Ready to Reach Out
Talking to people is one of our favorite activities! We love talking about sports, food, vacations, politics, jobs, crazy neighbors and favorite movies. Isn’t it great when you find someone who cares as much about your favorite band as you do? And the best conversations always involve at least 2 people who enjoy taking turns talking and listening. A good conversation has 2 sides of one experience, like a penny has two sides of the same object.
When it comes to talking about personal issues such as pornography, we can be prepared to be good communicators too. Most of us didn’t learn this at home, church or school. It takes a lot of courage to start this conversation. And when the time comes, most of us aren’t sure how to be the kind and encouraging friend we would like to be. Unfortunately, this situation keeps too many people stuck in a dark, lonely place.
It can be easier than you might think to reach out for help or respond well when someone reaches out to you. We’ve got some basic first steps right here. The most important thing is to think through these steps ahead of time and imagine a positive experience. Practicing with a friend is a great idea too.
The Conversation Basics for Both Sides
Here are some ideas for each side in this conversation – the person who is ready to reach out to share their challenges, and the person who would like to be a safe and trusted friend.
Just to be clear, we are talking here about the first conversations between friends or family members, not between married or committed couples. That’s a little more complex, so we’ll cover that another time.
Reach out if you struggle with pornography
No one needs to stay stuck in a problem like pornography alone! Take these first steps to get out of isolation – you are worth it.
Step 1: List all the people you could talk to
Friends, parents, other family members, and church leaders are a good start. Some things to consider are:
- Who cares about you?
- Who do you trust to be calm, kind, and keep confidences?
- Have you talked about deeper issues before?
- How much do they know about pornography and what are their attitudes? It’s a bonus if they understand some things about this issue, but it’s not necessary.
If you feel like there is no one like this yet, then you can start building those kinds of relationships now. When you start to be the friend you wish you had, it will be a good thing for you and for you friends!
Step 2: Give them a chance to prepare
Give someone time to think ahead so they can be ready to respond the best way. Dr. Adam Moore explains that research shows that when people are surprised with something, they react in ways to protect themselves rather than in a more thoughtful way.
You could let them know something like this ahead of time:
“You know that pornography affects a lot of young people today, and I just want to talk to you about how it has been affecting me. It would probably be good for us to think about this for a day or two first and then meet up.”
Step 3: Meet in person for the first real talk
Take a deep breath – you are doing the right thing to help yourself!
Start by thanking them for being a person you can trust and for listening to you.
Some things you might share with them are:
- How long you have been struggling,
- How it is affecting your life.
- How it makes you feel about yourself.
- What you have tried to stop.
You could say: “I know this is probably a hard conversation for you and I appreciate you listening to me. It really helps me just to have someone listen and care about me. You don’t have to solve this problem.”
If someone reacts negatively, realize it is more about them, not about you. Some people just haven’t had the chance to learn much about this issue yet, and fear can take over. Don’t take it personally, and keep reaching out to find the right people to support you.
Step 4: Ask for the help that you need
Even people who really do want to help you may not know quite how to do that yet. Before this conversation, really think about what this person could do to help you. Simple things can make a big difference without overwhelming either of you.
What they shouldn’t do:
- Be your therapist, sponsor, or spiritual leader (unless they have that training!)
- Be responsible for your progress.
- Take control of keeping you away from things that might be temptations.
What they can do:
- Listen and be open to understanding you.
- Love and accept you.
- Build a more connected relationship with you.
- Remind you of your worth and value.
Here are some things you might ask for:
“Could we talk every Sunday night about what I am learning about overcoming this challenge?”
“It helps me to keep busy and be around other people more – could we plan to do something with friends once a month?”
“Could you just send me a text to say ‘Hi’ a few times a week? It helps to know someone is thinking about me.”
“I’m not sure where to get help – do you think you could help me find some resources?”
“I’m nervous about meeting with a therapist, church leader, or 12-step group so I’ve been putting it off. Could you check in with me next week and ask if I have done that yet? It will help if I know I have to report to someone.”
“Let’s plan the next time we will meet up and talk about this.”
Step 5: Keep the relationship going
To have a good friend, you need to be a good friend – listen to their struggles with the same compassion you would like from them.
People will wonder if they are doing too much or too little, and if you still want them to bring this subject up. Remind them that they don’t need to be responsible for your recovery. Help them out by letting them know you appreciate the simple things they do.
You can ease possible relationship stress by being proactive, and check back with them regularly. You could say things like:
“Talking to you is really helpful. Thank you so much for being there for me.”
“I thought I would tell you how I am doing since the last time we talked about this.”
“I’m making progress in the recovery program I’m doing, but knowing that you care and understand what I am doing is really important to me too.”
Respond well when someone tells you they struggle with pornography
When someone tells you they are struggling with pornography, the way you first react can make a big difference to them.
You often won’t have much warning before that kind of conversation happens. But you can prepare ahead of time by visualizing what you would say, or even with some friends.
Step 1: Listen with compassion
If you only do one thing, this is it. If you only do this, you have succeeded.
We all can tell when someone is engaged in the conversation and listening to our side of things, or if they are just holding their tongue and thinking about what they are going to say next. Listen to understand them.
Step 2: Appreciate their courage and worth
Let them know you still care about them, see good things in them, and admire their courage in reaching out. Keeping a positive view of your friend is important but is not enough – they need to hear it from you.
“Thank you for telling me. I appreciate your courage and honesty.”
“I’m proud of you for talking. You are doing the right thing by speaking up and taking steps to change.”
“I appreciate so many good things about you, such as ___________.”
Step 3: Recognize their challenge
Show them you understand that this is a difficult problem that many people are facing today because of our culture and easy access to the Internet.
“I’ve been very concerned about the effect of pornography on many of my friends. I know that so many got involved when they were young and no one was talking about it.”
“This must be really hard for you. I’m so sorry you are facing this struggle, and I really believe that you will be able to overcome it.”
Step 4: Ask about their goals
Talk together about what they have tried to do to change this unwanted behavior and what they really want in life.
“How is using pornography getting in the way of things you hope for in your life?”
“What are your goals for finding freedom from this problem?”
“Have you been able to find help?”
“If you haven’t been able to find help yet, what do you think would help you?”
“If you have help, who is working with you and how often do you reach out to them?”
“Tell me about your recovery plan and how is it working for you.”
Step 5: Discuss how to help them
It’s important to understand what is appropriate help for you to offer. If you are not their therapist, accountability partner, or spiritual leader, don’t try and take on those roles. Since the only person we can change is ourselves, we all need to take responsibility for our own journey and let others do the same. But a friend with listening ear and kind heart can help us keep going.
Things such as talking once a week, inviting them to social activities, or sending encouraging texts once in a while can be appropriate steps.
“You can trust me to keep our conversations confidential. Let’s plan when to talk next.”
“Would you like help finding some resources? I can ask around for suggestions.”
Read more about building connection when a friend discloses their struggle with pornography.
Now you’re talking!
We are talking here about the first few conversations about this. We realize this is a simplified approach to a complex relationship. The listener has feelings about this experience which need to be recognized and understood too. If you are having difficult feelings because someone you care about is involved with pornography, you can use the same steps to reach out to someone safe to talk to about it.
To help you keep these steps in mind, we have a simplified list and a card you can print out and take along with you.
When you have the opportunity to actually reach out or respond well, you will feel assurance that you have been able to do some good for yourself and for someone else. Not only that, but as more and more positive conversations like this happen, we will change the shame, silence and fear that are keeping people isolated and stuck in the problems of pornography.