[Two Pronged] Sex addiction in the family
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes. Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he enrolled in, and subsequently gave, workshops in work-life balance and gender sensitivity training. He has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years, as co-lecturer and occasionally as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives. Dr Holmes needs no further introduction.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer:
My siblings and I need your help. My dad is exhibiting the signs of sex addiction but we are not sure if we are assessing it the right way. Here are details about my dad that seem relevant:
1. My dad is alcoholic; beer is like water for him. He has already had a bypass operation but still drinks until now.
2. There were several instances when my dad cheated on my mom when I was still young. One story I heard was that my older sister almost got blind when she was born because of a certain STD (not sure if it's possible). The second instance was when I was in high school and my dad spent all his retirement pay for a certain girl, 10 years younger than him.
3. I've been hearing stories that my lolo (grandfather) also had the same problem wherein he would harass girls
4. My dad also harasses women. Worse, these women are close to us: my mom's sister, around 25 years ago; my yaya for about 8 years (we treated her as a family member already); my mom's cousin, 3 years ago; my mom's cousin who lived with us, 2 years ago; one of my tita's (aunt) cousins and our neighbor, in 2012; and my brother's wife just last January whom he kissed and whose butt he touched.
5. My dad would sometimes masturbate in front of the victims. Usually the victim needed something from our family and my dad would ask for sex in return. Then he gets very mad at these women afterwards. He doesn't know that we already know about these incidents but we notice that he says bad things about these women after he has his way with them.
We really don't know what kind of psychological problem my dad has. I don't know any medical professional that's why I reached out to you.
I hope you could help me and treat this confidential. Thanks in advance. Hope you would respond to this. - Anthony
My initial reaction to your account of your father's behavior was merely that he be locked up immediately, but I then realized that this was rather a knee-jerk and inadequate response to what could be a complex situation. Furthermore, there are other people involved whose behavior is also worthy of consideration.
It seems reasonable to start by discussing the principal actor, your father. He is clearly a serial offender, having been guilty of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct for decades. Indeed, there is a clear suggestion of downright criminal acts.
You suggest two factors that should be considered in relation to his behavior: alcoholism and sexual addiction. Alcohol can of course be a contributory factor but never a defense, and anyway it seems highly unlikely that he offended for 30 or 40 years only when drunk.
As for sexual addiction, this has recently become the fashionable defense for countless actors, singers, and other high profile personalities. While I can understand that such people would far prefer to be sentenced to rehabilitation in a 5-star clinic rather than imprisonment in a high security gaol, there is precious little convincing scientific evidence that sexual addiction actually exists.
My conclusion therefore is that, although it is only human nature to want to blame your father's behavior on what a layman would term external events, alcohol and sex addiction can be considered mitigating factors, but not the cause.
So what should you do with your father who continues to offend? Two obvious alternatives are to seek psychiatric help and/or involve the police. The first can only help if he cooperates or is forcibly incarcerated if he does not. The second would involve an extremely difficult family decision.
However, you seem to have finally realized that after decades of tolerating his behavior, you have to put a stop to it. Countless people have been hurt over the years and lots of family and friends have been complicit in allowing him to offend and re-offend.
Indeed, in some jurisdictions, some of these might well be liable as accessories to your father's criminal activities (particularly in the case of the unwilling). Of course it is understood that it is frequently difficult for family and victims to speak up in these situations but the longer no action is taken, the greater the damage that is wreaked.
I leave it to Dr. Holmes to suggest how to deal with this. All the best. - Jeremy
Trust Jeremy to leave me with the more difficult job. :)
And one of the most difficult things about your situation is that I cannot give you therapy — even if I wanted to — via a column. The most I can do is provide you with information that might help.
The problem, however, seems to be that the person you really want to change is not yourself but your dad, and that is impossible without him wanting to. One of the hallmarks of addiction is that the person loses control of his behavior and is aware that he has lost that control.
I do not know if your dad has really lost control over his behavior or — whether he has or not — if he feels he has lost control.
The reason I feel he may not have lost control is that I don’t know what happened the times he did what he did. Did you all just pretend nothing happened? Did you merely give him the cold shoulder hoping he would read between the lines?
If so, he may have chosen to ignore your signals, convincing himself he had nothing he needed to control, rationalizing that all men would behave this way if they could get away with it, like he could.
In fact, even if you used guilt or threats, he may have behaved the same way. Again, no real need for him to own up to a problem. The amount of self delusion people are capable of is amazing.
In cases like these, with one family member continually hurting others and showing no sign that he wants to change, sometimes nothing works, no matter how hard the rest of the family tries to change things.
In fact, maybe it’s time to take the focus away from your dad and start thinking that the rest of you matter for a change; much more than he does. There is no use asking him if he wants to continue living the way he has been.
It is time to ask yourselves the same question: Hanggang diyan na lang ba tayo? (Is this all there is in our lives?) Instead of our living our lives to the hilt, pursuing our passions, and being with people who love us as much as we love them, we merely huddle in little groups talking about what dad did yet again?
A truism in family therapy is: If you want to change anything, change yourself. A family is like a system that always tries to reach homeostasis. Once one part of the system changes (like yourself) the rest of the system will do so, too.
The change to the family may not be to your liking, but what else is new? At least, you will be living a healthier life. And if the change is for the better, then halleluia! All’s well that ends well.
But before this happens, I feel there are 3 things I must tell you:
- There are many definitions of sexual addiction. In some, your dad is definitely a sex addict; in others, he isn't. Oftentimes it is better not to diagnose immediately.
- Should your dad decide he wants to get better, it will take a long time, usually with several relapses along the way. But he can overcome his sexual longings if he wants to.
- Anthony, there is no need to worry that you will turn out like your dad and lolo. Even if genetics is a risk factor in addiction, it is much more so for substance addiction (heroin, alcohol) than for process addictions (sex, gambling) when it is the behavior that needs controlling.
In addition, you have two things going for you (opposite of risk factor): one, advanced knowledge of how sexual misbehavior can hurt yourself and those you love; two, a conscience. Good luck! - Margie
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