I recently began a new stage of my journey in recovery to address my brain’s unfortunate recognition of women as objects instead of as people. This has been a frustrating part of my recovery as I had hoped that this would have been included in the healing aspect of my 12 step program through my SAAPP efforts. Kind of a “buy one get one free” sort of deal where once I found freedom from my addiction to pornography, I would also no longer be objectifying women. That has not been the case for me and I would imagine it has not been the case for most people.Shortly after I wrote the previous article on this subject, I called my counselor’s office and scheduled an appointment to meet with him to discuss this topic. He is very busy and so last week was the soonest I could get in to see him. I’m glad that I took the time to meet with him. It was very enlightening and I feel it will help me greatly. Here are some of the highlights of that meeting in regards to this topic. I hope you find them helpful.
His first question to me was, “Why do you want to improve this?” I used to think my answers to this question each time he asked it should be obvious, but I’ve learned that motivation matters a great deal in whether we can be successful in recovery and improvement. My answer to him was that I was tired of randomly viewing women as a collection of body parts. Instead of seeing them as a person, I sometimes see them as a pair of breasts, as a rear end, as a crotch. I’m sorry for the graphic visuals here, but this is what happens and I hate that I cannot control it. It really frustrates me! The worst part is sometimes it happens when I’m talking with a close friend. I feel awful for doing that to someone I really care about as a person. They don’t deserve that. I want that to stop.
He did ask if I objectify my own children. Thankfully I do not, but I could see how that could be the case. If that is the case with you, I’m sure you’ll want to work on this even more and I hope these tips help.
He pointed out to me that the world has had thousands of years to develop various ways to get us to objectify women (or men) and they have been very successful in doing so. As a result, those of us who have been subjected to this AND who are visually attracted to other people, tend to be quite ensnared. The good news is that there is hope and it is possible to improve!
There are two stages to objectifying people: The first stage is the “looking” stage and the second stage is the “lusting/fantasy” stage. In this post I am only going to address the “looking” stage. I will address the “lusting/fantasy” stage in a future post (and I will link to it here when I do).
Regarding stage one, the “looking” stage:
- The pleasure centers of our brains (he likes to call this the “Lizard brain”) are fine tuned to notice the curves on a body, a person’s clothing, the way someone walks, etc.
- Our sub-conscious mind will usually notice these things first and then quickly communicate it to our conscious mind so that we will focus on what is being noticed. You may be in a crowd of people, walking along, looking forward, and you suddenly find yourself turning your head and you instantly see a beautiful woman and you have no idea how that happened. That is your sub-conscious “Lizard brain” at work. It is constantly keyed in to hair, body curves, motion of walk, clothing, colors, etc. This takes place in milli-seconds and feels instantaneous.
- My first question was, “So, how do I fight that? That sounds impossible to overcome.” His answer was that it will certainly take time and practice, and it will not happen overnight, but you can improve.
- He told me, “You are a sexual creature. That part of you is alive and well and always hungry. It will be for years to come.”
- Fighting it requires retraining the brain. To begin with he encouraged me to simply, “Be more present. If you’re not conscious of what you are thinking and doing you will be more susceptible to the input and your brain will be more apt to objectify.”
- It is worth noting that “being present” is probably the biggest key to improvement!
- Make improving and fighting this a priority and a goal. Anytime you work towards something with intentional, constant effort you will see improvement.
- Check in with yourself every 2-3 hours a day. Ask yourself, “How have I been doing for the last 2-3 hours?” Make that a regular pattern on a daily basis. Spend a few minutes meditating on those last few hours. Were you present? Were you consciously working on it? How often did you face a challenge? How did you do?
- To any of you who are unsure whether you can improve, my counselor shared this with me: “Have you ever been in a situation at work where you really struggled to focus on a coworker as a person? Where your brain bounced back and forth between object and woman? It felt like a struggle and you just kept going back and forth, back and forth. But finally your brain settled down, you saw and treated the person as a coworker and the battle was over.” That is proof to your brain that you can actually do this. The key is to practice it often and make improvement so the battle is either not there or won much more quickly.
- Here are some tips for practicing for improvement:
- Try to pick a scenario that recurs often and focus on improving that scenario first (do not try to “boil the ocean” as they say).
- Practice, practice, practice. Treat the experience as a drill. You should do it over and over again until your mind sees the person as a person naturally and you do not have to force it to.
- Track your progress in a journal, in an electronic document, or in an app. Record the details of your meditation every 2-3 hours in a day to see if you were being present, how many encounters you had, how many were a struggle, and how long it took to get your brain to settle into “person mode”.
- Train yourself to focus on their face.
- Practice calling them by name and looking them in the eye.
- Think of them as someone’s daughter, sister, mother, friend. This will help you view them as a person, not a collection of parts.
- Offer a “Surrender Prayer”: Ask God to help you see them as He does. Recognize that they are a child of God and ask Him to take away your lustful thinking in that moment. It helps if you can call her by name in the prayer.
- Begin to picture the women (or men) in sacred places, doing sacred things. Visualize them serving others. Visualize them worshiping in church. Visualize them praying with their family. If you do this repeatedly you will begin to see them as God sees them.
- The last thing is a “reset”. You need a place your mind can go to “snap out of it.” You could call or text your sponsor or a friend (explain what the call format will be when you do call if they’re not familiar with a 12-step program — it’s better if you have access to someone who has gone through a 12-step). Do a quick 4th, 8th, and 10th step with your sponsor/friend. Then promise to call them the next day to report on how you’re doing. Be sure to follow up as you promised you would.
The final advice from my counselor that I found very helpful:
The goal of “turning it off” should not be what you focus on. Focus on managing and improving it. You’ll have failure, but if your goal is to improve, that will be okay. It will not derail you to have failure as you work towards improvement. That’s how improvement works. Life is not a direct line to perfection, but rather a series of improvements that are scattered with all kinds of ups and downs as we struggle, learn, and grow.
Here is a great internet meme (from weknowmemes.com) that illustrates this perfectly:
Where am I today? Just starting out on that nice curly-Q of a path towards improvement. I’ve been down many similar paths so I’m ready for a few turns and bumps in the road. The good news is that I feel very optimistic! I feel like the little plant in the picture for this blog post that is just barely pushing up through the earth. It feels the warmth of the sun, it’s beginning to feed on the nourishment of the soil, and it’s ready to grow, grow, grow! It might face harsh wind, cold mornings, hot afternoons, even a nasty hailstorm — but no matter what it faces, it will do it what it was made to do, just keep growing.
I hope that you do the same. One day at a time. Just keep growing!
My name is Mike.