Shame is a foundational topic that we talk about all the time in my program, but it’s been a while since I’ve dedicated a whole podcast episode to it. Helping my clients wiggle out of shame is the very first thing we work on because when you’re stuck in it, it’s literally impossible to do the work to quit.
If you think back to the societal and familial messages you’ve received about what it means about you if you watch porn, how did they make you feel? Did you feel more able to quit? Did it fuel motivation? I’m guessing that’s a hard no, and this week, I’m showing you how these thoughts often actually lead to more porn use.
Listen in this week as I outline some shame-inducing thoughts about porn that you might be believing right now, but that simply aren’t facts. For so many people, shame is the root of their porn use, and I’m inviting you to notice how you show up when you’re drowning in shame, and recognize that choosing shame is completely optional.
You are listening to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast episode 37, Shame 2.0.
Welcome to the Overcome Pornography For Good podcast where we take a research-based, trauma informed and results focused approach to quitting porn. This approach has been revolutionary and changed thousands and thousands of lives. I’m your host, Sara Brewer.
Hey everyone, welcome to the podcast episode this week. I’m so glad you're here. By the time this podcast is released, it will be the last week of the month, which means that the program Overcome Pornography For Good is open for October.
So if you have been waiting to join Overcome Pornography For Good, I want you to know that now's your chance. Now you can come in and get in. If you're on the wait list, you should have gotten an email. You can just go to sarabrewer.com/workwithme to sign up and we can get going on the program.
Today, I want to dive into shame, again. This is a big thing that we talk about often on the program. But it's been a while since we dedicated a podcast episode to it. And why this is so important for me to talk about so often is because shame, when you're stuck in shame, you just can't do the work to get out of pornography. When you're stuck in shame you can't quit pornography.
How shame works is I have clients who come to me and say, “I'm not motivated, I'm struggling. I can't get myself to do any of the work. I can't process urges. I'm just struggling so much. I could barely get myself to this call. I just can't do it.” And when they say this to me, I usually ask them, “What are your main emotions when you think about quitting pornography?” They'll say something like, “Frustration. I'm just not good enough. I'm so disappointed.”
And this question is so revealing and such a great question to give you an idea of where you're at when it comes to quitting pornography. This question, what are my main emotions around quitting porn? And when you answer that question, look at those emotions that you've listed. And I want you to notice that those emotions are driving your actions.
Those are emotions are what's driving, it's like the fuel for you for quitting porn. And so if the emotions are frustration, disappointment, that's not very good fuel, you're going to run out pretty quickly. You're not going to take the action that you need to quit porn, you're going to stay stuck. Okay, the actions aren't important, until we have emotions that will sustain those actions.
So if your main emotions around quitting porn are commitment and faith, those emotions will bring much better and sustainable action than shame, disappointment, frustration. And I see this over and over and over again, you literally cannot do the work to quit porn if you're stuck in shame.
And I want you to have this visual and think about it like sticky mud. You can't do anything else until you get out of that sticky mud. It's what it's like to be stuck in shame. Shame is hiding, avoiding, more buffering. Those are the actions that come from shame. And so when I feel shame in my body, like for me personally when I feel shame, I do, I feel stuck. It feels like I'm stuck hiding, avoiding, more buffering.
For those of you who are religious, I know specifically in LDS doctrine we talk about Adam and Eve. And when we tell that story, a part of it is they take the fruit. And one of the first things that the adversary says to them is “Hide, hide yourselves. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You took that fruit, you should be ashamed of yourselves.” That was his very first message to them, hide.
And I want you to think of that, for those of you who are religious I want you to think of that in regards to religion and spirituality. Sometimes we think of shame as a message from God. And shame is God telling us that we need to fix something. I don't believe that for one second because shame, the actions are hiding, avoiding, more buffering, more stuck. I really believe shame is the message from the adversary.
Now, God can tell us, “Hey, this doesn't quite line up with your value system. Maybe there's something we can do to change here.” But his message is never there's something wrong with me, there's something wrong with you. Which is the message that comes from shame.
Which leads me to my next point, shame comes from our thoughts about what it means about us if we look at porn. So hopefully we understand now that shame keeps us stuck. Shame doesn't help us quit porn. Shame is the very first thing that I always work on with my clients because we can't make progress unless we're able to start wiggling out of the shame.
Second is that the shame comes from our thoughts about what it means about us if we look at porn. And we've received so many messages over the years about what it means about us if we look at porn. Think about over the pulpit, messages you’ve received over the pulpit. Mormon messages for those of you who used to watch those videos. Mormon messages, there are some on pornography.
Messages we've received from family. So many messages from the world about what it means if you look at pornography, from your community about what it means about you if you look at pornography. And often the intention is good with these messages, they're trying to do good.
And often the intention is good, but often the fruits are shameful and make things even worse. So I asked you guys on my Instagram, my Instagram profile, I did a story and I said, “Tell me, what are your thoughts when you think, what does it mean about me if I look at porn?” And I got so many responses, but I'm going to read some of the most common ones.
What does it mean about me if I look at porn? I'm a horrible father. I'm a horrible husband. I'm selfish. I'm not a good follower of Christ. I'm a sinner. It's shameful. We shouldn't talk about it. It's as addictive as drugs. I've stopped progressing, I can't progress spiritually until I quit this. I'm a pervert. I'm not spiritual enough. I'm destroying my life. This is second only to murder, like how we sometimes interpret that scripture.
I am disgusting and horrible. I am destined to a lifelong battle with this. I'm not able to raise a family. I'm a bad person. I'm weak and lazy. I'm broken. I lack control. I’m not a spiritual person. I will become a pedophile. And this one, when you say it out loud it sounds kind of crazy. But it's crazy that the messages I receive like this, that if you look at porn you're going to become a pedophile. That's one of these belief systems that's going around too.
It's like adultery. I'm unworthy of the Holy Ghost. You're going to hell. I’m no longer worth it. And what was interesting to me is this specific one I got from a woman, I'm no longer worth it. Which is so interesting to me because it seems like women, for you who are my listeners who are women, the messages we've received from the world is that our value is based off of perceived purity. It’s this purity culture stuff, I’m not worth it if I’m not pure, and I'm not pure if I've looked at pornography.
Now really, let's sit with these messages for a minute. How do you feel when we say these messages about what it means about me if I look at porn? Are you feeling more able to quit after receiving these messages? Or are you feeling a little bit frozen? Are you feeling a little down? Do you feel less able and more like a horrible person?
And this is why, these messages that we've received, this is why so many people are against anti-porn material. They're so sick of the shameful messages. And I get a lot of angry people who comment on my Facebook ads, who comment to me and send me messages on my profile who are so against anti-porn material. And they call me stuff like Bible pusher and profiting off of people’s shame.
And honestly, I kind of get it. I kind of get why they're so upset. And I don't have anything against them because I get it. And obviously, I mean, too I know they obviously haven't listened to me and how I teach quitting porn or they wouldn't associate me with those things. But I get it because so much of the messages around pornography, quitting pornography is so shameful that it creates more harm than the occasional porn use. It really does.
So first thing is I just want you to start recognizing these messages that you've received about pornography. And then once you've recognized those, you can notice how you show up when you think about porn this way.
Well, every time that one of my clients slips up I have them fill out this learn and move on worksheet where we kind of look at what was going on in the brain and we really dive into what was happening to see if we can find patterns and what we can do differently and what we need to work on.
And this client, he did this worksheet and he noticed, he recognized at the beginning of the day he was reading some anti-porn material. And what that material brought up for him was a lot of shame, and worry, and fear. And it ended up depressing him and he binged for a few days.
And as he was looking back at that scenario and looking back at what happened, he was really surprised when he realized that the root of that episode was the shame. And him reading and really getting into a lot of the anti-porn material brought on a lot of that shame and brought on a lot of those shameful thoughts.
And I see this all the time, I see this all the time with my clients. Many, many, many porn episodes, the root of them is shame. Okay, so notice how you show up when you think about pornography this way. And then I want you to recognize that these messages that you've received are not just fact.
Now, I'm not here to tell you what to think, or what to think about these messages, or what messages to hold on to and what messages to let go of. I'm just here to help you recognize that, first off, maybe some of these aren't helping you and maybe some of these are making you show up in a worse way. And then I want to show you that these messages are not just facts.
And this can be really mind blowing as we go back, and we look at this whole list. Not one of these is just a fact. It's not like we can go and prove one of these in court. They're all beliefs and thoughts, none of them are facts. So let's go through some of these.
It's not just a fact that if you look at porn, you're a horrible father and husband. That's one way to look at it. That's one choice. But there are so many people who don't see it that way at all. There's a whole spectrum of beliefs here. Some people view it recreationally their whole life and they don't have a problem with it even if they’re husbands and fathers. Some people decide, “I am a good dad and a good husband because I'm trying to quit.”
There are so many dads and husbands who aren't trying to quit. And I'm not a horrible father and husband because I'm viewing this. I'm a great husband and father because I'm trying to quit. And like I said, I'm not here telling you which one you should believe. But I just want to show you that there are choices. There are options and your shame inducing thoughts and conditioning is not just a fact. It's just one option of how to look at it.
It's not just a fact that if you look at porn, you're selfish. That's not just fact, there are other options here. I have a weakness, or more neutral, I just like this. I’m not selfish, but I like this. This is something I like. Other options, I have selfish tendencies, but it's not who I am. I'm not just selfish, I have selfish tendencies. You see the difference there?
Let's keep going through these and looking at these examples. So, I'm not a good follower of Christ, I'm a sinner. That's not just a fact, we can't just go and prove that. Other people think of it differently. Great followers of Christ also struggle with pornography. I am an amazing follower of Christ because I'm trying to change and I'm listening to this podcast. The purpose of life isn't to be perfect. I'm a great follower of Christ because I have weaknesses.
Another one, it says addictive as drugs. Even with this one, even with this one, this is not just a fact. And we've talked about this in previous episodes. But right now the scientific community has no consensus on whether or not you can become addicted to porn.
Now, that doesn't mean you don't have compulsions to view, or strong desires to view. In fact, I'm not here to say whether or not you can become addicted to it. I don't know, I don't think that I have the knowledge or the expertise to say that. But the thing here is that, notice that even scientists can't agree here. Scientists cannot agree that pornography is as addictive as drugs.
There's a lot of evidence that shows that it's not. There's some evidence that shows that it is. And what this means is that you get to decide how to think about this however helps you best. So if it helps you best to think about it that it’s as addictive as drugs, use it. I find with most of my clients, it's not a very helpful belief. You get to choose whether or not you want to believe that. We can't just go and prove that one, that's not just a fact.
Okay, another one. It's not just a fact that I've stopped progressing and I can't progress spiritually until I quit this. This isn't just a fact either. In fact, I personally know many people, many, many, many people who have progressed spiritually despite struggling with porn.
Maybe having a weakness and working through it, like pornography, helps you progress spiritually. And doesn't this message, “I just can't progress until I quit this,” doesn't that sound like a direct message from the adversary? Of course he would want you to think that, “Oh, you're stuck. Sorry. Can't progress spiritually until you figure this out.” I just imagine God being like, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, no. Don't shut me out. You can progress, don't listen to that. I'm here.”
I could just go on and on with these beliefs. This is second only to murder. Again, that is optional, that's not just a fact. And I think it's a misconstrued interpretation of the scriptures. But notice that this is second only to murder, again, this isn't just a fact. And this is an optional way to think about it and you can keep it, or you can start to wiggle out of it.
It's not just true you're a bad person if you look at porn, that's also optional. When I ask my clients, “Do you know good people who have looked at porn? Or who have struggled with porn? Or good people who are struggling with porn right now?” And almost all of the time they say yes.
I am weak and lazy because I look at porn, again, optional. There are probably many, many strong and not lazy people who struggle with porn. I will become a pedophile because I've struggled with porn. And again, I just I need to address this one because I think some of you, well I know some of you really do believe this.
I had a comment on one of my Instagram posts recently that was like this. It was like, “Every use of pornography leads to pedophilia.” And I just want you to know that that is also very optional and extreme, and just not true. Okay, think about this factually. We cannot go to the courthouse and prove that if you look at pornography, you're going to become a pedophile. If this were true, oh, our world would be horrible if that was true. 90% of people on earth would be pedophiles.
It's like the Ted Bundy one I hear, right? People always say, “Hey, Ted Bundy struggled with porn. If you struggle with porn, you might end up like Ted Bundy.” You guys, don't listen to that. Don't listen to that anymore. It's so shame inducing. It's so shame inducing. It's just not true. I understand it's just people trying to use fear to get you to quit. And if fear worked, I would say yeah, maybe let's use it. But it never works. It never works. So I want you to know that that's not true.
Sure, maybe every pedophile or Ted Bundy character has looked at porn and struggled with porn. But not everyone who struggled with porn has become that and very, very, very few, few, few people become that. So that's not true. Or, I mean, I guess that's optional. You can believe that if you would like to.
I told you I'm not going to tell you what to believe. I really mean that. I really mean that, I don't want to tell you what to believe. But I just want to show you that one is optional too. That is not just a fact.
I'm unworthy of the Holy Ghost. Did you also know that this one is optional? This one is also optional. One thing that I hear from my clients is they're like, “I was at church, and I felt the spirit. Or I was praying, and I felt the spirit, but I'm still struggling with porn.” And then it's like a light bulb moment for them. They're like, “This is evidence that I'm not horrible and that God hasn't just abandoned me until I quit this.”
So you can even decide to question that a little bit, that I'm unworthy of the Holy Ghost. It's not just true that you're no longer worth it if you’ve viewed pornography. You can't just go and prove that. I talk often about other ways to look at it.
What I really believe is that viewing pornography has nothing to do with your worth. And there are people who are so loved, and so wanted, and so clean, and so good, who have struggled with pornography. Pornography has nothing to do with your worth. That's an optional way to view it.
And especially, I mean, I think both men and women struggle with that belief that I'm less than now, I'm not as virtuous or pure because I've struggled with this. But I especially want to just mention this to my female followers. To my woman followers, this just is not true. There are many people who are so loved, and wanted, and clean, and good who have viewed pornography.
Even these other big ones that seem to be really entrenched in religion, you're going to hell because you’ve viewed pornography. This is one I heard from one of my Catholic followers. I just want to say about this too, is that I understand how painful and ingrained these beliefs are. And they're probably not going to just switch off like you can switch off a light switch, even after you notice that they're painful and harmful to you.
And that's okay, they don't need to just change quickly. But I want to start opening up your mind to the idea that there are other possible ways to think about it. You get to believe anything that you want to about pornography. So make sure that what you believe about it is helping you to live the life you want to.
Those shameful thoughts are probably not doing it for you. And so you have the freedom, the agency, the ability to choose to think about porn in a way that will help you quit, to choose to think about porn in non-shameful ways. You have permission to do that.
Another way to combat this shame is to recognize that one weakness does not have to define your whole being. So often we think, “I looked at porn, or I look at porn, so everything about me is bad.” Instead of, “There are really good parts of me. And there are some bad parts of me. There are good parts and rough parts. And those bad parts of me can be there and I can still feel good about myself.”
I just saw a TikTok of someone talking about how their childhood was ruined because one of their childhood heroes, they found out that their childhood heroes had done some things that were bad, had messed up in some ways.
And this TikTok, this girl goes on to explain, “My generation doesn't have any role models because we can't handle this idea that people have good and bad. And so if anyone does something bad, it's like we just push away all of the good and we don't allow ourselves to look up to the parts that we really like and that are good about these people.”
And I loved that, I really resonated with this idea. There are good parts of people and there are bad parts of people. It's not like there are good people and bad people. The older we get the more we realize it's not that black and white.
And so that's true with you too. There are good parts of you and there are parts of you that struggle with stuff. And you can have those bad parts and those parts of you that struggle and still be a good person. It’s okay to have bad habits, even the habit of pornography.
And if you're stuck in the shame, if it's really hard to get out of the shame, you're stuck in shame cycles and in bingeing from shame, I want you to just start wiggling. Imagine being stuck in that shame mud, you're just really stuck in there, really deep in there. I just want you to start wiggling.
Just wiggle a little bit, just start wiggling these beliefs a little bit. Try on some of these beliefs. Just notice that you can maybe start to think about things a little bit differently. You might need to wiggle yourself out. In fact, most the time when we're stuck in sticky mud you need to wiggle a little bit, you can't just step right out.
So wiggle those thoughts around, maybe I'm wrong that I'm not worth it anymore. Maybe I'm wrong that I'm going to hell. Maybe I'm wrong that I'm a bad person and a horrible husband and a horrible father. Or thoughts like maybe it's true that good people struggle with porn. Maybe it's possible that some of these things are true. Maybe it's possible that I don't have to feel shame about this.
And if you have reservations about this, it might be because you still think that the shame is useful. Which is fine, I mean, even that belief that we need shame to quit, that can be a very ingrained belief that you just need to start wiggling out of. But I want to tell you, from my experience with the hundreds of clients that I've worked with, and I've seen over and over and over and over again, is that shame is not useful when it comes to quitting porn. And you'll be able to quit porn so much easier, so much quicker, so much better if you can learn to wiggle out of that shame.
Sometimes we think if I get out of the shame, I'm just going to start justifying and keep looking. But it's not either shame or justification, there's so much in between. There's worthiness. Worthiness helps you quit porn and it's not shame or justification, it's there in the middle. Neutrality helps you quit porn. Commitment helps you quit porn. It's not shame or justification. And whenever you're in the shame, whenever you're stuck in that mud, we just need to start wiggling ourselves out of it.
Okay, I hope that this was useful to you guys. And I hope too, one other thing I just want to say about the shame is that it's okay to feel shame, and you're never going to not feel shame. Brené Brown says only sociopaths don't feel shame. And so shame is okay, but let's just start not believing all of the shame. But let's just start practicing wiggling out of that shame. Let's just start practicing not believing every shameful thought that comes up.
The shame might just come, but we don't have to believe it. And we don't have to go straight into those shame cycles. We can practice and learn how to get out of that. It takes some inner deep work, but it's definitely doable.
All right, you guys have a great week. Love you all so much. Talk to you next week.
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.