Episode 18: Self-Concept and Addiction

Uncategorized May 16, 2021


We’ve talked about describing your porn habit as an addiction before on the podcast. It’s so easy to categorize our behavior as an addiction, but the truth is, when we think we’re addicted, we leave ourselves feeling disempowered and without agency. And today, I think it’s important we discuss this topic as it relates to your self-concept.

Your self-concept has way more to do with your pornography usage than you might think. Just like you might think of yourself as socially awkward, you’re going to pick up on all of the awkward things you do, and even justify them to yourself as, “That’s just who I am.” And while that’s fairly harmless, when we do it with our porn habit, it makes solving for it really tricky.

Join me on the podcast this week to discover why describing yourself as an addict might be making overcoming pornography even more difficult than it already is. I’m sharing how I classify an addiction, and I’m giving you the tools you need to change your self-concept, so you can start to become somebody who just doesn’t need porn to feel happy.

I have amazing news. If you want to take the work I’m sharing on the podcast deeper, I’m running a masterclass called The Top 3 Mistakes That Keep You Stuck in Pornography and it’s 100% free! All you have to do is sign up here and I will see you there. 

What You'll Learn from this Episode:   

  • Why whether viewing porn can actually cause addiction or not is as yet undecided.
  • The different levels of involvement with pornography.
  • Why using the term addiction to describe your pornography habit might be hindering your progress.
  • My criteria for calling something an addiction, and how to know whether the term "addiction" is right for your situation.
  • The difference between addiction mindset and growth mindset.
  • How to change your self-concept and give yourself the best chance of overcoming pornography for good.


Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast episode 18, Self-Concept and Addiction.

Welcome to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast, the show that will teach you how 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 and faith-based coach.

Hey everyone, I hope you’re having a great week. Welcome to the podcast episode this week. I’m really excited to share this topic of self-concept and addiction with you.

Now, we’ve already had a whole podcast episode on addiction and the term addicted. And we really dive into, “Am I addicted?” And we talk about the criteria of addiction and how to know if you’re actually addicted and the pros and cons of using that label for yourself.

Y’all know my opinion is that we use the term addiction way too liberally in our culture. And that’s okay, but I want to dive into this a little bit more. This is kind of part two. We’re going to talk about addiction and we’re going to talk about your whole self-concept in general and why that is such an important thing to be aware of when you’re trying to quit pornography.

Really quick before we dive into all of that, I just want to share a review that was left on my Apple Podcast platform. It says, “Sara has the most empowering view when overcoming pornography. I’ve struggled with porn habits on and off my whole life and every person I’ve spoken to has provided me the same thoughts and views that have never really worked long-term. Sara’s podcast helps introduce new ideas that will help change the way you view yourself and your struggles. Great podcast.”

Thank you so much for leaving that review for me. I say this every episode but I so appreciate it. I just wish I could give you all a big personal thank you and a thank you card for leaving these reviews because it really helps me reach more people who want this content.

So, if you haven’t left a review for me yet, I would love it if you would just take one minute. It honestly just takes a quick minute there on your Apple Podcasts to go and leave a rating and review.

I get this question a lot, so I might as well just talk about it here on the podcast. But I always get this question. So, how did you get into this and what inspired you to go and devote your coaching to helping people quit pornography?

And this review kind of reminded me of that why when he says, “And every person I have spoken to has provided me the same thoughts and views that have never really worked long-term.”

So, when I first began coaching, I started working with returned missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I saw a big need there, people who needed a lot of help, just like I needed a lot of help after my missionary service.

What I found though is that most returned missionaries would come to me asking for help to stop viewing pornography. And so I was like, “Yeah, sure, we can totally work on that.” And I used these tools that I was certified in and that I’ve been studying for a long time and they worked so well with the pornography.

They worked so much better than anything else that my clients had tried in the past. And we were all just amazed at the results and how it didn’t just, you know, help them quit porn for a little bit, but really dove into it and got to the root of the problem so they could learn how to handle any urges for pornography and feel in control, instead of really afraid of these urges that they would get.

So, that’s how I got into it is I just started coaching returning missionaries. So many people wanted help with pornography. And when I started coaching them with these tools, they worked a lot better than anything else that they’d tried before.

So, if this is you, if you’re like, “I’ve just tried a lot to quit pornography and it seems like no matter what I do, nothing works,” I want to encourage you to keep looking and to keep listening and to come listen to this podcast and realize that just because it’s not working right now, doesn’t mean that it won’ tin the future. And just because you haven’t figured it out right now, doesn’t mean that you won’t in the future. Absolutely you can.

So, let’s get into this topic today, self-concept and addiction. Alright. So, I first want to mention that the Instagram account Shame-Free Chastity shared a lot of data around pornography this last week that has inspired me to talk about this a little bit more in depth in my podcast. And I want to encourage you to go, if you want to go see the data in depth, if you want the sources for the data – jeez, I mean, if you’re trying to quit porn, go follow Shame-Free Chastity. I’ll have them link her in my show notes. It’s an Instagram account. She’s awesome.

So, here is what she posted about the data around pornography addiction. This is what the data says. It says, at present, the scientific community has not reached a consensus around whether or not people may become addicted to or compulsive in use of pornography.

So, right now, the scientific community hasn’t reached an agreement whether or not people can get addicted. Even so, even though there hasn’t been that consensus, even so, a substantial number of people report feeling that their use of pornography is dysregulated or out of control. And I’m sure that’s most of you here listening to the podcast who are struggling with pornography.

So, even though we can’t say yet people can become addicted or compulsive in using pornography, many people report feeling that their porn is dysregulated, their porn use is out of control and dysregulated.

But right now, the field is divided about the nature of pornography with a great deal of contention related to whether or not pornography can be seen as addictive.

So, that’s just really interesting to notice right away is that the scientific community, there’s not really an agreement whether or not people can be addicted to it. And it sounds like there’s a lot of contention related here. So, let’s just notice that first. Right now, the data is very divisive. And I’m not here to tell you whether or not you’re addicted or if pornography addiction is a thing. I just want to show you that the data, that there’s not really a consensus here.

I can’t answer that question. But what I can help you do is I can help you decide whether or not calling yourself addicted is helpful to you and give you permission to stop calling yourself addicted if it’s not serving you. That’s the purpose of this.

So, I also love – she also did a post on these different levels of involvement with pornography. Elder Oaks came out and put a whole article together in one of the church magazines on these different levels of involvement with pornography. I love this.

Let me just share with you parts of that talk. So, there are four different levels of involvement with pornography. The first is inadvertent exposure. So, just being exposed to pornography. The second is occasional use. I don’t know how you would define occasional. A couple times a month. A couple times a week. A couple times a year, whatever. There’s intensive use. And then there’s compulsive use.

Here’s what Elder Oaks has to say about this, “Most young men and women who struggle with pornography are not addicted. If behavior is incorrectly classified as an addiction, the user may think he or she has lost agency and the capacity to overcome the problem.” This is what I talked a little bit about in that last podcast Am I Addicted?

Like, if we think we have lost our agency and that we’re addicted, sometimes that tends for us to lose the capacity to overcome the problem. Actually, not sometimes. Most of the time.

“This can weaken our resolve to recover and repent. On the other hand, having a clear understanding of the depth of the problem, that it might not be as ingrained or extreme as feared can give hope and increased capacity to discontinue.”

This is why I speak a lot about – I used to do these free masterclasses on how your brain works and why your brain likes pornography. When we really understand how you’ve subconsciously trained your brain to want pornography, you can see very clearly that this is something that can be changed.

And just because your brain wants pornography right now, it’s not like, “Oh no, now my mind’s broken and now something is unsolvable.” But our brains are very malleable. And just like we trained ourselves to want pornography, we can train ourselves not to want pornography.

Elder Oaks also says this. He says, “Finally, it is important not to label even intensive or habitual use of pornography as an addiction because that does not accurately describe the circumstances or the full nature of the required repentance and recovery. Do not condemn them. They are not without hope.”

So, I love this perspective and I agree with it, that he says it’s important to not label even intensive or habitual use of pornography as an addiction. And I’m going to talk about that more here as we keep going through this content in this podcast episode.

But even if your pornography use is compulsive, it might not be helpful for you to label it as an addiction. So, you guys know my criteria for addiction that I talked about in the other podcast episode on addiction, is if it’s keeping you from living a normal functioning life.

I don’t take clients – it’s kind of out of my scope to take clients who their pornography habit is keeping them from living a normal functioning life. And what that means is like you can’t hold a job, can’t have relationships, you’re putting yourself in a lot of harm and dangerous situations. That’s maybe when I would start to classify it as an addiction.

But that’s not, you know, maybe you miss a couple of classes a couple of times because of pornography. Or maybe you feel depressed and anxious around it. That’s not what I would call non-functioning, you know. It’s personal. You have to look at it for yourself. But that’s kind of the criteria that I have for addiction. If it’s keeping you from living a normal functioning life, I mean, I would really doubt that that is most of you listening to this podcast.

I just think there’s a really big problem when we use the term addiction so liberally that, you know, someone who is 15 years old goes and looks at porn a couple of times then really wants it afterwards, feels this pull to go look at pornography and then they start calling themselves addicted. That’s when it becomes a part of the way that we define ourselves. And how we define ourselves will create our actions.

So, we’ll get more into that here in a second. But this is why I say, whatever helps you the most, use that. So, if it’s helpful for you to call it an addiction, use that. It can totally be helpful for some people to call it an addiction. But for a lot of you, for most people, it probably isn’t.

So, ask yourself, when I call myself addicted, how do I feel? Do I feel empowered? Or when I call myself addicted, do I feel stuck and out of control?

If you’re feeling stuck and out of control, it’s not helpful for you. If it makes you feel like, “Oh, okay, this is something that I can go get help with,” and it helps you live a better life, then keep it.

But here’s what I want you to be careful of. There is an addiction mindset and growth mindset. Shame-Free Chastity talked about this last week too. Be careful.

So, addiction mindset says that you cannot change your behavior around something that feels addictive. Addiction mindset says that behavior is fixed and unchangeable. Like I said, there may be a little 15-year-old who looks at porn a couple of times and is like, “Oh my gosh, now I’ve ruined my life.” That’s addiction mindset.

Growth mindset is that you believe that you can change, you believe that nothing is permanent, and you believe that you are a growing human being who is not destined to struggle with porn forever.

Like I said before, you subconsciously trained yourself to want pornography, which means that you can train ourself to not want porn. And listen, if using that term addiction is helpful for you, you can still say you’re addicted and not have an addiction mindset. You can call yourself addicted and have a growth mindset over an addiction mindset.

Remember, an addiction mindset is like behavior is fixed, unchanged, you cannot change your behavior if something feels addictive. People quit addictions. You can too. Like I said, you guys know my perspective here, I don’t think it’s helpful for most of you to call yourself addicted. But if you want to hold onto that, you can still hold onto that and have a growth mindset.

So, let’s relate this to our self-concept and talk about self-concept for a minute. So, your self-concept is just how you see yourself. So, it’s your thoughts about yourself, your beliefs about yourself, what you think about yourself, how you view yourself.

What’s so fascinating about your self-concept is that your self-concept will create the results in your life. So, the results in your life, what you have in your life comes from how you see yourself, always. Always, always, always, your self-concept always creates the results in your life.

So, for example, if you tell yourself that you’re a newbie, if your self-concept is I’m a newbie, you see yourself as a newbie, you’re going to show up and act like a newbie.

If you say to yourself, “I’m awkward in social situations,” and your self-concept and you just see yourself as someone who’s awkward in social situations. You will show up awkward in social situations.

If your self-concept is, “I’m addicted to pornography,” you’re going to show up and act like someone who’s addicted to pornography. If you say, “I struggle with pornography,” you’re going to show up as someone who struggles with pornography.

If you see yourself as a healthy person, you will do healthy person things. Naturally, it will just kind of happen and it will be a part of your life easily because that’s how you see yourself.

If you see yourself as an unhealthy person, someone who isn’t good at being healthy, you will do unhealthy things. This is why your beliefs about yourself are so much more important than anything you do.

So, really quickly, I want to mention, if you are someone who has decided that using that label addiction isn’t helping you and you don’t want to call yourself addicted anymore, be careful not to use the addiction terms that I hear, “I relapsed. Or I was sober for two months,” or whatever. Just watch out for those addiction terms. That will create this addiction mindset for you.

Instead of relapse, you can just simply say, “I went and looked at porn again.” Instead of, “I was sober for seven days,” you can just say, “I didn’t view porn for seven days.” Do you see the difference there? Those terms relapse and sober, they just have this addiction identity around it. And that’s what we want to work on. We want to work on getting rid of that addiction identity because you’re probably not addicted.

And again, this is why your beliefs about yourself are so important. If we try to change our actions and to try to get different results without changing our beliefs about ourselves, it won’t sustain, it won’t hold through.

And this is a conversation that I have with my clients all the time. Listen, the goal here isn’t to just not look at porn. The goal here is to have complete identity shifts, have complete self-concept shifts to start to see yourself a different way. Because if you don’t see yourself a different way, you might be able to quit the porn for a little bit.

But if you still see yourself as someone who struggles with pornography, you’ll always go back to it, always. So, whatever it is in your life that you’re trying to change, maybe you’re trying to change an eating habit or trying to work out more or trying to, I don’t know, get better scores on your tests, this is so big, you guys. This is going to change so many of your lives.

If you can focus on changing your beliefs about yourself more than you focus on changing your actions, or at least the same – we’ve also got to change our actions. But if you can focus on changing your beliefs about yourself, that will change everything for you. And you will be able to change so much quicker if you can start to change your thoughts about yourself and your self-concept about yourself over just what you’re doing.

So, how? How do we change our self-concept? I want to give you a few principles here that will really help you. Number one, first is that we think our self-concept, we think how we view ourselves, we think that it’s just an observation, that it’s just a fact.

But they’re not. So, for example, we think that it’s just a fact that we’re just observing ourselves and we’re just awkward in social situations. But that’s not a fact. You cannot prove that you are awkward in social situations.

You can prove that you stumbled on words or you can prove that you said something specific. Maybe you asked someone if they’re pregnant. You can prove that you did that. But, “I’m awkward in social situations,” is your interpretation.

We’ve already talked about how you can’t prove that you’re addicted to pornography. No one can prove that. But you can prove that maybe you viewed it every day. But addiction is still your interpretation.

Other people will not interpret viewing pornography every day as addicted. Just like other people wouldn’t prove that you stumbled on your words or asked someone if they’re pregnant that you’re just an awkward person. That’s your interpretation.

You can’t prove that you’re unhealthy. You can prove that you’ve had In-N-Out three times that week and worked out once this month or haven’t worked out this year, whatever. But, “I’m unhealthy,” that’s something that you’re choosing to interpret that as. Not everyone who eats In-N-Out three times that week will interpret that as being unhealthy. I’m sure there are a lot of people who are into health and fitness who eat In-N-Out multiple times a week and just fit it in with their meal plan. So, that’s really important.

Number one is that we think that our self-concept is just our observation, but really, they’re not. They’re just a way that we’re choosing to interpret our facts.

And not only can you not prove these observations. But a lot of times, they’re exaggerated views of ourselves. So, for example, a couple years ago, I had to do a lot of work on this belief I had about myself, this self-concept I had about myself that I’m just not good at following through with myself and I don’t keep commitments to myself and I’m not good at following through with myself.

And I thought that that was just a fact, right? I just thought that I was observing myself and it was just like, “Oh, this is just something I need to work on, that I don’t follow through with myself.”

When I really dove into this, what I realized is that I followed through with 80% of the stuff I said I was going to do. I woke up when I told myself I was going to wake up. I took care of the kids when I told myself I was going to take care of the kids. I showed up for my business when I said I was going to show up for my business and I followed through with that schedule.

I didn’t follow through with myself when I told myself I was going to work out and when I told myself – I don’t remember what it was. It was like cleaning the kitchen or something. So, I didn’t show up for myself when I said I was going to work out and I didn’t show up for myself when I said I was going to clean the kitchen.

But I was making those two things, that 20% mean everything about me. I used that 20% to create a whole identity for myself. Isn’t that crazy? Even though I followed through with 80% of the things I said I was going to do, that 20% that I didn’t do, I made that my whole identity. And then, I kept showing up that way. And I kept showing up as a person who didn’t follow through with her commitments to herself because that’s just how I saw myself.

And once I saw that exaggeration, it gave me permission to choose a different self-concept where, hey, I’m great at following through with myself and I’m learning to follow through with myself when it comes to working out.

But I’m usually great at it and I’m working on figuring out this one part of it. Do you see how different that is, instead of, “I just don’t follow through with myself and I’m not good at keeping commitments to myself?”

I follow through with myself most of the time and I’m working on this one little piece of it. So different. Okay, so maybe if you’re telling yourself you’re awkward, you look at the facts, really all you did is ask a lady once if she was pregnant. That doesn’t have to mean that you’re having this whole identity as an awkward person.

Or maybe you feel uncomfortable in social situations. But feeling uncomfortable in social situations doesn’t equal awkwardness. Do you see what I’m saying? Or maybe you’re seeing yourself as unhealthy but in reality, you’re healthy, whatever that means, healthy 70% of the time. That’s pretty good.

I guarantee you, no matter where you are, where you’re at with your health, there are people who would look at you and say, “Hey, they’re pretty healthy compared to where I’m at.” There’s someone in the world who would say that. They’re pretty healthy compared to where I’m at.

Really, your self-concept is just a choice. It’s not something that you just observe. Your thoughts about yourself, how you see yourself are just a choice. Unhealthy, addiction, awkward, they all mean something different to different people.

So I want to give you permission to interpret your actions in a way that is good for your self-concept. You can interpret your actions in a way that will create the future that you want, instead of interpreting your actions as this is just who I am.

So here’s some examples, here’s how you can do that. Keep this in mind. You can - I’m going to say this again because it’s so big and so important. You can interpret your actions in a way that will create the future that you want.

So instead of I’m awkward in social situations, maybe I’m just a normal person and normal people sometimes say stuff that they regret. Maybe sometimes everyone stumbles a little bit. Maybe I’m just a lovable person and I just say what comes to my mind and that’s what’s so lovable about me.

Or you can have this growth mindset. I’m learning. Instead of I’m just awkward, I’m learning to be comfortable around people. Instead of this self-concept, I’m just unhealthy, maybe I’m just someone who likes a lot of In-N-Out. You see the difference there? There’s this label of I’m unhealthy versus I just like In-N-Out a lot so I eat it a lot.

Or this growth mindset, I’m learning to take care of my body. Instead of I’m just unhealthy, I’m learning to take care of my body. Instead of I’m addicted, instead of I’m just addicted to pornography, you can say, my brain is giving my urges to view porn. See how that totally takes the label out of it? Or I’m becoming someone who doesn’t want porn.

Instead of I really struggle with pornography, I’m becoming someone who doesn’t want porn. I’m going through the fire of learning to quit porn. Define yourself for who you want to be instead of defining yourself by who you don’t want to be.

So many of us, we have these self-concepts that are not who we want to be. Stop defining yourself by that then. Define yourself by who you want to be. Create a self-concept that is who you want to be, and you can do that without being perfect already, or without having those habits that you want to have yet.

You can create that self-concept without having the proof. If I were to say this in a little bit of a different way, so instead of saying I’m a med school student, you can say I’m becoming a well-renowned surgeon. Do you feel the difference there and the power behind that?

Defining ourselves by who we want to be, not defining ourselves by who we are or who we were in the past. Not I’m a med school student but I’m becoming a well-renowned surgeon. You don’t have to say this to anyone else if you don’t want to right now, but at least start saying it to yourself.

Or instead of I have a side gig, I’m creating a six-figure business or seven-figure business. Instead of I’m joining a gym, what if you said instead, I’m creating an amazing, healthy life. Or instead of I’m dating around and the dating game is hard, how about I’m working towards an amazing, beautiful future relationship.

I’m struggling with pornography to I’m learning how to stop viewing pornography. Your self-concept, how you view yourself matters. And it is the most important thing when it comes to creating the future that we want.

Instead of I’m a constant disappointment or I’m constantly disappointing my wife, know what a harsh self-concept that is. How about I am a human being who is learning and growing, sometimes I do things that don’t align with my values, that’s okay, but I am a human being who’s learning to quit pornography, I am learning to follow through with myself. I’m proud of myself for trying to quit.

Not a lot of people try to quit. And then I love all of these things about me, all of these other things that make me a great spouse and a great partner and a great human. Your self-concept is completely in your control. Even if your habits and your life isn’t exactly how you want it yet, your self-concept can be exactly how you want it.

You can choose to view yourself however you want and the better that you view yourself, the easier it will be to quit pornography. This is why that addiction label is so destructive. Just bringing it right back around.

If you do not want to be someone who’s addicted to pornography, I want to invite you to start changing that self-concept. Alright you guys, have a great week, we’ll talk to you next week. Bye-bye.

If you’re ready to apply what you’re hearing in this podcast and finally overcome pornography for good, I’d love to be your coach. I’ve created a virtual program with the intent to give you everything that you need to quit. Once you join, you have lifetime access to the content and lifetime access to individual support through coaching calls and coaching boards. For more information check out sarabrewer.com/workwithme.

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