Someone I know recently returned from a mission. He loved being a missionary and found great joy and satisfaction in doing the Lord’s work. He also experienced no or nearly no struggles with pornography. This was remarkable in part because it had been a struggle before his mission. Now that he’s home, he’s glad for how much he has learned and grown and glad to “have that behind him.” Sort of. What he has found, instead, is that getting home from a mission for many young people means, unfortunately, a return to previous struggles. This is devastating for some, since they believed that this difficulty would never plague them again. Here are some tips that might help a young person—male or female—who finds that this struggle is not in the past.
1. Find some sort of peace with this struggle
It is painful to feel like, no, that struggle is not in the past, especially after all you have done, learned, and experienced. I’m sorry, but having that struggle is just there, and it may not go away any time soon. Finding peace with that struggle does not mean liking it. It means not feeling guilty that you have it. Perhaps talking with Heavenly Father as openly and honestly as you can about it will help you see its role and place in your life. Perhaps making peace with it is realizing that it is a struggle that will call forth your courage, diligence, patience, and compassion. Perhaps it is resistance or weight that will help you develop strength.
2. Don’t use the devil’s tools to do the Lord’s work
One common approach when one feels tempted is to say, “I cannot give in to this temptation or I would betray my parents, family, those I taught as a missionary, and my future spouse.” This certainly seems like it should be effective, and it is certainly an approach that some people who do not struggle encourage. They say, “how could you do such a thing that disgraces and shames your body and the people in your life.” The problem with this approach is that it uses pride and shame to manipulate you into obeying. The pride is in the “don’t be a person who does something like that” approach. It encourages you to obey in order to feel superior to others, to feel like you are not “that sort of person.” Not only would this jeopardize your compassion for others, specifically for those who struggle, but it would lift up the very pride in you that President Benson (and C.S. Lewis) so strongly condemned. It also uses shame to force you to obey, which is another weapon of the Adversary. Finally, how huge of a hole will you find yourself in if you have a setback and then feel like you have “betrayed” so many people? And how would you have any place to have compassion for yourself?
3. Disarm the bomb
It is common to use the mind-is-a-stage-fill-it-with-good-and-thereby-all-evil-is-prevented approach. But you may have realized that even a life of supreme gospel “busyness” does not prevent struggles. Singing a hymn, reciting a scripture, or looking at a picture of Jesus doesn’t always seem to do the trick. In fact, feeling busy, overwhelmed, anxious, and frustrated can cause one to seek the relief, the self-soothing that pornography can bring. Oh, and did you notice that sentence—pornography can bring relief. If that strikes you as odd then perhaps you have not taken time to think about what pornography gives you. Perhaps, instead of being so busy that you don’t see it, it would be worthwhile to examine the problem, the bomb, in order to understand its mechanisms. Perhaps the only way to disarm it is to know how it works.
I mention this because it was very important to me in my process of dealing with this struggle. I took a lot of time to carefully, bravely, and prayerfully understand what pornography did for me. I realized that it provided relief when I felt pain, including the pain of boredom, the pain of uncertainty or stress or frustration, as well as the pain of feeling inadequate. Those pains evaporated away the moment I got involved in pornography. Of course that momentary relief was followed by crushing emptiness, fear, and disappointment, which too often led to more moments of escape. I realized, after careful study, that pornography offered me pleasure, control, and escape. Sexual intimacy is reciprocal, and when it is not reciprocated, one feels hopelessly out of control. Porn is always willing and able. Examining what triggered my desires to self-sooth in this way, a way that was against my values, helped me see how the bomb functions.
The next step was to determine what I wanted to take the place of what pornography offered. I determined that what I really wanted was courage, freedom, and compassion. Courage is a powerful, “manly” quality, and my pornography problem robbed me of that. I also wanted freedom from this habit and dependency. Finally, I wanted to experience and extend compassion. When I then felt compelled to self-sooth with pornography, I said to myself “Pleasure, control, escape.” This reminded me of why I felt so compelled. But then I added, “Courage, freedom, compassion.” This reminded me of what I really wanted. It also invited me to seek other ways to either self-sooth or to simply sit, courageously, with my pain.
4. Experience and extend compassion
One advantage to very deliberately and carefully finding people to support you in your struggle is that it can give you a chance to receive and to extend compassion. Getting a text message from someone saying “toss up a prayer for me when you get a chance” can be a wonderful, sacred experience. By the same token, being able to send such a text when one is struggling can be very, very helpful, sometimes even essential.
5. Understand setbacks as missed opportunities to grow
The quest for perfection, for flawlessness, sometimes gets in the way of growth, especially with a struggle as difficult as this one. Some might find it a relief to admit that setbacks will occur. This may not be true for everyone, but if this is the case, perhaps a more useful way to understand a setback is as a missed opportunity to grow. For those outside of this struggle it may sound like a cop-out, like a rationalization and excuse that lets one “get off too easily.” For those who struggle with this, understanding a setback as a missed opportunity to grow is not a cop-out. More than anything, those who struggle with pornography habits and/or dependence want to grow, want to develop the courage to live beyond, if at all possible, this struggle. In fact, one way to avoid lapsing into this unhealthy method of self-soothing is by reminding one’s self that doing so would be a missed opportunity to grow.
While this might be a very painful and a very, very shameful struggle, having the courage and faith to understand and seek to grow from this struggle can potentially transform this into a blessing that positively impacts one’s life and the lives of many, many other people. I wish to assure you that compassionate, loving people everywhere are praying for your success.
Image credit: Tobi Gaulke (used with permission).