PTSD Spirituality: Is PTSD An Excuse For Bad Behaviors Like Porn Addiction?

PTSD can affect our identity and our behaviors.  Unchecked, PTSD will make us more selfish, uncaring, and discompassionate (is that a word?).  It can also make us feel a bit paranoid, persecuted, and misunderstood; thus, we often damage our relationships.  Are we responsible for the harm caused by our PTSD behavior?  Do we get a “free pass” on the ethical frontier because we have the PTSD soul wound? 

Diminished Capacity, Addiction, and Ultimate Responsibility

The concept of diminished capacity exists in the world of psychology and criminal justice.  I suppose the definition gets sliced and diced in different ways depending on who is using it and to what end. 

As I understand diminished capacity, essentially, sometimes people are not held as completely liable for crimes they have committed because they did not really understand the impact of what they did or they did not have full control of themselves at the time. 

A legal argument for diminished capacity is used is to get a charge/sentence/conviction lowered because premeditation is said to not exist, e.g., thus a person may be charged with manslaughter instead of murder if they had diminished capacity at the time of the killing.

In the arena of addiction, individuals will sometimes do what they would not normally have done had they not needed a drug fix or not have otherwise been under the influence of the addiction.

Some behaviors are driven by the addiction and are even dreaded by the person who commits them.  The power of an addiction can override one’s moral development and lead them into heinous acts which dehumanize themselves and others.  Sometimes we may hate ourselves for doing something we hate doing, while we do it.  We no longer get any relief or joy from that action; we are merely enslaved to it.

The reason I just spilled out over 200 words about diminished capacity and addiction is to help frame a question about PTSD behaviors. 

Am I responsible for my PTSD behaviors?  If I am promiscuous, porn-addicted, drink too much, lose my temper, gamble away the rent, abuse drugs, self-harm, or thrill seek due to my PTSD, am I responsible for those behaviors and how those behaviors affect others?

Are There Victimless Sins or Crimes?

Some will claim that the depth of their porn habit hurts no one but themselves and thus we have no right to ask them to stop.  This is similar to the claim that there are victimless crimes.   

There are no victimless crimes:

If nothing else, the perpetrator of a crime is always harmed even if they are not bright enough to see it, or if they choose to delude themselves about it.  But, beyond theory, crime always hurts more than one person.

In the case of pornography multiple people are harmed.  People are exploited in a subject-object relationship which has no love, commitment, or desire for mutual well-being and respect.  In many of these cases, the woman or child (and it is usually women and children, but not always) who is forced to engage in on-demand sex acts does not even see any monetary benefit.  There is also a connection between human trafficking and pornography.  Even if the sex worker is a “volunteer,” their humanity is still diminished by being used as a meat puppet and not as someone who has individual and unique value because they have been created in the image of God.

The person who engages in the consumption of pornography will over time be desensitized to it.  They will need new and different sex workers to view or physically use as a meat puppet (as in prostitution) to get the same stimulation they used to get from a smaller quantity of sex workers (gosh, does that ever sound clinical!).  If they initially needed ten minutes to get the thrill, stress relief, or sense of self-worth, they will soon need an hour, or longer (in some cases it chews up several hours at a time). 

Typically, the sex acts viewed and/or engaged in will get further and further away from the model of a single monogamously committed couple.  If the spiral continues, the afflicted individual may discover that they are viewing child porn and/or violent porn to try and get stimulated.

The Journey is Never Without Hope

One can heal from porn addiction as well as the other negative PTSD behaviors.  It is never hopeless.  The journey back to self-respect, love, and trust, can be long and even painful.  But, it can be done.  Not every person will experience this healing because the healing journey is not easy.  The afflicted person may choose the path of least resistance, which in this case is also the path of the most destruction.

Why Did I Choose Porn As the Example?

I chose pornography as the case for exploration here because it is the one single destructive behavior that I encounter most when I am asked to try and help facilitate healing in a PTSD situation.  It is also one of the top search engine queries people look for in terms of PTSD and some other search term.  Even when college students have come to ask me for some advice about relationships, pornography is often the divisive wedge.   

Sometimes men will tell me their wife, partner, girlfriend said they are okay with their porn habit.  Usually, after some honest conversation, we discover the habit is only tolerated and they wish he would not do feed off the images of another woman or teenage girl.  For fear of an argument or rupture in the relationship, the one partner opts not to make waves about their real disdain for pornography and sex workers.  This avoidance plants the seed of a bigger rupture later on.

PTSD Behaviors: Wounds and Wounding

If a spouse or partner is consuming porn or engaged in adulterous affairs due to PTSD, then they are both wounded and wounding simultaneously.  The PTSD soul wound can encourage one to seek self-worth outside of their previously committed relationship, or simply outside their previous commitment to personal chastity.

The PTSD wounds the trauma survivor as a result of the self-dehumanization and self-humiliation that goes with consuming pornography.

The PTSD also wounds those who care about the trauma survivor, especially the spouse or partner, because the PTSD behavior damages their relationship and their own sense of self.

It is very hard for a spouse or partner not to feel degraded by the porn use of someone they love.  Even if they know enough about PTSD that the porn use and/or exploitation of sex workers is not intended to be a judgment on their own individual worth and sexuality as a human being, it still hurts. 

The left side of our brain, the analytical side, may say we intellectually know this behavior is the result of an illness.  It may understand this situation is not about a deficiency one has as a woman, spouse, or partner.  Meanwhile, the right side of our brain struggles with having been set aside for a ever-changing number of exploited sex workers.

Where Does the Responsibility Lie?

Ultimately, we are responsible for each and every one of our actions, whether or not diminished capacity or addictions are factored into the equation.

We are not automatons, robots, who must act a certain way and then are not accountable for what we have done.

We will still engage in damaging behaviors.  Some of those behaviors may be PTSD-initiated, some of them may be because we are selfish jerks, and sometimes it is a combination of the two.  Yet, regardless of the PTSD component, I remain responsible for my behavior.

We Can Heal

Healing can occur for those afflicted with PTSD.  It is not instant; usually it includes a repentance journey that may morph into a sanctification journey.

We have to arrive at an understanding that something is wrong.  If we get there, then we can begin to understand that our PTSD behaviors are not only harming us individually, but also others, such as our loved ones, and in the case of pornography, the exploited sex workers.

There May Be Relapses

Even if we have torn free from adverse PTSD behaviors, we may discover that in times of high stress, doubt, uncertainty, that we may lapse and dip back into the toxic trough of PTSD behaviors.  It happens.  If it does, then repent, and apologize to those you harmed, and get back on the sanctification journey.

If there is a lapse do not let it control you and force you to give up and go back to swimming in the muck.  We are human beings, we are fallible, but we can also recognize our situation and pursue healing and healthy relationships.

Bring God and Your Friend Into It

The majority of my worst PTSD behaviors are behind me.  It took a while, but they mostly are behind me.  When my physical pain levels are higher or I am under a higher level of stress or uncertainty than usual, I know I am more tempted to engage my former negative behaviors.   

If I lapse, returning to those behaviors only make me feel worse, never better.

If I talk to God about my situation, talk to my wife about it, and if I write about it in my personal journals, then I am less likely to lapse.  And, if I do lapse, I will be less likely to despair and give up.  Prayer, friendship, repentance, and forgiveness are powerful things.  It is no wonder that the PTSD-Identity tries to keep us separated from those healing moments of our lives.

Some Will Disagree

Some folks, especially those who financially benefit from porn, will disagree with what I have said in this essay.  That’s okay; the First Amendment works both ways. 

I discovered my views about pornography changed after I had my own daughters.  I would rather not see them exploited and treated like meat. 

If I hold those hopes for my own daughters, then I should extend this courtesy to the daughters of everyone else.

No Free Ticket

PTSD continues to ravage among us, a wolf amongst lambs.  We need not despair.  The journey is hard, but it is a journey from death to life and worth making, well worth making.

PTSD does not give us a free ticket to engage our baser appetites and then claim we are not responsible for those actions.  We are accountable for each of our actions. 

Negative PTSD behaviors generate actions and attitudes which are harmful to our individual selves and to those who care about us.  Even of we sin alone and in isolation, it still harms others across the board.

One of my prayers is that those who try to hide behind the very real soul wound of PTSD will discover the harm they may be inflicting on themselves and others.  The journey is hard enough when we are aware of what we are up against.  The journey is even more difficult if we try to say that we are not responsible for our actions. Neither should we delude ourselves into thinking our actions do not harm those who love us.

It is never too late to seek healing and forgiveness. 

I say the above not only for those who actually endured the reading of this essay, but for my own journey as well.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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