Heather Berube and her husband, Eric, find joy in their five children and one grandson. As a travel consultant for almost 20 years, she loves to travel and explore with her family and help others do the same. Heather grew up on the West Coast and has served in various music and teaching capacities as well as Young Women and Relief Society presidencies, and ward and stake Primary presidencies. She loves learning and currently serves as a Service Coordinator in South Jordan, Utah.

Enter Heather…

As I mentioned in part one of this two-part series, the discussion of pornography use can stir up difficult experiences and emotions in those effected by its use. I do not wish to minimize in any way the pain and damage that pornography use can have on the user, spouse, and loved ones. From circumstances in my family and extended family, I understand the impact of betrayal trauma and difficulty that comes from pornography use and resulting attitudes and behaviors that cause additional harm.

My intent is to share ways we can shine the Savior’s light into the darkness of pornography use, by offering connection, empathy, and hope. Healing is possible as one draws on both the redeeming power and enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

I cannot speak to this as an expert in any way, only as one who seeks to love and encourage others in their journey, so in this article I will lean heavily on simply quoting very current information and instruction from church leaders, church publications, and church members who are respected experts in the field.

Connection vs Crippling

A recent Church News article shared excerpts from Sister Sharon Eubank’s keynote address for the April 2021 Utah Coalition Against Pornography SLC Conference including: “The best way to fight the silence and the secrecy is by linking arms and turning the lights back on — together rather than alone.”

Sister Eubanks suggested five ways to hold productive conversations around pornography:

  • Ask what a person needs
  • Listen without judgment
  • Be with each other
  • Don’t compare
  • Validate the pain and suffering.”

“Hope is also essential for the healing journey of anyone who has been affected by pornography.” Sister Eubank shared the words of Melanie Holt, a leader of a Utah pornography addiction group, and emphasized that those whose loved one’s struggle with pornography should ‘support them emotionally and let the Savior do His job.  So often we don’t want people to have to do the hard things, but they have to do it to progress. Otherwise rescuing people cripples them.’”

Vauna Davis, the Executive Director of Reach 10, an excellent online resource and podcast, advises:

“When I was writing my Master’s thesis on anti-pornography campaigns, I found that the most common advice given to pornography users who want to be free is to go and talk to someone about their problem. It is an important first step, and everyone I have talked to who has found successful recovery has eventually found someone to open up to who made all the difference. As therapist Rory Reid noted, ‘Being truthful frees up energy previously used to maintain secrets.”

In a recent church magazine article, Five Things Worth Knowing about Pornography, the fourth thing is:

“The sooner you talk to someone, the better. If you’ve been viewing pornography, one thing that will help you greatly is probably also something that can feel really uncomfortable: talk to someone. Talk to your parents, older siblings, trusted peers, or another trusted adult. Talk to your Young Men or Young Women leader, or bishop. They’ll help you, not condemn you. The sooner you take this step, the sooner you can really start to heal and change. Yes, there may be consequences, including feeling some embarrassment, but any consequences are going to be better than letting the problem go on and get worse. Some people tell themselves they’ll quit pornography on their own first and then talk to someone about it. The longer it continues, the harder it is to quit. It’s better to talk to someone.”

“Don’t do this alone,” is just one helpful tip former YSA Bishop, Richard Ostler, shares in 7 Tips for Overcoming Pornography Use.

“Connection and friendship can also give you power and help you succeed. You should have someone who can help you keep yourself accountable and see you through your best and worst days. They should support you without judging you. And you could also provide the same support for them. Seek out counsel from your Church leaders or family members. And if needed, a therapist or professional mental health counselor can also help you discover the underlying reasons why you might be struggling with pornography.”

Knowing how to respond can make all the difference to the one reaching out for help and support. In addition to suggesting what not to say, Jenny Spencer explains in this LDS Living article why encouragement is needed and offers good ideas of what to say:

“Encouragement is vital when people are trying hard to break addictive cycles. When they want to continue to move away from pornography and they are trying to repent, they need encouragement because they most likely feel guilty. It is important that we help them focus on bad choices rather than allow them to focus on being a bad person.”

Here are some great encouraging words:

  • “I love you, and I will stay by your side to help you win this fight.”
  • “I don’t judge you for telling me this. In fact, I admire your bravery in trusting me with this information.”
  • “What do you think would be most useful for me to do in order to help you overcome this?”
  • “I know that talking to your bishop will help you take an important step in overcoming this. He can help you truly repent.”
  • “Please come to me when you are feeling vulnerable or tempted to look at pornography, and we can talk it out.”
  • “I won’t judge you when you have setbacks. Just look at how far you’ve come and how much you’ve changed already!”
  • “I promise I will not tell anyone what you have told me, unless you want me to.”
  • “Let’s work together to find something more worthwhile to put your energy and thoughts into.”
  • “How can I help you remove sources of pornography from your life?”
  • “I want to have a better relationship with you. Let’s spend more quality time together.”
  • “I believe that the Atonement can help you change, and I believe that you can change.”

Empathy – The Contrast to Shame

Empathy is likely the antithesis of shame, and is very helpful in unraveling shame, creating and building connection, and offering healing support. Dr Brené Brown’s research and writings offer great insight into the importance of empathy:

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” “A brave leader is someone who says I see you. I hear you. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to keep listening and asking questions.”

Those who are overcoming pornography use, as well as those who love and support them and are dealing with its effects, need empathy to help them heal. Empathy is a skill that takes some practice. It’s also important to know how to clearly and compassionately communicate when you might need to take a break from difficult conversations. We can learn so much about how to do this in the article Developing the Empathy to Minister:

What Is Empathy?

Empathy is understanding another person’s feelings, thoughts, and condition from their perspective rather than our own. Being empathetic is important in our efforts to minister to others and fulfill our purpose as ministering brothers and sisters. It allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

How Can I Develop Empathy?

Empathy requires some understanding of another’s situation. The better we understand their circumstances, the easier it becomes to understand how they feel about it and what we can do to help.

1 – Understand

Actively listening, asking questions, and counseling with them and others are important actions for understanding their situation. Learn more about these concepts in previous Ministering Principles articles:

2 – Imagine

In our efforts to keep our covenant to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort, we can pray for the Holy Ghost to help us understand what someone might be feeling and how we can help. Once we understand someone’s circumstances, each of us—whether it happens naturally or not—can go through the exercise of imagining what we would think or feel in that situation. Understanding those thoughts and emotions, along with the guidance of the Holy Ghost, can help guide our response to their situation. As we come to understand another’s circumstances and imagine how they might feel, it is important that we don’t judge them inappropriately (see Matthew 7:1). Being critical of how someone got into the situation can lead us to discount the pain the situation is causing.

3 – Respond

How we respond is important because that is how our empathy shows. There are countless ways to communicate our understanding both verbally and nonverbally. It’s important to remember that our goal isn’t necessarily to fix the problem. Often the goal is simply to lift and to strengthen by letting them know they’re not alone. This might mean saying, ‘I’m so glad you told me’ or ‘I’m so sorry. That must hurt.’ In every case our response must be genuine. And when appropriate, being vulnerable enough to let others see your own weaknesses and insecurities can create a valuable sense of connection.

But we were never meant to walk the path alone. The Savior achieved perfect empathy, descending below all things so that He would know how to succor us in our afflictions and infirmities (see Alma 7:11–12; Doctrine and Covenants 122:8). He expects each of us to follow His example and show empathy as well. Every member of the Church has covenanted to ‘mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). Despite our own challenges, we are taught throughout the scriptures to turn outward and ‘lift up the hands which hang down, and [strengthen] the feeble knee’ and to ‘make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way’ (Hebrews 12:12–13; see also Isaiah 35:3–4; Doctrine and Covenants 81:5–6).

As we take others by the hand, let them lean on us, and walk with them, we help them stay on the path long enough for the Savior not only to convert them—one of the key purposes of ministering—but also to heal them (see Doctrine and Covenants 112:13).

Hope

One more thing from Five Things Worth Knowing about Pornography is:

“There is always hope for someone who wants to break away from pornography. Nobody is ever too far gone. If you have a desire to change, Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost will help you. Though your path of healing may not be easy and will likely also include spiritual, physical, psychological, and social changes, the Savior will be there to lift and bless you. He has carried the burden of all of our sins—all of them, including the ones we can’t seem to shake yet. Be patient with yourself and rely on the Savior’s healing power as you improve, step by step. Whether you’re struggling with pornography yourself or are aware of a friend or loved one who is struggling, remember the Savior’s grace and mercy. There is always reason for hope.”

Jill Manning, a licensed therapist shares her testimony of hope:

“…there is hope and there is healing, both for those that are struggling and also those that have been impacted through no choice or fault of their own. And I know this, because every week when I go to my office, and I work with a remarkable group of people that have been honest and vulnerable in earnestly working to overcome this, I see change and I see people thriving and succeeding. …[We] have a truth and true doctrine called the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which also changes people physiologically, spiritually, can change our hearts, change our minds and change our lives. And that’s where I hold my greatest hope, is with the Atonement and those that are sincerely desiring to repent. And with appropriate help, people can overcome this issue, that I know.”

Benjamin R. Erwin of LDS Family Services shared a helpful perspective for those who are striving:

“It takes faith, hope, and time to heal from the patterns of self-deception, isolation, and secrecy that nearly always accompany addiction. We can take counsel from Nephi to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Nephi 31:20) that He can heal—and is healing—us. We need to not give up or decide that because temptations and cravings return, there is no hope in Christ. To those who will not look because they feel no hope, I say that there is hope in Christ. He is the hope of recovery.”

The Newsroom recently shared all that the Addiction Recovery Program has to offer:

“In society and especially in the Church there is so much shame and stigma around addictive and compulsive behaviors. Consequently, people suffer in silence, and it breaks my heart,”

said Ben Erwin, a Family Services therapist and the Addiction Recovery Program manager.

“The Addiction Recovery Program provides a safe place where anyone can find acceptance, compassion, help, support, truth and healing. When you walk into an addiction recovery program meeting, people don’t judge, stare, cast a glance — they warmly welcome you. They’re so glad you came. And they’ll invite you to keep coming back. The Church’s Addiction Recovery Program is about supporting and connecting with each other in overcoming addiction, but it’s also about connecting with the Savior, Jesus Christ. He wants to help us in our trials, and He is the source of healing.”

Visit addictionrecovery.ChurchofJesusChrist.org to find a virtual or in-person meeting. The website also includes stories of hope, videos and support group guides. You can also listen to podcasts of recorded meetings to learn more about what a meeting is like.

Hope in Christ

And lastly, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland shared this inspiring message: “Not one of us has suffered what the other has suffered. However, I believe there is One who has. Each person will have to counsel and pray and work through that with Him. We cannot live without hope. Every one of you needs to have hope. Christ Jesus gives us that hope because in some incredible way, He has in effect been where you have been and felt what you have felt.”

For many working to overcome pornography and its effects, the path forward may seem long and often hopeless. As leaders, family members, and friends we can do so much to love and support them in their healing and growth as we reduce the shame, build open connection and conversation, listen empathetically, and offer sincere encouragement and hope in Christ.