Is There A Problem?

 

Sex Addiction. Torn pieces of paper with the words Sex Addiction. Concept Image. Black and White. Closeup.

“The first step is admitting you have a problem.” You may have heard this phrase and wondered if this applies to you. After all, most people have a relationship with sex that is … well … complicated …. Right? It’s a good question. How do you know if you have a problem with sexual behavior/thoughts? In the same way that not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, and not everyone who smoked marijuana is addicted, not everyone who has an affair or watches porn is addicted to sex. So, how do you tell?

Just like other addictions, there is a list of criteria that a therapist will look at to determine if an addiction is present. They will look at how often you have tried to quit and failed; they will look at if you continue your behavior despite harm it is causing; they will look at if you set limits for yourself only to exceed them. These are a few of the symptoms they will look for that will indicate an addiction is present. Sexual addiction experts have come up with a useful acronym that can help you determine if an addiction may be present. The acronym is “PATHOS” and it stands for:

  • Preoccupied: Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
  • Ashamed: Do you hide some of your behaviors from others?
  • Treatment: Have you ever sought help for sexual behaviors that you didn’t like?
  • Hurt Others: Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior?
  • Out of Control: Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire?
  • Sad: When you engage in sexual activity, do you feel depressed afterwards?

 

A positive response to one of these questions would indicate the possibility of an addiction and the need for additional assessment. Two or more positive responses indicate the probability of an addictive problem. If you answered “yes” to some of these questions, an appointment with a therapist who specializes in this area can help you determine whether or not an addiction is present and what you can do to have a healthier relationship with sex. Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs) have access to assessment materials and can be helpful in determining if an addiction truly is present. All of those who are CSATs have attended 120 hours of intensive instruction, received at least 30 hours of supervision in working with sexual addicts and their families and receive at least 15 hours of continuing education focusing on sex addiction every 2 years. If you are in need of a CSAT, a list of these therapists can be found at https://www.sexhelp.com/therapists-search/.

Prevention of Sexual Misconduct for Pastors

Young couple looking the shining cross on the wall. Religious concept

In my last article, I discussed the plight of sexual misconduct in clergy and some of its causes. As a result of this article, I was asked by several people what the solution was to this problem. What can pastors do? What can churches and local congregations do? Is there a way to prevent this devastating problem? As I’ve read and studied a variety of sources, I do believe there are things all of these entities can do to minimize the potential of this happening. This article will focus on the role of pastors and what they can do to preserve their moral integrity.

You’ll recall that many of the risk factors for sexual misconduct had to do with relationships, specifically the relationship between the clergy person and their spouse, and the relationship between clergy and their congregants and peers. One answer to this problem then is healthy connection. Johann Hari, a British journalist, in his well-know TED Talk, “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong,” asserted that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. God, in his incredible wisdom, made us as social beings and because of this we need connection to lead healthy fulfilling lives. It makes sense that one way to reduce the risk of the desire to act out sexually would be to foster these healthy connections. One relationship that is a very important deterrent to sexual impropriety is the relationship with your spouse. It is imperative that you make time for this relationship and foster it.  That may mean scheduling nights for just the two of you, going on a marriage retreat weekend, engaging in both heart to heart talks and lighthearted play, and attending marital counseling when problems arise. The health of your marital relationship is your number one defense. Likewise, your social relationships are also important. Build relationships with other clergy who understand your life experiences as a pastor and build platonic relationships with others outside your church body or even select members in your church body who are in leadership and are safe to be vulnerable with. For safety reasons, these close relationships should be same sex relationships to avoid temptation or false intimacy, as these can easily creep into relationships where vulnerability and emotional connection are present.

Clergy also need to guard against burnout, which is another risk factor for falling to sexual temptation. While healthy connection can be a defense to burnout developing, it is also important that you set healthy expectations for yourself. This can be difficult when others, both the church at large and congregants, have high expectations for you but it is your responsibility to set your boundaries in a healthy place. Are you taking on others’ responsibilities because you want these tasks done right? Are you taking on others responsibilities to spare someone else the feeling of being overworked? You need to let these tasks go and let other people take responsibility for their own workload. Are there too many tasks on your plate? You may need to consider what you can hand off to others or you may need to talk to your superiors about ways to reduce your workload. A second tool to prevent burnout is taking breaks. These include the short 5 minute breaks when you take a brisk walk around the church, or you sit back and take a few deep breaths, and the 1 hour breaks that you spend in prayer or scripture, or you engage in a favorite hobby. It also includes longer breaks; maybe a day or a weekend off for a silent retreat or a getaway with the family. And finally, it includes those longer week or 2 week vacations where you can really put the worries of the office away and enjoy spending time with those you love. These are all important. Last, but not least, therapy can be a great preventative method for avoiding burnout. Having someone to discuss joys and frustrations and process difficult situations with is very beneficial. Therapy can also provide a wealth of coping strategies and tools to deal with many different emotions and emotionally charged situations.

Finally, pastors need to be vigilant and aware when sexual temptation increases and minor cracks start to appear in moral boundaries. Maybe you find yourself lingering longer on a fantasy and it begins to take on sexual overtones; maybe you notice yourself going out of your way to talk to an opposite sex congregant; or maybe you begin going onto websites that are questionable in their appropriateness. These are situations where you need to be proactive in seeking help. Accountability is important and so finding a close friend who you can share struggles with and who will hold you accountable is valuable. A therapist trained in problematic sexuality is also an invaluable resource in giving you both support and tools to combat this problem. The key is getting this help before your behavior escalates into full blown sexual misconduct and the ramifications are greater.

The recent rise in sexual misconduct cases has shown a light on a problem that until now has lurked only in the shadows. As this is brought to light, it is incumbent on all of us to prevent more cases before they harm both the church at large and individual victims. My next article will focus on what the church can do to partner with pastors in combating this problem.

When Ministers Fall to Sexual Temptation

Author’s note: This article is not meant to address the Catholic clergy child sex abuse allegations. Child sexual abuse is a sexual offense and can encompass other factors and consequences that this article does not address.

 

Mature priest looking upset and worried, praying in a church

  • Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington;
  • Andy Savage, former teaching pastor at Highpoint Church;
  • Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO;
  • Jimmy Swaggart, evangelist and head of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries;
  • Jim Bakker, televangelist and former Assembly of God minister;
  • Frank Page, former President and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.

 

What do all of these men have in common? As you may have guessed, all of these are Christian leaders who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. Recently, I learned an additional pastor had resigned after sexual allegations were reported. Bill Hybels, former senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, is a well-known minister to me and other leadership in my church. I have read his books and seen him both live and via video in leadership conferences that are broadcast worldwide. I was shocked to learn that sexual misconduct allegations were brought against him. As I grappled with this, I wondered, “Why is it that so many men and women of God fall in the area of sexual integrity? What do these allegations mean for the church and its ministries?”

In their book, Clergy Sexual Misconduct, John Thoburn and Rob Baker assert that between 10 and 14 percent of pastors have had sexual contact with someone other than a spouse while in ministry, and more than 30 percent of ministers engage in sexual behavior that they consider inappropriate. Why are these numbers so high? In answering this question, they look at several factors that play a large part in the risk of sexual misconduct in clergy.

  1. Personality Factors. Francis and Baldo (1998), and Thoburn and Balswick (1998) found that many ministers have personality factors that lead to feelings of inadequacy. Some ministers have narcissistic features and although the congregation sees a confident, charismatic leader, the underlying symptoms include intense and chronic feelings of shame and rejection, low self confidence, and a need for positive input from their congregations. To achieve positive feedback, these ministers will devote more and more time to ministry work and less and less time to their marriages and family, resulting in a loss of intimacy with their spouses. This sets up a risk for pseudo-intimacy in a physical relationship meant to soothe his or her need for attention, stroke his or her fragile ego, and gain a sense of safe closeness through sex.

 

  1. Loneliness and burnout. Ministry can be a lonely profession, with 70 percent of pastors reporting that they have no close friends and 45 percent acknowledging burnout (Steinke, 2006). Along with being a bodily representation of Christ, parishioners often expect ministers to be successful preachers, teachers, evangelists, healers, administrators, program managers, and servants who need to be on call 24/7. Trying to meet these unrealistic expectations can lead ministers to work beyond their capacity and ignore their own and their family’s needs. Burnout often fueled by fears of intimacy, overwork because of fears of rejection, and problems at home, can lead to resentment, anger, fatigue, and decreased motivation for disciplines encouraging spiritual growth and accountability. The combination of loneliness, narcissism, lack of accountability, and burnout creates the perfect environment for sexual temptation and misconduct.

 

  1. History of unmet needs. Many children grow up in environments that are lacking in the love and nurturing needed to grow into adults who feel an internal sense of worth. Often, when those early needs are not met, adults pursue love indiscriminately, searching for it in unhealthy and unsafe relationships. Each rejection reinforces their sense of unworthiness. Pastors are no exception to this scenario. Like other adults, pastors may become locked in a compulsive repetition, hoping for different, satisfying outcomes but getting the same disappointing results.

 

  1. Marital conflict. Although marital difficulty is never justification for acting out sexually, research has found that marital dissatisfaction and pastoral sexual misconduct are highly correlated (Johnston, 1996). Pastoral marriages face more scrutiny than average relationships, with marital dynamics acted out in front of the church congregation. Because of this, pastors often feel they must hide difficulties in marital intimacy from their congregations. Failure to address this marital discord can erupt into a crisis of misconduct.

 

  1. Fear of job loss. Although churches often promote grace and mercy, many denominations resort to condemnation and expulsion when dealing with minor problematic sexual behaviors in ministers. This condemnation often intensifies shame and drives pastors further into hiding and isolation. Therefore, many pastors are reluctant to report unhealthy sexual concerns until behavior has accelerated to full-blown sexual misconduct and offending behavior.

 

BUT THERE IS HOPE!

            Although many ministers may feel that their situation is hopeless, help is available and there is hope. If you are a minister reading this realizing this is a problem you are facing, or if you know of a minister experiencing this, it is important to recognize that you are not alone. There are therapists out there trained to assist you in beginning a journey of healing. Conversations with a therapist are confidential as long as there is no risk of harm to you or others and there are no allegations of child abuse. You can find a list of therapists trained in sexual addiction and compulsivity at https://www.iitap.com/therapists-search/. Although not all of these therapists are Christians, many are, and all of them can help guide you clinically and spiritually on a road to recovery.

Resources:

Francis, P. C. & Baldo, T. D. (1998) Narcissistic measures of Lutheran clergy who self reported

committing sexual misconduct. Pastoral Psychology, 47 (2). 81-96.

Johnston, J. E. (1996) Predictive factors regarding extra-marital relationships in ministers

(Doctoral dissertation). Kansas State University

Steinke, P. L. (2006) Healthy congregations: a systems approach. Herndon, VA: The Alban

Institute

Thoburn J. W. & Baker, R. (2011) Clergy sexual misconduct: a systems approach to prevention,

            intervention, and oversight. Carefree, AZ: Gentle Path Press

Thoburn, J.W. & Balswick, J. O. (1998) Demographic data on extra-marital sexual behavior in

ministry.Journal of Pastoral Psychology, 42. 447-457.

Letter to Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse

 

Male sitting under a tree clasping his hands together.  (Praying and feeling desperate concept)

Chances are, if you are reading this, you have been violated sexually by someone you looked to as a spiritual leader. Maybe it was yesterday, maybe it was 30 years ago, or maybe it was longer. It really doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It hurts like it happened yesterday. I have sat with many people who have been hurt like you. I have listened to their stories and heard their pain, their confusion, and their anger. I have heard them describe the conflicting thoughts of wanting to tell someone, anyone, who would understand and yet the fear that someone will find out and judge them. I have heard the frustration about the church not doing something about the abuse they experienced and being made to feel like they were at fault. I have heard their confusion about what this abuse says about God and His feelings about them. I have heard their anger at God for allowing this to happen and their decision to never put themselves in a position to be hurt that way again. Some of my clients have turned toward God as a source of comfort and some have turned away from God, deciding there cannot be a God if this sort of abuse occurs in His name. Wherever you are in your journey, you are not alone. I can only imagine how painful the last few weeks have been for you as you have heard the stories of others being abused just as you were. So many emotions have risen up to the surface. I would like to share some thoughts with you from someone who has made this journey with others before you.

First, this is not your fault. There is nothing you could have done to to cause this. No matter what you said or did or how you looked or what you thought, you are not at fault. When men and women step up to lead others, especially spiritually, they take responsibility for setting boundaries and maintaining an appropriate relationship with those they are leading. That’s part of leadership. If this happened to you, this is not your failure, it is a failure of leadership.

Likewise, you did not deserve this. Abuse is not a punishment from God and it says nothing about your unworthiness. All people are deserving of love, respect, and belonging. All people deserve to have their needs met in a healthy appropriate manner. This is not only a tenet of our society, but one that most religions adhere to. Wrongdoing may need to be met with repentance and correction, but abuse is never okay to remedy problematic behavior. In fact, as I look back over scripture, the only time I see Jesus ever dealing with someone in an “abusive” way was when he was confronting spiritual leaders who were committing unethical acts in His name or were abandoning love in favor of righteousness.

Remember, your journey is your journey. While support from others is indispensable, and therapy is extremely helpful, there are no “should’s”. No one’s journey is the same. Some well meaning friends will try to force you back into church or rush you into forgiveness. While this may make them feel better, it may not be what you need. For healing to be healing, it needs to go at your pace, and healing for this type of wound may take a long time. A counselor experienced in working with trauma is a great person for you to process with and to help you decide what your healing will consist of, what you are ready for and what needs to wait.

Take breaks from the media coverage. Reminders of this sort can kick our brains into overdrive and bring back memories that may not be safe for us to relive. As hard as it may seem, turn the TV or radio off when you see a story or a show that reminds you of your abuse. It will not help you process the abuse, or sensitize your brain to it. It will simply trigger you into a flashback or an anxiety attack. This is not helpful and you do not need to experience this.

Finally, try to treat yourself with love and compassion. What you have experienced is unimaginable. The symptoms you are experiencing which feel “crazy” to you are normal for someone what has experienced what you have. You are not crazy. You are hurt. I challenge you to care of yourself just as you would care for someone else who has been hurt. Talk to yourself nicely. Have patience with yourself. Pamper yourself occasionally just because. Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Spend time everyday doing something you enjoy, whether its walking in the park, reading a book, taking in another episode of “Friends”, or getting together with a friend. You are worth the time and effort.

In closing, I would like you to know that although I may not know your name, my heart is with you. My hope for you is that you will come to a place where you learn to thrive in spite of your abuse. It will take a lot of work but it is possible and the journey is completely worth it.

The Roadmap to Recovery

 

map to recovery

My husband has a map in his brain. Not a literal one, of course, but one just as accurate and just as detailed as one you might get on Google or find in a store. If he’s been there once, then he can get there again, no matter how far away the place is or how complex the route. He always knows which way is North, South, East, or West, and he’s baffled that I cannot do the same . . . It’s rather amazing. I, on the other hand, have become best friends with my GPS. She and I have a great relationship and she is wonderful when I wander off track and need a “recalculation” of the route. She always knows the way home and I frequently consult her when I’m traveling to an unfamiliar place or learning the route to a new one. Whether you travel by that amazing “map” in your head, or by GPS, or any number of ways, I think you can agree, it’s very important to know how to get to the places we need to go. Without that knowledge we will likely not get there in a timely manner . . . if we get there at all.

Just as we need a map to get to an unfamiliar destination, it is also necessary to have a map when we embark on a healing journey. Healing from a sexual addiction is no different. While researching for his book, Don’t Call It Love, Patrick Carnes thought it would be helpful to come up with just this sort of map for individuals walking this journey. To do this, he looked at others who had successfully completed treatment and were continuing on their healing path. When looking at people successful in their recovery efforts, he found that there was a predictable pattern with 9 basic elements. They are:

  1. They had a primary therapist.
  2. They were in a therapy group.
  3. They went regularly to 12 step meetings.
  4. If other addictions were present, they were addressed as well.
  5. They worked to find clarity and resolution in their family-of-origin and childhood issues.
  6. Their families were involved early in therapy.
  7. If they were in a primary relationship, the couple went to a 12 step couples group, such as Recovering Couples Anonymous.
  8. They developed a spiritual life.
  9. They actively worked to maintain regular exercise and good nutrition.

In my work with addicts, I have found that these elements are helpful as well. In fact, I have become fairly good at predicting who will succeed, fail, and relapse based on their participation in many of these practices.

In my next few blogs, I am going to walk through some of these elements and give some suggestions for how we, as a church, can help make some of these happen in a spiritually enhancing way.

Is It an Addiction?

 

Addiction

The news has contained plenty of causes for concern in the sexual realm lately. Following on the heels of the Bill Cosby revelations, two stories broke in the news. The first had to do with Jared Fogle, widely known as the “Subway Guy” who pled guilty on August 19, to possession of child pornography and traveling to pay for sex with minors. The second was the news of the hacking of the Ashley Madison website and the exposure of thousands of users of this site. Yesterday, August 24, it was reported that there have been at least two suicides associated with these exposures. Along with this news, Josh Duggar was named among the users and he admitted to an addiction to pornography and cheating on his wife. Since these stories have come to light, many of us who work with individuals addicted to sex have been receiving calls from those affected by either their own use of Ashley Madison or the discovery of use by a spouse or family member.

Because you are in pastoral ministry, I imagine it comes as no surprise to hear that sexual addiction is not just a secular problem, but also one that affects many in our local Christian congregations. I imagine many of you have been approached by those struggling with sexual problems. When being approached by individuals struggling with sexual fantasies, infidelity, and/or unwanted sexual behavior, the question quickly becomes, when does a sexual struggle become classified as an addiction? Just as not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic, not everyone who views porn, has an affair, and the like is a sexual addict. How do we determine when an addiction is present?

Sexual addiction experts have come up with a useful acronym that can help determine the presence of an addiction. The acronym is “PATHOS” and it stands for:

  • Preoccupied: Do you often find yourself preoccupied with sexual thoughts?
  • Ashamed: Do you hide some of your behaviors from others?
  • Treatment: Have you ever sought help for sexual behaviors that you didn’t like?
  • Hurt Others: Has anyone been hurt emotionally because of your sexual behavior?
  • Out of Control: Do you feel controlled by your sexual desire?
  • Sad: When you engage in sexual activity, do you feel depressed afterwards?

A positive response to one of these questions would indicate the possibility of an addiction and the need for additional assessment. Two or more positive responses indicate the probability of an addictive problem. Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs) have access to assessment materials and can be helpful in determining if an addiction truly is present. All of those who are CSATs have attended 120 hours of intensive instruction, received at least 30 hours of supervision in working with sexual addicts and their families and receive at least 15 hours of continuing education focusing on sex addiction every 2 years. If you are in need of a CSAT, a list of these therapists can be found at http://www.sexhelp.com/sex-addiction-help/sex-addiction-therapists.

Everyone Does It?

Outdoor portrait of a sad teenage girlMary’s eyes fill with tears as she enters your office. Your thoughts are ones of concern and curiosity. Mary isn’t a member you hear from often. She and her husband, Tom, attend services regularly and seem to have a healthy, happy marriage. So when she called this morning, insisting to see you right away, you agreed. It would mean working late this evening, but that was par for the course lately. Mary began, “I don’t know what to do, Pastor. I love my husband. I really do. But we’re having a big problem and I’m not sure how to handle it. Tom is . . . looking at things on the internet that are . . . inappropriate. I’ve asked him to stop several times during our marriage and each time he has told me he would. But last night, I caught him looking again . . . and . . .” Mary begins sobbing. “And . . . when I looked further I . . . I found that he’s been chatting with a woman! He says he loves me and that this has nothing to do with me. He says he’ll stop but I don’t know what to believe. I can’t do this anymore!” Upon talking to Mary more, you learn that Tom has had a longstanding problem with online pornography. His justification has been that all men do it and he tells Mary she is overreacting. Mary has believed it up until now but this new discovery has thrown Mary into a crisis and she is unsure what is true and what is not. She is looking to you for guidance.

Recent studies by Promise Keepers, Focus on the Family, and Pastors.com all agree that approximately 50% of the men in Christian congregations are struggling with porn. Men aren’t alone; reports claim that 20% of Christian women also struggle with pornography. Although this is not a new problem, it is a growing one. As the internet has become increasingly available, counselors and pastors alike are encountering more and more people dealing with out of control behavior around this mode of sexual entertainment. Psychologist point to the 3 “A’s” when discussing the rapidly increasing problem of the compulsive use of pornography in today’s culture. These “A”s are Accessibility, Anonymity, and Affordability.

Accessibility. The internet and the popularity of smart phones bring a plethora of sexual content into millions of homes 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Do you have a secret fetish? Don’t worry, it’s there. Do you prefer to see homosexual couples? Threesomes? Bondage? You guessed it . . . it’s there. Gone are the days of the secret stash of magazines … there is an unlimited supply anywhere the internet is accessible.

Anonymity. Some of you may remember standing red-faced in front of the cashier buying a risqué magazine as a teen or young adult. Embarrassment, humiliation, and shame were barriers to enjoying pornography. Today, however, that barrier is removed. There is a perception of anonymity on the internet that gives us “permission” to look at all of the pornography we can find.

Affordability. How much does this cost, you ask? Most of it is FREE! Of course, there are some fee for service web sites out there that cater to people who want their particular specialization of services, but by and large, most of the content is free for the asking, which eliminates the financial barrier to pornography.

As more and more opportunities arrive, and more and more Christians begin to struggle, there are Christian organizations, counselors, and programs available for churches to turn to for help and support. In future blogs, I will explore some of these further, but I have listed some of these under “Links” on my webpage.

 

 

The Call

Working from home 1God speaks to people in many different ways. He speaks through other people; He speaks through passions, opportunities, and setbacks; He speaks through visions; and He speaks through a whisper in the quiet stillness of our expectant prayers. To me, God speaks in a very consistent way . . . He speaks through a small, quiet but constant tugging at my heart. “April, you need to do this . . .”,  “April, I’ve asked you to do this. When are you going to begin?”,  “April, I’ve laid this mission on your heart. This is what you need to be doing.”,  “April . . .” Perhaps you are familiar with this voice also. It’s a voice I love to hear but a voice I dread at the same time. He rarely asks me to do something in my comfort zone, but His requests always yield fruit in my life and often in the lives of others.

This is the voice I hear tonight as I sit down to finally bring this request to fruition. You see, God called me about 2 years ago to do two different things. He called me to reach out to local ministers and He called me to begin working with individuals struggling with sexual addiction. The sexual addiction piece was easier . . . God led me to the places I needed to go and I have just finished the certification process.  I enjoy working with this population and the need is great. But ministers are a little harder. They are busy. They are overwhelmed with caring for their community and congregation. And I struggled with how to connect with all of you in a non-intrusive way but in a way that is helpful to the ministry that you do. A talk with my own pastor yielded this blog and I am hoping many more posts will follow. My hope is that, over time, I can share with you some of the knowledge I have gained about mental health, especially sexual addiction and trauma, and how it intersects with spirituality and what you do. I would love to share resources with you that are available for Christians struggling with a variety of issues. And I would love to hear from you . . . What have you observed? What would you like to know more about? How are you working with these issues in your congregation? Are there ways we can work together to minister to those around us? 

 I’m looking forward to starting down this new path that God has led me to and I’m looking forward to getting to know some of you in a new and different way. I welcome any of your questions, comments, and thoughts and I especially look forward to hearing how we can work together to integrate our work in a meaningful way.