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There’s a widespread belief among Christians that if a man’s spiritual priorities were in the right order, he wouldn’t have certain kinds of thoughts, he wouldn’t be hooked on porn, and he wouldn’t have certain nasty desires welling up within him 24/7. And yet the truth is that a man can have excellent priorities and be embracing all the right soul attitudes while he is being plagued with some very dark mental fantasies. The psychological principles we’re going to discuss in this post can be very helpful to anyone who is feeling tormented with perverse fantasies of any kind. When you’re obsessing over certain kinds of themes, you can easily end up shunned by both the mainstream Christian community as well as the world at large. Happily neither of these human groups are accurately conveying God’s assessment of you. And once you understand a few basic principles about where perverse fantasies come from, you can stop treating yourself like a worm and become more receptive to the compassion and help God is offering you.
THE ORIGIN OF FANTASIES
Now when it comes to something like porn, there are two categories we can talk about. There’s the stuff you wish you could look at, and there’s the stuff you can get access to in the real world. For some of you, these two categories are worlds apart. Take Joe, for example. Joe really wants to look at pictures of kids getting sexually tortured, but he doesn’t dare look up child porn on the internet because he’s afraid of getting caught and punished. So when he’s online, Joe takes the occasional peek at “normal” porn—a male and female adult getting it on voluntarily while everyone acts happy about it. But in Joe’s mind, there are much darker movies playing.
To benefit from the principles we’re going to explain in this post, forget about the material you actually get your hands on, and think about what you wish you could look at. Think about your ideal fantasies—those movies that play over and over in your head. It’s the images that give you the most intense arousal which are most informative, because those ideal fantasies are actually your mind’s way of trying to relieve stress. Yes, that’s right: these dark fantasies are being driven by stress, and the more often they play in your head, the higher your subconscious stress levels are. Throw in some additional life stresses—problems at work, problems with your spouse, problems with finances—and suddenly you’ll find those dark movies playing a lot more frequently. Take our friend Joe. When Joe’s life is going circumstantially well, he feels haunted by his dark fantasies at least a few times a week—he can’t get them to back off more than that. But when Joe’s normal stress levels rise, suddenly he finds himself battling those dark images every single day, morning and night, until he feels like he’s being driven insane. What’s the useful course of action for Joe in this situation? Should he go down the road of self-condemnation or start groveling in front of God like some abject worm? No, he needs to recognize what’s really going on: the dark fantasies are his mind’s way of trying to relieve stress. The reason they are so intense and so frequent is that this particular coping method doesn’t work very well for anyone. But right now Joe feels like it’s his only option, so he’s stuck in the muck of nasty mental movies and he’s blaming himself instead of trying to get to the root of the problem.
DEALING WITH ROOT CAUSES
So what is the root cause of nasty fantasies? Well, here’s where we need to talk about that mysterious section of your mind which is known as your subconscious.
Your mind has two main sections to it: your conscious and your subconscious. Your conscious is like a flash drive you carry around in your pocket—the one with the files that you frequently refer to in order to do your particular job. Your conscious has limited storage, but it’s handy, convenient, and readily accessible. As you go through your day collecting new life experiences, you store all of that information in your conscious. Then, when you go to sleep, your conscious does a massive file transfer. It sends all of its new information to an enormous database called your subconscious. Your subconscious then sets to work trying to file all of the new data away into its nice, orderly system. If all goes well, you wake up refreshed and ready to take on the day. But when your conscious is trying to dump a bunch of upsetting, stressful material into your subconscious’ inbox, then your subconscious gets upset. It protests. It vents. It complains. It fusses. When you’re asleep, you can experience some of your subconscious’ protests as upsetting dreams—even as terrifying nightmares. It depends on how assaulted your subconscious is feeling by the daily download. But those daily downloads are just one small part of the problem. When it comes to you being haunted by recurring fantasies of a perverse nature, there’s a bigger problem going on.
Imagine a file drawer that is so tightly packed with files that you just can’t jam another thing into it. Now imagine that when you try to close the drawer, it gets caught on a bunch of files that are sticking up. Well, that’s annoying. No matter how much you shove, pull, and yank, you just can’t get those pesky files to sit down in the drawer low enough to allow the whole drawer to slide into its slot in the cabinet. Now as you picture yourself dealing with this annoying situation, what are you focusing on? You’re focusing on those troublesome files. You’re not focusing on all the other files that are behaving themselves by sitting nice and low in the drawer—you’re spending all of your energy on those few rebellious files that refuse to be stuffed down into their proper place. It is the thing which is causing you stress which you end up focusing on—not the things which are working well. This is a critical psychological principle to understand: we obsess over what stresses us.
When you find yourself plagued with the same perverse mental fantasies over and over again, it’s because your subconscious is obsessing. What do we obsess over? The things which distress us. Traumatic memories are like those files which are sticking up in that drawer. Traumatic memories are created by you going through extremely upsetting experiences in life and then not having the chance to properly debrief afterwards. For example, Molly grew up with a dad who molested her. Molly never knew when her dad would strike, she had no one to talk to, and she had no chance to debrief. As an adult, Molly finds herself plagued with perverse desires. She can’t feel sexually aroused unless she pictures an adult molesting a child. Once Molly notices her mind is obsessing over the theme of child molestation, she has two choices. She can say, “Wow, what a horrible pervert I am,” and wallow in shame, but that will only increase her stress load. The more stressed Molly becomes, the more she’s going to obsess over those fantasies of a child being molested. So the whole self-shaming option is a total waste of time which only makes the problem worse. The far better thing for Molly to do is to realize that negative psychological obsessions are indications of psychological stress. She then needs to say, “Why is my mind obsessing over this theme of child molesting? What personal significance does that theme have for me?”
Perverse fantasies are like dreams: they are loaded with symbolism. Your subconscious is like a very artistic fellow who prefers to speak in metaphors instead of just telling the straight scoop. Take Jack, the doctor who is feeling extremely stressed by his patient’s deteriorating condition. Jack has been straining his brain to try and figure out what is wrong with his patient, but every diagnostic test he’s run has come back inconclusive. Meanwhile, Jack can see that his patient is running out of time, and this really stresses Jack because Jack is a good doctor who really cares about people. Well, as Jack presses on day after day with this distressing problem looming in the back of his mind, who is getting the brunt of the stress? His subconscious. Every night when Jack goes to sleep, his conscious downloads yet another batch of high stress files into his subconscious. Jack’s subconscious mind is feeling overwhelmed by this constant barrage. One night, Jack finds himself dreaming that he’s being chased through a forest by a huge, snarling wolf. Where did that wild imagery come from? That’s Jack’s subconscious being creative. It’s deciding to represent the death of Jack’s patient as a scary wolf. In real life, Jack is very upset by not being able to find out what’s making his patient so ill. In the dream, his subconscious expresses this stress with symbolic imagery of Jack running through dark woods, unable to find any clear path to follow. Your subconscious is extremely creative, and it finds symbolic ways of expressing the things that are stressing you the most in life. For our friend Molly, one of her biggest life stresses was getting molested by her father as a child. Molly has never processed that trauma, so it’s acting like one of those pesky files that’s jamming up a drawer. Molly’s subconscious is super stressed over the whole molestation issue, so it’s constantly creating fantasies in Molly’s mind in which an adult is molesting a child. When Molly doesn’t understand the personal significance of these images, she panics and concludes she must be a terrible person to feel turned on by the sight of someone molesting kids. But no, what’s really going on is that Molly is very upset by her own unresolved trauma of being molested for years. If she can get help with her own stress, then that troublesome file will slip down into place, the drawer will close, her subconscious will stop obsessing, and the perverse fantasies will stop happening.
STEPS TO HEALING
The goal of trauma counseling is to help stressed out minds get unstressed. The first step is to stop with the moral judgements and take an honest look at the themes your mind keeps expressing over and over again. Right or wrong has nothing to do with it: the important part is that your mind is frantically signaling you that you’ve got some major unresolved stress happening and that stress is jamming up the whole system. So you need to listen to yourself and stop with the condemnation. Think about the images and themes that your mind keeps obsessing over. Once you’ve identified recurring themes, ask God to help you understand the personal significance those themes have for you. It’s always personal. You might be fantasizing about someone mass murdering a bunch of people. You might be fantasizing about torturing people in some long, slow way. You might be fantasizing about raping or molesting. You might be the one receiving the abuse in your fantasies. But no matter how many other characters your mind brings into it, realize that the real root of the problem is that you are feeling stressed. You’ve been through some terribly stressful ordeals that you don’t know how to deal with. You’ve got some files sticking up in some drawer somewhere in your mental archives, and your subconscious is super frustrated trying to get the darn thing closed.
Traumatic memories must be debriefed in order to stop plaguing you. Short of God performing a miracle—which is not His usual way of doing things—you need to debrief. You need to face what happened to you, feel those emotions that you’ve spent years stuffing, and identify the core lies that you’re clinging to. Trauma always results in core lies, and those lies fuel the stress. For example, Molly feels like she’s an object who is in constant threat of being manhandled. She believes that she has no way of defending herself from being sexually assaulted. Then there is Rick: a soldier who was brutally tortured as a POW. Rick has been rescued, but every night he’s having horrific dreams that he’s back in that horrifying situation, getting sadistically worked over. Rick’s circumstances have improved, but his subconscious needs serious help with debriefing the trauma before it will be able to calm down.
A common problem among guilt-ridden souls is that they are being far too merciless towards themselves. Rob is the dad who accidentally backed over his own daughter in his own driveway. Twenty years later, Rob is drinking excessively, and he can’t even be in the room with any young girl without feeling like he’s about to have a panic attack. Rob is in this mess because at the time he killed his daughter, he didn’t give himself permission to grieve. Instead, he blamed himself—as everyone else was doing—and he decided that his own pain was irrelevant. Well, you can close the door on a ticking bomb, but that won’t stop the thing from exploding. In the same way, you can jam a bunch of traumatic memories into your subconscious, but your brain is going to react. You’re just a fragile human being. You don’t handle stress well. You need a whole lot of mercy, compassion, and empathy in order to put traumatic memories to rest. As long as you’re busy condemning yourself for being a creep or a pervert or a sadist or a monster or a killer, the dark fantasies, nightmares, addictions, and health problems are just going to keep getting worse.
The day comes when you need to stop punishing yourself for being stressed and accept the fact that you are a very limited creature who is easily broken, easily overwhelmed, and easily frightened. Then you need to reach out to your unlimited, compassionate, loving Creator and ask Him to help you deal with your stress in a positive way. No matter how dark of a place we’re in, there is always a way out. God understands all of the factors that fuel dark fantasies, perverse addictions, sadistic urges, and the need to keep treating yourself like a subhuman life form. Ask Him to help you and He will.
Help for Sex Addicts: Understanding Symbolic Sex
Relating to God: Recognizing the Trap of Symbolic Pain
Help for Physical Abusers: Why You Keep Beating the People You Love
Broken to Thrive: Help & Hope for Pedophiles
Gender Dysphoria: Confronting the Lies that Fuel the Crisis (Help for Transsexuals)
Temporary Deliverance: How to Interpret the Return of Old Struggles
Emerging From Darkness: Guidance & Hope for Malicious Torturers
Help for Murderers: What To Do When Your Victims Are Haunting You
Help For Murderers: Finding Peace With A God Who Loves You
The Mindset of Trauma Rehearsal: Trying to Acclimate to the Unbearable
The Mindset of Trauma Reversal: Pursuing the Unattainable