NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: The Counterphobic Defense and Hypersexuality

In my prior article, What is the Counterphobic Response?,  I began discussing the counterphobic defense mechanism by defining it and giving some general examples of it.  In this article, I'm focusing specifically on the link between the counterphobic response and hypersexuality.

The Counterphobic Response and Hypersexuality

As I mentioned in my prior article, there are many different ways that the counterphobic defense mechanism manifests.

It's easier to understand the counterphobic response and denial involved in situations where people, who are fearful, deny their fears by becoming daredevils about the very situations that they fear.

The counterphobic response is more difficult to see in situations where a man or a woman is hypersexual.

What is Hypersexuality?  
Hypersexuality, also known as sexual addiction, is defined as a dysfunctional preoccupation with sexual fantasy or in combination with obsessive pursuits of casual/non-intimate sex.  It can involve pornography, compulsive masturbation, romantic intensity or objectification of a sexual partner.  Usually, it occurs for at least six months or more.

Hypersexuality affects both men and women.

Like most addictive behavior, this adult obsessive pattern of thoughts and behaviors will continue despite the person affected by hypersexuality:

  • making attempts to stop this problematic sexual behavior
  • making promises to him/herself and significant others to change sexual behavior
  • experiencing significant negative life consequences

Let's take a look at common situation in a fictionalized scenario where early childhood trauma leads to hypersexuality as an adult:

When Marie was five, her parents split up and Marie and her older siblings didn't see their father again for many years.  Neither their father nor their mother talked to them about the separation.  They learned about it when they came home from school one day and their father, who was normally there, was gone.

Marie felt responsible for her father leaving the family

When Marie asked her mother where her father was, her mother, Ann, slapped her and told her not to be disrespectful by asking her this question.  Then, her mother told her to go to her room and do her homework.

As most children at her age would react, Marie assumed that she did something "bad" and her father went away.  She believed that she was the cause of the problems in her family and she prayed every night that she would become a better person so that her father would return.

Neither her mother nor the other adult relatives would talk to her or her siblings about why her father "disappeared."  It became the "family secret."

Marie felt so ashamed of what she thought her role was in this that she felt too guilty to talk to anyone else about it, so she kept her fear and sadness to herself.

A year later, Marie's mother, Ann, began seeing a man she met at a party, John.  A few weeks later, John moved into the household and Marie and her older siblings were told that he was their "new father."

John tended to be irritable and bossy.  He expected the children to adhere to his demands without any back talk.  When Marie's teenage brother protested that he didn't want to do a chore that John demanded that he do, John knocked him to the ground and told him to never disobey him again.  When Ann came home and Marie brother told her what happened, Ann sided with John.

After that, Marie and her siblings were more afraid of John than ever.  They tiptoed around him and hoped not to experience his rage.

Marie became to anxious that she began wetting her bed at night, which angered John and brought on the first of many spankings from him.

When Marie turned six, John came into her bedroom late after Ann and the other family members were asleep and he began fondling her breasts.  Marie was shaking with fright, but she pretended to be asleep because she didn't know what to do.

John knew that she wasn't asleep and began taunting her, telling her that she was a "bad girl" and she "liked it."

When he told her to open her eyes, she was too afraid not to do as he said, so she did and, as she did, she saw his leering smile and penetrating gaze.

She began to feel very confused about what was happening.  On the one hand, she felt terrified and helpless.   She knew that what he was doing was "bad."  But, on the other hand, no one else in the household paid any attention to her, and she liked the attention.

John told Marie that if she told anyone about it, no one would believe her.  And, if they did, he would her mother and siblings and he would beat her.

Having already felt responsible for her father leaving the household, Marie didn't want to cause any more problems, so she kept quiet about it.  Whenever she heard his footsteps as he approached her room, she close her eyes and pray.  Then, when he began touching her, she went into a traumatic dissociated state to the point she felt she could look down on herself from the ceiling and see what was going on.

Afterwards, she always felt "dirty" and would go into the bathroom and scrub her body hard with a towel until it was red.

These nightly visits continued for several months until Marie couldn't stand it anymore.  So one day, when she was alone with her mother and no one else was around, she told her mother about John touching her.  She just wanted to make it stop.

Ann reacted by getting angry with Marie and telling her that it must be Marie's fault if John is behaving this way.  She told Marie to lock her door at night and to stay away from John.  She refused to confront John and told Marie that she was being selfish.  After all, wasn't John helping to support the family?

Marie felt devastated that her mother wouldn't help her.   But she also believed that, if her mother said it was her fault, it must be true.  Even worse, she felt frightened, powerless and lonely.

When John realized that Marie locked her door, he got angry and jimmied the lock to get in.  Feeling helpless and frightened, Marie submitted to John and escaped into a dissociated state whenever he touched her.

The sexual abuse continued into Marie's adolescence.  By that time, Marie felt angry about feeling helpless and developed a counterphobic response to John's sexual advances.  She was tired of feeling like he was the predator and she was the victim.

So by the time she was 17, without realizing it, on an unconscious level, she decided that she would be in charge in the situation--no longer behaving like a powerless victim.

One night when John came into her room, Marie told him that she wanted to have sex with him.  Shocked at first, John had sexual intercourse with Marie.  Marie was sure that her mother, who was next door, heard them having sex, but she chose to ignore it.

After that, John seemed to lose interest.  He preferred when Marie was childlike and frightened.  He seemed confused and a little frightened by Marie's boldness, so he stopped coming to her room.

But because Marie was experiencing the counterphobic defense mechanism, she didn't want John to feel he was in charge any more about if they would be sexual, so she would be seductive around him when no one else was around, taunting him for being "less than a man" for ignoring her.

Each time after she seduced him and they had sex, he always blamed her for being "a tramp," but she didn't care--she felt she was the powerful one in the situation.

When Marie was 18, she became pregnant.  By that time, she was having sex with John as well as several other older men that she met in the neighborhood, so she didn't know the identity of the father of the baby.

She had an abortion without telling anyone and, by the time she was 22, she was had two other abortions.  Her hypersexuality included seducing many men that she didn't know.  Each time that she seduced a different man, she felt empowered.

When she was 25, she met a man her own age, Tom, that she liked.  She realized that her feelings for him were different and she felt frightened and emotionally vulnerable, which she didn't like.  When she tried to seduce him, she was surprised that he told her that he really liked her and he thought they should wait rather than crossing that boundary too soon.

Even though she liked him a lot, Marie felt confused by how he treated her and how she felt.  To alleviate her fears, she continued to sneak around with other men without Tom knowing.  These other experiences continued to make her feel empowered, but she also felt guilty about seeing these men behind Tom's back.

The Counterphobic Response and Hypersexuality

When Marie and Tom became sexual, Marie felt very uncomfortable and she couldn't understand why. She prided herself in being sexy and attractive, and she knew that Tom really liked her.  But, unlike how she felt with other men, she felt increasingly frightened by the feelings that she was developing for Tom.

Marie was tempted to break it off, but she knew she would also miss Tom and he was different from other men that she was with.  At the same time, her emotional vulnerability in this relationship made her feel like a helpless child.

Marie knew that she couldn't deal with her ambivalence on her own, so she sought psychological help.

Next Blog Article:
In my next article, I'll continue to discuss this fictionalized scenario and how Marie was able to get help with a licensed mental health professional.

Getting Help
The counterphobic response, as an unconscious defense mechanism, can manifest in many different situations where a person is in denial about their fear and trauma and wants to feel empowered.

This sense of "power" isn't really empowerment.  It's a way to deny the underlying fear by moving towards a feared situation or person as a defense against the fear.

If you feel that you're caught up in a counterphobic response and you want to get help, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who can provide you with the psychological help that you need to overcome this problem.

Confronting underlying fears isn't easy but, in the long run, once you've overcome the counterphobic response, you have an opportunity to live a more meaningful and authentic life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.