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Out of Isolation, into Joy


John Fort
author of
The Other Side of Black Rock

Unprepared
In the imaginary world of internet pornography, we are the very center of the universe. Everyone not only loves us but will do absolutely anything we want, exactly when we want and will even love us more the more we demand of them. Putting the sexual aspect aside, this creates a very warped view of how human interaction works. We become extremely selfish. Because we go to the internet when we feel needy in any way, we learn that relationships are about meeting our needs. The more time we spend in this artificial environment, the poorer our skills at negotiating real relationships become. We never have to learn to think of others' feelings or how to work through disagreements. Our relationship building skills are often frozen at the age we disappear into the imaginary world of the internet.

"Sex addiction is a
relationship
disorder."

—Dr. Mark Laaser
author of
Healing the Wounds
of Sexual Addiction
This leaves us ill prepared to deal with real humans in real, unfiltered life. We may not understand why, but relationships leave us feeling misunderstood and we don't seem to get anything of great value from them. The reason is, we are expecting the same kind of all-encompassing attention on ourselves, but real people are not going to give us that. They have needs too and want to be heard. Trying to negotiate relationships becomes difficult and even tedious. We are quick to see the faults of others and may be quick to point them out, if not directly, then indirectly to someone else. We do not, however, see our own selfish attitudes and unwillingness to actually care about anyone else we are around. This does not sit well with others, who are likely to rebuke us verbally or through body language, which we can easily interpret because it is nothing like what we have come to expect from our adoring Photoshop-generated fans online. The result is we feel hurt and the real people we tried to interact with feel hurt by us as well.

The Need is Still There
After experiencing a painful attempt at a relationship, we tend not to want to repeat the experience. The problem is, we are left feeling emotionally hurt and want deeply to be accepted by someone. In fact, these needs will feel very strong, almost overwhelming at times. We have two choices at this point, to go to our familiar online fantasy world, where no one is real but at least they won't hurt us, or seek acceptance from real people and risk getting hurt again.

Some of us try to "tough it out" and do neither. We want to be "good" and not return to pornography, but we are too afraid of real relationships to go there either. We end up isolating instead. Maybe we try to numb ourselves with television, computer games, or something similar. The problem is, isolating cannot meet our very real need to experience acceptance. We might manage to cover up that need for a while, but in time it will resurface with a vengeance and demand to be met. At that point it is too late to develop a plan for re-engaging with real people so the pull from our old friend, pornography, overwhelms us.

Deciding to Risk It
We don't like to admit we are so afraid of relationships. We make up all kinds of excuses like, "I just like to be alone." If that were true, we would not need pornography. The first step is to understand, admit, and finally own that we, in fact, are not good at relationships and that is why we avoid letting people get to know us. The solution is not to try to learn to be alone, that will leave us feeling completely empty. The solution is to risk getting hurt again and learn how to interact with others in a healthy, mutually beneficial way.

This will take some experimenting to get right. We have to learn the skills we missed out on when we were online in our fantasy world. The interpersonal skills we learned online will do us no good here in the real world. We first need to learn to SLOW DOWN. That is, put all our needs and agendas on the back burner for a while. Listen to others. Ask them questions. Don't expect to like everything they say. Don't act interested in them, become interested in them. Don't correct their mistakes, you have not earned the right to yet. Learn more about them before passing judgment on how they act. If they say something that we take as negative about ourselves, don't immediately turn them off. They might be right!

We should pause at this last idea. We have spent a life running away from relationships that didn't go how we wanted them to. It hasn't helped us in any way. We must learn how to accept some criticism without believing that we are "bad" people. Sometimes criticism is correct and we need to hear it to decide if we need to change something about how we behave. Other times it is completely incorrect. If criticism of us is incorrect, and we know it is not true, there is no reason to be upset by it. This thought may be completely foreign to us. But it is true. When someone says something negative about us that we know is not true, it is not required that we become upset. We can choose to be offended, but we can also choose to understand that the person who said it is simply incorrect. We do not even have to defend ourselves and try to correct them because, after all, their belief that we have done something wrong does not make it so. Rather than try to verbally correct someone, in many cases it is better to show them over the long term that our character is better than what they believe it to be.

And that is the entire point of relationships. Not that our needs are met, although they will be once we learn how to interact in healthy ways with people, but that the process of learning to work with others would cause us to become better people. Relationships force us to let go of our selfishness and build character traits like true empathy, patience, kindness, and selflessness. It is impossible to gain those characteristics in isolation from others.

Once others begin to see those character traits develop in us, they will naturally want to be around us. They will let us know they appreciate us. We will finally find what we were searching for online all our lives, real acceptance and love. But notice, that does not happen until AFTER we go through the painful experience of interacting with others. It does not happen until after we have learned how to engage them without offending them. Bear in mind that they may still be learning too. After all, in this day and age, a high percentage of people have spent far too much time in artificial online relationships, so the chances are we are all pretty much in the same boat. We learn together. We come back even after being hurt. We dare to trust that deep down we actually do care about each other and want to learn how to interact in more positive ways.

Sadly, it is usually only after we have begun to feel a little safer with people that we dare to try a real relationship with God. We fear God most of all. We know we can't fool Him. He knows what we've been up to. He sees through the "I have it all together" image we portray. We feel exposed in front of Him...and we are. But when we finally get the courage to start being honest with God on a daily basis, we discover an acceptance that is beyond anything a human can offer us. That is when joy and peace start to become real to us, and that is what we have been searching for all along.

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