As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Jill Manning has observed patterns and characteristics among individuals in the grips of pornography addiction. This has taught her “much about the path out of that battle and how to fortify our homes and families.”
Highlighting those characteristics in a recent Church News interview, Manning spoke to what those characteristics teach about the path to healing and resilience.
“When dealing with dark or heavy topics, I have learned the importance of the gospel principle of contrasting and dividing light from darkness, and truth from lies,” she said. “Just as heavenly stars are best seen in a pitch-black sky, so can a discussion about pornography help us achieve a laser-like focus on light and truth necessary for combating its influence and recognizing Who and what are on our side.”
Manning — who in addition to her clinical work is a researcher, author, consultant, speaker and activist — noted that it is a diverse group of individuals who struggle with this issue. “However, I cannot deny the predominant patterns and correlations that my colleagues and I see and that will apply to many.”
Church News podcast: Protection from pornography — Licensed therapist offers 5 action points for parents and hope for healing
Sharing a quote from Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank, Manning said “a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” She called the five characteristics “candles in the dark.” She also identified “a positive and healing principle” or learning to accompany each of the five characteristics:
• The first characteristic is a lack of education about healthy sexuality and marital intimacy. In response, parents should actively teach children about these things to fill that void.
It is important to make sure that children are not in a vacuum on such important topics as sanctity of the body, marital intimacy and healthy sexuality, Manning said. “We know that far too many parents are remaining reticent to teach these topics in their homes,” she said.
Matthew O. Richardson, a BYU professor and former member of the Sunday School general presidency, surveyed a group of active young adults and found that only 15% considered their parents to be the primary source of information regarding sexual topics, Manning said. “We know that pornography distorts truth about bodies, gender and sexuality. Whereas a faithful parent doing his or her best to teach these things arm youth with truth about bodies, gender and healthy sexuality.”
• The second characteristic is pornography use was normalized by someone in their family or social circle. In response, parents should testify and bear witness of their values and what they believe about pornography specifically.
Those who are addicted to pornography often have someone in their family or social circle — a parent, a sibling, a cousin, a close friend, someone in their sphere — who normalized pornography use, Manning said. “And the way that lands for them is they erroneously believe that makes it OK; if this person that I love and trust is involved in this, then is OK.”
Manning said it is important to testify and bear witness. “We miss out on an opportunity when our children don’t know where we stand,” she said. “We don’t want that to be a best-kept secret.”
• Third, Manning has observed that mental health issues are often intertwined with the problem of pornography addiction. In response, these issues should be identified and treated.
“One study actually found that 75% of those that are struggling with compulsive pornography use have one or more mental health issues that have never been properly diagnosed or treated,” Manning said.
Some of the most common mental health issues could include ADHD, depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, chemical dependency, impulse control disorder, post traumatic stress disorder or attachment disorders.
“The takeaway is to treat those things, to intervene as early on as possible to make sure that people are getting the adequate skills, and sometimes medical treatments, necessary to be as strong and healthy and resilient as possible.”
Manning said there’s often stigma or shame around seeking help, “that somehow we’re spiritually weak, or we’re not doing life right if we need that kind of help. And that’s just simply not the case.”
• The fourth characteristic of those who struggle with a pornography addiction is that they had access to pornography. In response, parents should take all necessary steps to protect themselves and their families against the harms of pornography.
Manning said it is not enough to just shut out that which is evil and destructive. “We should also be having discussions as a family about what we seeking,” she said. “I think this is an area of smart parenting and healthy living that is simply necessary in today’s world.”
Research suggests that parents just need to have a reasonable working knowledge of technology. “I need to be taking my role of righteous leadership in the home seriously. There’s no room for hypocrisy when it comes to media use. It’s modeling and showing a good example of what we, as adults, are taking in and using and the steps we’re taking to protect ourselves.”
• The fifth characteristic in those struggling with pornography addiction is the vast majority have experienced trauma of some kind in their background, said Manning. In response, families should promote healing.
Many who deal with pornography addiction have experience significant trauma — including physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect or something that interrupted the ability to process emotions appropriately in healthy ways, she said. These types of traumas create vulnerability to get sucked in to the influence of pornography, which becomes a way to regulate emotions, escape stress or self-soothe loneliness, she added. “We should encourage those who need help to heal those traumas and get the support that they need.”
Manning emphasized that “there is hope and healing” from pornography addiction. “Is it hard work and a difficult road? Yes. It’s not easy to overcome something that becomes so entrenched into our brain and heart and system. But there have never before been so many resources, never been so much research and tools available to understand this issue.”
If a person is willing to put in the spiritual and mental work, they can overcome an addiction to pornography, she testified. “There is hope, there is light, and there is help.”