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Rigid/Disengaged Family System

When I work with men that struggle with sexual addiction, one of the first things we will do is look at his family-of-origin. Often, I find a family system characterized as rigid and disengaged.

A leading researcher in the field of sexual addiction, Dr. Patrick Carnes, found that 77% of men and women who report as struggling with sexual addiction were raised in a rigid family and 87% report coming from a disengaged or disconnected family.


A rigid family system are homes with strict rules and high expectations. More often than not, one parent rules the family with explicit or implicit threats. This is a parent that sends the message, “My way or the highway” and demands compliance or the child can receive harsh punishment. Continued non-compliance hold the threat of being orphaned from the family.

In this rigid family system, the parent in control has all the power and often demonstrates that power through handing down sentences for the smallest infractions. His or her rules may be around behaviors, dating, curfews, types of television or movies to watch, choirs to do before playtime, cleaning duties, and/or when to speak or not to speak. Children in these families learn to do as they are told or be seen as a “bad boy or girl” to the parent and family.


A child raised in this family system can develop the self-belief of “I am not good enough” and “I am a disappointment to my parents.” I find many of my clients were the super compliant child in the family. They hold the belief, “I have to be pleasing to others.” The compliant boy learns early to create a false self, while in secret, he does things his parents would never approve. He finds the secret behaviors to be exciting but thinks of himself as bad for doing them.


The super compliant boy in the rigid family system presents a perfect image to the outside world, yet this is at a great cost of losing his authentic self. He works hard to present himself as not needing anything or anyone. He often helps others and can seem like the nicest guy on the planet. He knows it isn’t safe for him to show any of his weaknesses or struggles. If he has any needs, he just deals with those needs on his own.


What works in childhood, often doesn’t work well in adulthood. The good boy grows up to be the “Mr. Nice Guy” and maintains the belief that he must be “good” or “Nice” to be loved. He works hard to meet other people’s needs but meets his needs through a secretive life of porn, prostitutes, or other sexual compulsions. He fears ever being discovered of this secret life.

I have worked with hundreds of men that appeared to be kind, loving, giving, hardworking, but in his private and secret life, he turned to sexual behaviors to numb, medicate, and escape his true inner-world of depression, loneliness, anxiety, and pain.

The Mr. Nice Guy may appear to be hypocritical on the outside, but he simply is doing what he has done since childhood. To survive in his rigid family system was to present a smiling, compliant, and sacrificial version of himself while meeting his own needs through a counterfeit connection that would never judge him, never reject him, never criticize him, and would never punish him. The Mr. Nice Guy turns to porn or other sexually addictive behaviors to cope with a world he cannot control.


My work with men that learned to be super compliant and struggle with sexual compulsive behaviors includes helping them see how their compliance fits with sexual addiction. They must face their biggest fear of exposing their imperfection and flaws to others that will accept him. He needs to experience that others do not like him because he is a nice guy but because he is vulnerable, authentic, and sometimes not nice but honest.

Sexual addiction treatment is not just about helping men and women stop the sexual compulsive behaviors but rather find acceptance, empathy, and love for sharing their imperfect selves.


When we work together, whether you’re reading my articles on relationships or sex addiction recovery, signing up for a session, group, or a Hold Me Tight workshop, the first thing you’ll get from me is my strong commitment. Commitment to support you and your partner strengthen your marriage or guide you away from destructive addictive behaviors into a life worth living.

What you will experience from me is that I am 100% in your corner, always believing in the best of you and helping you when it gets painful and hard. Because it hard! Most everything worth achieving in life is difficult but I am here to cheer you on because you are worth it! I love being part of your healing journey!

“Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. I often say that Wholeheartedness is like the North Star: We never really arrive, but we certainly know if we’re headed in the right direction.” Brene Brown “Daring Greatly”