Article by Dorothy Hayden
Mindfulness is a method of awareness and introspection which involves a conscious attempt to focus attention intensely on the present moment, noting thoughts, feelings, perception, images and sensation without judging them, participating in them or acting on them. The contents of the mind appear and disappear without reacting to them. One experiences on a fundamental level that every thought, desire, urge or impulse dies a natural death if not fueled by emotional reaction or through behavioral enactment.
What one can hope for initially is freedom from one’s fears and addictions to one’s desires, which can be a hindrance to adhering to personal values and to the pursuit of meaningful goals in life.
By becoming aware of inner body sensation, one can become aware of sexual urges before they manifest in the form of thoughts, fantasies and behaviors. It also helps to manage strong emotions (cravings and aversions) by using certain Buddhist-based cognitive strategies.
In my opinion, mindfulness meditation can be used in treating sexual addiction, since traditionally it has been used in treating cravings of all sorts. Working a successful relapse prevention program requires enhanced awareness (mindfulness) of stressors, cues, triggers, thought processes, emotions and cravings and urges that precede sexual acting out. Regular practice of meditation increases awareness of all inner processes, including the ones that precipitate relapse.
Our perceptions are colored by emotions, desires, fears and fantasies. Sex addicts react more to their own fantasized images project onto people than to the people themselves. Mindfulness enables one to free one’s mind of all distorting influences and to achieve a state of equanimity or neutrality of mind.
How mindfulness meditation works in sex addiction treatment
The following mechanisms explain the ways in which mindfulness works:
Anxiety reduction: Sexual addictions are mediated by anxiety reduction, not sexual desire per se. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety scores.Antidepressant effect: Sexual addiction can be described as a way of coping with depression, anesthetizing painful feelings of loneliness, self-hatred and the dreaded sense of emptiness experienced by so many addicts.Affect Regulation: Intense, painful feelings (affects) that the addict feels are overwhelming and intolerable are neutralized and stabilized. When one can experience feelings as transitory and ephemeral, the resulting effect is increased tolerance for distressing affects and an increasing ability to regulate one’s inner life.Development of healthy coping skills: Addiction is a misdirected way to cope with inner and outer stressors. Meditation facilitates better coping mechanisms because without being in a state of high emotional reactivity, one’s ability to cope with life by being present and not getting overwhelmed or overly disturbed is enhanced.Mindfulness meditation helps to experience sexual cravings for sensation as the transitory phenomenon that they are and increases a sense of detachment from these inner sensations that are at the root of acting out.Mindfulness neutralizes emotionally charged traumatic experiences from the past that are stored in the unconscious mind.The replacement of the altered state of consciousness involved in immersion in the erotic haze (“bubble”) with the altered state of (higher) consciousness of meditation makes addictive behavior unnecessary. Experience of a higher nature emerges during meditation which brings a new sense of purpose in living. This new way of being (the “spiritual awakening” discussed in AA) assumes a priority over the desire to indulge in compulsive sexual behaviors.Finally, when it is possible to free ourselves from fears and fantasies, the mind attains greater equanimity. One is able to self-sooth rather than having to chase a high from an external source. The ability to exercise free choice is enhanced with a concomitant reduction in the shame of being out of c ontrol a nd in a rise in self- esteem.
When engaged in an active program of meditation, over time one gradually aligns behaviors in a way that is consistent with one’s deepest values and long-term goals. Shame and guilt are dramatically reduced. When peace is generated from within, the frenetic, compulsive chase for sexual gratification that never quite satisfies is finally over. This state of mind in itself is deeply satisfying and much more enjoyable than the transient and disillusioning excitement one gets from addictions.
Insight Meditation: A Step-by-Step Course on How to MeditateSharon Salzberg
Meditation for BeginnersJack Kornfield
Wherever You Go, There You AreJon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness in Plain EnglishBhante Henepola Gunaratana
Everyday Zen: Love and WorkCharlotte J. Beck
Nothing Special: Living ZenCharlotte J. Beck
Mindful Recovery: A Spiritual Path to Healing from AddictionThomas Bien, PhD. And Beverly Bien
Mindfulness for BeginnersJon-Kabat-Zinn
Guided Mindfulness MeditationJon-Kabat-Zinn
Mindful Solutions for Addiction and Relapse PreventionStephanie Goldstein, PhD.
Guided Meditation (6 CD set)Jack Kornfield
About the Author
Dorothy Hayden, LCSW is a psychosexual therapist who has been practicing in Manhattan for 20 years. Her full bio can be seen at http://www.sextreatment.com