My wife is currently watching the TV show Once Upon a Time on Netflix. I haven’t watched a whole lot, but she explained one very interesting thing about the show’s story to me.
The show’s characters are, for the most part, characters from fairy tales, Disney movies and other fantasy stories that are plopped in the modern world in a town called “Storybrooke.” But they have also lived in their fairytale worlds. Somehow they made it to Storybooke. If they stay within the town limits, they remember what happened and who they were in their fairytale worlds. But if they cross the city limits, they forget everything about their old world.
One of the most important things for anyone to remember is who they are, what they came from and what they’re about. And just like the characters in Once Upon a Time crossing the town line can make them forget who they are, developing a pornography habit or addiction can do the same for us.
Chemically, porn alters our brain and the way we think.
Study after study has shown the biological effects of a pornography addiction and how it alters brain chemistry. William M. Struthers, a professor of psychology at Wheaton College, wrote an article for the Christian Research Institute about the effects of pornography on the male brain. He compared consuming pornography to consuming food.
“The human body consumes and digests food. In a similar way, we can think about the brain as a consumer of stimuli and information,” Strutters writes. “…The brain’s job is to consume and digest information. This information is taken in through the eyes and other sense and digested and stored with meaning and memories…Sexual images are inherently powerful and have emotional content. As such, pornography forces itself on the brain. Whether one consents or not, pornography becomes a part of the fabric of the mind.”
Ask anyone who has struggled with pornography addiction, and they will tell you it alters how they think and what they think about. It becomes not just a craving that needs a fix like a drug, but images force their way into your mind and stay there, nearly impossible to get out.
Because of this chemical alteration, you can begin to define yourself by how you think about women and sex due to pornography. Much more than just an emotional mis-definition, it’s something that is chemically true of your brain, and has a major effect.
We often define ourselves by what we do.
When you introduce yourself to someone knew, you usually start with your name and your profession. You’re a teacher or a writer or an engineer or fill-in-the-blank-here. Our profession is often the first thing we go to, besides our name, to define ourselves.
It’s also a human thing that we often define others in our sphere of influence and celebrities by their weaknesses. That guy is a drug addict, those girls are sluts, so on and so forth.
Since pornography is not just something we do occasionally but often becomes an addictive pursuit, it becomes something we identify ourselves by. We may not say it to others, but it’s how we view ourselves. I can think of many times in my despair over my struggle with pornography defining myself to myself as the guy who dealt with porn more than anyone I knew.
This tendency to define ourselves by what we do misses the point of what identity is really about. Identity is really about who you are, not what you do. We all make mistakes. We all do things – intentionally and not – that we wish we didn’t, that we would give almost anything to erase that those things ever happened.
We feel like Paul, the author of the book of Romans in the Bible, who writes, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19).
Paul did not define himself by what he did, but he was well aware of his shortcomings. He was aware of what he wanted to do, but knew the struggle to do that on a consistent basis. But he defined himself more by what God thought of him.
Porn addiction can lead to depression and stress.
In my case, struggling with pornography led to most of my depression and anxiety.
I already struggled with a lot of depression and anxiety day-to-day, but struggling with porn and knowing that at the very least it was not helpful for me just piled on to the stress that had kept building and building. And I’m not alone.
Licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Kevin B. Skinner did an informal poll-like study on the connection between depression and porn use. He shared his findings on his Psychology Today blog:
“Clearly, individuals who consume porn daily are dealing with more than just porn. They are apt to be experiencing depression. I am wondering if depressed people are more prone to view porn to combat the depression or if daily use of porn triggers individuals into a depression? Either way, my research with more than 400 people who voluntarily took my assessment indicates that people who regularly view pornography are experiencing more depression than the general population.”
Yes, that’s only a little over 400 people, but it’s clearly a human issue. And depression is something that we know greatly alters how you view yourself. Your definition of yourself often strays from an objective evaluation to believing untrue things – “I’m not worth much/anything” or “I suck at life” or “God must hate me.” Depression causes thoughts and feelings like that to become primary in the minds of porn addicts and greatly affects how they define themselves.
So what are we to do?
We need to be constantly reminding ourselves of what is true about ourselves.
In my bedroom at home sits a canvas painting I did. It used to be in my office at work. Half of it is a blank résumé. The other half quotes a spoken word piece by this guy named Jon Jorgensen. It says: “Not qualified is where He starts.” On the bottom is written/painted “2 Corinthians 12:9.”
In that verse, God tells Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It reminds me that God can use me despite my lack of qualification, and many reasons to be disqualified. When porn addiction enters our life, we can view ourselves that way, that we have nothing to offer, that we are useless.
My friends, it is not so. Fight back against these ways that porn distorts your view of yourself. Remember what is true. It’s vital.