Interview With Psychotherapist Peter Kleponis
By Genevieve Pollock
WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pennsylvania, JUNE 25, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Across the country, men are waking up to the dangers of pornography use and are banding together in order to battle this scourge in their own lives and in society.
A newly released DVD, “What’s That Purple Building, Daddy?” documents the efforts of a group of men that closed down a strip bar in their neighborhood. These men, part of the Philadelphia-based “The King’s Men,” came together for mutual support against pornography, and to act together on a “no more porn” tour picketing places where this industry thrives.
Peter Kleponis, a Catholic psychotherapist who specializes in marriage and family therapy, men’s issues and pornography addiction recovery, was featured in this DVD.
He spoke with ZENIT about his extensive work with pornography users and their families, the success stories and how virtue plays a role in recovery.
Kleponis, assistant director of Comprehensive Counseling Services, will host an online webinar Saturday, in which all people worldwide are invited to participate from their own homes to learn more about addressing the growing pornography problem in society and in their personal lives.
In this interview with ZENIT, Kleponis offers tips on spotting pornography problems, and explains how clergy, couples, parents and families can work together to combat this issue.
Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.
ZENIT: If a person came to you and asked, “Am I addicted to pornography?” how would define this for him?
Kleponis: A person who uses it on a regular basis is not necessarily addicted.
What I ask is: Do you find yourself drawn to it? Do you find yourself thinking a lot about it? Do you find yourself looking forward to coming home from work at night and getting online and looking at the pornography?
Do you rely upon it to deal with the stress of loneliness, male insecurity or job pressures? Is it very difficult for you to go several days without looking at pornography? If you’re answering yes to these questions you very well may be addicted to pornography.
Zenit: What problems do you see in single men and how to you counsel them?
Kleponis: We tell single young men that by engaging in pornography they’re giving into profound selfishness, which is undermining their ability to relate in a healthy way to young women.
We tell them case studies of the growing problem of younger men, college students, who are incapable of relating to females. They lack confidence and subsequently have to struggle with anxiety.
Also, pornography use contributes to overreacting in anger as men lose a sense of refinement and true manly confidence in how to relate to a woman. The women they see in pornography don’t have feelings, needs and opinions. When the men leave their fantasy world and meet a real woman who does have emotions and opinions, they often don’t know how to deal with her, and withdraw due to insecurity or overreact in anger.
Parents need to respond to this crisis in masculinity by teaching their children the truth about sexual morality and the dangers of pornography and compulsive masturbation in their lives.
ZENIT: Let’s talk about the healing process. What are some ways a person can begin to address this problem?
Kleponis: First, the person needs to accept that there is a problem with pornography and then try to grow in self-knowledge about its causes.
The person cannot do it alone. So many men think, “I’m going to pull myself up by my bootstraps; I’m going to do it by myself.” They are rarely successful.
The six point plan we recommend includes: protection of the home; peer support (or a 12 step program for severe addictions); counseling or an increased self-knowledge as to the origins of the pornography use; growth in faith and a commitment to work on the virtues that will help with the resolution of the causes; friendship; and education.
The most common problems leading to the use of pornography that are uncovered are: selfishness, various types of loneliness, male insecurity, excessive work pressures, marital conflicts and a weak spiritual life.
Virtues can assist in the resolution of these conflicts. When a person commits himself to the hard work of growing in virtues, he usually experiences much less vulnerability to pornography.
Next, growth in peer support and in friendships is very helpful. Many men who struggle with pornography don’t have any close friends, not even their wives.
Sharing one’s struggle with one’s spouse or with a close male friend is helpful. Friends can be an extra support for accountability and can receive weekly printouts of Web sites visited through covenanteyes.com and other programs. We have witnessed the truth of the Scripture passage, “A brother strengthened by a brother is like a fortified city,” (Prov. 18:19).
Another important part of the healing process is education. The influence of the contraceptive mentality over the past 40 years cannot be underestimated in regard to an appreciation of marital love and sexuality. The contraceptive mentality has strongly influenced the serious difficulty of men viewing women as sexual objects and has contributed in a significant way to the pornography epidemic.
An outstanding document of the U.S. bishops’ conference in this area is “Married Love and the Gift of Life.”
Helpful books include: “Boys to Men” by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin; “Out of the Shadows” by Patrick Carnes; “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker; “Breaking Free” by Stephen Wood; “Be a Man,” by Father Larry Richards; “Theology of the Body for Beginners” by Christopher West; and “Genuine Friendship” by Father Philip Halfacre.
Next, the home should be protected by putting the computer in an open area, monitoring its use and decreasing the use of television. Of course, another challenge to the family is the transmission of porn on cell phones.
The role of faith is very helpful in fighting against pornography use. Many men who struggle experience relief and grace when they admit that they are powerless over their use of porn and then turn it over to God.
The sacrament of reconciliation, a spiritual plan for life, spiritual direction, Scripture reading and the reception of the Eucharist facilitate the resolution of the emotional, personality and spiritual conflicts that drive the compulsive use of pornography.
ZENIT: The field of positive psychology also supports the role of virtues in addressing emotional and personality conflicts. What virtues are particularly helpful with pornography?
Kleponis: The virtues that are helpful in resolving selfishness are generous self-giving to one’s spouse and to children, friendship with one’s spouse, self-denial, gratitude, responsibility, temperance, humility and much greater love for one’s spouse and for the Lord that would motivate a person not to inflict further hurt and pain.
The virtues that help with growth in male confidence include gratitude for one’s God-given gifts and body, forgiveness of those who have damaged one’s confidence, healthy friendships and faith.
Growth in faith can help one to appreciate the presence of the Divine love of God the Father or Our Lady if a person did not feel affirmed and loved by a parent, or the presence of the Lord if a person did not feel affirmed and loved by male friends.
The virtues that help with loneliness include cheerful self-giving to one’s spouse and to the Lord, hope, forgiveness of those who have not been emotionally sensitive, positive communication, detachment with less self-reliance, and trust and faith in the reality of Divine love if a person did not feel loved at different developmental stages. Often men can benefit from spiritual direction so that they can grow in the capacity to receive love.
The virtues that decrease the excessive anger associated with loneliness and sadness are forgiveness, compassion, kindness, respect and humility.
The virtues addressing anxiety are trust, detachment, wisdom to see the goodness in one’s spouse and faith in God’s protective love and in his ability to lift the burdens and worries of daily life.
As a person grows in virtue he experiences greater happiness and fulfillment in his self-giving in the vocation.
ZENIT: Could you say more about addressing loneliness in married life?
Kleponis: Married couples need to protect their romantic love, marital friendship, and betrothed love, which includes intimacy.
Couples should spend time together in the evenings in the same room as much as possible and should communicate.
Communication is essential to the marital friendship. They should also try to follow the advice of marital communications expert, John Gottman, and offer five positive comments for each negative comment.
They should try to trust the Lord daily with their marriage and family which will protect the marriage from the excessive worries that can create stress and tension in marital friendship.
They should also try to go to bed at the same time. One of the reasons some men get caught up in pornography is because they spend the evenings in a different room from their wives and go to bed at different times. This sets the stage for loneliness and then pornography use.
Couples need to be sensitive to the Lord’s words in Genesis that it is not good for man to be alone.
Zenit: What can parents do to protect their children from pornography and help in the healing of this epidemic?
Kleponis: We recommend that parents evaluate their parenting style and try to engage in responsible parenting, not in permissive or controlling parenting.
The permissive parenting style is the most prevalent in the culture and can contribute to the pornography epidemic. Permissive parents usually fail to correct selfishness in their children and, in fact, model it. They are often weak in faith and do not provide the effective spiritual leadership that can protect children from the obsession with the body and with sex in this culture. They fail to warn children about the dangers of pornography, compulsive masturbation and the hook-up culture.
Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington, Virginia, in his letter on pornograhy wrote: “The human person progressively builds or destroys his or her character by each and every moral choice. When one’s gaze is directed askance, one becomes the kind of person who is willing to use others as mere objects of pleasure.”
Responsible parents commit themselves to form their children in virtue, warn them of the dangers of using others as sexual objects, provide regular loving correction and teach their children the beauty of God’s plan for human sexuality within the sacrament of marriage.
They show and teach their children that sacramental married love makes present in the world the love and beauty of the Trinity.
Finally, John Paul II wrote in Letter to Artists (1999): “Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that ‘beauty will save the world.’ (16).
“Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future.
“That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God, which a lover of beauty like St. Augustine could express in incomparable terms: ‘Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!'” (16).
A true appreciation for love and beauty can contribute to healing the pornography epidemic.
[With the contribution of Richard Fitzgibbons]