Episode 42: Post-Mission Porn Use

Uncategorized Nov 01, 2021

This week, we’re diving into a topic that is extremely close to my heart. Missionary work is a huge part of our church where we spend two years from the age of 18 spreading the word of Jesus, and coming home and adjusting to post-mission life is a huge challenge.

My own post-missionary experience was difficult, to say the least, and this is how I found coaching. Returning missionaries often go through a myriad of challenging feelings, from depression and loneliness to a lost sense of purpose, and so they lean on porn use as a way to escape their inner turmoil. 

Join me on the podcast this week as I share the lessons I’ve learned in my work helping returning missionaries who struggle with porn use. I’m showing you why returning missionaries often struggle with porn, and I’m listing 8 things that are not effective in solving for porn use, and showing you what to do instead. 


I have amazing news. If you want to take the work I’m sharing on the podcast deeper, I’m running a masterclass
called How to Quit Viewing Pornography Even if You’ve Tried in the Past is 100% free! All you have to do is sign up here and I will see you there. 

What You'll Learn from this Episode: 

  • How working with return missionaries sparked my coaching business. 
  • What we need to understand about return missionaries and pornography use. 
  • Examples of the struggles returning missionaries use pornography to buffer from. 
  • How I help returning missionaries solve their porn use. 
  • Why pressure and shame are not effective ways to stop viewing porn. 

Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast episode 42, Post-Mission Porn Use.

Welcome to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast, the show that will teach you to stop viewing pornography and never go back to it. If you want to learn how to train your brain out of a pornography habit, completely shame-free, then this is the show for you. I’m your host Sara Brewer, a certified life coach and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Hey, you guys, welcome to the podcast episode this week. I am so excited today to talk to you about post-mission porn use, or pornography use after a missionary experience. That's what I mean when I say that. I worked with a lot of returned missionaries before I got into just focusing specifically on pornography work. So returned missionaries, they have my heart, I love them so much.

I got into coaching because my experience after my missionary experience was really difficult. It was really hard for me to come home, I had a lot of hard stuff that came up. And so I was like, “Oh, coaching is amazing. And it can help so many people, and it can specifically help returned missionaries.” So I went and worked with a bunch of returned missionaries.

And then I had lots and lots and lots of them come and talk to me, “Hey, I have this pornography use. Can you help me with this?” And that's when I realized, “Oh my gosh, this can help so well for anyone who's struggling with porn. Let's focus specifically on there.”

So I wanted to dedicate a whole episode to returned missionaries who are struggling with pornography use. And if you aren't a returned missionary, if you don't really even know what that means, that's okay, this will still really apply to you. So a lot of members of my church community, we serve 18 to two year missions is what we call them. It's kind of a big thing that we do, and it's a big sacrifice, and it's difficult to come home, like I mentioned. You do proselyting work, and you do service work, and just whatever else is needed out there.

So when I say returned missionary, it's just that person who has gone and done that 18 month to two year mission. If this is you, if you are an RM, RM stands for returned missionary. If you are an RM who's struggling with this, please feel free to share this with the people who are helping you, and working with you, and supporting you through this if you feel like it's helpful and if you feel like it's something that you would benefit from these people knowing.

So here's what we need to understand about returned missionaries and pornography use. We need to understand that missionaries don't come home and look at pornography because they're wild and sinful, because they're so excited to come home and get to do whatever the heck they want, because they're weak or not strong enough. They don't come home and look at it because they have no direction and they're just losing their way and they're falling off the path.

Missionaries come home and they struggle with pornography because pornography is an escape from negative emotion. Because they're experiencing a lot of negative emotion and they don't necessarily know what to do with it. I call this buffering.

I use this term buffering to explain activities that we do in order to escape negative emotion. So I mean, we all have buffering activities. When we feel negative emotion and we don't know what to do with it, we have these habits that help us escape.

So for example, maybe you eat a bunch of ice cream when you're feeling really stressed. Or you binge Netflix when you're feeling shame, to escape the shame. Or when you're lonely you over shop. Or when you're anxious you drink alcohol. There are tons of buffering activities and pornography is just one of those buffering activities.

People use porn as a buffer. So when you feel bad, you feel shame, lonely, sad, depressed, whatever, you use pornography as that quick escape. And so this is what most return missionaries do and that's why they struggle with porn.

And there might be a few outliers. So I'm kind of generalizing most RMs. But this is true for the majority of RMs that are struggling with pornography, and certainly true for all of the RMs that I've worked with and talk to that struggle with pornography.

And the thing about buffering activities is that, and especially for returned missionaries, the thing about buffering activities is that being told that it's bad doesn't help someone in a buffering activity. Okay? They know, they know that it's bad. They know why they shouldn't look at it. They know all of that.

But people in these activities and who are buffering, they feel bad about a lot of things in their life. And so even though, yes, they see that it's harmful, they see that it's bad, at least it's a little escape from them feeling so bad in themselves all the time, bad inside.

And so here are some examples of things that RMs buffer from with pornography. Depression, depression is super common in RMs. Loneliness, a lost sense of purpose. And I think that this lost sense of purpose plays into the depression and other stuff. Like you’ve spent two years of your life and right when you're 20 year old, when you're 19, 18. Is it 18 now? When you're 18, they go out when they're 18. When you're 18 years old, two years of your life is a huge chunk of your life.

So when they've gone out and had this purpose of serving and teaching people about Jesus, and they come home and they're not doing that anymore, it can be this really hard experience where you experience grief and a lost sense of purpose.

And I think the church is a lot better at this than when I came home from a mission. I think they're a lot better at helping prepare people to come home. But it can still be a really difficult experience.

RMs also might suffer from shame. They probably are suffering from shame. So many returned missionaries feel this, like there's something wrong with me. Especially if they started looking at pornography before. They’re like, “There's something wrong with me. Why did I look at this again? I know I should be better than this.” And it's just like this shame that they're feeling consistently in their gut, and they want an escape from it. And they know that porn gives them a little tiny escape for a minute.

They might be suffering from the feeling of inadequacy. Our culture is so obsessed with performance, like our world culture, or our Western culture is so obsessed with performance. But so are missions, missions are very performance oriented and very performance obsessed.

And so a lot of returned missionaries come home, and they feel like they're not doing enough. Because now they don't have the schedule, maybe they come home in a break when they're waiting for school to start. They don't really have anything to do, they don't have a job yet. They feel inadequate because they think they're not doing enough.

That's a big trigger for pornography use. And it's not because oh, all of a sudden, they became lazy. It's because they're feeling this inner turmoil inside and they need something to get rid of it. And that's this thing that they have that they just kind of go to, to escape that.

They might be buffering from regret. I mean we really romanticize the mission experience. Which can be good sometimes, but I think sometimes it does harm to really romanticize that because missionaries come home with regret of things that they did or things that they didn't do. They don't really know what to do with that.

And we don't really talk about it, all we talk about is how the mission is the best experience of your life. When it's not for return missionaries, it can be really painful. And so that might be something that they're buffering from, is that regret.

Or, I mean, fear of the future is a big one that causes us to buffer. Now we're home, we don't know what we're doing, we don't know what's in store for us. We know our friends are getting married or something and we're like, “Am I even ever going to get married?” There's a lot of fear of the future and you use pornography as a buffer from that.

And recently I had a friend who was talking to me about this experience for him. He had come home from his mission, and he struggled with pornography after his mission. And what was going on, and he didn't recognize it at the time, but looking back it's so, so clear to him.

He came home and he was experiencing a lot of shame, a lot of inadequacy, a lot of fear, a lot of judgment about himself. And honestly, that's something huge that so many returned missionaries struggle with, is so much judgment about themselves. They're very perfectionistic, want to be good, want to be good enough, want to be righteous, want to be all these things. And so they have a lot of judgment and feelings of inadequacy.

This friend was struggling with those, also struggling with some negative feelings about his mission and not sure who to talk to those feelings about. Everyone wanted to hear the great things about his mission, and he had a lot of inner turmoil about the things that really bothered him about his mission experience. He was very depressed.

And from that place, he started to use pornography again. But he didn't realize that that's what was going on. So when he started using pornography there was so much shame with that. What is wrong with me? I know better than this. This is just more evidence that I'm not good enough. Why am I doing this? I'm so stupid.

So much shame about the porn use. And what that shame did is, I talk about this often on the podcast, is creates these shame spirals where you look at pornography more because now, you're using pornography to buffer from the shame that you're feeling about the pornography use. You see, it's just like a spiral. It's really easy to get stuck in.

And so what did he do? What do you do if you struggle with porn as an RM? You go to your Bishop. You go talk to your Bishop, you see if he can help you, see if he can help you repent, help you change.

And, you guys, I don't know if I've said this on the podcast before, I say often in my classes, but I love bishops. I do, I love them. I just think that they are the salt of the earth. My dad is a young, single adult Bishop right now.

I think it's amazing that these Bishops, they sacrifice three to four to five years of their life. It's not a paid position, it's not a paid ministry, it's all volunteer. You spend all this time just trying to help, and work with, and counsel people. It's really a beautiful thing. I love bishops.

But unfortunately, this friend that I was talking to, he had a bishop who used a lot of shame and fear tactics that just kind of made that inner turmoil worse. It didn't help the inner turmoil, and now he's feeling unworthy, now he's feeling like God's really mad at him.

And these shame and fear tactics that he's already using on himself are kind of being used by someone outside of him. And the inner turmoil is just growing and building and didn't help. It just kind of made things worse. And this went on for a few months.

Finally he told some of his family members about it. And he went and he got some professional help. Went and talked to someone professionally. And he said, what was so interesting about that experience is that he didn't go in and talk to this professional about porn. He went and talked to this professional about the depression, about the shame, about the regret, about all of that inner stuff.

And what that did, is working through that, solved the pornography use. And he said it solved the majority of it. And then he still had to work through some stuff. Six months down the road there was a little bit of a slip up.

But now he experiences those same emotions and with different things that come up in his life. And he doesn't go to pornography, because he was able to fix that route to really work on the inner turmoil and learn how to manage those emotions instead of just reminding himself that porn is bad and trying to be more accountable and trying to quit.

So what's so important about this story to understand is that solving that inner turmoil solved the issue with pornography. And it solved it much better and much quicker than pressure and shame. We have to be very careful to not assume that when RMs come home and struggle with porn, that they just got lazy, or they just got rebellious, or they just got overindulgent. That's not usually what's happening.

So I want to give you a list of things not to do when working with an RM struggling with porn. Here's some things just to watch out for and to not do. Number one, don't say, “You can't progress until you fix this.” Those fear and those shame tactics, that's what that is. They don't work as well, especially for someone who's buffering, and especially for someone who's already feeling a lot of fear and shame in their lives.

And that's just not true, right? You can't progress until you fix this. It's just not true. There are tons of people who progress in their lives while they're working through a porn habit.

Number two, don't emphasize the porn use. And ask instead about their emotional wellbeing. Encourage help emotionally, whether that be from a therapist or from a coach. I know a lot of amazing coaches, I know a lot of amazing therapists that can help you work through this. And when we overemphasize the porn use, we're not really getting to the root of the problem.

Number three, avoid judgments about self-control. Listen, many return missionaries, most return missionaries have amazing self-control. If you went on a mission, this isn't an issue about self-control. I mean, for crying out loud, you're up every single morning at 6am. You're following a schedule, you're reading your scriptures every day, you're being really efficient with your time. It's crazy the amount of self-control returned missionaries have.

So this is much less about controlling your actions and much more about learning how to manage your emotions. A mission teaches you self-control, it doesn't necessarily teach you how to manage your emotions. So don't overemphasize the self-control. At least not this willpower self-control that we think of. Just stop, just stop, right? That's something a lot of returning missionaries hear. They're like, “Okay, but I don't know how. But I feel so bad, I don't know how to just stop.”

Number four, be wary of shame tactics. Like I've said, returned missionaries, they don't need to be told not to look at porn. They need to be taught how. And there is nothing wrong with them for using porn as a buffer. We all have buffers. And the less shame that they feel, the easier it will be for them to quit.

And remember here too that the opposite of shame isn't justification. It's not either they have to feel bad, or they will just justify and do whatever they want. There's a lot of in between. You can model for them and show them how to operate from worthiness, hope, grace and love instead of operating from shame or justification.

Okay, number five, don't mistake tough love with withholding love until they stop. Number six, be careful not to give porn too much power. When we use phrases like, “You better get out of this now or it's going to ruin the rest of your life.” Or throwing out terms like addicted, addiction, or telling horror stories about someone that you know who ruined their whole lives because they were looking at porn. All it does is it gives the pornography more power and it makes them feel more powerless.

So instead of focusing on that and giving the pornography all the power, focus on healing, and hope, and shower them. Shower them with the belief that they're going to be okay and that they're going to learn how to quit. Because the truth is, for everyone that looks at porn and ruins their life, there are 10 or more people who struggle with porn and learn to quit and are fine and figure it out.

Shower them, instead of focusing on that, shower them with the belief that they're going to be fine and they're going to learn how to quit and they're going to be okay. Especially because most returned missionaries are so fearful. They're like, “Have I ruined my life now? Am I ever going to be able to get out of this?” And when we use terms like addicted, it perpetuates that belief.

So instead of, “You better get out, or you're going to ruin your life.” “Of course, you're going to be able to quit. I understand this is hard for you and you can totally do this. I'm not worried about you. Do you want to quit? Then you'll be able to.

There are so many people who quit, you can too. This doesn't have to define your life; it's not going to define your life. This is something you're experiencing because you've had a really difficult experience coming home from your mission, and you've got this. Now, what do we need to do to help you? What do we need to do to help you heal?”

And then number seven, be careful not to use excessive pressure. Or at least be aware of what excessive pressure does. Sometimes we mistakenly think that if we put a lot of pressure on people to quit that they will. And unfortunately, it doesn't work. I've never seen it work. All the pressure does is maybe they can quit for a little bit longer. Maybe they can quit for a few months. But then they slip up and they view it more and more.

And really think about this, if the reason that returned missionaries are looking at porn is because they're buffering because they're running away from emotion. Pressure isn't the solution to buffering. Pressure isn't the solution to running away from your emotions and so it's not going to work. The solution to buffering is to look at those emotions with love and support and to get the help that you need to work through all of that inner turmoil.

And then number eight, lastly, be careful of all or nothing thinking. So when they do have a slip up, instead of saying, “Well crap, now we've got to start over.” You know, having the calendar, marking the days, and “Oh, you slipped up. Okay, we're going to start over.”

Instead, what we can do is we can learn from it, and we can try to figure out what's going on and ask, “Are you feeling any intense negative emotion? Is there something that came up? What happened? What do you think happened this time? What can we learn from this?” Instead of, “Oh, well crap, you slipped up and got to start over.”

I have a whole podcast episode on this all or nothing thinking so I won't dive much more into it. And one last thing I want to say is that with the hundreds of clients that I've worked with, not one, not one has quit from a place of fear and shame. In fact, my clients who stay the most stuck are still using those fear and shame tactics against themselves. Fear and shame have never been useful.

What helps returned missionaries quit is when they feel dignified, worthy, and heard. Not when they feel broken. When you feel broken, you act broken. And unfortunately, I mean, this is what I see with those returned missionaries all the time is that they come home, and they feel broken, even if they haven't looked at pornography yet.

They feel broken because it's a difficult transition and then they look at porn and they feel more broken. And then that porn follows after a period of time of feeling broken. So let's focus less on the porn habit and focus more on the healing and what's really going on inside for them.

Especially if someone is coming and talking to you. Like they want to quit, they're having a hard time with it, they need some help. They don't need lectures on why it's bad and why it's going to ruin their life.

Okay, you guys, these returned missionaries, they have my heart. I love working with them. I really, really love them. So I hope that this was helpful. Have a great week and we'll talk to you next week. Bye bye.

I want to invite you to come and listen to my free training called How to Quit Viewing Pornography Even if You've Tried in the Past. If you like the podcast, you will love this free training. We talk about, number one, how to not rely on willpower or phone filters so that you can actually stop wanting pornography.

Number two, how to guarantee that you won't fail no matter how many times you've tried in the past. And number three, how to feel good about yourself while becoming someone who doesn't struggle with pornography. You can access this training at sarabrewer.com/masterclass.


 

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