The Biblical story of Jesus being tempted by Satan is very interesting (Matthew 4:1-11). It always seemed odd to me that Satan’s first choice was to tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread. After all, Jesus is known for food-related miracles, and there doesn’t seem to be anything inherently sinful about the act of turning stones into bread. So why would Satan tempt Jesus to do something, if it isn’t even wrong?
As it turns out, the story contains an excellent lesson on how to perceive and handle temptation. In my latest video, I talk about how it applies to quitting porn and how these insights can help you stay clean.
Quitting porn is tough. It sounds simple—after all, how hard can be to not do something? But for a lot of guys, it’s one of the most difficult things they’ve ever done, or ever will do.
One of the reasons for this is the fact that porn hijacks one of our most powerful motivators: our sex drive. When you combine that with modern pornography’s unending variety, 24/7 availability, relative secrecy, and the fact that most of it is completely free, it becomes one of the most compelling habits imaginable.
The most common approach to quitting is to persuade yourself that you don’t really want porn as much as you want to quit. Many temptations can be overcome by thinking about the benefits of abstaining, or by reminding yourself of the consequences of relapsing. Most of the time, this is an excellent way to go about it. Focusing on setting yourself up for a better future creates a very positive and forward-moving attitude.
But anyone who has tried and failed to quit porn in the past knows that, no matter what, there will come a time when temptation is so strong that nothing else seems to matter. No matter how strong your desire to stay clean, there will be instances where your desire for porn is even stronger.
At this point, the above strategy breaks down. You can still try to convince yourself that you don’t really want porn, but this is relatively ineffective. Sometimes it can even lead to absurd subconscious rationalizations that result in failure anyway. “Of course I don’t want to watch porn! But I do want to visit this one website, which normally leads to watching porn. But it won’t lead to watching porn this time, because I don’t want to watch porn anyway!” By pretending that we’re “over” temptation when we’re practically drowning in it, we open ourselves up to being tricked and lured into an ambush.
An entirely different attitude is needed for these situations. I call that attitude “denied gratification.”
You’re already familiar with the idea of delayed gratification. In a way, that’s what we do when we convince ourselves we don’t want to watch porn. “Yeah, I would enjoy giving in to this temptation right now, but I’m going to enjoy my porn-free future even more. No thanks.”
Denied gratification is much different. It wastes no time trying to change or refocus your desires. Instead, it simply breaks the connection between your appetite and your actions. It says, “I admit I really want to watch porn. But it doesn’t matter. I’m going to deliberately do the opposite of what I want to do right now.”
Choosing denied gratification is embracing and enduring the feeling of hunger, instead of indulging in a slice of poisoned cake. It’s tying up your selfish desires in the trunk and giving the driver’s seat to something greater. It removes “what do I want?” from the discussion, so you can focus on “what’s the right thing to do?”
This means you throw out everything else. And I do mean everything. When I use denied gratification, I even refuse to think about any of the benefits of staying off porn. Why? Because that only shifts the focus back to what I want.
This isn’t simply about ignoring the temptation, or feeling really, really, REALLY determined. It’s about getting your “self” out of the way completely, so you can focus on what you need to do.
It’s about taking a moment to liberate yourself from your own desires.
Most people tend to assume that freedom means doing whatever you want to do. In reality, there is very real risk of becoming a miserable slave to your own wants. To be truly free, you must be able to cast aside your momentary desires whenever they get in the way of your wellbeing, your goals, or your purpose.
True freedom includes freedom from being ruled by your own appetites. It’s the freedom to pursue what really matters.
In my last article, I mentioned that anger is sometimes an appropriate attitude in your personal battle to stay free of porn. Let’s talk about how that works and how you can use anger effectively.
Anger is just one part of the natural spectrum of human emotions, but it is uniquely forceful. Like a weapon, it has a great capacity for both good and evil. It must be carefully controlled, and is only to be used under the appropriate circumstances. For some, it’s difficult to keep anger in its proper place, and there is a great risk of it getting out of hand. It depends on your emotional health and how your mind works. People in this position are better off leaving anger out of their strategy (just like some people are better off quitting alcohol completely, rather than trying to healthily moderate their consumption of it).
One of the most crucial things to understand is that anger should only be used as a tool. Anger must not be used to make decisions, only to add force to them. You should never be ruled by your emotions, and that goes double for strong, negative emotions like anger.
The next consideration is how anger is directed. Again, like a weapon, it should only be pointed at your enemies. You don’t ever want to shoot yourself. And you certainly don’t want innocents or allies to get caught in the crossfire.
What this means is that you should never get angry at yourself. At best, doing so would replace porn with other problems. At worst, it will drag you further down into a spiral of guilt, self-loathing, and even self-harm as you degrade yourself and associate your very identity with your failures. We’re not here to to trade one enemy for another, and we’re not here to become the enemy ourselves.
You can’t let anger poison your interactions with other people either. Anger should only be directed at your enemy. I’m a Christian and I believe that Satan and his demons are very real, and are deliberately tempting us. Even if you don’t believe that, it’s useful to imagine that you do have a real opponent who is scheming and plotting against you. This gives you a specific direction in which you can channel your anger safely and effectively.
Now that you understand how to limit anger, how exactly is it useful?
Like I already mentioned, anger doesn’t have any place in the decision-making process. But once you’ve decided to quit porn, or to get back on track after a relapse, anger can help you stay on course. It reinforces the decisions you’ve already made.
That’s because anger doesn’t compromise. Anger doesn’t give up. Anger doesn’t come to the negotiating table and hear what the enemy has to say. Anger doesn’t care about bribes or enticement. Anger sees through the deception and sweet-talk of its enemies. Anger doesn’t relent. Anger doesn’t pat itself on the back or relax. Anger makes no room for hopelessness. Anger is not apathetic. Anger doesn’t cry in a puddle of self-pity and wonder if it will ever be able to stop watching porn.
This war is ultimately about saying “No.” And anger is the emotion of “Hell no.”
The other day, as part of a challenge called “December of Discipline”, I had to run until I physically could not keep running. It was exhausting and painful, and I wanted to quit after the first few laps. To keep me going, I used a number of mental tactics, including anger. When every other part of me wanted to give up, anger said, “Hell no. Keep going.”
Anger helps you stay on course by taking surrender and compromise off the table. And as anyone who has tried to quit porn knows, every failure consists in a surrender or a compromise. In the heat of a tough battle where your other strategies are failing, the stubbornness and savagery that anger promotes can turn a seemingly un-winnable situation into a quick and decisive victory.
The final note I’ll make is that anger should not outlive its usefulness. Anger has a time and a place, but should not become your way of life. Just like you wouldn’t walk around day-to-day with a pistol in hand, you should not remain angry when anger is not needed. Keep it holstered with the safety on until you have to use it. Because anger is such a powerful and aggressive emotion, it can damage your relationships with others and with yourself if it comes into play at the wrong place and time.
Do you need anger to win? Of course not. At the end of the day, winning is all about saying “No” whenever you’re tempted. Nonetheless, anger can sometimes make this decision easier.
Anger gets a bad rap, and for good reason. It can be very dangerous and it can create any number of problems. But if you’re responsible and emotionally healthy enough to use anger appropriately, then by all means, do so.