Lessons Children Learn from Fathers Called Sex Addicts
Such a strong response to my guest blogger last week—thank you! She has provided a second piece which I am posting today. I have added some “lessons learned” from my family life and from clients. This may be difficult for some mothers to read but is not intended to inspire guilt. Rather it is a caution to those who assume preserving the “family” is the best course for children. It also makes it clear that men called sex addicts are not just abusing the wife or partner. They are harming their children and negatively impacting their development as human beings. The sexual and sexualized behaviors of these men are not just impacting their relationship with wives or partners. It is a family experience of harm largely unexamined by the treatment industry.
Thank you to last week’s guest blogger who is providing another important piece of this puzzle! I am respecting her and her daughters’ need for anonymity. Here then, are her additional insights about the harm done to children of men called sex addicts.
I only have daughters. It seems to me kids differ in the lessons they learn. Experience, personality, developmental stage and resilience all play a role in the internalized lessons kids take away from living with a sex addict. I suppose males and females learn different lessons. I can only speak to what I have observed my children grappling with. Living with a sex addict and watching the slow unraveling of family life can impart these lessons.
Children may learn:
1. the importance of “sorting.” Sorting out who in their life is genuine. Who enables abuse and who needs a little time to catch up and internalize what has occurred but ultimately cares. While this may be a good skill, it also is a family tragedy that they learn because they endure the trauma of learning their own father is NOT genuine.
2. smart women can be bamboozled. Often girls/women think it would never happen to them because they are smarter than the women to whom it happens. They aren’t.
3. pain that is unacknowledged is heavier than pain that is seen. If a treatment practitioner doesn’t intentionally look for and correctly assess for this pain, they will wrongly conclude it isn’t there. But this goes beyond treatment practitioners. It can feel otherworldly to have friends and family ignore what they are going through—almost like an invitation to dissociate.
4. about trauma symptoms – sometimes their head will hurt, their stomach will sour and the only way to get thru it is to hunker down and wait for the waves to pass. Holding a bunny or dog helps. Teenagers crippled by anxiety may use their greater freedom to self-medicate, act out, self-harm.
5. the definition of intrusive thoughts and describe their crippling effect on concentration. Some may develop what is sometimes called trauma-induced Attention Deficit Disorder.
6. about abandonment. They learn that when these men are faced with truth and consequences of decades of deception they will run. He will frame reality as being shamed. Shame is the “get out of jail free card” endorsed by therapists. Men called sex addicts are taught they can remove themselves when others hold them accountable, even their children. Kids learn that anything shaming could trigger feelings that he can’t handle and as a result a kid’s pain always comes second to their father. He easily abandons them in their pain by making them serve his “greater” pain.
7. holidays weren’t as special as they thought they were. Dad wasn’t really making Mom coffee while we waited upstairs before opening the presents. He didn’t really want to be stuck with them on vacations, visiting cousins, or watching them in school pageants. He wasn’t late getting to their birthday because of work at all. He was always thinking of things he wanted more and planning his next escape from the family. He didn’t want to be with them any more than he wanted to be with mom. He just needed to keep up the façade and they were part of it.
8. the reason why the dog was always licking the couch in the basement. The family home was violated. Some learn he brought sex workers and CraigsList hookups into their home. They can’t look at their rooms the same way again.
9. strategies for manipulation. They learn that lies come in many different flavors. People don’t just overtly lie. People can tell half-truths, tell bold lies and give different stories to different people. Reality means very little to their father. He just wants what he wants and will say what he has to in order to keep his secret life going.
10. the most important thing in the life of a sex addict is how they are perceived by other people. Image trumps everything. It’s possible to move to a new locale, disclose nothing of your past life and present a shiny new persona. These men easily lie about their children, not just their wives, in order to make themselves sound like victims.
11. these guys believe if something is too hard it’s okay to jump ship or lie about the results. They never do the heavy lifting that truth and consequences mean. And they don’t give it a second thought if their children have to do it.
12. a father may put photos of his children on Tinder. If it helps him get the “right swipe” he doesn’t care who sees them. People who interact in ways his children know nothing about are aware of them and may recognize them. Their own father doesn’t protect their privacy or how others may use those pictures.
13. some people will make light of their pain. Just as women are told to “get over it”, children are also chastised for being upset, accused of being drama queens, exaggerating, or disrespecting their father. Some people who do this may even be his family of origin.
14. they have to walk a tightrope with him. If they call out lies, they risk punishment or him punishing their mother. They struggle to find a safe path between being agreeable and legitimizing lies.
15. the necessity of having to protect the family story because they may be judged by their father’s actions. They may be scared that friends wouldn’t hang out with them if they knew the truth. If their friend’s parents know then the same thing might happen.
16. about nightmares. They learn sometimes your brain doesn’t stop trying to understand even in sleep.
17. entitlement. The man called a sex addict gets a new Audi and country club membership while they and their mother lose financial security. They may have to beg him to pay school fees or buy sports equipment and have to agree to do things to help prop up his fake life in order to get him to say “yes.”
18. life doesn’t pause for grief. School goes on. Sports and Concerts go on. Assignments are due and Exams are happening. Even if you get some extensions, that kind of help doesn’t go on as long as your trauma symptoms do.
19. female bodies are commodities to be dissected and evaluated by men for their parts. Nothing your father has ever said about respecting women or respecting you as a female is credible. He is no different than the worst man in this regard. Your self-esteem tanks.
20. sometimes your mother will be so triggered she doesn’t present like the person you’ve always known. The legacy of your father’s behavior is often a change in people that can incapacitate them at least temporarily. If that’s the only person you can count on right now, you may be thrown into a new crisis.
21. that the legal system isn’t really interested in justice. It’s a formula applied to cases and no one cares to figure out what really went down, unless you have lots of disposable income. It’s not a system to right wrongs.
22. compartmentalization. He spends resources, time, money to have sexual experiences often at odds with the standards and values he endorses in family life. As it turns out, those standards and values are only endorsed for your life, not for his. You living up to them helps him look believable.
23. male privilege. If you are “successful man” what you do with your dick doesn’t matter. Crimes will be ignored and records sealed.
24. their family memories were tainted by a black undercurrent that escaped their awareness. They need to be on guard in future relationships. Trust is difficult, not just with others but with themselves.
25. whoever earns the most money is entitled to do what they want with the money. It’s not about sex it’s about power.
26. that some friends and even family will stand up for you and some inexplicably will fall away. You can’t count on people you counted on. Abandonment enters another level of experience.
27. that they can’t control what happens in their home, but they have a lot of control at school. One way out of this control is to create opportunity for yourself with scholarships or bursaries or working part-time through high school and saving like crazy, or taking a basic job after high school and going to night school to save up money.
28. to channel rage into athletics or the arts. These activities are solid tools for coping with trauma symptoms, expanding relationships, and building up your self-esteem.
29. random teens may come in contact with your father and he will speak glowingly to them about you. They will pity him. They may approach you in the hallways of high school and spook you. Some friends will have your back and send the message not to engage you.
30. what you don’t know can and will hurt you. A father’s secret life does not exist as part of wonderful surprise he has for you someday. It serves him alone, and always hurts you.
31. tears can mean nothing coming from an addict. Tears can also indicate primarily self-pity and a refusal to engage the harm done to you and the pain you endure. Actions need to speak louder than words or tears.
32. sex is everywhere. It’s easier to sniff out drugs or alcohol than compulsive-abusive sexual behavior.
33. sex workers are young. Many are not older than his own kids. He doesn’t care.
34. about hypocrites. Adults who have taken action in their own lives around issues of promiscuous behavior or porn can and will ignore if it means standing up to a man called a sex addict.
35. it’s possible for a man called a sex addict to go one town over and create a sparkly new life. They believe their own lies. They are like cats—when they close their eyes, you disappear. Actually, cats are way better than these guys.
I (Diane) have added the following items to my guest blogger’s list:
36. keeping secrets is okay for their dad even if they are conflicted by it. Their father has offloaded the moral conflict he doesn’t have onto children raised to possess core values that he doesn’t possess.
37. keeping secrets is okay if the family is at stake. Their choice is to participate in deception or “be” the reason their parents split up. If the children find out while they are with their dad, he will often tell them they have to keep it a secret because “mom won’t understand”, “guys do this to deal with stress,” “they don’t want to break up their parents’ marriage, do they?”
38. in modeling secret sexual behavior the dad teaches them to be ashamed of their sexuality. This can be especially damaging when they enter puberty.
39. in modeling secret sexual behavior the dad normalizes porn use, anonymous sex experiences, etc. as a good way to deal with stress.
40. that women are sexual objects for men to use. This encourages contempt and disrespect for mothers and sisters in their own family, and participates and legitimizes misogyny.
41. to use secrets as a weapon to hurt other people.
42. to try and protect their mother. Children will take over the role that their father should be playing in the family because someone has to do it. The risk of enmeshment or covert incest (emotional incest) is created.
43. to meet their mother’s emotional needs. Whether it’s to protect her from finding out or help her not need the betraying father, some children will try to fill in the emotional gap their father creates by choosing to invest more in his secret life than in his life with his wife, their mother. The risk of enmeshment or cover incest (emotional incest) is created.
44. their father will blame his porn, his absences, lateness, etc. on them. They will not necessarily know that he is doing it. If they do, they may have to protect him by lying, too.
45. that their love and company was not good enough to keep him faithful in the family. They may not value their love in their important relationships either, and expect little in return for it.
46. to blame their mother for his behavior. This is a message they will hear from friends, family, faith communities, and even from therapists or on websites of treatment practitioners trained in misogynous models that endure and are protected by many men called sex addicts who become treatment practitioners.
So, I think you get the idea here. Children in the family of a man called a sex addicts are at risk. You will note I didn’t even touch upon what these men may be doing their own children or their children’s friends in sexual and sexualized activities. I’ve had enough for one week. But the next time your family, your religious leader or faith community, your therapist or treatment industry practitioner tries to make behaviors of men called sex addicts into something that’s just between mommy and daddy—hand them this list and ask them to read it. Then find someone else to help you and your children.
HEY! Important news about a Second Retreat with Tania Rochelle. Register early for a great discount!
We’re excited to announce that registration is now open for Sweetwater Retreats, Ellijay. Come spend a long healing weekend in the beautiful North Georgia mountains and meet other wives and partners of men called sex addicts. Once you arrive, weekends are all-inclusive. You could literally come with only the clothes on your back, medications, and a pair of comfortable shoes. The experience is designed to help you reduce trauma symptoms in a warm, supportive atmosphere. Prices range from $699 to $899, and we’re offering $100 off for anyone who registers by July 15. For more information, go to https://www.sweetwaterretreats.org/upcoming-retreats.