[Editor’s Note: This post is a copyrighted excerpt from the book Life After Lust: Stories & Strategies for Sex & Pornography Addiction Recovery by Forest Benedict.]
Essential Mindset #15: I will grow in self-love, responding with care when I experience emotional pain.
Essential Mindset #16: I will not engage in friendly conversation with my Evil Genius but will maintain an attitude of opposition, looking for ways to throw it under the bus.
As an unmarried, young adult active in my addiction, I masterfully deceived those I most loved. My best friend was no exception. Every time I slept over at his house, my mindset morphed as I slipped into my addictive alter ego. The circumstance that triggered my conniving motives was the presence of porn presented through late-night movies.
Once I was aware of them, achieving access became a game to me. My friend had the best intentions of deterring me from his dad’s TV. He probably had me promise not to pursue it or removed the remote. Once, he stacked objects by the door in hopes that he would wake up when I went out to watch something. Yet, despite every tactic he attempted, my creativity rose to meet the challenge.
When the lights went out, I acted asleep while my mind went to work. Getting up quietly without waking others became a highly-developed skill set. I sneakily sought to outsmart my friend, accessing my adrenaline rush and securing my addictive high. The next morning was predictable. Waking with a shame hangover, I feared the disappointed look on my friend’s face. I could not bear the weighty truth that I had betrayed him.
Now, despite years of recovery, TVs remain a trigger for me. Sleeping in new situations with a TV nearby, I am often awakened by tempting voices, calling me onto that self- destructive path. They beckon me back to steal a look, explaining how I could easily get away with it. I’ve contrived a name for this convincing voice that calls me to creatively sneak back into lustful debauchery. I call this voice my Evil Genius.
What Is the Evil Genius?
Those of us who struggle with sexual addiction know our Evil Genius well. The Evil Genius is the part of us that places inventive ideas in our minds on how to numb our pain or increase our pleasure. Our Evil Genius once served the powerful purpose of helping us survive. Its tactics helped us cope with our hurts.
Sadly, the Evil Genius’ attempts to help us backfired. It led us down darker paths where we did things we will forever regret. In its search for sexual soothing, our Evil Genius neglected our long-term goals, leaving us recoiling from the consequences. It seems that the strategies of our Evil Genius gave us temporary relief but repeatedly threw us under the bus. Its attempts to comfort us left us bloodied and broken.
The Evil Genius is a pet name for preoccupation, which is presented in Patrick Carnes’ Addiction Cycle.30 This seemingly infinite cycle begins with the sexual addict feeling some sort of pain. Not knowing how to manage this in a healthy manner, the addict plans methods of self-medication. This preoccupation leads to rituals, which result in acting out behaviors, then shame, compounded with pain,31 is present. To the non-addicted onlooker, it may seem obvious that preoccupation is not the solution to suffering but the hook that catches us, keeping us in it. If we don’t learn how to spot preoccupation then our chances of stopping it are stunted. We must understand the tactics of our Evil Genius to stand a chance of escaping its grip.
The Top Tricks of the Evil Genius
- There are countless lies the Evil Genius will tell to lure us into the shadows. If we find our minds describing how lust is a viable solution that will satisfy, how our behavior won’t hurt anyone, or how we can keep our choices hidden, these are all deceptive inner dialogues. When we listen to minimizing assertions that our addiction isn’t serious or that we can sample lust without going all the way, these messages feed our dangerous denial.
- Euphoric recall. Do you ever find yourself thinking back to the good ol’ days of your addiction while oblivious to the painful consequences that resulted? When memories of pleasure are devoid of the pain that was present, this is euphoric recall.32 The Evil Genius uses this fraudulent form of fantasy to whet our appetite to return to our disastrous addiction.
- Creative ideas. When our mind imagines innovative methods of acting out our addiction, it is the workings of the Evil Genius. An inventive idea may come to our consciousness regarding pleasure in the present or we may mentally stash it for the future, giving ourselves a relapse raincheck.
If we’re uncertain whether our Evil Genius is at work, we can ask ourselves the following questions:
- Am I thinking about how to get around a recovery boundary I’ve put into place?
- Am I contemplating how to get away with indulging lust in any form?
- Do I have any pre-planned paths into sexual curiosities that could threaten my future sobriety?
- Am I minimizing the threat of any current temptations?
- Am I imagining how much I’ve enjoyed my past addiction while ignoring the accompanying crisis filled consequences?
If we answer “yes” to any of these questions, our Evil Genius is dangerously close and it is time to act in our defense.
The Best Defense
1. Don’t debate
The childhood advice “don’t talk to strangers” is wise counsel when it comes to our Evil Genius. We can acknowledge it and set a boundary, saying something like “Hello, Evil Genius. Your ideas are off the table today.” Further friendly banter is the Evil Genius’ bait. Our Evil Genius has a way with words; this is where it does its best work. It knows our weaknesses. It knows what lines will lure us away to lust. We can tell it the truth of how we will live but when it responds, we must turn a deaf ear. This can be difficult if we don’t decipher the difference between our Evil Genius and our Wiser Self. This is one reason why we must know our commitments, aiming for daily alignment with them.
If we catch ourselves in the current of conversation, we must quickly disengage. Remaining in the mind-game of the Evil Genius, we’ll find ourselves losing more the longer we play. Before we know it, we’ll buy the lies, betraying our most cherished convictions. When the addiction’s anesthesia wears off, we’ll find ourselves deeper down the dark hole of despair than we’ve ever ventured before.
2. Throw it under the bus
What’s required when the Evil Genius calls is immediate action. In the moment, we can ask ourselves these questions:
- What can I do right now that will end this before it starts?
- What decision will close the door and stop wasting my time contemplating this temptation? In other words, what do I need to do to throw my Evil Genius under the bus?
We can start by listing our options, mentally or in writing. Our choices will be situation specific but could include:
- Calling an accountability partner
- Reaching out to our Higher Power in prayer
- Removing ourself from the situation
- Tending to our self-care needs
Next, we must choose swiftly, before our Evil Genius tries to talk us out of it (and we’re not listening to it anyway, right?). I suggest choosing an option that turns in or tells on our Evil Genius. We can do this by wrapping our struggles with words. We can say something to others such as “Part of me wants to do ____ but I am forgetting how ____ happened last time. I am committed to ______ and I need to be reminded of that.” This removes the power from our secret thoughts. The phrase we commonly use in recovery work is “reach out or act out.”33 Reaching for the phone instead of reaching for the porn quickly weakens our Evil Genius because suddenly we have someone on our side.
3. Meet our need
One significant factor that awakens and empowers our Evil Genius is the presence of an unmet need. If we lack energy due to poor sleep habits, mismanagement of stress, the absence of exercise, or unhealthy eating, we prime our brains to impulsively seek instant gratification.34 Often, the mere presence of our Evil Genius is the sign of a deeper problem. In response, we could internally explore it, saying, “I hear my Evil Genius telling me to start searching the internet. Is this the sign of an unmet need? It’s obvious to me that I’m physically exhausted. Instead, I’m going to lay down and take a nap. Thanks for the reminder, Evil Genius!” We can often silence our Evil Genius by simply meeting our need at hand.
4. Pay attention to our pain
Remember how the Addiction Cycle begins with pain? In recovery, we stop addictively reacting to our pain and begin lovingly responding to it. The pained part in us doesn’t need some lust-filled distraction. It needs care and compassion. In recovery, we learn to become our own loving parent,35 so to speak. The presence of our Evil Genius reminds us to pay attention rather than neglecting the cries of our heart.
5. Pollute our fantasy
When faced with euphoric recall, we can remind ourselves (or ask others to remind us) of the uncomfortable realities that accompanied our past escapist behavior.
- What physical, emotional, and spiritual discomfort was present?
- How did we unknowingly harm ourselves and others?
- What else could happen?
Let’s think about the worst case scenarios.
This is essentially reminding ourselves, “Yes, I could indulge my addiction in unique and unprecedented ways but then I’d experience unique and unprecedented consequences.” We can pop our own fantasy bubble by considering how the Evil Genius will deteriorate our relationships, our self-worth, and our potential.
6. Empower our Wiser Self
The martial art of Jujitsu is centered around using the attacker’s momentum to defeat them. Similarly, when the Evil Genius calls, consider practicing something meaningful. When the Evil Genius tempts us to turn to lust to just survive, we can do something that enlists our Wiser Self, helping us thrive. Whether we tend to our wounds or attend to our loved ones, what was meant to worsen our situation can be repurposed to improve it.
Putting It Into Practice
Recently, when I was out of town, I fell asleep on the couch while putting my son to sleep. Sleeping in the vicinity of a TV was not problematic until my Evil Genius woke me at 3am. I contemplated the creative ideas my Evil Genius presented to me. It showed me how the odds were in my favor for turning on the TV without waking anyone up.
I then realized my immediate risk. I started some recovery related reading, hoping to sway myself back to my stronger self. It wasn’t working. I tried journaling. As I wrote, I became aware that distraction was not the answer. I needed to sleep but was unable to, against the backdrop of my Evil Genius’ dominating ideas. I considered how I could throw him under the bus before he did the same to me. If I lingered much longer, I knew his betraying intentions would soon lead my addictive actions.
I began throwing my Evil Genius under the bus by waking up my wife. I asked her if we could trade places. Without question, she got up and went out on the couch in front of the TV. I lay down feeling safe from the temptations at hand.
Suddenly, our little one cried out, “Mommy!” As my wife returned, I knew I was headed back out to the couch. In that moment, I imagine my Evil Genius dusting himself off, preparing for his victory dance. But to his surprise, I leveraged his momentum against him, landing him swiftly back under the bus. I cemented my victory by placing both the TV’s remote and my glasses by my wife’s bed, closing the door. Feeling free from the power of my Evil Genius, I crashed on the couch. I slept soundly the rest of the night.
The next day, I shared the story of struggle with my wife. She thanked me for noble choices made in the silent hours of the night.
When it comes to my Evil Genius, it’s till death do us part. Truthfully, my Evil Genius lives in me. I must never underestimate his power to persuade me with cunningly creative words. The better I get at spotting him, the stronger I’ll get at stopping him. My Evil Genius is right here, but right now I respond in active opposition. It’s my Evil Genius or me. One of us is going under that bus. And it ain’t gonna be me.