About Empathy In Sex Addicts


Okay. Charlene, do you find sex addicts empathetic to their partners?

Charlene: I think it depends on where they are on the progression of their addiction. I get both parts. I get sex addicts who come in to me because they got caught, and that’s really the only reason they’re coming through my door, because [the 00:00:19] partner is really pushing them in. Then I get the sex addicts who have felt a lot of shame for a while and aren’t having a lot of intimacy with their partners, and their partners have mentioned it, asked them to get help, but there is not that push. The ones that really get pushed in, I find, have a hard time having empathy. The ones that really have gotten in touch with the shame that their sex addiction has created have more empathy.

One of the things that I do with them is really teach them how to have empathy, and I think that’s absolutely a skill that needs to be learned. Most of us learn it as children from our parents. A lot of sex addicts come from dysfunctional homes where they weren’t taught empathy. They were maybe given a lot of sympathy, which is very different. Empathy basically fuels connection and sympathy is all about disconnection. With empathy, one of the first things that I tell them, it’s like a four-step process where they have to be able to really listen and identify with what their partners are talking about. That’s the first step is just the listening, not judging what their partners are saying, which is hard because we all judge, but really just trying to listen and to come from a open, non-judgmental perspective.

Then the third part which is a tricky part for the sex addicts because they are not really in touch with their feelings is they need to be able to get in touch with a feeling that they themselves have experienced that’s similar to what their partner is telling them, and then be able to communicate that back to their partner. For example, if I have a couple and the partner is saying, “I feel alone when you go into the other room and I know that you are watching pornography,” the patient, the addict at that time really just needs to listen to that feeling, that the feeling is that she feels alone or he feels alone.

Be able to not judge and say, “Well, you’re really not alone. I’m in the room next door” or “You’re so clingy” or whatever it is that the judgment may be. Then the third part is for the patient to be able to tap into a time where he has felt alone, and really be able to embody that feeling, and then be able to express it back to their partner, “I know what it was like to feel alone because I have felt alone in this experience in my life, so I get you. I understand.” That’s really the empathy piece, is being able to tap into your own feelings and then convey that back to your partner.

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