The Truth by Neil Strauss27 Apr 2021
You don’t have time to think. If you ever want to be truly happy in this lifetime, you have to recognize that you’re using sex like a drug to fill a hole. And that hole is your self-esteem
outside the relationship.” She holds me in her gaze for a moment longer, then slowly scans the room. “This is the reason all of you ended up here. If you’re addicted to sex, you’re probably co-addicted to something else, like drugs or work or exercise, and this is because you’re afraid of intimacy and you’re afraid of your feelings
Instead of taking care of a child’s needs, the enmeshing parent tries to get his or her own needs met through the child. This can take various forms: a parent who lives through a child’s accomplishments; who makes the child a surrogate spouse, therapist, or caretaker; who is depressed and emotionally uses the child; who is overbearing or overcontrolling; or who is excessively emotional or anxious about a child. If you grew up feeling sorry for or smothered by a parent, this is a sign that enmeshment likely occurred:
I’m not going to act out for you anymore, Dad.” “I’m not going to medicate anymore by seducing women.”
Lorraine directs me to send my mother out of the room, then has me tell my eight-year-old self, who’s been sitting next to me and watching the whole time, that I’m firing his parents—and that from now on I’m taking care of him. She guides me through a visualization in which I imagine shrinking him until he can fit in the palm of my hand and placing him in my heart. “Now that you’ve re-parented your inner child, you’re going to protect him and look after him—and let him play with Ingrid’s inner child,” Lorraine instructs. She gives me a few moments to imagine this, then gently says, “You can open your eyes when you’re ready
“Being overcontrolled as a child sets you up to lie as an adult,” she concludes. “So the theory of sex addiction is that when you feel out of control or disempowered, you sneak around and act out sexually to reestablish control and regain your sense of self
In the process, enmeshed children lose their sense of self. As adults, they usually avoid letting anyone get too close and suck the life out of them again. Where the abandoned are often unable to contain their feelings, the enmeshed tend to be cut off from them, and be perfectionistic and controlling of themselves and others. Though they may pursue a relationship thinking they want connection, once they’re in the reality of one, they often put up walls, feel superior, and use other distancing techniques to avoid intimacy. This is known as avoidant attachment—or, as they put it here, love avoidance. And most sex addicts, according t
They explained that a rule of thumb to use is that when a parent’s abuse disempowers a child, that’s neglect; when it’s falsely empowering, that’s enmeshment.
“But the avoidant’s behavior has consequences,” Lorraine continues, “and chief among them is something most of you are familiar with: getting caught. And that shatters the fantasy for the love addict, who experiences her biggest nightmare: abandonment, which replicates her original wound
She wants benzodiazepines, alcohol, romance novels, shopping till she drops, or anything that depresses the central nervous system. If she acts out sexually or has an emotional affair, it’s not for intensity, but to numb the pain and get away from the agonizing hurt. Soon, the relationship is no longer about love for either partner, but about escaping from reality.”
Only when our love for someone exceeds our need for them do we have a shot at a genuine relationship together.”
be willing to bet that after the high of the intensity, there’s a comedown, and you feel not so great and you need that next hit of intensity,” Lorraine responds coolly. “So ultimately, you can live your life like a hamster on a wheel, chasing after the next hit to keep yourself spinning. Or you can realize that ultimately it’s all a distraction to avoid the harsh reality that you are not connected to yourself.”
and Adam and Calvin, then concludes: “Life’s not worth living if you’re living someone else’s life
You didn’t punish me to make me a better person. It proved everything Mom said about you being selfish.”
The room, and the world, seem to freeze as I vomit out every single memory of being overcontrolled, overwhelmed, and overshared with: The constant groundings. The warnings that everyone was out to hurt me. The criticisms of all my friends and girlfriends. The belittling of my dad as a husband and lover. The prohibiting of my first dates. The withholding of keys to the house. The insistence that I report to her room after returning home at night to tell her everything I did. The abandonment when I chose to live with a girlfriend. The request to not bring girlfriends when I visited home. The refusal to let them stay at the house when I did. The comments that she’d rather live to see my next book than to see a grandchild. The constant admonishments that I don’t take care of things and I lose everything and I can’t be trusted and on and on and fucking on.
This is your pain I’ve been carrying, Mom! I’m giving your pain back to you.”
Tell her how it felt when she told you never to make anyone as miserable as your father makes her.”
Because your mother has taught you to fear women. So you avoid intimacy by not being present and connected when you’re with Ingrid.”
It turns out it wasn’t me who was the black sheep. That blackness came from them. That’s how they feel on the inside, underneath the mask.
And he wants to compensate for missing out on his adolescence by doing all the things and having all the women he was never allowed. But it’s time to be an adult.” She hands me a box of Kleenex. “It will wear you out if you don’t live your authentic life.”
…witches and killing them, we call them sluts and kill their reputations. Men have a conflicted relationship with female sexuality: When a man is single, he wants women to be as easy and undiscerning as porn stars. But at the same time he’s terrified by this behavior, because he thinks if a woman sleeps with him so easily, then clearly she’ll sleep with anybody and thus won’t be faithful in a relationship. We have so many contradictory, repressive, self-limiting beliefs about sexuality—and almost every one of them stems from a pathological need to dictate to someone else what they are and aren’t allowed to do with their body and heart
And I wonder, since fear of enmeshment impels us to avoid commitment and fear of abandonment makes us possessive, what type of evolved relationship can emerge once those wounds are healed?
Whenever people idealize their caretakers, chances are pretty good that the opposite is true. Sometimes this illusion is created by the parents, who insist in godlike fashion that they’re perfect and that the child owes them obedience because they’re responsible for his or her existence
Let me check with everyone else,” I tell her. I’m starting to wonder if the more people there are in a relationship, the less freedom each person actually has. I talk to Belle and, of course, she wants to stay.
So mathematically that’s six relationships. And it’s hard enough to make one relationship work.” I had thought of it as a single relationship, or three at most. But I do the math—the Gauss formula of polyamory*—and he’s right
, and allow the relationship to set its own course. And that’s when something unexpected happens: I’m overcome by a powerful sense of unworthiness. It doesn’t seem fair that these women have to share me. Any one of them could easily have her pick of the guys here who keep looking at us. But instead they’re settling for scraps of my affection—the crumbs of a crumb. When
Perhaps the secret to fidelity is knowing that the grass is crazier on the other side.
Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments.”
I’ve seen love as a padded cell designed to take away my freedom. And that’s because my “long-suffering” mother used love to exert control over me, which she enforced with guilt. In my relationship with Ingrid, I think as I sit illuminated by the beams of six expectant eyes, I interpreted her love as control and resisted it. First through cheating, and when that got shut down, through resentment, fantasizing, and emotional distancing. My whole life, I’ve been fighting against love for my freedom
And I most definitely should have done this with Ingrid instead of regressing every time she got too close.
Fear of loss: It has motivated many weak people to make commitments they shouldn’t have. “So you stopped sleeping with your wife?”
Or so I thought: People are such good liars, they even fool themselves sometimes
The problem many people have is that the exact quality that originally attracted them to their partner becomes a threat once a serious relationship begins. After all, this quality was the open door through which the romance started, so now they want to close the door, lock it, and throw away the key before someone else tries to come in after them.
Behind all three fears is the deepest one of all: that Joan in rehab was right, that I have an intimacy disorder and this whole quest has been a symptom of it.
yer. One science writer, summarizing these findings, concluded: “Devoted fathers and faithful partners are born, not made or shaped by a father’s example.”
I didn’t communicate or keep boundaries with Ingrid, so I acted out due to fear of engulfment. 2.I didn’t share my sexual preferences with Ingrid or give her space to share hers, so I acted out due to unfulfilled sexual desires. 3.I blamed her for “not allowing me” to fuck other people, so I acted out due to a denial of personal responsibility for my behavior. 4.I had feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem deep down, so I acted out for acceptance and validation. 5.I had no spirituality and a faulty intellectual paradigm, so I acted out because I believed we’re no different from any other animal and that’s what animals do, and the consequences don’t really matter to the universe. For once, Rick is speechless. A smile slowly spreads across his face. And after what feels like eternity, he tells me, “I think you’re going to understand what I mean now when I tell you the secret to being faithful.” “What’s that?” “Don’t trade long-term happiness for short-term pleasure
With one army vanquished, the next attacks: the terror of self-doubt. What if this is how I sound when I see Ingrid? What if Ingrid thinks exactly what I’m thinking right now? What if she’s right? What if . . . Today I will expunge those two words from my vocabulary and replace them with I will accept it if. I will accept it if this is how I sound when I see Ingrid. I will accept it if Ingrid thinks exactly what I’m thinking right now. I will accept it if she’s right.
The only problem is that after the orgasm, I’m still stuck with myself—and my mistakes. I think about Ingrid’s footsteps clomping outside the front door, her mocking shouts of freedom, the glee she took in blocking my path when I tried to enter a room, and the warmth of her body, heart, and spirit. All she tried to do was bring joy and laughter into my life. And in return, I gave her the best of what I had to offer: resentme
“No, you’re supposed to grow up emotionally so that when someone you love doesn’t constantly worship you or do what you want, it doesn’t cause your entire sense of self to crumble
And I see that I’ve been making sex the most important criterion in my relationships at the expense of my own happiness. There wasn’t one point in this last year where I searched for a deeper kind of emotional connection or a greater kind of love. It was all about exploring a single aspect of relationships: sexuality. And even in that one aspect, I failed
The answer: I was never actually pursuing sexual freedom. I was pursuing control, power, and self-worth. I was either acting like my mom or making someone into my mom. But rarely was I actually myself. Because, as I witnessed on ecstasy, the feeling that I’m not acceptable as I am is so fucking overwhelming that I’m terrified to let go and just be myself with anyone.
As this last insight hits home, I dissolve into a puddle of tears. Lorraine waits as I wipe my nose on the back of my hand, then she speaks slowly and gently: “All the things you’ve been trying to get from these relationships—freedom, understanding, fairness, acceptance—are exactly the things that you never got from your mom. So every time you load all that unfinished business onto your partner, you’re setting yourself up for another disappointment. Because as an adult, the only person who can give you those things is you. Do you understand that
“Perhaps. But I like to believe he also said something else: ‘You worked on the farm because you felt like you should; your brother came back to work on the farm out of choice. And that is the more meaningful of the two
She pauses and lets it sink in for all of us. “Love is something about a person, some connection with them, that makes you willing to change.”
It’s always been something that I felt my partner expected or made me do. If I treat it as a choice this time as opposed to a demand, then maybe I can be the Prodigal Boyfriend.
As I end the conversation with her, not only do I let go of any remaining expectations that she’ll be nurturing or mothering, but I let go, without guilt, of any obligations I owe her as my mother. And it is this moment of release—of changing her role in my life from mother to adapted adolescent—that ultimately frees me
So before going to bed that night, I put the photo in a frame and place it next to my bed. And I vow that from this day forward, that child will be protected. He will be loved. He will be accepted. He will be trusted. And all this will be given unconditionally. He will not be taught to hate and fear. He will not be criticized for failing to live up to unrealistic expectations. He will not be used as a Kleenex or aspirin for someone else’s feelings of loneliness, fear, depression, or anxiety
From a distant flank of my brain, however, the small, ragged remains of a once-formidable army of guilt tries to invade. She flew all this way, so I must not disappoint her or hurt her. I squash the voice instantly as the pathological accommodation it is—the old belief that because my mom loves me, I must never do anything to make her suffer. And just about everything makes her suffer
Love is a cage only when you feel indebted to it, constrained by it, responsible to its owner.
She reaches out to hug and kiss me, and I back away. I will not feel sorry for her. I will not be turned on by her
Until recently, this was my nightmare: having to meet other people’s expectations—especially when doing what’s right for me hurts someone else’s feelings. But it was her choice to come here, so there’s nothing to feel guilty about. This is my chance to implement the boundaries I’ve learned, to enforce them when they’re trespassed so I don’t feel enmeshed, to break old habits and reinforce new ones.
I’m sorry, but I made a commitment to myself and I need to honor it.”
That’s when I realized that as a love avoidant, I’d placed Ingrid on a pedestal, thinking that because she was so attached and I wasn’t, she must somehow be better at love than I. But in reality she was just sitting on the other end of the same dysfunctional seesaw. After all, she has at least one fatal flaw we both agree on: She chose me as I was back then.
As I take her hand in mine, I realize that before trauma healing, I always wanted more—more women, more success, more money, more space, more experience, more possessions. Not once did I stop and say, as I do now, “I have enough.”
“But what about the male dilemma—the whole ‘sex gets old and so does she’ thing?” Troy asks. And I’m embarrassed for ever having thought of anything so shallow and misguided. “I think that’s only true if two people see each other as objects or employees. If they’re emotionally healthy adults, then there’s no dilemma that they can’t work out together. They’re not going to even notice each other aging but just getting happier.
A strange thing happened: As I dealt with my enmeshment issues, I became less concerned about wanting sex outside the relationship. And as Ingrid dealt with her abandonment issues, she became less concerned about losing me if I happen to feel attraction to another woman. In fact, once she saw that I was completely happy and fully satisfied to be exclusively with her, anything became possible
Without fear of intimacy, without fear of suffocation, without fear of loss, without fear of speaking our truth, without fear of being hurt, without fear of boredom, without fear of change, without fear of the future, without fear of conflict, and even without fear of other people.
Our commitment is solely to nurturing, supporting, and honoring three important entities in our lives: me, her, and the relationship. Whatever it takes and however we may change.
“I still get tempted, but I just decide to wait a little while before opening any doors or doing anything stupid. Soon the temptation goes away, and I realize the trust I have with Ingrid—and where that can go—is much more powerful than a few moments of pleasure, followed by a lifetime of shame