If you’ve been a listener here for any length of time, you’ve likely heard me talk about the destructive nature of shame everywhere in life, but especially when trying to quit pornography. The shame spiral not only leaves you feeling like there’s something inherently wrong with you, but it can lead to a sense of apathy.
If you feel like you’re never doing enough in your attempt to overcome pornography, or you’re starting to feel like you don’t care anymore and that’s adding to your feeling of shame, listen in this week. The shame apathy trap can make us think we just need to care more and do more, but I’m showing you how that’s the wrong place to focus on.
You are listening to the Overcome Pornography for Good podcast episode 27, Shame Apathy Trap.
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 everyone, welcome to the podcast episode this week. If you can hear my little guy singing and yelling in the background, they're just leaving for daycare. So they won't be in the background of this whole episode. But you might hear him here for a second. He's quieted down now. So I don't know if you can even hear him. He's pretty cute.
He is three and we're potty training right now. Actually, we tried to start potty training like three months ago. And obviously, it just has not gone that well. So we're trying again, this is like round three. I'm sure we're doing it all wrong. I'm sure there's a way better way to do it. But hey, we're first time parents and doing the best we can.
He is not that excited about going potty on the toilet. And I'm trying everything. I'm out of ideas with how to encourage him. I'm telling him, “Hey, we're going to go to preschool in the fall and we have to learn how to go potty so we can go to preschool. We can't go to preschool unless we go potty.” Which is true, they won't let them come unless they're potty trained.
And I'm telling him we can go buy new toys if you can just go potty on the toilet. You can play games on your iPad. I have a little iPad for him that we use for road trips. He doesn't really ever use it except for road trips, and I thought that would encourage him and it's just not. We'll see. We'll see how that goes. I'll give you an update.
It's kind of funny when you get to be a parent and the most exciting thing you have to talk about is potty training. Like the big, exciting things in my life are my kids, and potty training, and my business, and this coaching business, and this podcast, and working with my clients and doing all this work that I love so much. Those are the exciting things going on.
But let's hop into our topic for today, which is the shame apathy trap. And before we really dive into that I just want to share another review that I received from one of you this last week.
“I've been struggling since an early age and have tried everything numerous times to quit. Accountability apps, accountability blocking apps, et cetera. Nothing really changed until I came upon this podcast. For the first time in my life I feel like I have a chance to actually beat this habit.
Though I am not a Mormon, I have to encourage anyone of the Christian faith to try this podcast. As you listen and dive deeper in the podcast you will find the chance at freedom to be more and more of a possibility. Please, if you are hurting and have tried everything, please check out this podcast because there is definitely something God placed here that has helped me and I know it's helping more people.”
Yeah, thank you so much. I so appreciate that review. I really, really do. And I just wanted to highlight that this podcast and this content is of course for anyone, doesn't matter their faith. Sometimes I speak from this LDS background just because that's my background.
And when I started coaching many clients have this LDS background. But of course, all of this applies for anyone, anywhere. Christian or not Christian, or with some Christian background. Really just anyone who wants to quit viewing pornography.
And thank you for leaving me a review. Again, it just helps me get my message out to more people. So if you haven't done that yet, I'd really appreciate it if you went and left me a quick review there. It just takes a minute on iTunes.
So the shame apathy trap. This is something that I started to notice before I even started coaching. When I was getting really into coaching and really into learning all this stuff for myself. I mean, before I started coaching other people, I was getting coached all the time and really learning all this material and totally changing my own life. And I started to notice this in myself.
And then as I began coaching other people, I saw it over and over and over and over again. So I'll explain what this is. But a little bit of my story, my background is I began coaching return missionaries. That's how I started because my return mission experience was so hard.
I went and I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It's an 18 month mission and I loved every second of it. I know not everyone has a great experience, but I had a real great experience.
And coming home was so, so, so hard. I felt a lost sense of purpose. I felt like I wasn't prepared to come home. I felt nervous about becoming a real adult. I felt like I wasn't living up to what I should be doing. Just a whole bunch of emotions.
And then I got married a little bit after coming home. And after being married for a couple years and finishing up school that's when I found coaching. And it really started to help me. But, anyways, a couple years after that I started coaching return missionaries. And this shame apathy trap, I saw over and over and over again.
And I saw pornography, people who wanted help with pornography come up over and over and over and over again. Many, many people, the hardest thing about coming home was pornography use that resurfaced. There's a lot of shame and negative emotion about that coming up. They’re like, “I quit before my mission. I told myself I was done with porn, and then I came home and I'm just back to where I was.” That was really hard for a lot of people.
And so when they came to me and they liked what I was sharing about coaching, I had multiple people come and say, “Hey, can you help me with my porn habit?” And I said, “Yeah, let's do it. Let's coach on this porn habit.”
And these coaching tools, and these coaching skills, and the buffering, and all the stuff that I teach, it worked so, so, so well for them. So much better than anything else that they tried, that I decided to do more and more and more people who were struggling with pornography and hone in my message a little bit to be more pornography specific. And I just kept seeing how it was helping so much more than any of the other resources out there for people struggle with pornography. And that's when we decided to make it just my main focus is pornography.
So anyways, this shame apathy trap comes up a lot for returning missionaries, for people starting with pornography, for people in relationships, for everywhere. Here's what it is, the shame apathy trap is first you have unmet expectations of yourself. So unmet expectations of yourself. You think, “There's something wrong with me.” You feel shame, and then you repeat that many, many times.
Unmet expectations of yourself, thinking something's wrong with you, feeling shame, over and over and over and over again, to where you begin to just feel apathy. Now, apathy is this feeling of I just don't really care anymore. The definition of apathy is just a lack of interest, lack of concern, lack of enthusiasm. It's like I don't really care anymore.
So what happens is you have these unmet expectations of yourself for so long, and you're feeling shame about it for so long. It's like you just get exhausted and your brain just gets tired. And it’d just like, “Whatever, we're just not going to care.” Because caring is creating a lot of pain.
Now, it's not the caring that's creating a lot of pain, it's the shame that's creating a lot of pain. But this is the pattern that we fall into. This is just one more reason that shame is so destructive anywhere. Whenever you're trying to change anything or just live a life, shame is so destructive. Especially when quitting pornography.
And remember, shame is this underlying belief that there's something wrong with me. There's something wrong with me. I'm not enough.
I'll never be enough, something's wrong. Something's wrong, I need to change so I can be more worthy of a person. So I can be enough.
So here's some examples of the shame apathy trap in action, what it looks like. So specifically with pornography you have unmet expectation of yourself. So maybe you start viewing porn again. And remember, we’re viewing pornography because it's a habit that we have, and it's because it's a way that we escape negative emotions. And if you haven't learned how to stop doing that, you're always going to go back to pornography.
So you start viewing pornography. You think, “Oh, what's wrong with me? Why am I doing this? I'm such an idiot.” You feel shame because of those thoughts. And you repeat that. Repeat, repeat, repeat for a long time, or maybe not way long, but you repeat it enough times where you're viewing porn and beating yourself up, feeling shame. Viewing porn, beating yourself up, feeling shame, probably going through the process of trying to quit. Not able to quit, beating yourself up because you're not able to quit, feeling shame. Shame, shame, shame.
And eventually you feel apathy. You just kind of give up and you stop caring because you've been in this shame cycle, the shame spiral for so long. In spirituality I see this a lot in a lot of returned missionaries, and I've experienced this too.
We have our list, right? Especially in these high involved religions, like the LDS religion. We have our list of all the things that we're supposed to do. Like read scriptures, pray, go to the temple, fast. Minister, we're supposed to fulfill our church callings. Go to firesides and extra meetings, watch General Conference, wear your garments.
On and on and on and on and on. And if you're not careful, if you're not watching your brain, it can start to tell you you're never doing enough. And it can seem like you're never doing enough.
Now, that's not the religion’s fault. It's the way that we're thinking about it and it's our inability to manage those emotions and to make decisions for ourselves, what's best for ourself. But, I mean, if you haven't learned how to do that, and if you're not careful watching your brain, it gets really easy to fall into this, what's wrong with me? Why can I be better? I'm never enough shame.
Especially with return missionaries. This is why I saw it come up all the time with return missionaries. Because they had this like spiritual high experience for a couple of years, come home, and they have these unmet expectations of themselves. I should be reading my scriptures and I’m not. I should be feeling the spirit more and I'm not. I should be going to the temple more, and I'm not.
They're not meeting these high expectations of themselves. Because they're not meeting those high expectations they're thinking, “Something's wrong with me. Why can't I be better? I’m never enough.” Those thoughts bring shame and then they repeat that.
Time goes by and they do that over and over and over again to themselves and they see more stuff, see just more evidence that I'm not doing enough, something's wrong with me. And they feel shame. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and then their brain just kind of gives up on the shame. They're like, “I don't care, it's easier to not care. So we're just going to feel apathy, I'm not going to care anymore.”
We also see this in relationships. You have some unmet expectations of yourself. I’m not around as much as I want to be. I’m not as attractive as I want to be I'm not making as much money as I want to be. I'm not making the other person happy enough. And you think because of these things I'm not good enough and I'll never be good enough.
You feel shame and you repeat that over and over and over again, “I’m not making the other person happy enough, I’m not good enough.” And then eventually it just kind of turns into apathy. It's easier to not care than it is to feel shame all the time.
Are you noticing this pattern in you? Even if it's more subtle, do you notice this? So this shame apathy trap, when we notice it, what do we do? What do we do about this? How can we start to get a handle on this?
So the first thing is always awareness. It's amazing what awareness will do for you. And as you start to become aware of this is what's happening in your life, it'll give you power over it. Awareness is just, when you're trying to do anything, it's that first great step that we tend to overlook.
I am thinking of a time where I was really sad, and I didn't have any interest in anything. Nothing interested me and I felt numb a lot of the time. And I kept thinking, “There's something wrong with me, there's something wrong with me.”
Until I put a word to it, which was depression. Then it changed from “There’s something wrong with me” to “Oh, I'm experiencing some depression right now, this makes sense.” And that awareness, it changed everything. With that awareness I could actually start to heal, and to change, and to start to feel better.
I have a friend who's been experiencing some hard things in a relationship. And they felt like they were discredited, and they felt crazy around this person. But they felt normal around other people. And then one day, they discovered this term gas lighting.
And it was like this light bulb moment. Oh, that's what's happening, that makes sense. And after just noticing and learning this word and learning this new vocabulary, it offered her awareness that she needed so that she could take steps to changing their involvement in this relationship so that it was a lot healthier for her.
Okay, so that's number one, is we just want to be aware. We want to gain this awareness. And that's a lot of the purpose of this podcast, is to help you all become more aware of what's happening so that you can start to have power and to change it.
So number two is that the root is shame. Often when this happens, we want to solve the apathy. We think the root is the apathy, the not caring. So we need to start caring more and I need to come on, just buck up some more interest and more motivation to start doing more things. And let's care more.
But then you can't really do that very well and then you feel shame for not caring. And it just kind of repeats the cycle. So if the root is shame, we need to focus on healing the shame, not the apathy. As you begin to heal the shame the apathy will go away with it.
So how I encourage my clients to do this is to drop expectations and to focus on feeling enough, without expecting yourself to change anything. You can feel good enough without changing what you're doing.
And doing that will help you make changes way quicker and way easier and way faster than if you are trying to change so that you can finally feel good enough. Does that make sense?
I did this a lot with spiritual clients. If they could drop the shoulds, I should do all these things, I should be doing more. And if they could just focus on feeling close to God, they were able to get out of this shame apathy trap.
Whereas if they were just trying to fix the apathy, “Okay, I don't really care about anything spiritually, religiously right now. So I should start doing more. I should start reading more. I should start going to the temple more. I should start going to more church meetings.” Whatever it is, whenever they started focusing on doing more, they were never able to get out of that trap. And it just kind of kept them stuck in there.
So we need to fix the root, which is the shame. So if we can drop all the shoulds like, “It's okay, I am enough as I am.” And only focus on feeling close to God, whatever that looked like for them. Not like I should feel close to God if I do this, but like how can I actually feel close to God? Make that their goal, they were able to gather shame apathy trap.
So what does that look like to drop the shoulds with pornography? A lot of you have thoughts like, “I shouldn't still be struggling with this. And I should never ever look at pornography again.” I want you to be willing to question those and be willing to drop those.
Maybe instead, thoughts like, “I am enough as I am. My worth is not defined by whether or not I view pornography. My worth isn't up for discussion.” And really think about that, isn't that the message of Christ? It’s like your worth isn't up for discussion. And I've proved that by dying for you and by giving my blood for you. You can think maybe nothing is wrong with me. Maybe I am good enough.
I got this beautiful message for my client this last week that said,
“I used to convince myself that I was a bad and horrible person that couldn't quit porn. And what a freaking lie that was. Maybe I am still a good man. Maybe I am still a good man, maybe porn is just something that I've used to cope with. Maybe there's nothing wrong with me. And maybe I can still quit this.”
And I understand that this can be really tricky to get out of, especially if you're so used to thinking this way and feeling shame about yourself this way. That's why I always recommend a coach for diving into these beliefs and working on changing that shame. That's really going to get you the furthest, is having someone to talk it out with.
But the truth is here, you guys, that you get to think about your pornography use any way that you want to. That's what agency is. You get to choose to think about it any way that you want to. So many of you think that you're supposed to think about it in a shameful way. What if you were wrong?
Because what we see over and over and over and over again, is that shame is more destructive than anything when it comes to quitting porn. And if you've listened to my podcast episodes you know I talk about this a lot, how shame actually influences our porn habit and makes it worse. And you get to think about pornography use any way that you want to.
We know that this is true. There are so many people who view porn and don't think of it in a shameful way and are just thinking, “This is just normal. And this is fine. And yeah, I like this in my life.” And that's fine, you can think of it that way if you want to. You don't have to think of it that way if you want to.
And I'm not saying it's either, “Oh, this is fine and great.” Or “Oh, this is so shameful.” There's some middle ground here, which is what I'm always kind of trying to encourage my clients to get to, is the middle ground. But can you give yourself permission to drop the shame?
If you really see how the shame is causing more negative results, and more porn use, and apathy. In this case, in this shame apathy trap you can see that the result of shame is not good. So can we give ourselves permission to drop it?
And when you learn how to drop the shame, the apathy, getting rid of the apathy, dropping the apathy will follow. That's one of the first thing I ask my clients when they come to me and they're like, “I just stopped caring. I just stopped caring, I don't even care anymore.” I always ask them, “Why?” Why, why, why? We really dive into that.
And the root behind it is usually because I'm just not good enough and I'm so tired of feeling so bad about myself. So if you can drop the shame, drop the expectations. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm wrong, that I shouldn't be struggling with this still. Maybe I'm wrong that there's something wrong with me, that will help you drop the apathy as well.
And this is true with spirituality as well. If we can drop the shoulds and just focus on feeling God. You know, not, “I should feel God when I read my scriptures.” But like, “How can I actually feel close to God today? How can I actually make feeling close to God the easiest?” Instead of just trying to hit all the check marks. If you just feel close to him, that's your only agenda, is to feel close to him. You'll get out of that shame apathy trap.
And the other result of that is that you'll start to do more of those check mark things. Not because you're supposed to, but because they come naturally to you as you feel closer to God. It's really this concept of just changing from the inside out instead of trying to change from the outside in.
And it's the same with pornography. And I know this might feel a little bit counterintuitive. But when you drop all of the shoulds, I should do this, I should do this, I shouldn't still be having this. I should never slip up again.
When you're able to drop those shoulds, you are much more able to quit porn. And you're not trying to quit porn from a place of there's something wrong with me and I need to change this. But you're quitting porn because you're in a better place emotionally, which means that you're actually able to do the work.
And I see this all the time, my clients who are willing to drop all of the shame makes so much more progress than my clients who just want to hold on to the shame. Every single time.
I once heard an interview with an LDS sex therapist, and she was answering questions that came in for her. And one question was from this woman who said to her, “My husband has been struggling with pornography and he's been struggling with a long time. And he's always been really worried about it.
And his brother also struggled with pornography. And his family really kind of ostracized his brother for this habit and kind of pushed him away. And there was a lot of fear and worry in my husband that they were going to do the thing to him. And he had a lot of shame about it. And he's just been trying so hard to quit. And he has never been able to figure out how to quit and it's been years and years and years.
And recently he decided he was just going to go pray for like a whole day. He was just going to pray until he got an answer from God on how to quit. And he went and he prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. And he came home to me. And what he told me is he said, “God told me I was okay. And God told me I'm okay where I'm at.”
And this woman, she was like, “What? I don't think God would tell you that.” She was really concerned. She was like, “That doesn't sound right.” But what happened is very soon after this, this man was able to quit viewing pornography. He was able to totally quit. And so this question, this woman's question to this LDS sex therapist was like, “Is that okay? He was able to quit, but his message was like, I'm okay. I'm okay, where I'm at. I don't know, what are your thoughts? Is that okay?”
And the sex therapist, I loved her response. She just said, “I don't know. I don't know if that's okay or not. But what I do know is that the result of that is a way better result than he'd ever gotten before when he was stuck in all this there's something wrong with me, and I'm not okay.”
And that's really what this is all about. We're focused on the result here. What will get you the best result when it comes to quitting pornography? And what I'm seeing over and over and over again is dropping the shame and dropping the shoulds leads to better results when it comes to quitting pornography. Just kind of as outlined in this story that I heard over this podcast years ago.
You have to be careful, you have to be careful that you don't just go into justification. A lot of times we get rid of shame and if you're not careful it just goes into justification. And I’ll have to do a podcast episode on that. That's common to see that at the beginning, but it doesn't have to stay there, we can find some middle ground.
The reason it goes into justification is we don't think that there's another option and we don't really see what other options that are. So it's not either shame or justification. There's a lot of middle ground there, like love, and worthiness, and hope, and peace, and a lot of other options here.
Okay. All right, you guys. That is the shame apathy trap. I hope that you found that useful. Have a great week and 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.