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Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction Paperback – May 23, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Hazelden; Third Edition edition (May 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568386214
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568386218
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Patrick J. Carnes is a nationally-known speaker on addiction and recovery issues. He is the author of Out of the Shadows, Contrary to Love, A Gentle Path Through the 12 Steps, and Don't Call It Love. He is the clinical director for sexual disorder services at The Meadows in Wickenburg, Arizona. Carnes is the editor-in-chief of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, the official journal of the National Council of Sexual Addiction/Compulsivity, an organization for which he also serves as a board member. He also serves on the national advisory board of the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1
The Addiction Cycle


Although Hefner was approaching forty-five, and had been involved with hundreds of photogenic women since starting his magazine, he enjoyed female companionship now more than ever; and perhaps more significant, considering all that Hefner had seen and done in recent years, was the fact that each occasion with a new woman was for him a novel experience. It was as if he was always watching for the first time a woman undress, rediscovering with delight the beauty of the female body, breathlessly expectant as panties were removed and smooth buttocks were exposed—and he never tired of the consummate act. He was a sex junkie with an insatiable habit.
—Gay Talese, Thy Neighbor's Wife


Del was a lawyer. Brilliant, charming, and witty. He had a special breakthrough in his career when he was appointed as one of the governor's special aides. His wife and three children were proud of his accomplishments. However, Del's public visibility was creating a problem because he was also a sexual addict. His double life included prostitution, porn bookstores, and affairs.

Del would initiate relationships with women, feeling that he was "in love." After the initial sexual contact, he would desperately wish to be free. These relationships became characterized by his ambivalence. He wanted to be sexual, but he did not want the relationship. Yet he couldn't say no clearly without fear of hurting the women's feelings, so he never quite broke off the relationships. Instead he hoped their frustration would force them to give up. The result was that he had a series of relationships at the same time in various stages of initiation and frustration.

There was not only the juggling act of keeping his relationships straight. Some of these women were vital to him professionally. He exploited relationships to receive cooperation. His problem was that the women would believe that he cared for them. The professional complications were extreme. At one point, he was involved with a colleague and her secretary at the same time. The secretary went in to talk to her boss about this "problem" she had. Del had to face two very angry women.

His other behaviors were also problems. In porn shops, he was sexual with a number of men in the movie booths. Worse, the shops he frequented were near the capitol, an area where he was liable to be recognized. He vowed to stop when, sitting in a meeting in the attorney general's office, a plan was described for a raid on a local porn shop—the one he had patronized two days before. But he did not stop.

Neither were his visits to massage parlors without peril. One night his masseuse was a young girl quite high on some form of drug. Del decided to have his massage anyway, including a "hand job." When she masturbated him, she hurt his penis. Del was too shameful to complain or even to tell anybody. When he got home, he was so upset, he masturbated—despite his penis being sore.

Late one evening, Del pulled up next to a young woman at a stoplight. He had always had the fantasy of picking up a woman on a street. He looked at her and she smiled at him. Del became very excited. They drove side by side for several blocks. She returned his stares at each stop sign. Soon she pulled ahead of him, turned off the road, and pulled to a stop. He followed and pulled up behind her. She waved toward him and pulled out again. Del thought she wanted him to follow.

Del's mind raced ahead to where she could be leading him. She drove in the direction of a well-known local restaurant with a popular late-night bar. Convinced that was where they were headed, he speculated that after a drink, they might end up at her apartment. With his mind full of fantasies, he pulled up behind her when she stopped. As he was opening his door, she leaped out of her car and dashed into the building. Surprised, he looked up to see that he was not in front of the restaurant. Rather, she had stopped at the police station three blocks away.

Horrified, Del got back in his car and raced home. While driving, he was in shock at how out of touch with reality he was. She had not been encouraging him to follow her, but was in fact frightened. He, on the other hand, was so caught up in his fantasy that he failed to notice she was parking at a police station.

He felt a flood of remorse for subjecting the woman to a frightening ordeal. Also, he was terrified that she would accuse him of attempted rape and that he would be arrested. When Del arrived home at 1:30 a.m., he was so scared that he sat and prayed. At 2:00, there was a sound of a siren in the distance. He promised God that he would change. He fantasized about what it would do to his wife and kids. Truly, it was the most desperate moment of his life. Finally, he went to bed.

When he awoke in the morning, he felt tremendous relief. He knew he was not going to be picked up. He went to work and put enormous energy into his job that day. At the end of the day, he felt in need of a reward. He stopped at a massage parlor.

Del was a man who valued the law. He also prided himself on his honesty with people, a fact he often parlayed into seduction. His children and wife were central to his life. He had worked hard in his career. His addiction, however, violated his own values and the law and jeopardized his career and family. His story—of which just a few pieces are related here—is one of constant predicaments. Del's addictive behavior put him in situations in which he was vulnerable to tremendous consequences. His degradation was only exceeded by the violation of his own principles. Because of Del's sexual addiction, his fantasy became more real than the nightmare he created.


What Is Sexual Addiction?


A way to understand sexual addicts like Del is to compare them with other types of addicts. A common definition of alcoholism or drug dependency is that a person has a pathological relationship with a mood-altering chemical.1 The alcoholic's relationship with alcohol becomes more important than family, friends, and work. The relationship progresses to the point where alcohol is necessary to feel normal. To feel "normal" for the alcoholic is also to feel isolated and lonely, since the primary relationship he depends upon to feel adequate is with a chemical, not other people.

Sexual addiction is parallel. The addict substitutes a sick relationship to an event or a process for a healthy relationship with others. The addict's relationship with a mood-altering experience becomes central to his life. Del, for example, routinely jeopardized all that he loved. His vows to quit were lost against the power of his addiction. The only thing that exceeded his pain was his loneliness.

Addicts progressively go through stages in which they retreat further from the reality of friends, family, and work. Their secret lives become more real than their public lives. What other people know is a false identity. Only the individual addict knows the shame of living a double life—the real world and the addict's world.

Leading a fantasy double life is a distortion of reality. Del was so caught up in his fantasy that police station became a restaurant and a cooperative prospect was, in fact, a desperate and frightened woman. An essential part of sanity is being grounded in reality, so in the sense that addicts distort reality, the sexual addiction becomes a form of insanity.


The Addict's Belief System


How does addiction begin? How does the progressive insanity occur? It begins with the delusional thought processes that are rooted in the addict's belief system. That is, addicts begin with core beliefs about themselves that affect how they perceive reality. So important is this factor—the belief system—in the addiction equation that it is a theme running throughout this entire book. For now, we need only to point out its role in the impaired thinking of the addict.

Each person has a belief system that is the sum of the assumptions, judgments, and myths that he or she holds to be true. It contains potent family messages about a person's value or worth, relationships, needs, and sexuality. Within it is a repertoire of what "options"—answers, solutions, methods, possibilities, ways of behaving—are open to each of us. In short, it is a model of the world.

On the basis of that model we
•     plan and make decisions
•     interpret other people's actions
•     make meaning out of life experiences
•     solve problems
•     pattern our relationships
•     develop our careers
•     establish priorities


For each of us, our belief system is the filter through which we conduct the main task of our lives: making choices.

The addict's belief system contains certain core beliefs that are faulty or inaccurate and, consequently, that provide a fundamental momentum for the addiction. Generally, addicts do not perceive themselves as worthwhile persons. Nor do they believe that other people would care for them or meet their needs if everything was known about them, including the addiction. Finally, they believe that sex is their most important need. Sex is what makes isolation bearable. Their core beliefs are the anchor points of the sexual addiction. If you do not trust people, one thing that is true about sex—and alcohol, food, gambling, and risk—is that it always does what it promises—for the moment. Thus, as in our definition of addiction, the relationship is with sex—and not people.


Impaired Thinking


Out of the belief system—the set of interacting faulty beliefs—come distorted views of reality. Denial leads the list of ways that addicts distort reality. Addicts use many devices to deny—to...

Customer Reviews

It shows a world few of us will ever understand.
Simple Citizen
I found this book to be very informational from a co addicts point of view and it helped to give insight into what the addict goes through.
Amazon Customer
I highly recommend this book to anyone that is in search of answers about addiction and how to find help.
Earl A Davis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

190 of 193 people found the following review helpful By Niki Collins-queen, Author VINE VOICE on February 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Out of the Shadows" by Patrick Carnes is one of the best books on sexual addiction. Carnes says sexaholism transcend personality, gender, and socio-economic status. He defines sexual addiction as having a pathological relationship with sex and using it as a mood-altering drug. His descriptions of the symptoms, the three levels of addictions, and the progression through the four-part cycle of preoccupation, ritualization, compulsive sexual behavior and despair are excellent.

Carnes also deals with the sex addicts underlying dynamics such as a faulty self-image, and believing that sex is their most important need. Carnes describes how some addicts appear grandiose and full of exaggerated self-importance to create a front of "normalcy," and hide their addiction and poor self-esteem. He says the addict's family and friends often become angry and frustrated with the addict's "egocentricity" and insensitivity to others. Since guilt and remorse cannot be expressed the addict may become progressively more isolated and unreachable as they close off their vulnerability.

Carnes states that since the addict feels unloved and unlovable they have little confidence in the love of others and become calculating, manipulative and ruthless. They are purposely unclear about their intentions in relationship and are seductive in their behavior. Addicts also have a high need to control all situations in an effort to guarantee their sexual supply and ensure all possible sexual opportunities.

To get help Carnes recommends SA's 12 Step Program. He says the Program helps the addict to, "separate themselves as individuals from their addiction which, as a powerful illness, is destroying their lives. By admitting the addictions power, hope emerges from connecting with others and Higher Power.
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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a good book for anyone who wants to understand the basic emotional and psychosexual dynamics of sexual addiction but the problem I did have with it was that it was written to understand the male addict. Although the dynamics from the human level are essentially the same there are some differences.
After a really harrowing relationship with a woman addict whose secretiveness and intense denial/shame of the problem translated to my being left in the dark as to it's nature I scoured the web for any information I could find. I was really confused how this woman's behavior really depressed her to the point of endless bouts of crying and yet it continued with more calculating deceit, mind games, rampant flirting with colleagues and promiscuity. Everyone involved becomes a powerless spectator in the painful ongoings. This was the most painful experience that I have gone through to date and it has really made me wary of my perception of how sex is used to sell just about everything in the US. Pity.
For guys who have been likewise involved understanding the "logic" ( if it can be called that) of the female sex/romance addict is better outlined in a book by Charlotte Davis Kasl called: "Women, Sex and Addiction - a search for love and power" a highly qualified therapist in the field. I was amazed at how every page seemed to be a prediction ( in hindsight ) of my ex's irrational and destructive behavior, motives, feelings etc., such that many of the statements made by sexually addicted women she interviewed for the book were made by my ex g.friend, verbatim.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Patrick D. Goonan on January 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
Patrick Carnes is a recognized authority an sexual addiction and has a very clear, direct and writing style. He has a deep understanding of his topic and he conveys it in easy to understand language without any judgmental overtones.

This specific book is intended primarily for people who are addicts or suspect they have some problems in this area. As such, it contains a lot of case histories, first person quotes and a simple approach that describes the basics underlying sex addiction. The role of shame and guilt in the addictive cycle as experienced by the person caught in the cycle sexual addiction is covered in-depth. In addition, the role of sexual addiction as a maladaptive survival strategy in response to core wounds is developed at length.

In my opinion, this is an excellent resource for people in recovery. However, one of his other books CONTRARY TO LOVE seems to be more useful for helping professionals. While this book lacks some of the detailed accounts of OUT OF THE SHADOWS it goes into much greater detail on the systems dynamics i.e. role of family, culture, etc. It is more comprehensive, but a more difficult and less personal treatment of Carnes' ideas. However, this book will also be useful to people who are further along in recovery.

Patrick Carnes has written many excellent books in this area. However, Charlotte Kasl is also an author who I feel compliments Patrick Carnes' approach. The book WOMEN, SEX and ADDICTION is particularly good and even if you are not a woman, you will find it a useful resource for understaning sexual addiction and co-dependence in general.

Patrick Carnes is a fan of Twelve Step Programs and he argues convincingly for this approach in combination with therapy.
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