Hope for Healing: Men in Power and Sexual Compulsions
By Tommy Williams, LADAC, ASAT-C, Primary Therapist, Men’s Sexual Addiction Program, The Ranch
When John was 10, he heard his father and mother arguing. He protected his younger brother by bringing him into his room to watch TV but John sat on the stairs listening. He heard yelling and things like: “It’s over,” and “I’m leaving.” The next day he and his brother were called to the living room. It broke John's heart when his dad said, “I am going to leave for a while. But I will be back, I promise.”
Both children watched their dad exit. His little brother cried. But John remained stoic. He disassociated himself from the incident and he shut down. It hurt too much. That moment would define his life and wreck his chances at intimacy.
His father never came back. His mother had always been cold and distant, and her behavior became worse when she started drinking. John became her caretaker and had to raise his younger brother.
When it came time to discover sex, masturbation and porn made him feel good. With no role models for healthy, intimate relationships, John began to focus on other pursuits — becoming a success in business and hunting for sexual experiences. He didn’t know he was covering up childhood pain. He just knew it felt good. He validated his worth as a man and fed his need with different women every week. He’d then ghost them and move on to the next.
At a young age, he decided he would never let anyone else be in control, or leave him, again. He built an empire, married and had kids, but he could never be truly intimate. And he never gave up his pursuit of other women. His success made him feel entitled to take what he wanted and his dalliances with beautiful younger women escalated. He had no idea how his cheating and his dismissive approach hurt others ― until a 19-year-old intern at his company went to his board and accused him of sexual harassment.
Pushing Down Pain With Sex
Many sex addicts grew up in dysfunctional homes with parents who were unavailable, unloving or unkind or abandoning. Some were surrounded by rage and violence or may have been sexually and physically abused. They felt unsafe and put up defenses to avoid being hurt again.
- Creating an image. They often construct a persona at a very young age. Many times they get kudos for being self-sufficient and hard-working. They show only that side of themselves and it enables them to have secret sexual experiences through their business lives.
- Entitlement. There is often little compassion for sex addicts in high-powered positions because they live a life of entitlement. They get the best table at the best restaurant and walk into the sold-out Broadway show and get a front-row seat. It doesn’t take long to start thinking, “This is all coming to me because I’ve got the power.” They feel invincible. They come to think they can do anything and take anything they want. They live in a different reality, where in many cases women are making themselves available in daily life.
- Narcissism. Narcissistic personality disorder is a challenging condition on its own, but narcissism also goes hand in hand with sex addiction. A narcissist thinks the world revolves around them. The, “I rule the world and can do whatever I want to,” mentality creates negativity around them but they will push the envelope at every turn.
- Elevated by those around them. The other part of the equation is successful people and public figures are put on a pedestal, with people around them constantly affirming how powerful they are. Many people go along with inappropriate behavior because they want a piece of the power. The addict buys into the idea that he can do no wrong.
Can They Ever Be Forgiven?
When men in power are caught in inappropriate sexual behavior, it’s difficult for others to forgive their actions, especially if they’ve abused their prominence and hurt people.
They’ve lied to their loved ones and women they’ve interacted with for years but the person they’ve lied to most is themselves.
After medicating so often with sexual experiences, a man’s wall of denial becomes part of who they are. They don’t know how to be men of integrity. They don’t know who they are because they believe they are their persona.
The toughest part of the journey is learning to forgive themselves.
There Is Hope for Healing
Everybody has a different crisis that may lead to finally getting help.
- Consequences. Serious consequences can lead people to turn toward help. Many men come into treatment when they have crossed the line and cannot go back. It may be that their wives have made them leave the house or, like in John’s case, their employer mandates rehab. Public attention sometimes forces them into programs.
- Intervention. Addicts have a radar that helps them avoid interventions, but sometimes they can be moved by the right person at the right time saying, “Listen, you’ve got a problem. Something needs to change.” If they are in enough of a state of readiness, they may be able to break through the denial to try something different.
- Danger in relapse. Sometimes they go back to old behaviors, hitting an even lower bottom. If someone is on the cusp of seeking more dangerous experiences, they may heed a warning when they are about to cross a scary threshold. They may realize the elevator can keep going down and things will only be worse. Sometimes it helps to outline the legal consequences and losses at stake.
- Inner child work. Inside even the most prominent sex addict is almost always a wounded child who did not get the nurturing he needed and had to grow up too fast. It’s important that they uncover their trauma and grieve their childhood so they can move on.
- Moral compass. Addiction steals empathy and morality but sometimes it will show up enough for them to realize, “OK. This is enough.” They may get a sense of accountability. If this happens, they can halt the progression of the disease and have a real chance at recovery.
Choose a better life. Choose recovery.