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An Addict's Dilemma: Learning to Understand Empathy

Being out of control in our sex lives or with pornography can lead to major problems. An inability to refrain from connecting outside of the “addicts” person can be a significant issue in overcoming the sexual / pornography addiction epidemic.

Two of the questions I ask to the person living with a sexual addiction or pornography addiction are:

You know what you want to do… The question is WHY? And HOW are you dealing with what you are doing?

I would love to encourage you to take a moment and contemplate these very questions. Be it sex or pornography all to often the person knows what they want; however, they stop at the WHY or HOW is this affecting them or their loved ones.

In response to the questions often times the person living with the addiction even will say, “I’m not hurting them, I just (you fill in the blank), and that really doesn’t hurt anyone… Right?” or “I have a right to do what I want” or “I need it”.

And right there is when I say, “you need it?”

It’s a very common response to thinking you might not be hurting someone with your behavior. No one wants to think they deliberately harm another person or themselves, but this is happening all the time, everyday.

A standard for learning to explore the WHY and HOW the sexual addict does what they do is to turn it a little. Well – Really turn it a lot… Like right back onto them…

I would like to invite the idea of doing no harm, building empathy, and creating awareness for their behaviors. Because, the person living with addiction is really good at knowing what they want, I want to remind them they also can be very good at learning why and the how they do what they do.

Doing No Harm:

  1. Be sensitive to conflict – Often the addict gets defensive first then battles. Or often does both at the same time. In doing no harm sit back and listen first rather then defend.

  2. Share your experience – The addict rarely shares where they are. Crickets…?? Don’t forget to be open, share and talk. Being in a dialogue helps.

  3. Take the position of Love – Yes, The Beatles had something… In the past the addict traditionally felt threaten… they had something to hide. Now look at the person you’re connecting with through the lens of love and support.


  1. Start with seeking understanding – As an addict a synonym for their behavior is selfish. Be a seeker and ask your family, friends and loved ones what they think…

  2. Build the desire to Build – Create an environment to build others… Create a way of living to promote growth and excitement for the partner, family, and friends.

  3. Walk in their shoes – Promote a sense of awe and emotional wonder for the other. The more one practices empathy the more one receives understanding, love and compassion internally within and externally from a far.

Create Awareness:

  1. Listen well -- The old adage you have two ears and one month. Practice the listening response. We live in a world where everyone has an answer, response or blog?!?. OOPPS… I will do the next blog on listening more.

  2. Check into your emotional cues – I want the addict to use what they know… It’s easy for the addict to understand their need to have sex or watch porn… Use that same sense of awareness to look at what else they need. Explore others emotions too. Go back to seeking understanding… It’s ok to be wrong… Ask are you sad? They might just be in deep thought or tired.

  3. Create space of witnessing not judging or labeling – The addict has a tendency to be judgmental and label quickly… Be careful the mirror can turn quicker…

The invitation to consider a new perspective is available. As the addict or the person living with an addict a great starting point is: Doing no harm, Empathy, and Awareness. And above all be gentle.

Dr. Ryan Westrum is a mental health professional that supports people and families living and working through sex addiction and pornography addiction. Please reach out for a complementary consultation at or call him at 952-261-5269.

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