Sound of Female Sexual Shame

When we experience shame, it attempts to convince us that we are unwanted. In response, we pursue behaviors that confirm it. Although contemporary addiction thinking is that we go to pornography for escape or medication, I’ve found that men and women pursue pornography for the purpose of judgment. We intuitively know that each time we indulge in pornography, we will feel less lovely and connected. Therefore, our pursuit of pornography is intended to convince us that the holy longings of our heart will never come to pass. Knowing our hope has been compromised, we experience shame.

Related: Destroying Porn Addiction Starts With Destroying Shame

Most of us attempt to hide or run from our shame. Herein lies the problem: shame’s power is so often derived from our flight from it. This sets us up to live as prey to shame rather than take authority of our life. The antidote to shame is to turn towards it by telling others the places where we harbor it. In the scriptures, the presence of God and the transforming power of the Spirit are most often found in places of weakness and shame. Why would it be any different for us? Sexual shame can be the geography for the arrival of God.

Pornography Reveals Our Way to Healing

Pornography reveals your sin, but far more, it reveals the themes of your life that God is relentlessly committed to transforming within you. In this way our sexual struggles are messengers. You may not like the news they bring, but they will continue to knock on the door of your heart until you listen to what they are attempting to tell you. Rather than exclusively focusing on saying ‘no’ to pornography, learn to say ‘yes’ to purpose, ‘yes’ to healing the harm of abuse, and ‘yes’ to turning to face your shame.

Resources and investments for your journey:

  1. Get a free chapter of my upcoming book, Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing.
  2. For lack of purpose: Watch this TEDx talk “How to be more powerful than powerless,”based on a ten-year research study by Ron Carucci. Most of us vastly underestimate the power we have in our lives. If career paralysis or confusion is present in your life, check out the work of Liminal Space to guide you through career transitions.
  3. For healing sexual abuse: Register for the Allender Center’s e-course on sexual abuse. Use the promo code COVENANT for $50 off their course. Dr. Dan Allender is an expert in understanding the harm of sexual abuse and the path to healing.
  4. For beginning to explore sexual shame: Watch the film The Heart of Man (or read the guidebook). Through magisterial storytelling and stunning imagery, we see that sexual shame is not a barrier, but a bridge to healing.

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http://www.bevillandassociates. om



Science Reveals 3 Reasons We All Need (Good), Mentors

5 Messages Porn-Using Singles Need to Hear 

The truths I share in this article apply to both men and women. The personal, relational, and physical harms that stem from pornography are real and felt by both genders. Certainly, single men and women need to be informed of more than five truths about porn use, but these five are potentially the most impactful truths for singles.

5 Messages Porn-Using Singles Need to Hear

Pornography use rewires the brain.

Our brain operates on a system of neural pathways that send signals to and fro in the mind and body, releasing chemicals and signaling physical responses. I’ve simplified this process for illustration purposes here.

Men and women release a chemical called oxytocin at orgasm which creates a bond in the mind with what or whom the sexual release was with. In women, the amount of oxytocin released is much higher. The divine design is for the bond to be between husband and wife. The brain, however, does not know the difference–in porn’s case, it just bonds the man or woman with an image on a screen.

This builds a neural pathway in your mind that, over time, becomes difficult to extricate oneself from. Porn has a real physical effect on your mind. Fact. (For more information, read this article on hypofrontality from Covenant Eyes.)

Porn desensitizes our value of people.

People are turned into objects of pleasure for our eyes and body. People, including our spouse, become a tool to achieve orgasm and self-pleasure. Porn turns sex into an experience of getting something rather than an experience of giving. The use of porn is all about the user. God created sex, and it’s beautiful when experienced in a giving mindset.

Related: License to Lust–How Porn Trains Objectification

Pornography presents a false definition of intimacy.

When many of us hear the word intimacy, we automatically think sex. Intimacy is not spelled “sex.” It is a significant part of an overall husband and wife relationship, but it’s not just about sex.

There is a whole soul, mind, spirit, and body connection involved in intimacy. True intimacy sprouts when our greatest need of being fully known and fully loved is lived out in marriage.

Intimacy grows in daily ways in a relationship. Opening doors for her, having coffee ready for each other in the morning, holding hands, words of encouragement, and so on. For a deeper dive, read my Covenant Eyes article, “Intimacy is not spelled S.E.X.”

Sex portrayed in porn is deceptive and violent.

A healthy relationship is void of any violent elements. However, over 85% of all pornography produced today contains violence, especially towards women. Porn gives you a highly distorted view of God’s created beauty within sex. When we model our sex lives off of what we see in porn, it opens the door for all kinds of hurt and pain. God created sex to be good, and remember, it’s about giving, not getting.

Related: Porn and Sexual Violence–10 Facts from the Experts

Pornography deconstructs who you’re meant to be as future spouse.

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As we are to become more like Jesus Christ, it would follow that both men and women would take on His likeness. Sexual intimacy with your future wife or husband is about giving to one another, not taking.

The perfect time to become the husband or wife God has for you to be is today. As a single person, every choice you make regarding how you handle your God-given sexuality prepares you for marriage. Good and bad choices alike.

How much is your integrity worth to you? Your sexual integrity is part of the answer to that question. Your future spouse knows how much it’s worth to him or her, and I suspect the answer they’d give would be along the lines of “priceless.”

Related: Your Sexual Purity Isn’t Just About You

Your future spouse, marriage, and, yes, children are waiting to meet the spouse or parent they will desire and look up to. Porn will do everything in its power to destroy the man or woman you want and need to be.

Watching porn as a single will do nothing to positively prepare you for marital sexual intimacy. It will do the complete opposite. I know first hand how true this is.

If pornography or another sexual stronghold has a grip on you, take the first step toward freedom. That is a step in becoming the spouse and parent God has designed for you to become.

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5 reasons why social media is not smart for middle school kids

1. Should kids start their social media experience lying about their age?

The minimum age to open an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Kik, and Snapchat is 13. Parents may think it’s no big deal to bend the rules and have their kids sign in with a fake birthday —but big data makes it a big deal!

In 2000, The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was launched. This Federal law protects children under the age of 13 from having personal information gathered about them online. However, if an 11-year-old registers with a false birth date there’s nothing to prevent their personal information from being shared with third party advertisers.

This is more than giving out a name and address. It’s allowing marketers (people you’ve never met) to spend hours a week secretly observing your child. They’ll record how they play, what they say, where they go and who they hang out with. Sounds kinda creepy, doesn’t it?

Ultimately, allowing kids access to social media sites is also a parenting issue. Decide now if you’re comfortable with them lying to Facebook, as it may influence how comfortable they are lying to you down the road.

2. Kids’ brains are highly vulnerable to apps designed to be addictive

From a neurological perspective, the middle school years are incredible. The brain is going through an intense process of pruning, myelination and remodeling. That means that an adolescent brain is deciding now what it wants to specialize in for years to come.

This is precisely why Sean Parker, ex-Facebook president, is sounding the alarm. He’s publicly stated that one of the main objectives for creating Facebook was this: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”

All successful social media apps work on the principle of giving users a hit of dopamine in exchange for new and fresh content. How these hits might affect brain specialization hasn’t yet been documented.

What we do know is that social media is an entertainment platform. In other words, using it early won’t make kids smarter or more creative. A better use of their discretionary time would be to explore a favorite subject, hobby or sport.

3. On social media kids see a distorted view of reality

As kids enter middle school they start to ask new questions. One of the big ones is, “Who am I?” For guys, hair gel and new deodorant scents suddenly become significant. Whereas girls tend to gravitate towards make-up and fashion trends. It’s about forming identity.

Ironically, it’s as important to fit in, as it is to stand out! (Think about that group of middle school kids you spotted at the mall sporting the exact same jacket, the exact same shoes, and the exact same backpack, at the exact same time.)

On social media, kids are not only influenced by the peers in their circle of friends; there is pressure to keep up with trendsetters from all over the globe. For an impressionable mind and a developing self-esteem, it can feel like they will never match up.

And it does not just look that matter to kids. Showing off outrageous behavioral trends gets serious clicks too. Every week a new challenge is issued on one platform or another. Some challenges are annoying; others like the Tide Pod Challenge, highlighted in this CBS news report are downright dangerous.

4. Social media exaggerates a child’s tendency to focus solely on themselves

Middle school is a time when kids feel as if the whole world is looking at them (and judging them). Social media can exaggerate the worst of it. That can lead to depression, severe bullying, and to the worst case scenario—suicide.

Jean M. Twenge has been researching the behavioral patterns of young people for over 25 years. Her recent conclusions about the impact of social media on middle school kids are sobering:

  • Eighth graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they are unhappy than those who spend less time.
  • Eighth graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent.
  • Teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, like making a plan for how to do it.
  • Girls, especially hard hit, have experienced a 50 percent rise in depressive symptoms.

We’ve all heard stories of online bullying. I questioned a high school sophomore this week about her early social media experience. She explained that bullying related to social media use doesn’t always happen online:

“It’s the whispers behind people’s backs, ’can you believe so and so’s post’, where the most damage occurs. Even if you’re not involved, it’s really hard not to get caught up in the drama.”

5. Social media pushes kids into risky behavior to seek affirmation

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. is adamant the maturity required to use social media appropriately cannot be taught to middle school kids. It’s like trying to dress them in clothes that are too big. You just have to wait and let them grow up.

One of our readers says she is overwhelmed by social media culture influencing young kids:

“My daughter is 13 and has friends that are sexting and sending nudes to strangers on Snapchat. I’m so glad she comes to me with her questions. I’ve been very proactive about addressing these issues from an early age. Still, she feels alone because a lot of her friends are so clueless about these dangers.”

This mom is absolutely right to be alarmed. Social media is a predator’s playground.

Predators are expert at giving kids the attention they are looking for —You’re so beautiful, you’re so funny, you’re so adventurous. When kids find someone who agrees with everything they say, it can be intoxicating. Police will tell you how easy it is to gain the trust of a middle school kid. Even more shocking is how quickly they can be persuaded to participate in risky behavior.

by  | Jan 18, 2018 | Proactive Parenting TipsTech SolutionsUncategorized



5 Characteristics of Men Who Help Their Wives Heal After Betrayal

George and Linda were 18 months into recovery following Linda’s discovery of George’s sex addiction. Yet things didn’t seem much better between them. “I don’t get it,” George lamented. “I’ve gone to groups. I’ve been through counseling. I’m not looking at porn anymore. What else do I have to do? Why can’t we move on from this?”


5 Characteristics of Men Who Help Their Wives Heal After Betrayal

If you’re a man trying to rebuild your relationship after betrayal, you may have asked this same question. As a betrayal trauma recovery coach, I find there are five characteristics of men who help their wives heal. But before I list them, I want to correct some common myths.

Myth #1–We (or she) can get over this and move on.

There is no “getting over this.” That’s not to say that your relationship won’t heal, nor that you can’t be truly happy together. On the contrary, couples who do the hard work of rebuilding following betrayal often say that their relationship is better than ever. But rather than getting over the past, they recognize it as part of the fabric of their lives–no longer the main event, but an important one that set them on the path toward creating the life they now have.

Myth #2–She should work her recovery, and let me work mine.

Please don’t ever tell your wife to “stay on her side of the street.” This is, at the very least, annoying, and as a practice, extremely damaging, especially considering that what happened on “your side of the street” brought you to this point and seriously harmed your wife/family. If the relationship is to survive, you must include her in your program, being accountable to her and communicating about your recovery activities.

Myth #3–Each spouse is equally at fault for the disintegration of the marriage.

Sorry guys, but the onus of responsibility to repair the damage is on the betrayer. I know your wife is not perfect. It is the responsibility of the betrayer to rebuild trust and to repair the damage the betrayal has caused. Only then can other issues be addressed. Many couples find that other issues weren’t issues at all when the betrayer rebuilds trust through changing his behavior.

Here are five characteristics I observe in men who help their wives heal—giving their relationship the best chance at surviving and thriving:

Understand Your Wife’s Trauma

Educate yourself about what your wife is experiencing. Once you understand the nature of betrayal trauma, and the impact betrayal has had on your wife, you will be better able to answer your own question, “Why can’t we move past this?”

Unfortunately, trauma can take years to heal, and the scars never completely go away. Years down the road your wife may be triggered, and her physical and emotional response will feel as if she’s right back in that moment of discovery.

Related: Your Wife Has Triggers Too

Even if you’re strong in your recovery, her trauma is still the result of what you once brought into your relationship. This doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up or live in guilt, but it is an opportunity to help her heal. Recognize that this is how trauma works. Know that she wishes she could get past it just as much as you do, probably even more. Understand she’s in pain, acknowledge that, and ask her what she needs from you. Then, do your best to provide it.


Now is the time to set pride aside. Honestly, your wife doesn’t want to be asked to celebrate or cheer you on because you’ve been 90 days sober from porn. This is a great accomplishment for you, and you can and should feel good about your progress. But save your need for validation for your support group.

Your wife, with time, will one day appreciate the hard work you’ve done and recognize the things you’ve overcome. But remember, this process was never supposed to be part of your relationship with her. You introduced this painful journey, and until she is sure that you are safe for her, she may not be able to muster joy for you, as she struggles to find it for herself. Put off pride until the two of you can celebrate together the healing of your relationship.

What does humility look like exactly? It means responding to her needs patiently, repeatedly, and consistently. It means answering her questions non-defensively. It means recognizing that her anger and sadness are valid and giving her room to express her feelings. It means owning that you are the one who stepped outside the boundaries of marriage and saying you’re sorry. As often as necessary.

Related: An Open Letter to Wives of Porn Addicts

Complete Transparency

What is transparency? I’ve heard it referred to as “rigorous honesty.” It is living a life of zero deception. It means the life you’re living is the life your wife knows about. It’s recognizing that there should be no secrets in any marriage, much less in one that’s healing from betrayal. Omitting information, deciding for yourself what your wife needs to know, sugarcoating the truth, and minimizing your behaviors are examples of deception.

One of your wife’s toughest challenges right now is rebuilding trust, not only in you, but in her own intuition. Don’t undermine her efforts to trust herself again. It might help you to understand that complete transparency is the foundation for real intimacy. To know and be known. And isn’t that what you’re fighting for?

Related: 3 Reasons Deception Is More Destructive than Porn to Your Wife

A Radical Commitment To Rebuilding Trust

What that looks like for each person is different, but if addiction is present, it should include counseling by qualified professionals, recovery groups, and accountability to a “band of brothers.” A “circle of five” that you can text typically guarantees at least one person will get back in touch when you need it. Seeing that you’re serious about your own recovery adds to your wife’s feelings of safety in the relationship. Other radical changes that you might choose to make include:

When your wife begins to see that you’re willing to put aside your comfort, time, and convenience for the sake of your recovery and your relationship, she can often start to let go of fear and begin to heal herself.


The effects of trauma lingers. As stated earlier, betrayal carries with it lifelong bruises. Those bruises get bumped. And they hurt. Helping your wife heal means being there for her over and over again. The good news is that as she heals, the triggers come less frequently over time. And this new way of responding to your wife becomes the new you. Win-win! Because it’s the way healthy couples relate. When we hurt, we help each other.

Another reason you need grit is that trust takes time to rebuild. Your wife isn’t going to trust your honesty in the beginning. And she shouldn’t. The truth that you now tell sounds exactly like the lies that protected your secrets. For her to trust you again, she’s going to need to see that this is lasting change.

Recovery is hard work. Repairing the damage caused by betrayal is even harder. On days when that reality feels discouraging, try to remember that there will be a reward in this for both of you. All the characteristics that help your wife heal are necessary for your recovery too. The most important goal is mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Relational healing is part of that. The message I hear time and time again from wives in relationships that survive and thrive is this: “It was ugly in the beginning, but we eventually came together as a team, and my husband helped me heal.”

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5 Lies Every Girl Needs to Recognize and Reject

Gasp! It breaks my heart to hear someone so young be so confused about sex, love and consent. It’s time we expose Fifty Shades for what it is —abuse! Let’s go through 5 common lies your daughter is likely to hear with the release of Fifty Shades Freed and debunk each one.

1. Fifty Shades is just fiction

I could probably write my own book on why this is such a big fat lie. I’ll try to be succinct. Anastasia Steele was 22 when she met Christian Grey. Now consider the following stats:

  • A staggering 25% of all women experience violence at the hand of an intimate partner
  • Women’s shelters have to turn away countless victims. There are simply not enough beds to accommodate those fleeing abusive relationships
  • Women age 16 to 24 are 3 times as likely to become victims of domestic violence.
  • More than 500 women ages 16 to 24, are killed by their partners in the United States every year (see video below)

For more information on the real dangers to women in abusive relationships, please watch as Leslie Morgan Steiner recounts her own personal experience with “Crazy Love” in the following Ted Talk:

2. But he loves her

This is where you need to be clear with your daughters. Talk with them about the beauty of sex and what “real love” consists of. Include in the conversation the importance of friendship, trust, compassion, emotional commitment, and tenderness in intimate relationships. Love (and sex) is so much more than any character like Christian Grey has to offer.

Author Gail Dines explains that one of the biggest lies sold in Fifty Shades Freed is that an abuser can be subdued into change —because an abuser seeks power, not love:

“Men like Christian Grey are never loved out of battery; they just keep getting more drunk on their power over women. Believing they’ll change is the dangerous fantasy that keeps many women in their grip.”

3. He never hits her (so it’s not abused)

Setting aside that this statement is laughably false, let’s focus on teaching girls how to recognize and reject different forms of abuse. Christian’s psychological aggression towards Anastasia raises all sorts of red flags.

  • Physical violence: When someone intentionally uses force to cause harm, injury or death to another person.
  • Sexual violence: Includes any unwanted sexual contact including but not limited to rape. Be aware that unwanted exposure to pornography, threats of sexual violence and the distributing of sexualized photographs of the victim are also acts of sexual violence.
  • Stalking: Any unwanted attention or contact with another individual that causes you fear or concern for your own safety.
  • Psychological Aggression: The intent to harm another person mentally or emotionally. This may be done through name-calling or humiliation, limiting access to money, friends, and family, excessive monitoring and any other number of control tactics.

Teach girls to flee immediately if they experience any of these red flags in a relationship.

4. It’s consensual

I don’t know how this is even an argument, but our 15-year-old reviewer exclaimed it in ALL CAPS!!! So, let’s review. Understanding consent helps protect children, teens and even adults from becoming victims of abuse. Watch this wonderful video that explains consent in a way even young kids will appreciate. Here are three important things to impress on girls:

  • You get to decide what to do with your body
  • You don’t have to do something you’re not comfortable with
  • If you ever feel like someone is asking you to do something you’re not comfortable with (even sending a nude photo) speak to a trusted adult immediately!

5. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it

Unfortunately, “don’t like it, don’t look” doesn’t address the greater social cost. Teach girls they can speak out against any media that is detrimental to the cause of women.

You might think in the wake of #metoo and #timesup, Fifty Shades Freed would get tossed in the waste bin. Not so! Hollywood will once again turn a blind eye to sexual exploitation. This time the abuse is neatly packaged, glamorized and sold to audiences worldwide as ‘true love’ —with a fairy tale wedding to boot.

by  | Feb 6, 2018 | Especially for GirlsSpeaking up



A seven-year-old should be able to name all their body parts (and know how special their body is)

Young children are fascinated by how the body works. Parents can capitalize on a child’s inquisitive nature by helping them identify the correct names of all their body parts (private and not private) from a very young age.

When kids know that every part of their body is important it helps them develop a good self-image and have greater respect for others. Knowing the correct names of body parts can also help protect children from sexual abuse! For more information please read, 3 Big Red Flags of Sexual Abuse

Giving kids the correct vocabulary to express themselves promotes health and safety. Think about it, a child should feel as comfortable telling their parents, “My vagina is hurting” as they would “I scratched my elbow”.

Tip: Remind kids that one of the most amazing parts of their body is the brain. This helps kids focus on more than just physical appearance.  An example of  this is in the  scene from The Help:

by  | Feb 13, 2018 | It’s a Public Health Crisis!Proactive Parenting Tips




How to Recover From a Narcissistic Parent

One of the oldest clichés about parenting is that we begin to have newfound respect and compassion for our parents when we raise our own children. If you have chosen to read this post, however, your experience was probably quite different. You likely already had a sense that your parents were odd — unusually self-absorbed and inattentive to your needs — but it wasn’t until you had children of your own that you began to more fully grasp the significance of their indifference. In short, something in the experience of raising children broke through longstanding denial and rationalization to a disturbing realization that you were the victim of profound childhood neglect.

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As a clinical psychologist, it has been my experience that while these reactions are deeply unsettling, they can set the stage for self-understanding and even healing.

The past decade has seen an outpouring of research on the profoundly negative psychological effects of childhood neglect, as well as abuse, predisposing victims to adult depressionalcohol abuse, anxiety, suicide, and risky sexual behavior (Norman, et al., 2012). The psychological needs of children can be neglected for all sorts of reasons, including parental addiction, family breakup, poverty, violence, and serious mental illness. But in my experience, the effects of emotional neglect by narcissistic parents are particularly pernicious and difficult to acknowledge, let alone overcome. In part, this is because the neglect is generally rationalized and normalized by the parent in accord with inherent personalitycharacteristics that are extremely confusing to the developing child. Such a child is apt to grow up believing that his or her needs were not important, and that the parent’s treatment was actually appropriate and loving. The child may even engage in self-reproach for feeling a lack of love and appreciation toward the (ostensibly caring) narcissistic parent.

A defining feature of a narcissist is a virtually exclusive attention to and focus on self-inflation or enhancement. The narcissistic personality is organized around the need to deflect, neutralize, or negate a sense of shameful deflation (Zaslav, 2017). We are all familiar with the emotion of shame, a global experience of feeling deficient, damaged, or bad. Unlike guilt, in which regret over actions that may have harmed another can promote efforts to make amends or apologize to the person harmed, the shame experience tends to be private and asocial. The characteristic defenses against shame, such as angerenvy, or blaming others, are fundamentally alienating and expressed through conflict or avoidance (Zaslav, 1998).

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For the narcissist, relationships are dominated by the theme of self-enhancement. They tend to seek out others who will provide attention and admiration. Thus, the other parent may have accommodated to life with the narcissist by learning to promote a stream of inflating input, while protecting and making excuses for his or her vulnerability to criticism. Young children provide little buoying currency for the narcissistic parent. Needy and helpless, the child’s needs may be experienced as a burden. Worse yet, the child’s needs may trigger resentment by reminding the narcissistic parent of what he or she failed to receive in their own childhood.

In a scene of new parents interacting with their newborn child, we witness how successfully evolution has shaped our inherent attention and interest to the needs of our children. Bowlby (1969) emphasized the critical importance of early experiences with caregivers in shaping the future ability to establish relationships and to internalize a stable, positive sense of self — “secure attachment.” Of course, evolution does not demand the impossible. Adequate parenting does not require perfect attunement to the child’s needs. In fact, it is through periodic attunement failures and subsequent repairs that the child develops internal emotional self-regulatory resources (Schore, 2012). But parenting does require a motivation to be interested in, and an ability to empathize with, a child’s needs and reactions.

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The narcissistic parent presents several characteristics incompatible with secure attachment scenarios: First, there is simply a lack of motivation or interest in sustaining attention to the child’s needs. With a personality style predominantly hostage to the need to inflate the sense of self, narcissists have little interest in the needs or feelings of others. Further, narcissistic parents lack the empathy or “other-mindedness” (Fonagy, et al., 2005) necessary to understand a child’s needs. The result may be disinterest mixed with anxiety at feelings of inadequacy as a parent. This anxiety will immediately be projected onto the child, who’s seen as overly needy, difficult, and unappreciative of the narcissist’s parenting efforts. For the child, the resulting insecure attachment experiences in the first few years of life may imperil development of optimal self-regulatory capacities. As Schore (2015) summarizes, “Insecure attachment histories are effectively burnt in the infant’s early developing right brain.”

Insecure attachment (e.g., fearful, avoidant, disorganized) may in itself predispose a person to some of the negative outcomes associated with childhood neglect as described above. But it is my clinical experience that we often find subtler, more enduring impacts related to continuing childhood exposure to a family environment organized around narcissistic dynamics. The fundamental principle of the narcissistic milieu is that any dissent from the premise that the parent is healthy and free of fault or deficiency is unacceptable. The developing child gradually becomes aware that the narcissistically organized family psyche will neither acknowledge nor admit the obvious incongruity of his or her perceptions and reactions with the permitted parental narrative. Linehan (1993) has referred to this situation, in which the child’s own experiences and emotions are effectively labeled as wrong or off limits, as an “emotionally invalidating environment.”

The downstream effects of being raised in the emotionally invalidating, narcissistic family environment are myriad, depending upon biology, attachment outcome, gender, and specific developmental experiences. Attention by the narcissistic parent may have varied from overt neglect and lack of interest to intrusive efforts to control the child in accord with the parent’s narcissistic needs. An example of the latter would be to burden the child with the parent’s fears, resentments, or intimate concerns. Invalidation will continue into adulthood. Achievements or accomplishments by the now adult child will go unacknowledged or dismissed to the extent that they elicit the envy of the narcissistic parent. Lack of acknowledgment will accumulate, making it difficult for the adult child to internalize a sense of pride.

In my clinical experience, when adults who were subjected to these forms of neglect and abuse present for psychotherapy, there are generally issues with self-image involving difficulty feeling worthy, cohesive, and whole. There may even be a sense of not really existing at all. There are accompanying highly charged, ambivalent feelings toward the parents. A defining struggle for the adult child of narcissistic parents often centers on the need to find and maintain an optimal level of self-regard. The person may have learned to associate even appropriate and deserved self-esteem with an ugly reminiscence of parental grandiosity they abhor.

If you seek healing from the neglect and trauma of being raised by one or more narcissistic parents, the first step will be to explore your actual developmental history. It is important to note that even if your parents are living and sound of mind, they will likely be of little assistance. Having paid scant attention to your needs, they will produce a highly distorted picture of events, if they even remember them. Therefore, this is where the support of a competent, experienced therapist can be of great value as you identify and confront your actual history of trauma and neglect.

It will probably be necessary for you to relinquish any expectation that your parents will acknowledge any part in your difficulties or change their behavior in any appreciable way. Owing to their need to distort or disavow deflating truths and to turn away from honest self-evaluation (Peck, 1983), their version of events will be dramatically different from your own. But healing will inhere as you begin to dissent from internalized parental invalidation and take ownership of difficulties developed in response to very real childhood neglect. When provided emotional regulation tools, and through modeling of self-compassion absent during childhood, psychotherapy can be enormously beneficial in helping resolve the conflicts naturally resulting from childhood trauma. In turn, you will become a more available, loving parent and role model to your own children.

By Mark Zaslav, Ph.D.



Imposter Syndrome and Fear of Failure

Ever felt out of your depth? Most of us feel this way from time to time, when we start a new job, or take on bigger responsibilities at home, at work, or studying. It’s natural to feel a little anxious about whether we’ll be able to live up to other people’s expectations.

But for some people, this anxiety just doesn’t go away, no matter how well they seem to be managing on the surface, how much external success they achieve. Imposter syndrome is a pervasive feeling that you are somehow a fraud, that you don’t belong, and are about to be found out.

What is the best response to imposter syndrome? There are plenty of tips for sufferers out there on the web. One suggestion is to talk to others about your anxieties. You may be surprised how many of the people around you also feel this way. Another is to keep a note of your successes and compliments received so that you can consult this when you’re feeling down. Both of these are certainly worth trying.

But other tips fall into the ‘easier said than done’ category: let go of your inner perfectionist, learn to live with feeling this way, try to internalize your success and achievements. These are fine aspirations but for most us, if we knew how to get rid of our inner perfectionist, we’d have done so long ago.

It’s time for a different approach, one which involves everybody, not just those people who suffer from imposter syndrome. Instead of just looking at individuals, and wondering how they can learn to feel better, we should look at the environment we live and work in, for clues as to why some people feel like they’re about to be ‘found out’.

Imposter syndrome is often associated with women, but research shows that men can suffer too; a key predictor is minority status within your environment, whether that’s because of your gender, your race or ethnicity, or perhaps your socio-economic background.

And perhaps that’s not surprising. People who feel like ‘token’ minorities, for whatever reason, have a huge amount at stake, dependent on achieving success in study or work. This may be because they don’t have comfortable backup options, whether that’s family money or alternative job opportunities. But it may also be because they feel responsible for showing that ‘someone like me’ really can succeed in this environment: failure no longer seems just personal, but to be letting the side down. This feeling can be enhanced by remembering all the people who helped get you where you are today, or indeed some of the people who doubted your capacity.

How can these high stakes trigger imposter syndrome? They may or may not have some impact on how likely a person is to achieve true success: some people may be daunted by the situation, others spurred on to excel. But either way, they make it rational to worry more about even a small possibility of failure. It’s easier to relax and let go of your inner perfectionist when you don’t feel like others’ hopes are vested in you.

Imposter syndrome is often thought of as a psychological failing or irrationality on the part of the sufferer. But we should remember that for many people, their situation makes it quite rational to feel this way. The solution to imposter syndrome doesn’t always lie within the sufferer; the rest of us have a responsibility to help out too.


Psychology Today · by Katherine Hawley Ph.D.




5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Anxiety


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1. You can tell when someone is anxious.

Ironically, people with anxiety can look perfectly calm. I had someone in my office once tell me they were in the middle of a panic attack. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I hadn’t noticed. The image of someone hyperventilating and breathing into a paper bag does not always mesh with the reality. Many symptoms of can be experienced internally, without showing on the outside. For example, someone can have a racing heart and tightness in the chest that is quite frightening to them, but even a trained observer might not notice. The same is true of other symptoms of anxiety, such as feeling sick to your stomach or dizzy. Of course, other symptoms may be noticeable, such as sweating or blushing, but you might not pair such symptoms with the fact that the person is feeling anxious. Similarly, a core part of anxiety may involve thoughts such as “I’m going to die,” or “I’m going crazy,” or “I sound stupid.” Unless those thoughts are vocalized, you’d have no clue what was going on in the person’s mind.

2. If someone is anxious in one situation, they’re always anxious in the same or a similar situation.

People’s behavior can vary greatly from day to day or moment to moment. I’ve had clients who can manage things that typically provoke anxiety — for example, driving on a freeway — if the weather is sunny that day, but if it were cloudy, they might not be able to. That’s just one example I frequently hear — that the weather impacts what people feel they can do on any particular day. Another variable I frequently notice is whether or not the person is in a good mood. For example, if someone is experiencing a positive mood, they may be more likely to undertake an anxiety-provoking task. Somehow the good mood mitigates the anxiety. Another key variable I hear anxious patients talk about is : If they’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, everything seems more manageable.

3. If someone is anxious, you should try to calm them down.

Of course it’s distressing to see someone you care about experience anxiety. The knee-jerk response is to say, “Relax, it’s going to be okay.” Unfortunately, this can backfire in a couple of ways. One, the comment can feel diminishing, and the person isn’t likely to feel like you’ve heard or understood them. Two, it’s really quite difficult to simply relax on command. If it were so easy, the person would have already done it. After all, it’s no fun feeling anxious. Another well-meaning, but probably misguided thing to say is, “Have you tried yoga?” or, “You should try .” While yoga or meditation can help many people, sometime people with anxiety have special difficulties with such activities, particularly meditation. The act of “letting go” or “focusing on your breath” without a lot of individualized guidance can make some people feel out of control or worse.

4. People with anxiety are weak.

I have worked with people who have anxiety for over 20 years, and they are some of the strongest people I know. They get up every day and do the very things that scare them. In addition to just dealing with everyday life, part of effective treatment involves having the person gradually enter the situations that cause them anxiety. I am always so impressed and in awe that they follow through with the treatment. People who are afraid of heights go up in tall buildings. People who are afraid of rejection ask others out for a date. I always think about how much I hate roller coasters. They absolutely terrify me. I went on one once and swore I’d never do it again. If I went to a therapist, and they said I had to ride a roller coaster as a part of my treatment, I’m not sure I’d go back. But these other people do come back — and they usually get better. They learn to face their fears and live the life they want. Of course, the treatment is a lot more nuanced than one can fit into a blog post, but the point is, people with anxiety are anything but weak. They’re heroes in my book.

5. Anxiety is not a big deal.

Because we’ve all felt anxious at one time or another, we think that we know what someone else is feeling. But having an anxiety disorder is different than feeling stressed or nervous from time to time. Having an anxiety disorder means that anxiety is impacting your life. You’re likely avoiding things you need or want to do because of the anxiety. You’re thinking about the anxiety a lot of the time. You may be judging yourself because of the anxiety. Anxiety can be a really big deal. But it’s also highly treatable. If you have anxiety, or know someone that does, seek help from a professional who knows how to treat it; not all professionals do. (The Anxiety Disorders Association of America has a lot of good information.)