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A man has his fingers on his forehead as his head begins to float away in several different pieces, like a puzzle.

One of the keys to understanding your sex addiction is to investigate and understand your trauma response. 

Trauma response is the way you react to trauma either during or after the event. These responses can be behavioral, emotional, somatic, cognitive, or a mix thereof. 

You may immediately experience symptoms after a traumatic experience, or they may arise later. These symptoms can manifest in many ways. 

For many, addictions develop as a means of escape or numb the feelings you have about the traumatic event. 

What is Trauma? 

When you hear the word “trauma,” what type of events do you imagine? 

Perhaps you imagine all of the people – bystanders, family members, first responders – who were impacted by the events of September 11th. Maybe you think of all the homes and lives destroyed in New Orleans after being swept away by Hurricane Katrina. 

For many, the term “trauma” conjures up images of devastating wars, internment camps, and violence. However, trauma isn’t so much about the event as it is about how you were able, or unable, to process that event.

Big T Trauma

This type of trauma is usually associated with catastrophic events such as rape, assault, school shootings, life-threatening accidents, war, or similar. 

Acute Big T trauma is associated with a singular event. Chronic Big T trauma is ongoing, such as domestic abuse. 

Little T Trauma

“Little t” traumas can be just as impactful as Big T traumas. Depending on the severity or timetable, they can even be more destructive long-term. 

These types of events often happen over a long period and are often overlooked. Having a traumatic event go unrecognized can cause severe distress.

Little t traumas that are common for those who are suffering from sex or porn addiction may include:

  • Lack of parental attunement
  • The feeling of rejection for personal authenticity
  • The grief brought on by a death of a pet or loved one
  • Sexual abuse
  • Feeling of rejection or abandonment by caregivers or other people
  • Being made to feel intellectually inadequate 
  • Lack of permission to pursue interests or hobbies

Trauma Responses 

When you experience a traumatic event, you may not control or understand your trauma response. 

During the experience, your brain goes into survival mode. Your brain will do anything in its power to shield itself from damage. This mode is controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Traumatic experiences or Adverse Developmental Experiences (ADE) can cause significant damage to your ANS. 

Anyone who has experienced trauma will react to triggers differently. You may experience panic, rage, anxiety, and a host of others when you become triggered. 

Trauma Triggers 

Triggers, much like the trauma responses, are broad and complex. A trigger is anything that brings you back to that moment or memory. It could be a car backfiring, a familiar smell, specific colors, or coat type. 

Whatever it is, it transports you emotionally and mentally back to some aspect of that experience. You may feel like you’re surviving it all over again. Triggers cause you to experience flashbacks and cause genuine distress.

When you are in a dangerous situation, your brain becomes overwhelmed. You will stop certain cognitive functions to cope with the situation. This is a version of the fight, flight, or freeze response. That response will also prevent your brain from dealing with the trauma right away. By not dealing with or healing from trauma, your brain allows you to survive. However, this function ultimately stunts your ability to recover.

It is essential that you learn how to identify your triggers and cope with them in a healthy manner. 

These trauma responses are varied and can be understood more easily when broken down into subcategories.

A child stares blankly ahead while his parents argue in the background. His father's hand is raised.

Witnessing violence in the home can have a profound impact on children.

Behavioral Responses

As a trauma response, you will alter your behaviors to cope with psychological and emotional stress. 

You may find yourself self-medicating with things like alcohol, drugs, or sex to try and distract or numb yourself from what you’re feeling.

Other common behavioral responses include:

  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors and activities
  • Avoiding the issue
  • Self-harm or self-injurious behavior
  • Reenactments of the traumatizing event

Emotional Dysregulation 

Emotional dysregulation is the difficulty or inability to manage intense emotions such as anger, grief, depression, panic, or loneliness. When you experience a negative or traumatic situation, you may find it challenging to recover from the severe and profound emotions brought on by it. 

You may find it especially difficult to regulate your emotions if you survived trauma at a young age.

Trauma can cause essentially two responses: numbness or overwhelm. Overwhelm can often result in substance use or dependence or other unhealthy coping mechanisms. In contrast, numbness can lead you to avoid addressing the situation or experience. However, not addressing the experience early on often results in trauma resurfacing in an intensified manner later in life. 

What lies in the middle is learning to work with your emotions and find solutions. When working to address sex addiction, the team at Begin Again Institute takes a trauma-focused approach. This approach guides you through your trauma and helps you develop healthy coping strategies and emotional regulation skills.

Somatic Responses 

Somatic means the body. When we experience a triggering or traumatic event, those feelings and emotions are physically stored in our bodies. These can lead to chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, illness, or other difficulties.

Understanding that your somatic experiences are a reaction to trauma and extreme stress is the first step towards healing. This trauma response is normal. It is what your mind assumes you need to survive your traumatic experience.

Cognitive Responses 

Trauma changes the way our brain looks at the world. One day everything is safe and routine. The next day going outside poses a threat to your safety and well-being. Often this is because you begin to misinterpret daily situations as threats when they trigger your traumatic response. 

Other common cognitive responses include:

  • Intrusive memories: You may become triggered while thinking about something that ties to the traumatic event, which leads to an intense emotional response.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame about the trauma: This is something that is often called “survivor’s guilt.” It is a feeling that either you deserved what happened to you or could have done something differently to prevent it.
  • Trauma-induced delusions or hallucinations: You may see, hear, smell, or taste something that takes you back into the traumatic memory. For example, the smell of a specific cologne may trigger you because the perpetrator who hurt you wore it. Whether it is there or imagined, you still have the same emotional response. 
  • Idealizing the perpetrator’s behavior: If a caregiver caused the trauma you experienced, you might find that you are trying to rationalize and explain their behavior. You may also form a trauma-bond where you develop an unhealthy attachment as a coping mechanism.

Is Sex Addiction a Trauma Response? 

Sex and pornography addiction is a trauma response. Understanding the neurobiology of sex addiction is the first step towards healing. 

Your brain creates the feel-good chemical dopamine when you experience sexual pleasure. That triggers the neurological reward system to train your brain that something feels satisfying and gratifying. The trigger is sexual pleasure. The reward is dopamine. Therefore you learn to repeat the action to get that same feeling.

Addiction arises when you use sexual pleasure as a means of self-soothing. For example, when you experience a trauma trigger, you use masturbation to calm yourself and cope with the emotional turmoil. To fully understand how trauma is linked to sex and porn addiction, read the book TINSA® written by the Begin Again Institute.

You can also join us for intensive healing at our 14-Day Men’s Intensive. The first step towards recovery is understanding that your sex addiction is a trauma response.

  • Category: Mental Health
  • By John Squires
  • March 24, 2021

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