Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
Perhaps you remember that this past fall, the Diocese held its second annual pastoral-issues convention. The main speaker was Matt Fradd, an Australian who speaks around the world about the rising epidemic of what has come to be known as “the new drug” – i.e., pornography. Weeks ago I listened to another podcast by Matt Fradd, and I took some notes, intending to pass on to you some of what he said. In this particular podcast, Matt interviewed Dr. Kevin Skinner, author of the book, Treating Pornography Addiction. In the interview Dr. Skinner laid out seven steps that comprise a person’s acting out. [To be honest, St. Thomas Aquinas already back in the 13th century analyzed parts of the human act, so Dr. Skinner’s work is not totally new, in this sense.] But his analysis of an act born out of addiction is pretty useful. It’s useful not only for somebody dealing with pornography, but also really for any habitual act that would fall under the seven deadly vices. Imagine if a person could put things into slow-motion, so to speak, by realizing the various tiny steps that are leading him or her into sin. Being more aware of each tiny step, a person could turn the momentum around, i.e., de-structure the normal pattern that has led to sin. Here are the steps Dr. Skinner discussed with Matt Fradd, with some of my commentary added in.
-1. Triggers: This is the set of circumstances that regularly leads a person towards a certain habitual sin . Loneliness? Tiredness? Hurtful words from others? Exposure to immodest media or environment?
This is the best place to identify the trigger, i.e., name it, and take a different direction, such as finding a legitimate consolation that can build you up, or getting out of that environment.
-2. Emotion: The trigger causes an emotion such as excitement and curiosity.
At this time also, somebody can recognize the emotion to realize he/she has encountered a trigger; and the choice could be made to turn the momentum in a different direction.
-3. Thought: We then entertain thoughts such as “I wonder what I would find,” and, “It’s not going to cause much damage to try it just once,” and, “Nobody has to know about this,” or “I deserve this,” or, “I will never get out of this, so I might as well not even try; it’s hopeless.” Perhaps a person has not even reflected on these thoughts to become aware of them, but they are there.
Identifying the primary thought that comes to mind with a habitual sin, a person could put together an arsenal of contrary, truthful thoughts to employ as need be.
-4. Chemical Response: The body is flooded with chemicals which prepare us for what the body is expecting.
At this point it’s very hard to slam on the brakes or turn the momentum in the other direction.
-5. Body Language: This is a physical reaction in the body, such as sweaty palms, nervousness or excitement.
-6. Second Thought: In step #3, the thought was trying to justify the behavior. In this step, on the contrary, there is a thought challenging the behavior: e.g., “I know this is wrong,” “People are depending on me,” “I don’t want to be this type of person.”
It’s quite a grace, and a sign of hope, that even at this stage there is something that could get us to turn in a different direction, if we were to listen to it.
-7. Behavior: Although one tries to fight the temptation, the battle is too strong and the person loses (e.g., by looking at pornography).
[Recourse to the confessional is the best response at this point. Get up and start over. Every battle is worthwhile. Never give up. Get the grace straight from Jesus to take another step in holiness.]
So, there is a sequence suggested by Dr. Skinner. It seems pretty logical, and pretty useful, if each person were to take a microscopic look at his or her vices. Remember, Dr. Skinner is referring especially to the problem of pornography addiction; but I think there is a wider application, i.e., for any habitual sin. The game plan – after doing the necessary analysis of what is actually going on inside of the person regarding all of these steps – is first to consider how we can avoid the triggers that start the whole process. The second is to come up with a plan for how to respond after the triggers happen, and other stages in the act have been reached.
I hope something here is useful for you or somebody you know. Don’t forget to recommend Matt Fradd’s website (www.integrityrestored.com) to anybody who could benefit from it. Pornography is an evil on the rise in our culture – which is why the Diocese organized a conference to teach about the issue.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,