Dr. Thema Bryant is a psychologist and minister who has become one of the most influential voices addressing mental health and spiritual health. UrbanFaith sat down to interview her about her new book Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self. The interview is above, more information about the book is below.
In the aftermath of stress, disappointment, and trauma, people often fall into survival mode, even while a part of them longs for more. Juggling multiple demands and responsibilities keeps them busy, but not healed. As a survivor of sexual assault, racism, and evacuation from a civil war in Liberia, Dr. Thema Bryant knows intimately the work involved in healing. Having made the journey herself, in addition to guiding others as a clinical psychologist and ordained minister, Dr. Thema shows you how to reconnect with your authentic self and reclaim your time, your voice, your life.
Signs of disconnection from self can take many forms, including people-pleasing, depression, anxiety, and resentment. Healing starts with recognizing and expressing emotions in an honest way and reconnecting with the neglected parts of yourself, but it can’t be done in a vacuum. Dr. Thema gives you the tools to meaningfully connect with your larger community, even if you face racism and sexism, heartbreak, grief, and trauma. Rather than shrinking in the face of life’s difficulties, you will discover in Homecoming the therapeutic approaches and spiritual practices to live a more expansive life characterized by empowerment, healthier relationships, gratitude, and a deeper sense of purpose.
According to Covenant Eyes’ 2013 pornography statistics report, fifty percent of Christian men and twenty percent of Christian women admit that they are addicted to porn.
It’s an age old debate. Bigger is better. Size matters. But contrary to all the urban myths, the black man’s biggest sexual organ lies between his ears. And none of this is more evident in the African American male community than when it comes to pornography. I address men here because, honestly, they are 543% more likely to look at porn than women. As of this writing, over 451, 597,025 searches have been conducted since the start of 2013. Yes, that’s only three months! 1 out of every 4 online searches is for pornography. Unfortunately, because the church doesn’t address this issue adequately, many Black Christian men feel like they are alone in their battle to remain porn-free. But statistics have shown that 1 out of every 2 Christian men are addicted to porn (while 1 in 5 Christian women admit porn addiction). 9 out of 10 boys are exposed to pornography before the age of 18. Sadly, 2 out of every 3 young men feel that porn is an acceptable way to express their sexuality. And the pulpit isn’t exempt. 51% of pastors in a recent poll admitted that porn was a potential personal temptation. My goal here isn’t to bombard you with statistics. Instead, I want to highlight a major, potentially unaddressed problem in the African American faith community.
The reason porn is so prevalent in the faith community is because of its addictive nature. For years, the Black church has treated this as merely a sin issue, something to be expunged from a person’s life. Maybe it’s time we went a little further. Although it is important to realize that sex addiction is a sin, it is even more important to realize that sex addiction is a disease that needs proper treatment. In his work, Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, Dr. Mark Laaser describes the cycle involved with sex addiction. He asserts that frequently sexual addiction progresses from fantasy, to porn, and ultimately leads to masturbation. The former naturally leads to the latter. Sound familiar? It should. “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). The task of attempting to treat sexual addiction is to attempt to break this cycle. And, for many, that’s no easy task.
Laaser also asserts that the chemical changes present in sexual addiction mirror drug and alcohol addiction in many ways. In his opinion, it becomes important to treat sexual addiction with the same level of severity. He writes, “Just like alcoholics, sex addicts tell themselves they can quit tomorrow if they want to. They like to think they are in control, but they are not.” Here’s a video that explains the chemical changes in the brain as a result of pornography:
This is a very real issue—even for saved, sanctified, filled with the Holy Ghost Christians. So where does that leave Black men? Hopelessly left to our own vices? On the current trajectory, yes. But there’s hope. Psychologist Al Cooper stated that the allure of porn is driven by three engines: affordability, availability, and anonymity. Internet accountability group Covenant Eyes uses the imagery of a three legged stool to paint a word picture of each. Remove one leg and you make the stool much harder to sit on comfortably for someone dealing with a porn addiction. So here are some ways to remove those legs brothers:
1. Remove the Availability
There are tons of internet programs that block certain sites (here’s one). This seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how something as simple as putting a great porn filter on your computer can help overcome your addiction. For example, if I were a former alcoholic it might not be a good idea to visit liquor stores or sit in bars on my lunch break. Removing the temptation goes a long way in helping overcome the temptation. That’s why Paul was so adamant when he told the Corinthians church, “Flee!!!!” There’s a desperation associated with that word. The good thing about steadfast resistance is that eventually it will cause the tempter himself, exasperated from his futile attempts, to flee.
2. Increase YourAvailability Let me tell you, there is no way to overcome any addiction apart from God’s Spirit. Human nature drives us toward sin. Everything natural tells us that it feels right. Only the work of God’s Spirit can help us to overcome this temptation.
Jesus tells a story in the Gospels about an unclean spirit leaving a man, returning, and finding him more accessible. The man is “empty and swept out”. So ultimately the spirit brings seven other spirits with it. And Scripture says the last state of that man was worse than he was before. The problem was that this man didn’t replace what left with something (or should I say Someone) else. It’s not enough to remove the temptation. Overcoming any temptation is a three-step process: recognition, removal, and replacement.
Replacement necessitates increasing your availability to the Spirit of God. Finding ourselves empty and swept out in the porn context means those idle moments where we have nothing else to do. Sitting in front of the computer screen. www…(nothing comes to mind). Empty. Swept out. It’s those moments where decisions have to be made. Will I fill that void with my old habit (which gets worse over time)? Or will I become more available to the life-giving Spirit of Christ? The more we yield to the prompting of God’s Spirit, the less we make ourselves susceptible to our flesh. We are encouraged to walk in the Spirit, but that also necessitates making ourselves available to Him.
3. Create Some Accountability
I’m not talking about the false, “How you doings?” we toss around every Sunday before Church. Because honestly, if folks told you how they were really doing, there’d be no need for a service or a sermon. Prayer would become the focus. Hurting people walk in our churches every week, yet church culture teaches them to be “blessed”, “highly favored”, and problem-free. This can’t be any further from the truth of a lived-out Gospel within the community of faith.
When I say accountability, I mean two steps. First, is personal responsibility. Seems like Job was serious about this. This brother made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman. It might not be a covenant with your eyes, but find a way to make yourself personally accountable. The second step is being accountable to others: creating a space with people you trust where you can be real, transparent, and free to share. For men, this is very difficult. Most men hate talking (unless its about sports or other activities of common interest). That is, until they find someone they can trust. Throughout history, men have learned that collective effort is much more productive than compartmentalized, individual effort. Strength in numbers isn’t just a cliche, it’s a reality. When it comes to porn addiction, although it’s hard to stand alone, standing with others who have your back helps immensely. Illustratively, Scripture tells us that a threefold cord is not easily broken. Find some real, honest, brothers who can help in the accountability process.
In closing, I’m not writing this as a theory. In my college days, I had a “stash”. I know the addictive nature of pornography. But I also have experienced the power of God to overcome something that could have eventually led to my spiritual death. I’m not dismissive when it comes to the amount of temptation and stimulation men deal with regularly. But I am certain that the process described above can help overcome any temptation—including porn. If you are dealing with this issue, start with these three steps: Remove its availability, increase your availability (to God’s Spirit), and create yourself some accountability.