I guess it was Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker (writing in their book Every Man’s Battle) who coined the phrase “bounce your eyes,” written in reference to the practice of quickly looking away when you see an attractive person and don’t want to be triggered to act out sexually.
Initially, this term didn’t come to me via Arterburn and Stoeker; I first caught wind of it through the thick cloud of male sexual wrangling that is part of non-denominational Christian culture. Men wishing to wrestle their sexual desires to the mat – or at least keep the “genie in the bottle” – found comfort in this phrase, even if they ignored the advice it contained.
Those who attend my recovery groups or read my blog will know I’m not one for rigid avoidance measures when dealing with overcoming compulsive behavior. Real Change, as we call it, comes about because an individual begins to grasp the nature of his or her inner loneliness – which is masked by compulsive sexual behavior – and manages their loneliness through tactics other than the “illusion of inclusion” that is pornography, strip clubs, or anonymous sex. These means include prayer, meditation, and especially the development of unconditionally loving community.
White-Knuckle Change, on the other hand, is about avoiding that which causes you to act out in your compulsive behavior without tending to the emotional issues behind it. The hope here is that if you ignore the problem long enough it will eventually go away.
Trouble is, it rarely works out like that.
So am I blasting the concept of “bouncing your eyes”? Do I think that’s blatant legalism? Quite the opposite! “Bouncing your eyes” when faced with a significant sexual trigger – whether it be a person, place, or inappropriate material (for you) – is exactly what a person needs to do, especially within the first months to a year of abstinence.
Here’s the deal. For most people addicted to pornography or sex, at some point in their childhood it was safer and easier to get their emotional needs met in fantasy rather than in reality. It was a way of managing their loneliness. As the years went on, and pornography and sex became more and more a part of their lives, the less using porn or sex became about managing emotions and the more it became about meeting the needs of a rewired brain.
Let me explain. The brain is a very powerful organ. The more you do an activity the more the brain remembers it as something important to do. Food, drugs, alcohol, sex…all of these give the body a sense of pleasure or reward. We like the reward – that’s why we engage in it. But the more we engage in it, especially as a way to avoid unpleasant emotions, the more the brain becomes accustomed to doing it.
After a while, our brain becomes so used to life with the substance that not having it makes us feel uncomfortable, abnormal, and out-of-sorts. So we keep looking at pornography, for instance, because not using it creates physical and emotional discomfort. This is called withdrawal.
Now, back to “bouncing your eyes.” The main thing to ask yourself is why. Why are you “bouncing your eyes?” (Tweet This!)
Are you trying to please either God or someone else? If so, then this is White-Knuckle Change and it’s pointless. People will fail you and God is already pleased with you (Tweet This!) (Gal. 2:16).
Or are you mindful of the reality that your brain has changed and needs to be rewired? Then you’re “bouncing your eyes” for the right reason.
It may take between 90 days and a year of sobriety to get to a point where you don’t need to “bounce your eyes” as much, but that’s Real Change. Eventually, in your sobriety, you will get to a point where you will understand the causes of your behavior (loneliness) and begin to take measures to address that loneliness in constructive ways.
As I noted, the brain gets good at doing what it has done over and over again. If you’ve been using porn for years, your brain is good at looking at porn and will very easily return to using it. The metaphor I use is a river. A river will always find its old path unless it gets diverted into a new path, and part of diverting the river of your sexuality is “bouncing your eyes.” The longer you do this, the less these same triggers will have an effect on you.
“Bouncing your eyes” isn’t White-Knuckle Change if done from the mindset of having boundaries for yourself. “Bouncing your eyes” with the mindset of having boundaries says to yourself, “I’m worth more than indulging in this.”
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