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  • Writer's pictureJake Kastleman

Religious Shame and Porn Addiction

Religious shame and porn addiction go hand-in-hand.


Why?


Because they are two sides of the same coin.

We often see addiction as an isolated incident: an issue all its own. We think that if we can just abstain from porn then we’ll eventually lose our desire for it.


We also think, “If I just have enough sex with my wife, then I won’t want porn.”


After nearly a decade of my own recovery, and working with other addicts, I can tell you that both of these lines of reasoning are false.


Why?


Because the underlying reasons for shame (the belief “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t match up”) are the underlying reasons for addiction. Shame leads to addiction.


Pornography addiction is not simply caused by “manly urges”, lust, impulsivity, or being a “pervert”. These have very little to do with the addiction.


Today, we’re going to discuss the root causes of both porn addiction and religious shame, and how we can work through them.



How Religious Shame and Porn Addiction Develop

Many of us are under the impression that engaging in our addiction causes us to feel religious shame; to feel that God is displeased with us, and that we are unworthy in His eyes.


But this religious shame did not begin with the porn addiction. It started long before that - during childhood for most of us.


Growing up we believed that we needed to earn God’s love. We were taught that God only favors the righteous, and so if we wanted to receive His help, we needed to do everything exactly right and only then would He lend us a hand.


This led to a dark and twisted view of God and His opinion of His children. We saw God as an egoic, self-centered God, filled with jealousy and wrath. And this belief system led us to feel more and more fear and unworthiness.


These feelings then caused us to seek out destructive behaviors as a form of self-fulfilling prophecy that confirmed our low opinion of ourselves, and gave us a cheap means of escape from the torturous thoughts we faced.


The religious shame came before the porn addiction, and the porn addiction perpetuated the religious shame.



God Does Not Look Down on You for Your Addiction

God is not judgmental. God is not selfish. God is not jealous. God does not withdraw His love from you when you make choices He’d rather you not.


Why, with all of His infinite understanding and compassion would God judge you for succumbing to the will of the flesh? A temptation which He understands perfectly.


Why, after witnessing the mistakes of numberless children would God abandon you when you need Him most, leaving you to your own designs of destruction.


If you can love your child with a depth that defies reason, that would cause you to plunge into the depths of hell to save that child, would God - with His supreme knowledge and goodness - not love you with that level of depth plus a capacity that only a deity who has seen all things could have.


God is not bothered by your bad decisions. He only wants you to grow through them, learn through them, and experience the peace He knows is on the other side waiting for you.


He is not concerned with how many mistakes you make, as long as it eventually leads you back to His Son. However long that takes He will stand close by you offering His hand.


We are the ones who cut ourselves off from God’s love and help when we believe ourselves unworthy of it. Not the other way around.



Quitting Porn Will Not Free You From Religious Shame

It is not enough to simply quit porn. Many of us Christians believe that quitting porn will be the end of our issues with self-worth. We believe that God will finally love us and reward us for being clean and making righteous choices, and then we will no longer feel this constant sense of guilt.


When I quit porn, I was greeted by many of the same bad habits I had previous to my addiction. Was my life better? Of course! My mood was better, I felt more energy and motivation, and I felt more connected to God and those around me. But I still had a long way to go. And that’s true recovery. It’s not a destination; it’s a daily process.


Even after I got clean, I still believed that I had to earn Christ’s love through works. I thought that God thought less of me as His child when I made mistakes, and so I did everything I could to avoid mistakes. And if I made one, I did everything I could to deny it or justify it.


When we struggle with religious shame, we believe our mistakes make us unworthy of God’s love. We believe that God is keeping a tally of all of our good and bad decisions, constantly reevaluating whether we’re worthy of heaven or hell.


It is exactly this line of thinking that leads us to destructive behaviors like porn addiction.


Abstinence Does Not Equal Recovery

Some say that we stop porn addiction by resisting it and staying away from it long enough to stop craving it. But this is only a bandaid for a much deeper problem.


If we become clean while ignoring the underlying thoughts and feelings that lead to addiction, such as religious shame, either we will be both sober and miserable (a “dry drunk” as the saying goes), or we will quickly replace our old addiction with a new one.


Preoccupation with Sin Leads to Sin

When we get stuck in habits of religious shame, constantly obsessing over whether we are good enough in God’s eyes or not, or whether we’re good enough to make it to heaven or not, we center our focus upon things that we do not want. We center it upon fear, not faith.


By constantly worrying about sin, we increase the likelihood that we will engage in it. By obsessing over whether we’re good enough or not, we ensure that our focus remains upon ourselves, rather than upon simply going about doing good.


If we want to lead a good life, filled with love, compassion, and service we need to forget about our worthiness in God’s eyes - wondering whether He loves us or not - and simply accept that He does.


Instead of worrying about our worth, we can transfer our focus to the acceptance of His gifts of grace and guidance in every circumstance. Or at least practice doing so, or ask Him to help our unbelief.


We can always depend upon Him, and surrender our life and will to Him, the moment we choose to be humble and turn our will over to Him.


And when we suck at doing this, we can forgive ourselves for that, and start again.


Believe in Worth

By releasing our need for certainty about our standing before God, and instead to practice focusing on the belief that He loves us no matter what, we can begin to live in accordance with that belief. In other words, we can begin to make choices that someone who believed they were worthy of love would make.


This will empower us to do more good and help more people.



Pain & Temptation are Not Signs of God’s Anger

Many of us with religious shame feel that God is punishing us when we face trial and hardship, or that we are a bad person when temptations come against us. This simply isn’t true.


Christ Himself was tempted. Was this because He was a bad person? Certainly not. But he faced temptations and immense pain all the same.


Think of it, the most perfect man (and God) to ever walk the earth was the same man who suffered the most of any of us. Did he earn that suffering? No.


Some of the most powerful people to ever walk this planet - who helped many and did much good - were those who experienced the most trials and hardship of any of us.


The simple fact is, trials molded these individuals into who they became. Without the pain they suffered, they never would have developed the depth, resilience, and faith that they did. And without the unfathomable difficulties Christ faced, we would never have been saved.


Inevitable temptations will cross our mind everyday. We face pains and temptations because we are human. Not because God is condemning us or giving us our “just dues” for poor choices,


Tribulation can help us grow. When we allow hardships to turn our minds to Him, embracing discomfort and uncertainty, these trials define us. Without them, we cannot become great. We are meant to face these things in life, and righteous living will never ever make us exempt. In fact, much of the time, the opposite is the case.


We can stand strong in the face of fear, shame, and pride, knowing that these feelings do not define our worth or identity, but are part of the human condition. We can transcend these temptations everyday, as we practice observing them, not letting them define us, and allowing God into our mind and heart.


Living with this perspective is key for long-lasting recovery. And that’s because a healthy sense of self-worth, surrender to the moment, and feeling meaning and purpose in life are all key for recovery.


As we practice this perception - which is to know that all experiences here on earth are simply for our learning, and to know that God loves us unconditionally through it all - we overcome both religious shame and porn addiction - two sides of the same coin.



“I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus”

All of us Christians have heard the classic phrase “I’m trying to be like Jesus”. It defines so much of the beautiful truths of our religion. We want to do right, to serve, and to love as Christ did. But sometimes, this belief can go awry.


We experience dissonance when our choices do not align with our values. We experience shame and fear when we fall short of those teachings which we hold dear.


It is hard to attempt to live a life guided by principles of perfection. And this can often lead us to become perfectionistic - believing that we must avoid mistakes at all costs.


This perfectionism can go beyond living free of spiritual sin, and expand into things such as saying just the right thing in the moment, being perfectly confident, and accomplishing tasks without making a mistake.


Such a belief causes us never to venture out, explore, and do new things, because we are too worried about doing them perfectly.


We make the mistake of assuming that Christ never lacked in any way while here on earth. That he never made a mistake while learning to master carpentry, stuttered over His words on occasion, or misunderstood what someone said.


I don’t know for sure, but I think that Christ did all of these things. He was, afterall, a man while he was here on earth. He was vesselled in an imperfect body with strengths and weaknesses, and he had to make the best of his capabilities as a human being.


To try to be like Jesus does not mean to be free of mistakes. Christ was not “perfect” in the sense that he was flawlessly coordinated, talented, and knowledgeable in every last subject and activity. Rather, He was perfect in that He always followed His Father’s will. Everything He did was focused on serving those around Him, and He did it while relying on His Father in Heaven every moment.


Christ was not above needing help. Neither are we. We are made perfect in Christ in that His grace makes us whole and the guidance of His Holy Spirit grants us what is needed for the moment.


We will never be perfect in this life, because only He was and is. Christ performed the Atonement for each one of us regardless of our choices. The act is already complete, and its gift abounds endlessly to cover any sin or transgression necessary. Including addiction.


To try to be like Jesus means to learn to rely upon Him in all things. It’s a practice, not a destination. We will not reach perfection through our will, but are instead perfected by His.



Christ Does not Condemn the Sinner

Christ looked the adulterer in the eye and told her, “I do not condemn you. Go, and sin no more.” Where others stood for justice and punishment, Christ stood for forgiveness and compassion.


Christ did not say “I won’t condemn you, as long as you don’t make any more bad choices”, nor did He say, “If you mess up one more time, you know where you’re going?” There were no conditions on Christ’s love and forgiveness. He gave it freely to a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery - one of the most egregious sins there is - only moments before.


Christ always stands for forgiveness, because forgiveness frees us from the past and helps us release our sin, rather than holding on to it.


Shame about sin or a belief that sin makes us unworthy of love propels us towards that sin. Knowing our infinite worth in the sight of God, on the other hand, frees us from sin’s pull so we can learn from our mistakes and move forward.


The addict brain is attracted to intensity. It will attempt to get it from positive or negative means. It doesn’t care which. When we slip with addiction, our best course of action is to see it as a learning experience and ask Christ to grant us grace and guidance to change for the future. Beating ourselves up will make our brain want to repeat the behavior. Whereas, holding ourselves accountable for the mistake and determining what we can learn from it without condemning ourselves will make us less likely to repeat the behavior.



Porn Addiction Recovery Coaching for Christians

I help my clients recover from porn addiction using shame-free, Christ-centered teachings that focus on mental, spiritual, relational, and physical interventions.


This is not your average “talk therapy” recovery coaching - it’s much, much more. In addition to weekly 1-on-1 coaching sessions, I give you a structured program, weekly exercises, daily check-ins, and personalized goals and plans to empower your success. To learn more about my coaching program click here.


Thanks for reading about religious shame and porn addiction. For more porn addiction help, check out the following resources:


Download my FREE EBOOK to Overcome Porn Addiction


I relapsed on porn, what do I do now?


Overcoming Shame Habits and Building Empathy


Porn Addiction and Perfectionism


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