Pornography Isn’t Your Problem: Jason Mahr at TEDxCincinnati (Transcript)

Jason Mahr – Author, Speaker, Mentor

Have you ever lived a lie? What kind of impact did it make on you? And on the lives of others around you? For the past 20 years or so, for the better part of the last 20 years, I’ve been a pastor. I’m a religious man, I’m a family man, a man of faith, and by admission, I’m a total hypocrite. That’s right. I preached to people for years, trying to get them to follow a strict set of rules that I wasn’t even willing to abide by. And that’s not the worst part.

As a pastor, I was trying my best to make a positive impact in the lives of others, but secretly I was involved in a relationship that was taking over my life. It was leaving me wounded and depressed, unable to even manage the relationships that mattered to me. So the best thing that could have happened was when I ended the relationship. In a spirit of full disclosure, and to make things as awkward as possible, I’m actually going to read to you a few portions of the breakup letter I wrote for the relationship.

It goes like this: “When we first met, it was just like any new and even secret dating relationship: lots of attention, obsession, that constant feeling of being on a high. I really couldn’t get enough of you because you were always there to pick me up when I felt down. But then things changed.

Even though you always were able to make me feel good physically, you had this way about you that made me feel terrible about myself inside. And then came the realization that you were lying to me. I realized you weren’t even faithful to me: You were in a relationship with almost all of my friends. I was a fool to let you into my life and to believe your lies.

Now, since I broke up with you, it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed to get my family back, my marriage back, and, most importantly, my heart, mind, and soul back. Because believing the best about myself may seem like a leap, but it is the best jump I’ve ever made. So now, I’m inspired and I’m on a mission to keep as many people as I can from being hurt by you. And I’m not going to spare your feelings, and say something like: ‘Oh, don’t worry. It’s not you, it’s me.’ Because dear pornography, I’m glad things are over between us. Stop trying to contact me, because remember: It’s not me, it’s you.”

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I was able to write that letter because I had an eye-opening moment, just a few weeks before. On the verge of losing another job, the church leader sat me down, he said: “Jason, I really believe in you, but I believe that there’s something broken inside of you that you can’t see. So instead of being another church that just casts you aside, we’re actually going to hire you a life coach to figure out what’s really going on inside.”

In the course of the conversations with my life coach, Gary, my struggle with pornography became the major topic of discussion. When I revealed this struggle to Gary, he says: “You know what? Thanks for being vulnerable, I appreciate that. Now, the next step for you is to go back to that church leader, and I want you to share with him what you just shared with me.”

“You want me to share my darkest secret with someone that I respect and I want approval from? You got to be kidding me.”

Well, I took the leap, and it didn’t work out the way I wanted to. I didn’t get shamed, but I didn’t get to keep my position either. In order to stay employed, I accepted a position at the church as a janitor, for the next year. The eye-opening moment was when Gary said to me, “Jason, did you know that porn isn’t your problem? Viewing porn is a behavior, just like any other addiction. You are using porn to medicate the actual problem.” That changed my life because it shifted my attention away from the behavior to the problem.

And what was the problem? For me and almost every other addict, it’s this: the need for approval. I mean, who doesn’t want approval? Right? But that became a problem because I could not handle rejection. When we feel rejected, we get depressed. When we get depressed, we look for something to pick us up to make us feel better, and that is where we open the door to all kinds of addictions in our lives.

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My addiction of choice happened to be pornography, just like 71% of men and 38% of women today. This is a dangerous addiction because it gives us an escape from reality, but also a false sense of approval. And this is the draw: We become addicted to what makes us feel approved. So my freedom didn’t come from getting rid of porn, even though that was a good thing, but it came from learning how to handle rejection.

I learned that instead of letting rejection shape me, I can learn from it, and not become depressed, and have that need to feel approved. You see, how we handle rejection is the key, and that is always within our own control. So when it comes to overcoming addiction: Are we looking in the wrong place? Addictions are just the symptom of a deeper problem. Maybe the cure for addiction isn’t even in striving for approval.

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