Most of us have known someone who has struggled with pornography. On the podcast today, I have an amazing conversation with Zach Spafford. He shares with young adults, preparing missionaries, return missionaries, parents and leaders helpful tools and mindset strategies to overcome unwanted behaviors. We discuss why using the word, “addict” isn’t useful, how to overcome the shame cycle and how understanding agency might be the missing piece to breaking free from a pornography habit.
What You’ll Learn:
- Why using the word, “addict” isn’t useful.
- Helpful ideas and strategies to overcome unwanted behaviors.
- How to overcome the shame cycle.
- How understanding agency might be the missing piece to breaking free from a pornography habit.
Featured on the Show:
Jennie Dildine 0:00 Hey, what’s up everybody? It’s Jennie the LDS mission coach and you are listening to the LDS mission podcast episode number eight help with pornography. I’m Jennie, the LDS mission coach and whether you are preparing to serve a mission, currently serving a return missionary or a missionary mama like me, I created this podcast just for you. Are you searching for epic competence? Ready to love yourself and to learn the how of doing hard things? Then let’s go. I will help you step powerfully into your potential and never question your purpose again. It’s time to embrace yourself. Embrace your mission, embrace your life, and embrace what’s next. Hey, everyone, so excited to be with you today. Thanks for joining me on the podcast today. I have an awesome interview with my friend Zack Spafford. He does a lot of work with people getting self mastery on different habits but more specifically about pornography. And I thought this was really important to talk about, because we all know someone who has struggled with pornography. I love the conversation that I had with Zack, this conversation will be useful to you if you’re a preparing missionary, if you’re a young adult of any kind if you are a parent of someone who struggled with pornography, or if you are a leader of our church, what Zack talks about, is taking the shame out of the pornography, and helping us really understand the power of agency. So really, this this episode, this interview will help you with any habit that you want to change. I always teach my clients that change comes from acceptance, compassion, love, rather than from self hatred. So let’s take a listen to my conversation with Zack Spafford. I hope you enjoy. Hey, everyone, and welcome to the podcast. I’m so excited to have my friend on today. Zack Spafford. Hey, how’s it going, Zach.
Zach Spafford 2:24 So good.
Jennie Dildine 2:25 Good work. So excited to have you with us today. I met Zach. How many years ago? Has it been now? Mother’s Day? 2019. Mother’s Day? 2019?
Zach Spafford 2:37 Yeah. So that we I guess we met that the week before that? Yeah.
Jennie Dildine 2:41 And events, an event put on by God more or be bold masters event? Where it was like an in depth? How would you describe it, Zach?
Zach Spafford 2:52 It was a week of just listening to your entire brain be explained to you in the most concrete and valuable terms possible.
Jennie Dildine 3:03 What we’re going to talk about today is pornography. And Zack was the guy at BU boardmasters Is everyone. I go to lunch with girls. And there’s like, they say there’s this guy in our group that keeps talking about porn.
Zach Spafford 3:16 Kelly, they liked what I was saying. I hope I hope I didn’t offend anyone. Oh, it was it was extraordinary to hear people talking about diet coke and food and mother in laws and, you know, shopping and money. And I’m like, everything you’re saying pretty much is analogous to the way that I learned how to deal with my pornography problem. Yeah, that was just so fun to sit there with Jodi and talk about porn. And how it was so analogous. I mean, food is probably one of it’s closely tied. Cousin or sister. Right? Yeah, whatever you call it. Right? It was just so beautiful to have that conversation in a room where people are like, yeah, totally makes sense. Now.
Jennie Dildine 3:58 Yeah, yeah. I love that. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your journey then. And now you’re a coach, and you help people with other habits, self mastery, stuff like that. Why don’t you tell people about your journey and where you’re at now.
Zach Spafford 4:14 I found pornography for the first time when I was about eight years old. I was we were living in Dugway. Utah. And if you don’t know where Dugway Utah is, no one else does, either. It’s it’s basically the middle of nowhere. I was on a playground there in Dugway. And I was I was in one of those giant truck tires. You know, they’re like the dump truck tires that they used playgrounds. They were smelled like cat pee. So I don’t know why anyone ever played them, but whatever. Right? They were sketchy. But But I mean, it was hot, probably. So I was like, Well, this is at least the coolest place on the playground. And I found that I found a pornographic magazine for the first time and I was like, Oh, this is interesting. And that began a 25 year journey. Of on again off again. I struggle with pornography in ways that I could not have ever imagined that I would never have asked for. But that created the person that I am today. Because I was able to use the tools that I teach now to finally resolve that issue for myself. Yeah, so here I am, you know,
Jennie Dildine 5:21 so you went to later, be bald masters, you went there, just thinking this would just be for you, and for your own benefit and your own help with your pornography habit. But then you came away, like wanting to really help people and change people’s lives with with these tools.
Zach Spafford 5:40 Absolutely. Okay. And what a joy it is, you know, it’s kind of insane, right? To five years ago, if you just said, Hey, listen, I know what you’re gonna do for the rest of your life. All right, I’d have been like, not only No, but you’re insane. Right? Yeah.
Jennie Dildine 5:59 It’s so rewarding, though. Right? I feel the same way about my clients. Totally. Absolutely. I love it. Okay, so then what happened after that you went to the Life Coach School.
Zach Spafford 6:10 And I started working with men and women of all different stripes. Right? Mostly, I work with LDS men and women, but I have a Muslim client. I have people who are somewhat agnostic. Pornography is not just a problem. For men and women who are members of the church. It’s a problem for a lot of people, not because it’s the worst thing in the world that you could do. And I think that, you know, we’re probably going to talk about that a little bit here. But, but because it, it isn’t who we want to be. But unfortunately, the reality for most of us is that we’ve not learned any really concrete ways to deal with our emotions. Right? And, and this is a very convenient, very easy way to, you know, to avoid feeling bad. Mm hmm. And it’s gotten more convenient, like, even more convenient than it was even when I was a kid 20 years ago.
Jennie Dildine 7:03 Right? Would you say now at this point, like you’re completely you completely overcome pornography?
Zach Spafford 7:12 Oh, yeah. Yeah. porn. Porn is not really a part of my life, except for I like to talk about it.
Jennie Dildine 7:15 Yeah. Which is awesome. Because I know that like, when you look at some of your stuff, you’re like, I’ve overcome pornography. And I know that this can be a real struggle for a lot of people. And what I want to focus on today is this aspect of preparing for a mission, being on a mission and then coming back to maybe pornography, when we come home from the mission. And so I would love to be able to dive into that a little bit. Let’s start here. I hear people say like, I’ve even worked with a couple clients who say, I need your help. I’m addicted to pornography. What do you think about saying I’m an addict to pornography.
Zach Spafford 7:55 So this is a really interesting phrase for so when I was a missionary, I served my mission in Rome, Italy, and we’re in Naples at the time, and we’re sitting on a train, this woman gets on the train with us. And she sits in the stairwell and she looks at me and I look at her, and she proceeds in that stairwell to shoot heroin into her veins. She didn’t care what I saw, she didn’t care what you know what I thought about her. She just needed the chemicals in her body so she could feel good. And to me, that looks like addiction, right? So one of the one of the kind of litmus tests that I use, and I’m not a doctor, I’m not a clinician, if we can reframe this a little bit, one of the litmus tests that I use is I say to my clients, just imagine you’re sitting there and you’re viewing pornography. And someone walks in. What do you do? What do you think you would do? Just imagine, Jenny, you’re sitting there? You’re viewing pornography? I’m not assuming that you do. We’re just pretending. Would you do? What do you think you would do?
Jennie Dildine 9:01 I would probably like slam my my computer close. And act like I was, I don’t know. On my phone or something.
Zach Spafford 9:10 Yeah. Nothing to see here. Nothing’s happening. Yeah. Didn’t do anything. There’s no arousal happening in this room. Right. Right. Right. Right. Yeah. So to me, that indicates that this is more about shame than it is about addiction, right? Because if this is about addiction, you don’t care what someone thinks. You don’t care what they would say, you know, you might hold up a finger and be like, hold on one moment. This is a really good part, I’m going to finish this and then I’ll help you out or you know, whatever. Right. So if, if we think of it in those terms, I think it’s really clear that most people are ashamed of their behavior, not addicted to this behavior. And when we parse out the language of addiction, especially if you’ve been to a 12 step group or anything like it, one of the things that we kind of do We put ourselves in this victim role, right? Pornography comes and gets me is kind of what we kind of the way that we believe it. And we don’t necessarily say it that way. But that’s kind of the way that we believe it, which is to say, you know, I I’m powerless against my addiction, right? That’s one of the phrases that we learn when we go to the 12 steps, powerless against me addiction. So just kind of being aware of how we couch, this topic, might start to loosen it up for you might start to bring it out of this space where it’s like, I’m helpless. I can’t stop. I’m stuck. I fell off the wagon, I slipped all of that language is the language of being out of control, right? This isn’t a choice I’m making. It’s happening to me. And if you just kind of step back from that language and go, Well, is that really true? Is this happening to you? Or is it something that you’re choosing? And once we start into that, and then we’re then we’re really talking about agency? Right? So the idea, I can’t do something, what does that mean? You’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, if somebody comes up to you and says, Hey, Jenny, I’d love to have you get you a beer, but you can’t drink a beer, because you’re a Mormon, what would you say to them?
Jennie Dildine 11:12 I would just say I choose not to drink a beer. Right?
Zach Spafford 11:15 I can, but I choose not to. That’s, that’s your agency at work, right? I can. But I choose not to. Right. And you could put whatever phrase at the end of that you want I can and I choose to I can and I choose not to. But I can is the essence of your agency, to have agency, you have to have three things, you have to have the capacity to choose, which is what we’re talking about here. You have to know the consequences. And we when we look at porn, we we know what the consequences are. Mostly, we feel that sometimes we can’t go on a mission, right? There’s lots of consequences. And we have to know what’s right and wrong. Knowing what’s right and wrong in this situation is not really the issue. We know. Pornography is not who I want to be. This is not the moral imperative of like, porn is bad. Don’t look at it, it’s who do I want to be just as much as it is like, am I a vegetarian? Or am I a meat eater? And it’s what do I want. And without those three things, we’re abdicating our agency. If you take any one of those three things away, there’s no agency there. And when we think about the church in particular, we might say, well, the, you know, the Church says, I shouldn’t look at porn should and shouldn’t. And can’t, those are all applications of my capacity to choose. And then porn becomes this absolute No. Hmm. And if you have an absolute no, so something you can’t say yes to, you’ve lost your agency. Yeah. And this is hard, right? Because I bet there are people listening who are thinking, Well, no, I’m not supposed to look at porn. If I look at porn, I can’t go on permission. I can’t do XYZ LMNOP. That’s true. But you also can look at pornography. That’s actually more true than I can’t or I shouldn’t. Because can’t isn’t true. Because we know you’re looking at porn. Right? If that’s the problem you have, you know, that you can because you do shouldn’t shouldn’t don’t really mean anything. It’s just like, words we used to beat ourselves up with, right? So we have to get back to a place where we own this decision. I do. I don’t I can I choose to or I choose not to?
Jennie Dildine 13:15 Yeah. And so what I hear you saying then is when we just label ourselves as an addict, it takes that agency away, it becomes our identity, as if we don’t have a choice as if we’re powerless to the pornography itself.
Zach Spafford 13:33 Yeah, and part of the reason why this is so powerful is we have this thing called confirmation bias, we tend to believe things that we believe, you know, and you only have to look at politics to kind of see what I’m talking about. There are certain politicians and depending on which side of the aisle you stand, that person is either a villain or a hero. And everything that comes out of their mouth is either villainous or heroic. And yeah, they’re just doing them. They’re not necessarily a villain or a hero, they are just doing them. And what our brains do when we sit on one side of the aisle, or the other is, it confirms to us what we already think about that person. And that’s the same thing that’s happening when we say things like I’m an addict, is it’s confirming to us what we already think about ourselves. So we go and we look for evidence that that is true. And the and the unfortunate part about is that about that is that it creates a cycle of viewing pornography, that continues really pretty unabated until we figure out Wait a minute, I’m not an addict. That’s not really who I want to be. And, and let’s just take that for a minute. What if, even if you are an addict, let’s just pretend you’re an addict. What’s the value in believing that?
Jennie Dildine 14:50 Right, it doesn’t create emotions that serve us, right?
Zach Spafford 14:54 Right. It’s totally useless. Yeah, so we can believe we’re an addict or we can believe we’re not enough. addict, or we can just choose to believe I am choosing to behave in a way that’s contrary to my moral compass. I’m gonna learn how to not do that.
Jennie Dildine 15:10 Yeah. So do you have another? Like? Do you like using labels at all? Like, I’m this or I have this habit or anything like that? Or do you just say I’m a human who makes choices that are not in line with my moral compass? Yeah,
Zach Spafford 15:27 I think I think humans, people, you know, language is really important. And labels are a huge part of that. Some labels are super helpful. You know, we all know somebody who’s like, I’m a vegetarian. My wife’s a vegetarian, right? Oh, she is. And so for her, that label is part of her identity. And sometimes labels serve us. Right? Sometimes they don’t. It’s just, I don’t know that it’s necessarily like don’t label anything. I call pornography viewing a habit. So drenched habit. But it is a habit nonetheless. And it’s something that it’s a habit that can be broken, or it’s a habit that can be unlearned.
Jennie Dildine 16:07 Yeah, it feels like that word habit has a little bit of looseness to it, you know, like we can change our habits. If it’s an addiction, it feels a little bit more like we don’t have as much power over it. Totally. Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so you mentioned that you did serve a full time mission. I do also mention that you started looking at pornography when you were eight. So can you talk to me a little bit about what your pornography habit looked like, leading up to your mission during your mission, and after your mission? Yeah, so
Zach Spafford 16:43 the advent of the Internet kind of changed things for me. When we, when I was 910 11, we lived in Germany, we didn’t have the internet. And then I came home. And all of a sudden, every commercial had this thing called a website,
Jennie Dildine 16:58 www
Zach Spafford 17:00 1991. And the world had changed. So for me, as I, you know, 910 11, I didn’t really have a lot of access to pornography, but living in Germany, pornography is much more ubiquitous. So you know, there was occasional opportunities, including with pornographic magazines, I’m going to out my brother here for a second, he was old enough to buy them at the local grocery store. So he would bring them home and hide them under his mattress, or, you know, in the in the U bend of the you guys who have pornography now, you don’t know the legs we had to go to it was it was arduous, all the way back then. Right. And then came home and there was the internet. And we didn’t have the internet until I was probably a senior in high school. We didn’t have it in our house until I was a senior in high school. So you know, there was occasional viewing there was there was definitely a lot of masturbation. And I would take every opportunity I could to view pornography. But I would also, you know, a million times say this is the last time, right, like a million times. This is the last time which, you know, that eroded my self confidence that eroded my my sense of my capacity to choose? Because I thought if I can’t just say no to this, what’s wrong with me? And then for my mission, I, you know, I did all the things that I think a lot of people who are preparing to go on a mission, do they they start and they just basically they use all the willpower they can to get that, you know, whatever mark, your State President gives you three months, whatever it is, or six months. Yeah. And that’s what I did. And then I got on my mission. And there were moments where, you know, masturbation was, you know, an occasional situation. I never really engaged much with pornography. But you know, in that period, it just wasn’t as much of a big deal. And I hear this a lot from missionaries. You know, I went on my mission, and it was fine for two years. And then for about six or eight months after I came home, I was fine. And then it happened again. Right, right. This is this is the story I hear pretty regularly. Right? So I think I think the issue here is that we we put a tremendous amount of willpower into effect, we create a new habit, which is one that really doesn’t engage much in pornography. And then when we get home, there comes a moment. And sometimes it’s curiosity. Sometimes it’s loneliness. Sometimes it’s boredom. Sometimes it can be any net, any anything. And our brain goes all the way back to before our mission. And it’s like, Hey, I know how to get rid of this feeling. And we haven’t learned how to deal with those emotions. We just created this vacuum that we lived in for a period. This is I think akin to the idea that sometimes we think, Oh, I should just go live in the woods and then There’s no pornography there, or I would not have any temptations or there wouldn’t be any struggle, right? If I go live in the woods where there’s no internet, no anything. Right. Okay. And that doesn’t really that that’s not a long term solution in this society. Yeah, reality is that we have to learn how to manage our emotions, we have to learn how to manage the urges, deal with them directly, and create a way to effectuate our decision making process instead of falling back into our habit running brain.
Jennie Dildine 20:33 Yeah. Did you feel like those months leading up to the mission, that time during the mission, you know, you and I know as coaches that it’s really important for us to allow our urges to allow our emotions? Did you find that you were in just a lot of resistance? Or did it somehow just kind of out of sight out of mind?
Zach Spafford 20:56 I think it was both, you know, in the in the very beginning, it’s like, oh, it’s time. So there’s that boost that you get, which is, which I think is partly the the confession a little bit of a, an excitement to go on a mission and yeah, things like that, that I that I got. And it was like, Oh, wow, this is kind of a different experience. And in that moment, it was like, Okay, I’m on, this is where we’re going, this is what we’re doing. And then throughout the mission, you know, there, like I said, there were moments where I had to fight with my temptation, I had to fight with my own urges, I had to, I had to resist, it was a lot of very much like keeping this at arm’s length in the in the, you know, the language of addiction. It’s white knuckling it. But what it really is, is, it’s exercising as much willpower as you can to eliminate something that that you can’t eliminate through willpower.
Jennie Dildine 21:54 Yeah, I had a conversation with a bishop kind of picking his brain about this a little bit. And he was very, very adamant about this idea that we need to talk more about healing these habits before people leave on missions. And if that means, like, not going on a mission at all that this habit, the healing of this habit needs to take way more precedence than the pressure that these young adults feel to just go on a mission no matter what.
Zach Spafford 22:27 Yeah, that’s hard. That is so hard. No, I. So that’s an interesting position. And I would push back just a little bit, because I mean, I don’t disagree with them totally. But I would push back a little bit and say, What if repentance is not just a moment? Right? What if What if the change is not just I fix this problem, and I never have it again. And that I think the truth is that we would like that to be the way that repentance is, but I don’t think that’s what repentance really looks like, for most people. But I also agree with him in that I would like to see more of the skills taught earlier, this the kind of skills that we need. But the part of the problem is, is that our brains aren’t super well developed, even as 1819 year olds. So I went on my mission, when I was 20. I had gone to college for a year, I came back, I went on my mission. Even then, there’s still some development of the brain. But between the ages of probably 15, and 18, we begin to have this capacity to self reflect that we didn’t really have before and see our behavior and be like, Oh, I can see what I did there. I can look at it objectively. And I can think about how I do or do not want to continue that behavior that doesn’t really exist much prior to 16. And really, even into your 18th year, you’re you’re not super good at it, even if you have have got a little bit of it. So being aware that yeah, I would, I would love every missionary to go on their mission and never look at pornography ever again. Right? But being aware that that’s probably not a very, that’s not probably very realistic. Because the truth is, pornography is ubiquitous in our society. And when I say pornography, I’m being much more broad in my definition than I probably should be. But there are media, of all types that are created to entice you to click on them through the arousal channel. And as a result, you’re almost certainly going to click on something somewhere down the line, and then you’re gonna feel terrible about it. If you think that the only thing you’re doing here is fixing it once and moving on for the rest of your life.
Jennie Dildine 24:47 Yeah. Okay. I love that perspective. I think I heard you talk about on one of your podcast episodes about this idea of the Atonement, that it’s already paid for all of it. I can Can you talk about that a little bit? That concept, it kind of applies here, right? It’s not maybe just a one and done repentance.
Zach Spafford 25:06 To really understand the atonement, we have to understand a lot of other things, other components of the Atonement. And without the atonement, these other components don’t exist. So there’s faith, right? Without the atonement, hope doesn’t exist in that, like, I can believe in God. And I can do all the right things. But I don’t have there’s no hope without the possibility that my sins are forgiven. My mistakes are cared for. Right? Right, you have to know that you have to understand that somewhat, somewhat more deep than I’m going into it, then you have to talk about repentance. Repentance is not. Repentance is not what we usually talk about. You know, repentance, oftentimes, is this perfunctory set of things that we have to check off that stop a specific behavior, right. And the analogy that I love to use here is if I’m a bank robber, and I love to rob banks, and it’s my favorite thing to do, I love it. It’s so much fun. There’s guns and masks and fast cars and people chasing you. It’s literally the funnest thing that I could possibly imagine doing. So I love to plan it. I love to do it, but I don’t like going to jail. So I’ve stopped doing it. And I’ve paid back all the money that I’ve robbed from people, and I have confessed my sins, and I’ve gone to jail. And I’ve done all of the checklist things. But I still love robbing banks in my heart. Have I repented? The answer’s no. Because repentance is so you take the Greek definition, the Greek root of the word, which is metanoia, which is to have a new mind. And then I like to take the Egyptian and this is my this is the Gospel according to Zack, right? Okay, in so the Book of Mormon was written in reformed Egyptian. And we have a phrase in the Book of Mormon called a mighty change of heart is a mighty change of heart. Yeah, right. Well, in ancient Egypt, my dad was a mortician in ancient Egypt. And this is why I know this, because I studied some of that mortuary science, in the embalming process, they would take your brain out and chuck it. And they would take your heart out, and they put it in the sacred place, they put it in the sacred jar. And they revered that as the place of your mind and your soul. So with all of that together, that tells me that repentance is about changing your belief structure, the things that you think and believe, right? So for instance, let’s take the idea that we say I can’t look at pornography. I’m a Mormon, I can’t look at pornography. I don’t believe that God believes he can not look at pornography. I think he thinks he can. I also think he chooses not to. Right. So now we have this repentance idea. And we look at it slightly differently, we look at it and go, Oh, this is actually more about choosing to believe things differently than I believe them now, in a way that more closely aligns with what my heavenly father believes. And now, I have this third thing, which is agency, right. And I take agency, and I use that to choose differently, to believe differently. And I stop worrying about whether or not it’s paid for, you know, the way that I like to visualize what the Atonement is, is God’s way over here on the right. And this is where being the best version of us is, and looks like and that’s what it is. And we’re somewhere way over here on the left. And between us, there is this bridge, and it’s always there, it bridges the gap between where we are and where our heavenly father is. And it’s always there. So now, the only thing we have to worry about is how can I manage what I believe and how I act to more closely align with my heavenly Father, rather than freaking out about how I have to pay for this somehow. Because you’re never gonna, you’re never going to be able to pay for it. Right? That’s not the goal here. The goal here is to learn and grow. So now we can look at these moments where we turn to pornography. And we can use them as data points, instead of moments to get mad or sad or frustrated with ourselves. Yeah, using them as moments to be like, Why did I do that? Why was I turned into pornography? what was actually happening for me five minutes before that, that made it so that my brain thought you know what, the best thing to do here is just escape into arousal so that we never have to think about this.
Jennie Dildine 29:25 Yeah, we talked about it a little bit already. But there’s a lot of ways people escape, right? There’s Yeah, escape their emotions to numb their emotions. We, you know, there’s eating, there’s Netflix, seeing there’s phone, scrolling games, video games, online shopping so many ways.
Zach Spafford 29:48 Yeah, absolutely. And here’s the thing, one of the things so there’s a guy named Cameron Staley, he’s out of the University of Utah, I believe now. But he went into his PhD so he did So he did clinicals at BYU, he went into his PhD thinking, you know, what’s not in the DSM five? So the DSM five is the diagnostic manual for, for psychological disorders, right? Yep. And he went into this thing into his dissertation into his doctoral research, say, pornography addiction is not in the DSM five, I’m going to prove that there’s an addiction there. And fascinating stuff. So my wife’s listening to him on, I think Mormon marriages podcast, okay, it’s like 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock at night, and I’m asleep. And she literally is like, waking me up, hey, hey, you gotta listen to this guy. He is saying the exact same things that you’ve been saying for years. And I’m like, Oh, that’s interesting. So we kind of dig into it. And it’s, it’s really interesting to hear this guy who has a doctorate in pornography research, talking, the same language that I’m like, literally phrases that I say, and it’s, it’s just this amazing moment where you’re like, oh, wait, he learned about it in an academic setting, I learned about it in this school of hard knocks, is all we all everything that we’re looking at here is that when we take away pornography, and we take away sexual activity, all we’re left with is our feelings. That’s the same that happens with food, by the way, right thing that happens when we stop overeating, or we stop, just, you know, feeding our faces just to fill the void. We’re left with our emotions. And, and this is what he this is what his research concluded that there’s not an addiction here. But that there is a lack of emotional intelligence, and we need to work to improve that. And coaching is a great way to do that.
Jennie Dildine 31:46 Right? Yeah. So it sounds like like, that’s a lot of the work that you do, right? It sounds like is helping people learn how to allow their emotions and allow their urges. So good. It’s like one of the most useful things I teach my clients is how to just sit with their emotions and allow them Oh, yeah.
Zach Spafford 32:05 And it’s really interesting to watch people go through that process. Because we don’t we don’t teach that, you know, in school.
Jennie Dildine 32:14 No, sir don’t.
Zach Spafford 32:18 And, and being able to, and this is one of the things that so much improved Self confidence is being able to feel any emotion and know that you’ll survive.
Jennie Dildine 32:28 Totally, totally, totally. It’s what you and I think both learn, the definition of self confidence is knowing you can handle any emotion. Yeah, feel any emotion so powerful. I tell my clients, like if you were willing to feel any emotion, you could do anything?
Zach Spafford 32:46 Yeah, absolutely.
Jennie Dildine 32:48 Since we’re talking about emotions, let’s talk about shame. Because I know that this word shame is very closely associated with pornography. What can you tell me about shame? And how this relates?
Zach Spafford 33:06 So I think one of the big things that we see with pornography viewing is that it is it is probably one of the most deeply shameful acts that we can, you know, engage in as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And I think we need to just take one step back from just that, that conversation and try to figure out well, why why is the why is there so much shame around this? I think there’s a couple of things right. One is, we talk about pornography in very dire terms. very dire, like, you’re gonna ruin your life. If you, you know, participated in the June 13 lesson with, with the young men and young women that the the lesson was on pornography. And if you watched any of those videos, they’re very, like, if you look at porn, your life will be destroyed. Yes. And that that’s a really stark reality. I don’t think we talked about very many sins in that same vein. I mean, even if you murder someone, we don’t really like we say, Don’t murder people. Right? Don’t go. If you murder someone, it will destroy your life. Right? Like we don’t we don’t take it to that same level. We were like, okay, yeah, I mean, there’s forgiveness and that’s available and you know, the atonement, you’re gonna have to work through that. And we talk about it in those terms. But we don’t go, it’s gonna destroy your life. Right, like, talk like that.
Jennie Dildine 34:36 So why all the fear? Like, that’s another question I have for you.
Zach Spafford 34:41 It’s easier to scare people than it is to love people. And it’s easier to watch somebody or tell somebody, Hey, don’t do this and make them afraid of that behavior than it is to watch them make mistakes. And then love them through that and So often, especially as members of the church, but really as people, humans, in general, we love a hero story. And a hero story, we sometimes forget, has a beginning, a middle and an end, the beginning is like, hey, you know, I’m fresh, and I’m on this journey, and yada, yada, yada. And, you know, that’s where we start into the path of who we want to be, and how we’re going to become the person that that we have, you know, that we often are molded into more than we choose to be. And then there’s the middle part. And the middle part is where all the struggle is. I mean, this is just basically watching a movie, right? It’s, here’s where all the struggle is, here’s where all the discord is, here’s where the antihero is, here’s where all of the choice making happens. And we forget that people are there, all of us are there right now, that’s where we all are. But we want people to be in the place of the end, we want them to already be perfect. We want them to already be a fully formed human we want them to. So when we say things like porn is going to destroy your life, and we think it’s going to make you into a serial killer and all that stuff. Yeah, what we’re really doing is we’re saying, Hey, you got to get over here, you got to get to this last part, which is you being good and righteous, and having been on a mission and having been married in the temple and having had six kids, and you know, all of the things that you’re supposed to do as a Mormon. Yeah. And we forget that the in the middle, people got to make decisions people got to choose people have to exercise agency for their growth. And, you know, I’ve referred to this in other arenas. But I think it’s really important to remember, God is a God of love. And the gospel is a Gospel of love. And hit, you know, Second Timothy, one seven, For God has not given us a spirit of fear. Right. And too often, we we default to the easiest, most common denominator, which is fear. And, and I don’t fault the church for doing this, or people within the church for doing this. But I do think that we need to rise above that. And just be aware that the atonement has paid for it. And we really need to love people in a way that, that they are not just seeing us as people who want them to behave in a certain way. Fear, fear is really about an outcome. Right? tell you this, so I can get this result. Where Love is about the person and about the process and about their process of growth. Absolutely.
Jennie Dildine 37:38 But I love that so much, because we’re all in that middle part. All of us. And without the without the struggle, there is no growth.
Zach Spafford 37:52 Yeah, oh, this is one of my favorite things to talk about. So when we pray, we often pray about hey, Heavenly Father, can you do this thing for me? Right here in southern St. Southern Utah, where we’re saying, Heavenly Father, please send us some rain. Please send us the moisture. Yeah. And it’s interesting in when it came to pornography, I begged Heavenly Father, I was like, please just take this away from me. If I have, if you take this away from me, I will be the best person that you could possibly imagine. Because I don’t have any other problems. I’m easy going I do the right things. This is this is my one thing. If you’ll just take this away from me, I’ll be good. And what what I think we should be praying for is better understanding of what’s going on for us, and how we can solve our own problems. Like for instance, when it comes to rain rains is an easy one for me to look at. We pray and we say Heavenly Father, please send us some rain. Well, he sends us rain. What’s going to happen? We’re going to forget our problems for a little while. And then next year, we’re going to need rain again. Right? What if we said to Heavenly Father help help us see how we can have the will, and the capacity to solve for the environmental issues that we’ve created, that are limiting the rain. Help us see how we can solve for this problem, and help us see how we can help each other see how we can solve for this problem. And with pornography. It’s helped me see how I can view myself more clearly. So I know why I’m turning to pornography. helped me understand why I’m using this process to manage my emotions, and how I might learn new skills and techniques to manage it differently. Because when we ask Heavenly Father to solve our problems, we’re a lot like the brother of Jared, we show up and we’re like, Hey, listen, I got this. Yeah, I need some light. Can you just like what you got? And Heavenly Father’s like, well, Jehovah so Jesus Christ, right. He’s like, All right, well, what do you got? Why don’t you see what you can figure out? Come back to me, we’ll see if that works. Right. And that solution that the brother of Jared came up with, it may not have been the perfect solution. But it was his. Yep. And this is the thing about the gospel that I love the most. If you if you listen to Bruce, our McConkey is final discourse. In, in conference, he teaches this extraordinarily fundamental principle that we don’t do a lot of learning about, which is Rob revelation, really is what it is, right? But he says in his talk, he says, true, it is that these words will be spoken were spoken by others before me, but they are mine. And that, right there, like I got the goosebumps. It’s like, Those are his words, he owns them. He says, as though they were spoken to me in the very first instance. And this is what learning the gospel is, to me. Revelation is the principle of salvation. That’s what the Bible Dictionary says about it. Which means to me that without revelation, we can’t be saved in the kingdom of God. Which means that we have to own these principles, we have to feel them and believe them in a way that no one can take them from us. So when we go to our Heavenly Father, we ask him, help me solve this problem. We have to be willing to own the solution in a way that no one can take it from us. Which is not easy. Like we want an answer. We want a formula we want, like, here’s three things that you can do. And all of a sudden, it’s fixed. Yeah. But this goes back to what we believe, right? And beliefs create the emotions and beliefs and emotions create the actions, right? So if I can change what I believe and own what I believe in a way that is totally fundamentally mine, and no one else can take it from me, no one could say, hey, you know, your hair is blue. And I think my hair is green. Right? And I own that fully, then all of a sudden, no matter what happens when I get home from my mission, I don’t turn back to porn, because I don’t believe that porn is who I want to be. Right? And I’ve solved for that problem in a way that’s not. That’s not about just a momentary and acute problem being fixed. It’s about me becoming a different person. And yeah, self in my own journey, that that’s the difference.
Jennie Dildine 42:32 And it goes back to what you were saying is like, we allow other people to be in the struggle, and we give ourselves so much compassion in this middle part. We don’t expect ourselves to be at the endpoint. We you’re not, you’re not, and you won’t be Yeah, 100%.
Zach Spafford 42:52 And when I was asking heavenly Father to solve this problem for me, I could not have imagined the place where I am now. But being where I am now, I cannot imagine having it easier, and being given an easier time of it. Because I wouldn’t have as much empathy. I wouldn’t be as, as capable as I am. I wouldn’t be the person that I got to be today, if I got it easier.
Jennie Dildine 43:17 100% I totally believe that, that all the experiences we have make us who we are today. Totally. So if we circle back to shame, what do you want to say about shame? So we talked a little bit about fear.
Zach Spafford 43:33 So now what about talks about this? Brene Brown does a really good job of this. She tells us you know, shame is I am bad. Right? So guilt is I’ve done something bad shame is I am bad. And that the language that we use in like the 12 steps, I’m an addict, right? Yeah, I am bad. addict is bad, right? So I’m an addict. That’s completely shame based. So if we just drop that sort of language, and we and we recognize two things, right? One is, doesn’t matter how much pornography, you’ve viewed how many times you’ve masturbated, you have an opportunity to repent, you can change if you choose to. Right. And all of that, that you have done has been paid for my favorite example of this is the woman in taken in adultery. And I defy anyone to tell me that Christ would respond differently. If she showed up seven times 70. Right. You know, this woman she’s brought and Christ ignores the men and then they insist, Hey, we should throw rocks at this lady till she dies. Christ again ignores them and are well he ignores them once and then the next time he says, hey, that’s fine. Whichever one of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone and, and they all being convicted by their own consciences walk away. And Christ looks up and he says, Where are those accusers? Have no men condemned the end? She says no man, Lord. He says, Neither do I condemn the Go and sin no more. And I think we think that we have to fix this problem the first time around. I think we think that if I confess one time, I don’t get any other chances. I don’t think that that’s how the Lord would deal with this. I think that he’s told us, you know, it’s for us to forgive seven times 70. And he will forgive him, he will forgive right? I defy anybody to tell me that he would condemn that woman if she was brought back a second time. Right? I think he would say, you know, and it’s interesting, because he’s the only one who knows what it cost. And what did he do? He didn’t say, Hey, listen, why did you do this to me? You know what this is going to cost me you know, what the pain of this is going to create? You know how long I’m going to have to be on a cross, you know, how many drops of blood I’m going to have to sweat out my pores to pay for this. He didn’t lecture her. He didn’t scold her. He didn’t tell her anything. Other than Go and sin no more. Now, I think scholars would debate whether or not she was forgiven? Um, I don’t know. Yeah. But I can tell you, if that is what he says, then what I can take from that is, for me, personally, it’s about what’s my next step? What do I choose next? Not about what what did I do? I can leave that behind. I can leave that in his court. That doesn’t mean go out and sit on purpose. That doesn’t mean be a terrible person. Right? Right paid for it. But it does mean, I don’t have to dwell on that thing that happened. I can move forward. Yeah, that’s the lesson I take from it. There’s nothing that’s happened already that you can change. Yeah. So let’s not worry about that.
Jennie Dildine 46:54 So I’m guessing you the clients that you work with come with a lot of shame. Is there another emotion that you encourage them to, to kind of adopt, and you and I both teach that our thoughts create our emotions. So if our thoughts create our emotions, and the thoughts they’re having, are creating shame, which is not a useful emotion, if we want to heal and make progress with our habit? What emotions do you encourage them to work towards? And what thoughts create that emotion?
Zach Spafford 47:27 Yeah, so it’s pretty simple. It’s empowerment, I want my client to be as empowered as possible. And the first thing that we do is we start by finding a place in the words I can write, I can look at pornography. And for me, I remember it distinctly. And it’s kind of interesting, because my philosophy hasn’t changed since this moment. But I remember distinctly the moment where I switched from, I can’t do this to I can. And in that moment, I wasn’t fully in the place of I can, but I choose not to, which is I think, where we want everybody to get to, but it was I can, and I might do this today. And that is that is a fundamental change in terms of, you know, what do I believe about who I am? Am I powerless? Or am I empowered, I can is about empowerment, I can’t is about powerlessness. And once we, once we find that space, once we’re able to get to that space, then we can move around in it. And we can start to test the waters of I can and maybe I won’t today, I can and maybe I won’t. This week, and eventually, I can, but I choose not to becomes the truth that we own rather than something that we’re aspiring to. So to believe that, I think is to create empowerment. And that’s what I want my clients to get to. That’s what I want everybody to get to. Because we can we can do whatever we want. The question is, what do we want to do?
Jennie Dildine 49:03 That’s really good. The empowerment, I love it. What advice would you have for leaders and parents like these? A lot of these leaders and parents are in fear themselves. They’re missionaries preparing and they’re, you know, really hoping they can get on the mission at some point. What advice do you have for the leaders and parents?
Zach Spafford 49:31 Yeah, so there’s a couple of things. One is drop the outcome. The outcome is not the most important thing the individual is, that person in front of you is not a number that needs to be set on a mission is a human, it’s a person, it’s a child of God, who wants nothing more than to feel love. And so if we drop the outcome, we’re gonna get a lot further in the process. The second thing I would do is I would learn how to teach about managing your emotions under Standing there? You know, the truth is, your bishop is a very specific, he has a very specific role to fulfill, which is the judge in Israel. He’s not a counselor, he’s not a coach. He does not have the skills necessarily some do, but he does not necessarily have the skills to help you change this. So, you know, help the young men find someone who does. Because while we’re all highly well intentioned, I mean, I take nothing from bishops, I think they’re amazing men. I, I do, I do want to recognize that there’s a skills gap, by no fault of their own, it’s just, that’s just the way it is. Yeah, men are engineers, doctors, lawyers, whatever farmers doesn’t doesn’t matter what they do, they just don’t have the skill set built in. So just start there. Parents, I would start with helping your child learn agency, and letting go of their decision making process. That’s, that’s pretty tough. For most parents, we’re looking for outcomes, I have to get you to this point. And then you can fly. Kids can fly, we got to let go a little bit of what’s going on for them, and help them find someone who can, you know, teach them the skills if you don’t have them?
Jennie Dildine 51:21 I think a lot to have this idea with parents and leaders, like there’s nothing wrong here. Like we can have so much understanding, and so much love, and so much compassion. This is just their brain seeking dopamine. And our brains See, like this dopamine, right? In many different areas, like we’ve already talked about. And it’s all okay, like, nothing’s wrong.
Zach Spafford 51:54 Yet, nothing’s gone wrong. And one of the things that I often run across is people they think, well, pornography is bad. And from a moral perspective, I’m, I’m not. I’m not trying to diminish that. But more than pornography is bad pornography is. And that’s more true than pornography is bad. Because there are people who would argue pornography is good, but pornography is and if we can just kind of let go of whether it’s bad or good and teach from the perspective of is this who you want to be? Right? Do you want to be someone who engages with this type of activity? And if you do, I’m going to let you have that because that’s agency. But if you don’t let me help you find a way to disengage from it.
Jennie Dildine 52:42 So what about them, the youth themselves, these young adults that are preparing to leave, they’re just you, it sounds like you’ve been there, you know what this is like to be in the shame, and then maybe looking again, and then more shame, the judgment and all of that that comes with this habit? What would you say to them?
Zach Spafford 53:07 I would, I would just start by telling you, there’s hope. There is hope. And whether it takes you a year, six months, three months, six minutes, you’re going to solve this problem. It doesn’t matter how long. But there is hope. And Heavenly Father has created a path. There’s a way to do this. You just need to follow the gospel, maybe learn some skills. And and keep moving, keep moving forward. Don’t give up on yourself.
Jennie Dildine 53:39 Another thing that comes to mind here, is this, like being able to forgive yourself. Do you run into this? Like the bishop said, You’re forgiven? You know, we’re we’re trying to move forward. But we have a hard time forgiving ourselves. What do you find with your clients in this area? Yeah,
Zach Spafford 54:02 I mean, this is an interesting place, right? Which is, it’s essentially a denial of the Atonement. And so if you aren’t able to forgive yourself, I think it’s a really good idea to go back and study the atonement and study what it means. I mean, start with the Bible dictionary. And do your best to understand what the atonement has done for you. It is done by the way, you don’t have to do anything in particular, to make it happen for you. It’s done. Alright, so now let’s move forward. Let’s get to a place where I understand that this is paid for, I don’t have to, I don’t have to do anything but have faith, repent and seek the obedience of the gospel that I can all the you know, behave as though I am as it obedient as I possibly can. And then keep keep repenting and faith and keep you’ll be obeying the gospel like it’s this like it’s a it’s an eternal round. It’s constant. The wheel of progression. It’s not, it’s not a an arrival at a point of success.
Jennie Dildine 55:04 Right? I 100% agree with that. What about return missionaries then? Maybe they’ve been white knuckling it, maybe they’ve been resisting, and they’ve been in a really good groove. And then they come home. And they have that moment, like you talked about, where you’re like, okay, here come these emotions. What advice do you have for them?
Zach Spafford 55:28 Yeah, so one is don’t give up on you. You have success. In fact, what I would like you to realize is that you are more successful than you are unsuccessful. Even if you view pornography for two hours a week, which, that’s, that’s probably I mean, out of all of my clients, that that might be about average. In the beginning, two hours a week is probably about average, that means that you are 98.2% of the time not looking at pornography. And if every day you were 98 2.2% effective in your schoolwork, in your, in your job in your family relationships, you’d probably be pretty happy with that. Yeah. Right. I mean, if you’re, if you’re a baseball player, and you’re 98.2% effective at hitting the ball, you’re better than a Hall of Famer, you’re better than every other baseball player on the planet. Right? So just be aware that you’re actually a lot more successful than you think you are. And you don’t have to beat yourself up about it. Yeah,
Jennie Dildine 56:33 I love that concept. Zack, I’d never thought about it that way. Because when we talk about like, future focus, that person who’s already accomplished the goal, that person that’s not looking at porn anymore. Their thought is like, I’m successful, I’m doing this, which creates a feeling of confidence and self confidence. And we can tap into that thought feeling combination. Now, right now, right now, and still and believe that thought, I love that the 98
Zach Spafford 57:04 true, I mean, it’s math. Art, it’s just math, like 68 hours in a week and two hours a day or a week looks like about 100. And so to 98%, right 98% of the time, if I’m 90% successful at anything I’m trying to do, I’m pretty, I’m pretty pleased with that.
Jennie Dildine 57:22 That’s awesome. I love thinking about it that way. Anything we didn’t cover that you’re just dying to be like, I want Jenny’s listeners, these missionaries and missionary moms to know this about pornography.
Zach Spafford 57:38 I mean, we’ve kind of covered this, but pornography is not gonna destroy your life. Because if that were true, that would be my life. And that would be the literally the life of so many people. There are, there are more people who view pornography regularly than there are that don’t. Pornography is gonna ruin your life, then most people’s lives are ruined. So, so we could just step back from that, like, crazy, fear, shame, idea that this is the end of the world and start just working on Who do I actually want to be. And look at our life from that perspective, we’re going to be a lot more successful in eliminating this bad habit from our lives. And I say bad habit, but really, it’s just a habit.
Jennie Dildine 58:21 Just a habit. So I think we both agree that it’s good to get someone else on board, besides just the bishop, if possible, that can teach these skills, of emotional resilience of allowing your emotions of understanding your thoughts and, and working through these habits with compassion and love and understanding and getting to that place of empowerment. Are there any places like that you would recommend to go for help with this? Does? How, like, the church has some stuff too?
Zach Spafford 58:57 I would absolutely I would absolutely engage with your parents. Okay, number one, you know, they are the most likely people to, to be willing and able to love you. I will say however, sometimes they are not super good at this sort of thing to start by approaching them, being willing to share with them, but don’t be offended if they’re not able to deal with this because a lot of parents aren’t okay, and don’t don’t make it mean anything about you. If they aren’t just be understanding of the reality that maybe this isn’t something that they can help you with. Maybe they’re struggling with it themselves, and they don’t know what to say. But I would definitely start there. A sibling is also another place to go, you know, they’re more than likely in a similar position as you they’ve grown up in a similar family and, and they they have lived a similar life as you so they’re also much, much more likely to be kind and be willing to share this burden. And what I want you to see when you do this, and when the more you open up, the less likely you are to feel shame. I can tell For my own personal journey, the more people who knew about this, the more people who came to me and said, I love you. And I’m, I’m praying for you. And that is a big deal. In my life. Yeah. So that’s what I would I would start with is just the people around you.
Jennie Dildine 1:00:18 Okay? I love that. And then maybe getting some help with a counselor or a coach
Zach Spafford 1:00:22 or the counselor. If you’re going to work with a counselor, what I would recommend is that you find someone that operates in the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy model, the some of the coaching that I do, I call it Acceptance and Commitment coaching. They run side by side, but Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has a statistical relevance in successful outcomes. And what that means is, essentially, it works to give you skills. So if you’re not going to work with a coach, work with a counselor who works with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Jennie Dildine 1:00:52 Awesome. Zack, it has been such a pleasure to have you on the podcast today. This has been so important this work that you’re doing I admire it so much to bring this pornography kind of out of the shame out of the fear. I think that is what’s going to give people the tools, the thoughts and the emotions that they need to work through it. So how can people find you to work with you?
Zach Spafford 1:01:23 Yeah, absolutely. So you can go to my website, Zachspafford.com/work with me. That’s the easiest way to begin getting an appointment. You can also listen to my podcast, the Self Mastery podcast RCNi, we do one every week. We love doing it. It is one of my favorite things to do is talk about porn. So it’s it’s this awesome opportunity to bring this subject out of the shadows. Feel free to listen to that. There’s a lot of great information that you can get there. Also find me on Instagram Zack Spafford dot Self Mastery coach, we have lots of wonderful, amazing people who follow us there. And we love engaging with people through Instagram.
Jennie Dildine 1:02:02 I highly recommend that you guys go check out Zach stuff. It’s so good. And he knows what he’s doing. He is changing lives. And it’s it’s amazing. What you do is that they so appreciate you coming on.
Zach Spafford 1:02:15 Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. All right.
Jennie Dildine 1:02:18 We will talk to you again soon. Awesome. Bye. Bye. Thank you so much for listening to the podcast today. If you want to learn more about what I do, you can go to Jennie dildine.com. Or just come hang out with me on Instagram at Jenny dot the LDS mission coach and Jennie is spelled with an I E and remember no matter which part of the mission experience that you are involved in. Just know that Jennie the LDS mission coach is thinking about you every single day.