Breaking the Habit

Our brains have a high degree of neural plasticity which means the neural pathways in our brain are shaped by our experiences.  Consequently the more we do something we enjoy, whether positive or negative, it will become more engrained into how our brain functions.  This is why habits, good or bad, can be hard to break, especially sexual habits.  The good news is lust, pornography, and other deviant sexual behaviors were learned and they can be unlearned.  However, since those pathways in the brain took time to form, they will take hard work and time to unlearn.  Not only do we unlearn those behaviors, but it takes time for those neural pathways to weaken. 

A great way to start breaking the habit is to look at the 4 triggers that can cause a relapse.  The 4 Triggers refer to the state of the person fighting addiction.  They are a person being:

Hungry

Angry

Lonely

Tired

It seems simple enough, but when these basic needs are not met, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors including relapse.[1]  We see this idea play out in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  Maslow’s hierarchy is seen as a pyramid whereby each layer is built on the previous foundation.  The layers are:  Physiological needs (air, water, food, shelter, etc.); Safety needs (personal security, health); Love and Belonging (friendship, intimacy); Esteem (respect, self-esteem); and lastly self-actualization (desire to become the most that one can be).  Many times addictions are plugging needs in a person’s life; they are a way to self-medicate.[2]  Their needs are not being met, their pyramid is lacking and so they are looking for ways to patch the holes.  The more a person can reach self-actualization (the highest rung on the pyramid) the less likely they will be addicted.  These 4 triggers are the most common needs that are not met that become the stumbling block back into addiction. 

These triggers are intuitively self-explanatory but pornography use and loneliness have an interesting correlation. “Pornography use begets loneliness, and loneliness begets pornography use. In Pornography Use and Loneliness: A Bidirectional Recursive Model and Pilot Investigation, Butler, Pereyra, Drap, Leonhardt, and Skinner (2018) surveyed 1,247 participants in English-speaking countries around the world to develop a sophisticated statistical model of how various factors related to loneliness and pornography use. Overall, they found that porn use was significantly associated with loneliness. In addition, loneliness was significantly associated with pornography use, suggesting a two-way relationship.”[3]  This goes along with the mounting research that says heavy social media use produces loneliness and depression.[4]  This is another reminder that we need to get off our phones and computers and interact with others. 

Many of these triggers work in conjunction with one another.  The key is to find out what time of day or what situations are a trigger for the specific individual and come up with a customized game plan for that person.  We will not list all the possible scenarios, but one reason why late night is such a bad time to fight lust is because people are experiencing several of the triggers at the same time.  They are tired, but also hungry and lonely.  Each person will find that different situations and events will affect them differently and what might be unbearably hard for one person will not be an issue for another. 

As Christians we hate sin, or at least we should.  And many good churches teach how to deal with sin, as they should.  However, there has been a shift that has happened that Dallas Willard in his book the Divine Conspiracy describes this way,

“History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally.”

He describes it as the gospel of sin management.  We have taken grace away from God and given the power to the people.  With this gospel, no longer do we need to be holy by the Holy Spirit we can do it ourselves.  You might think I would never do that.  But we already have.  Many times when we try to deal with lust, we think we can do it on our own.  We say, “I will recommit myself,” “I’ll sign a contract with a group of friends and we will win together,” “If I read my Bible enough then I won’t think about it.”  All of those efforts are good, but do you notice the problem?  We have taken God out of the equation!  If we want to fight sin in all of its forms we need God’s help.

It is important to know about the 3 “A”s of addiction and the 4 Triggers of Relapse.  These inform us how Satan and sin work.  But we must submit to God throughout the whole process.  This means we need to do 2 things:

Pray – We need to ask God to help us and our teenager.  We need to pray for God’s guidance and strength.  Philippians 2:13 says, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  This verse tells us that God gives us the will and the want to do His will; he gives us the power and passion to obey Him.  So we need to invite Him into the process of battling sin.

Memorize Scripture – Fighting sin and temptation is not just about taking out the bad, it is also about replacing it with something better.  Covenant Eyes has a whole ebook on this idea Called “Hobbies and Habits:  Learn how healthy hobbies and habits can help you break free from porn.” <https://learn.covenanteyes.com/hobbies-and-habits/>.  I would wholeheartedly recommend it.  It is a very good book.  At the same time we need to fill our mind with God’s word.  We see Jesus fight temptation by quoting Scripture and the a great way for us to fight temptation is to do the same.  Here are a few good ones to get you started:

2 Timothy 2:22, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

1 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Job 31:1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes;

    how then could I gaze at a virgin?”

Memorize these verses, hide them in your heart to help protect you from sin and temptation (Psalm 119:11).


[1] https://bradfordhealth.com/halt-hunger-anger-loneliness-tiredness/

[2] We see this happen with mental health patients.  cf. Self‐Medication of Mental Health Problems: New Evidence from a National Survey – Harris – 2005 – Health Services Research – Wiley Online Library.

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/experimentations/201803/4-ways-porn-use-causes-problems

[4] Instagram Use, Loneliness, and Social Comparison Orientation: Interact and Browse on Social Media, But Don’t Compare.  Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking  VOL. 19, NO. 12

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