Sex addicts often have a deep, shame-based sense of themselves. Complex trauma and sex addiction often go hand in hand. Sex addicts typically think of themselves as either bad or broken. The sex addict’s behaviors offer a temporary break from these feelings. Many studies have been conducted on the degree of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) experienced by sex addicts.
According to Robert Weiss in his book Sex Addiction 101, the overwhelming majority of sex addicts (studies range from 65-85%) are survivors of various forms of child abuse in early life. These frequent and early violations can range from sexual abuse, heavy physical abuse, verbal abuse, etc. While the numbers in various studies may vary, they are consistent in showing that sex addicts come from dysfunctional families where neglect, abuse, and incompetent parenting were the norm.
Trauma is defined as any event or experience (including witnessing) that becomes psychologically and physically overwhelming. There are many classes of trauma. Unfortunately, some people are dealt an atrocious parental hand. Their childhoods are riddled with abusive experiences that occurred repeatedly as their brains were developing.
Chronic trauma is the result of adverse childhood experiences stacked on top of each other. This is called Complex Trauma or Developmental Trauma. Developmental trauma which occurs within a dysfunctional family system ultimately manifests as Attachment Trauma. Attachment Trauma trains the brain of the sex addict to believe that they are inherently unlovable.
Complex Trauma and Sex addiction have two distinct typologies. They can be either overt (sexual abuse, verbal abuse, violence etc.) Or the more subtle and harder to detect covert emotional incest.
Covert emotional incest is found when the parents have distanced themselves from each other emotionally. Then one of the parents begins to shape their relationship with their child with an eye towards satisfying their own adult emotional needs. The child then becomes a contingent antidote to parental loneliness, used as a sort of surrogate intimate partner.
The child’s developmental needs are subordinated to attending to the parent’s emotional needs. Some addicts protest that they were never physically abused, and their childhood emotional enmeshment and boundary violations can take awhile to unpack in therapy. Children should not be responsible for taking care of the emotional needs that are more properly satisfied in adult to adult intimacy.
Addicts often do not recognize that their experiences in their family of origin burden them with a poor sense of self, and an overwhelming sense of shame. For the sex addict, these early emotional wounds leave them feeling unworthy of love and relational intimacy. Sexual addiction is a maladaptive attempt to escape these intense and overwhelming feelings.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.