Finding an Addict’s Original Wound

In treating compulsive, sexual behavior in addicts, we reach a point where we work to uncover what is known as the “original wound.” This is an emotional wound, always from the addict’s childhood, and it sits at the root of their compulsions.

Often, when men go back to look at their lives, they will begin by trying to find that one moment where “it all went to hell.” That may be how it works in movies, but it’s rarely how it works out in real life. Instead, what I usually find when I work together with my clients is a series of small cracks in the foundation of their lives and behavior, some smaller than others, and some very difficult to find. The sum of these experiences is what we call the original wound.

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The reason it is so important to discover this wound is because addicts spend their adult lives responding and reacting to new circumstances in exactly the same way as they did when the wound was first created. Even though things are different now, and even though many years have passed, the addict has never learned more constructive or healthy ways to react to the pain of their wound.

Think of an athlete returning to the game after hurting his knee. He remembers how terrible the original injury felt, and he is keen to avoid it. As a result, he begins to move and operate differently in a desperate attempt to prevent hurting himself again. It is exactly the same way a sex addict might avoid true intimacy or friendship with a woman, because he remembers how bad it hurt when that went wrong in the past.

You can think of this in terms of a bodily injury: when something presses on a wound, it’s painful, and you react. Sometimes your reaction is big enough to surprise even you. You feel at the mercy of the pain. You feel as though you couldn’t help but react. However, there’s a big difference between reacting in a constructive way, and a destructive way. That’s why it’s so important that we discover this wound as part of the recovery process.

In fact, learning to react in a different way can be one of the biggest challenges for addicts. Compulsive sexual behavior is a coping mechanism developed to help an addict deal with that original wound. For many men, this manifests as low self-esteem. As a coping mechanism, an addict might simply try to avoid real women altogether, in favor of the always-ready, and never-judgmental porn clips he watches. He lacks the confidence and understanding necessary to risk a real relationship, and instead, retreats further into his addiction instead.

The key to reversing this behavior is finding that original wound, identifying it, and addressing it. Naming it is powerful, because as soon as you can see it for what it is, it immediately has less power over you. Looking at the events of your past with a new, adult perspective can help you feel less afraid of them.

This is how you begin to heal your original wound, and therefore free yourself from living in reaction to your history.