Brene Brown is a researcher storyteller who speaks very powerfully about shame, vulnerability and connection — among other things.
i have been watching her TED talks again this week to refresh myself; to keep immediately in front of me the reality i must hold on to regarding my need to live vulnerably in relationships so that i might truly connect with others.
And like vulnerability itself, it feels risky and weak to admit that — let alone put it in print and post it to the world.
Brown’s TEDxHouston talk, below, at first seems unrelated to issues of sexual addiction — or, perhaps a better phrase — compulsive sexual behavior.
But in truth, the connections run rather deep.
That’s because compulsive sexual behavior isn’t about sex.
Compulsive sexual behavior is about validation, affirmation, acceptance, connection, and ultimately worship. And by saying “worship,” i am not speaking simply about idolatry.
Idolatry, that act of worshipping something — anything — in place of God is a legitimate issue. But in the end, even idolatry isn’t just about worshipping something in place of God.
It’s about the experience of transcendence and awe. It’s about Wonder.
In order to experience Wonder we must risk vulnerability and surrender; we must give ourselves to that which produces in us a sense of wonder.
This is one of the keys to the appeal of pornography and sexual fantasy. Wonder.
Sex is mysterious and wonderful, but it’s risky — even in a committed, loving relationship. Ask any husband about his hesitancy initiating sex with his wife. Or ask a wife about the uncertainty of initiating with her husband.
Porn and fantasy provide the short-cut around vulnerability. You get the orgasm without the risk. At first, that seems like a win-win. The orgasm feels great and you get to avoid the very uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability.
But you also get the orgasm without the connection. And the connection is what your soul needs. The pursuit of connection is actually one of the hidden issues that drives compulsive sexual behavior.
The fact that you will never be able to achieve through porn, fantasy and acting out the connection your soul craves is one of the things that turns the behavior into a compulsion.
But again, the behavior is not the main focus. The focus is on what lies beneath.
What lies beneath are the deep longings of the heart. And as Cusick says, “One of the deepest longings of the human heart is to be seen.”
Instantly, that gets messy for us. Yes we want to be seen, but most of us are afraid that if people see who we really are, we will be rejected. Most of us fear that we, simply as ourselves, are not enough. In order to be seen, however, we must risk vulnerability.
The conflict arises when we struggle between wanting to be able to have the freedom to be who we truly are, but also not wanting to be seen for who we truly are, because most of us have a lot of shame tied to our real self.
We are torn.
We long to be seen; to be naked — our real selves — and unashamed. But the risk is huge.
This is why we run to what John Eldredge refers to as “less-wild lovers.” We want to feel the ecstasy of being fully alive and connected, but we try to get it through a substitute that doesn’t require us to be vulnerable.
Pornography fits that definition perfectly. But it can never satisfy our souls.