by Mike Genung
Recently, I took my daughters to watch the Disney movie “Frozen.” The plot involved two sisters whose parents were a King and a Queen of a small kingdom. The eldest sister, Elsa, is born with a special power that enables her to create ice, snow, or cold. When the two girls are young, Elsa accidentally hurts her younger sister while they’re playing. The injury is life threatening, and the family rushes to get help.
After Elsa’s younger sister recovers, her dysfunctional parents tell Elsa she needs to isolate herself from the world to keep the gift of her powers a secret. They close the doors to the palace to keep everyone one out and away from their frightened young daughter. Elsa takes their advice a step further by adopting a “conceal don’t feel” approach to life. Whenever Elsa is fearful or emotionally upset she starts freezing things, so the answer, she assumes, is to shut her feelings down.
Not long after, the parents are killed in a storm while at sea, leaving Elsa and her younger sister alone. (Ever notice how Disney has a habit of killing off one or both of the parents in their movies?) Now alone and living in fear of being discovered, Elsa continues to shut everyone out, including her younger sister, who is frustrated and confused by her older sibling’s preference to live like a hermit.
Coronation day arrives, and Elsa, who is now a young woman, must face her subjects in the ceremony that will make her queen. When her impulsive younger sister asks for Elsa’s blessing in marrying a guy who she met just minutes before, Elsa blows her stack and unwittingly creates an ice barricade, complete with razor sharp spikes. The townspeople are freaked out and Elsa flees alone to mountains, where she attempts to live alone in isolation.
As I was watching this, it hit me that I had a lot in common with Elsa, as do many who are in bondage to sex or porn addiction. There is a defining, traumatic moment at an early age. Maybe the parents abuse the child, or mess him up some other way by telling him that he’s a failure, will never succeed, or by continually shaming him.
The child can’t cope with the trauma and confusion, and his parents don’t deal with emotion or suffering in a healthy way, so he shuts his feelings down to try to survive. He doesn’t relate to people very well and often feels awkward in social situations. Isolation is the safest thing for him because when he’s alone there’s no risk that he will be judged or found out for who he really is. Women scare him to death because his emotions start bubbling forth as soon as he starts getting close to one.
Enter porn. There’s safety and comfort with the women in those images; they’re always smiling and accepting. There’s no risk that he’ll get hurt or found out; it’s the perfect scenario in his mind; he can have the perfect woman in isolation where it’s safe, and he doesn’t have to feel or experience emotion.
Porn deadens a man emotionally, which is what he wants. He uses it when he’s feeling stressed, overwhelmed, happy, or just to “unwind.” If something unpleasant happens that causes his sense of rejection and unworthiness to rise to the surface, he turns to porn.
“Conceal don’t feel” is now his way of life.
Fast forward ten years. Now he’s married. His wife discovers he’s a porn addict, and the house of cards he’s built his life on quickly collapses. “Conceal don’t feel” has kept him in bondage for years to a sick habit that has warped his character, and it’s now threatening to destroy his marriage. He has little compassion for people, doesn’t understand what love is or how to receive it, and, deep down, is still that frightened and confused child who was damaged years ago.
The only way out is to abandon “conceal don’t feel” and start doing the thing he dreads the most: open his life up to others and risk getting hurt.
This is the great thing about a support group where the men (or women, if it’s a wives group) all have the same struggle. There’s no faking it or pretending to be something that you’re not. The group members are accepting because they are hurting with the same issues; untended emotional wounds, distorted coping mechanisms that need to be replaced with new ones, battles with sin, and an overwhelming need for grace, acceptance, and mercy.
This is what real church is; broken people who’ve messed up their lives and are in need of redemption, kindness and healing. There’s nothing like the blessing of meeting with others who can relate to our pain and will walk with us, no matter how badly we’ve blown it. It’s here where we find the safety to grow emotionally. Our friends help us see that we’re not the rejected scum we thought we were, and that our wounds and scars don’t’ cause others to freak out and run for the hills like we thought they did. We have value, and something to offer others: a man or woman who’s been through pain and difficulty is entirely qualified to minister to others.
“Conceal don’t feel” doesn’t work, and it only makes things worse. I know because I tried to live by it in years past, and it was a disaster. Human beings malfunction in isolation; the only way to heal is with the help, encouragement, and love of others.