In my own research and studying, I am becoming more and more convinced that the two most important therapeutic practices and techniques that have been developed are attachment theory and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). In a later post, we'll talk about ACT, but here is what you must know about attachment theory if you're looking to fully recover from porn addiction.
Attachment theory was formed by a British psychologist named John Bowlby in the early 1900s. He observed that how children bond with their caregivers has a major impact on their quality of life and relationships, and began to wonder why. The basic premise of his discovery is that the bond we form with our primary caregiver (typically our mothers) is monumental in providing the security necessary for children to develop healthily. Mary Ainsworth then tested this with children 12-18 months by observing their responses in the absence of their caregivers. Her discoveries and the theory at large have major implications for men and porn addiction.
There are 4 attachment styles. Each is explained below with some commentary on how porn addiction may factor in. Please note these are not scientifically proven statements, they are anecdotal.
1. Anxious Attachment – Essentially this is marked by anxiety and insecurity in the absence of a caregiver. Men who experience anxious attachment while developing will often grow up to experience intimacy deficiencies in their meaningful relationships. They will come across as clingy, over-emotional, and desperate. Those with anxious attachment styles gravitate towards porn because it guarantees steady "intimacy".
2. Avoidant Attachment – This attachment style is more or less the opposite of anxious attachment. Instead, the child learns they cannot rely on their parent so when they are absent, there is virtually no response. They simply roll with the punches. While it may front as resilience, down the road it leads to major disconnection. It is hard for people with this attachment style to open up because it doesn't feel safe. As a result, they also are left with emotional disconnection that enhances the lure of things like pornography.
3. Disorganized Attachment – By far the most extreme style, disorganized attachment is symptomatic of those who grow up with abuse, extreme manipulation/control, or frequently changing caregivers. The child winds up confused about how to form healthy connections as a result, and their attachment style has no notable pattern. Men with this attachment style often move in and out of relationships quickly, as they have a hard time deciding what they really want. The binge-purge cycle is commonplace with this attachment style – porn has seasons of great appeal and other times it is disgusting.
4. Secure Attachment – This is the ideal attachment style. Children with secure attachment still experience stress when their caregiver is gone, but they feel great joy when the caregiver returns. There is security and trust in the relationship. Men with secure attachment still go through the ups and downs of life, but they are resilient and know how to establish security in their environments so they can succeed. Porn addiction can still be at play in this attachment style, but the healing journey often will be more streamlined because there is a secure foundation to build on.
The critical thing to remember is that attachment styles exist on a spectrum, and every single person has the opportunity to progress towards secure attachment if that is not already their style. In doing so, your mind will stabilize, you'll think clearly, and ultimately, you will make better choices in life with greater ease. If you're struggling with porn and looking to work with a therapist, I highly recommend finding someone that is well versed in attachment theory.
Cheering you on,
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