My father never taught me to understand my emotional needs. This led to disaster in my life, and I knew I wanted to model a healthier path for my son. I wanted to leave a better legacy to my children.
It was only as an adult, while in recovery from pornography addiction, that I learned the importance of recognizing and meeting emotional needs. I also discovered that my lack of addressing emotions was a root cause to my compulsive pornography use.
Emotional Skills to Avoid Addiction
Pornography is far more enticing than it was when I was a boy. As a father, I wanted my son to have skills that would enable him to avoid the addictive effects of pornography. I knew his best chance would be to learn to meet his own emotional needs through relationships. Reality had to meet his emotional needs in ways fantasy could not. He needed to know that emotions are good and expressing feelings makes men stronger. Avoiding addiction requires authentic connection with others.
Johann Hari author of the New York Times best-selling book “Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” affirms this idea, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” Dr Mark Laaser, certified sex addiction specialist and therapist, puts it this way, “Sex [and pornography] addiction is a relationship disorder.” Relationships brought me out of addiction, and I believed connectedness could keep my son from falling into it.
For a boy to understand that he has emotional needs, he must first learn to distinguish the different emotions he is feeling. When our son, Lucas, was in grade school, my wife and I would model expressing our emotions.
Emotional Modeling Scripts
For example, if I messed up a project at work and my employer was unhappy with me, I would come home and express my feelings in words that Lucas would understand at whatever age he was. When he was especially young, that meant saying nothing more than, “I feel sad today.” As he got older I might share that “I felt like a failure” or “I felt unappreciated.” I would usually say these things to my wife, but made sure Lucas was in the room when I did. Then I would be sure to explain what had happened that left me feeling down.
After expressing my emotions, I needed to show my son what it looks like to process or work through them. In the example of doing poorly at work, I would typically hug my wife, then say something like, “Maybe I’ll call one of my friends and talk about it because that might make me feel better.” The point being, emotions are not to be stuffed but talked through with safe people.
By doing this I was showing him:
a) men have feelings
b) men can express feelings without anger
c) men can take responsibility for reaching out to find comfort
d) men can find comfort from sharing their feelings with other men.
Most importantly, I was showing Lucas that negative feelings can be coped with in positive ways.
My Son Internalized My Emotional Modeling
Lucas listened to me express my feelings long before he shared his own. Then, when he was in fifth or sixth grade, he came to me after school saying, “I just feel sad today for some reason.” I know this may sound insensitive, but I was actually very excited to hear him say that. He had internalized what I was modeling!
I hugged my son and said, “I’m sorry to hear that. There are days we feel sad; it’s okay to feel sad sometimes.” As parents, we don’t need to make our children feel better. I acknowledged and validated his feeling, all the while knowing this was the beginning of a new journey we would take together.
Read the next post by John Fort, Block Porn Interest: A Proactive Parenting Plan.
When you listen to your kid, you are showing them your love. And you are creating safety in your relationship because your kids are learning that you are willing to hear what they think. We’ve made this question asking activity simple for you. To get 23 Questions to Inspire Fun Family Conversations, CLICK HERE or on the image at the bottom of the post.
John W Fort is the author of Father-Son Accountability: Integrity Through Relationship, a book for parents wanting to prevent pornography addiction in their children. John has seven years experience working with men in recovery from sexual addiction, with an emphasis on the millennial generation. He is the Director of Parents 4 Purity for Pure Life Alliance (a new relational education program for parents and teens), Northwest Regional Director of Gateway to Freedom for Be Broken (a three day intensive workshop for men in recovery from sexual addiction) and the Director of Pure Community (an online portal connecting families affected by compulsive sexual behavior with healing communities and resources across the nation).
John and his wife, Anna, both speak on issues related to recovery through relationship. They have been married 24 years and have two young adult children.