Getting caught in the cycle of sin

You may be wondering – “How did this happen to me? How did I ever get caught up in the seemingly unbreakable cycle of pornography use?” The “Getting Caught in the Cycle of Sin” chart serves as a template for helping yourself work through understanding how you got caught in the sin of pornography use. The “Caught in the Cycle of Sin” chart refers to many factors and things that are involved in our being caught in the cycle of sin. It describes ways and places to intervene in breaking the chains of sin that bind us. We offer a general explanation of the chart at this spot in our web site. You will find this chart again with a more directive approach for intervention on the Your fight page. The reverse intervention journey around the chart is explained on the Intervention page.

Getting Caught In the Cycle of Sin

The chart is an adaption by pastor and Christian therapist Alan Siggelkow of Paul Mavrogeorge’s work in Breaking the Cycle; A guide to assist you in breaking the destructive behavior patterns in your life, Link Care Center, Fresno, CA: 2008. The reader is encouraged to read Paul Mavrogeorge’s book for a more complete understanding.

General explanation

Here, in our general description of the cycle of sin and how a person gets caught up in it, we will start at about 8:30 on the chart at the “Past Influences” box and move in a clock wise direction.

Past Influences

These are the things that set a person up for addictive behavior. These things may be a genetic predisposition towards something, an addictive personality, or some past or current trauma or abuse. It is wise to get treatment from a mental health counselor for these issues. But these may also be things that have had an impact on your relationship to God. The past and current influence may be a spiritual need. See the “Heart” section under “Lifestyle Issues” below. Here your pastor can be of great help to you.

Lifestyle Issues

This area of the chart explores your lifestyle. I am adapting Paul Mavrogeorge’s acronym, HALT, in his discussion of this section of his chart. I am using HEALTH. Lifestyle Issues are the “push” in your life towards pornography use.

H = Hunger – Poor eating habits have a huge impact upon how a person feels. The shame and poor sense of self that comes with obesity can open the door for a person desiring to find pleasure and a sense of fulfillment in pornography.

E = Exercise – Exercise is the great cure all for depression. A lack of exercise sets a person up for feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and despair. When those feelings persist, some people seek relief in pornography use and the temporary pleasure that it brings. Exercise pumps blood through the body and into the brain that helps elevate a person’s mood. In some people, a lack of exercise leads to a sense of “down” that becomes a reason in their minds to seek pleasure through porn.

A = Anger – Some people have called depression, “anger turned inward.” Unresolved anger puts us into a cycle of despair and frustration. Some people seek relief from these feelings of unresolved anger in the temporary pleasure that pornography use gives them. Unresolved anger can trouble a person who has a poor understanding or trust in God’s forgiveness through Christ. Repentance for one’s own sins and trust in God’s forgiveness of self is the first step in addressing long-standing anger. Forgiveness of others because we know and believe that as Jesus died to forgive us, so he died to forgive others, removes the anger from our souls.

L = Loneliness – God created us to be social people. He created Eve for Adam and Adam for Eve. They had children. The world filled with people. Communities and societies and churches developed. Loneliness has many faces that share the same thought of “I am not a part of….” “I am not like anyone else….” While the use of porn makes people feel a part of an activity that seems to give pleasure, it is two dimensional and not three dimensional and has no aspects of community, communication, empathy, and love. In fact, porn use gives most people a sense of shame which feeds their loneliness. They may even say to themselves when they have opportunities to meet and be in relationships that might give them God-pleasing relief from their lonely feelings, “If you really knew me, you would not love me because I have such sinful and shameful habits that I do in secret.”

T = Tired – Fatigue caused by sleeplessness, caffeine intake, poor eating habits, a lack of exercise, and angry and anxious feelings pushes some people to seek relief in porn because they find they can sleep better in the aftermath of the pleasure and excitement of orgasm.

H = Heart – Where are you spiritually? Do you see yourself as a forgiven child of God? How often do you hear and read and study the Word of God? Do you receive comfort from the Lord’s Supper? Have you been baptized? Do you see yourself as a redeemed and saved Child of God? God is your help in every need. He has the power and the love to break the hold of sin on you. He has shown that in Jesus. Through our contact with his Word and Sacraments God the Holy Spirit strengthens and blesses us.

When a person is hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or spiritually deprived he or she is living a lifestyle that encourages addictive behavior. Good eating, sleeping, and exercise habits, as well as good social skills and a circle of friends are helpful in thwarting a negative lifestyle that sets a person up for negative behaviors. No one will find a God-pleasing cure apart from God. A friend or pastoral counselor might explore the person’s use of the Word of God and encouragement from the Christian community of believers in this section.


Triggers describe the things that happen just before the incident that involves the sinful use of pornography through social media. These are the temptations that Satan uses to get us to act out. These are the excuses that tell us that we deserve or need to do the thing that we know is sinful. These things can be everything from entering a certain room, to a certain time of the day when we always act out, to talking to a particular person, to feeling that we are being rejected by someone, or even a certain smell, or a certain type of music, or a negative thought that brings us back to our pain. An example: Jim is in his twenties and he lives in the small town in which he grew up. He is single and is not active socially or in the community. In his home town he often sees two of the girls he had crushes on in high school who are now married. Contact with them gives him all kinds of feelings of worthlessness and anger and depression. He says that his contacts with these former classmates are the triggers which lead him to try to find peace for his feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, anger, and depression.

Acting Out

This is what actually happens when we act out. What do we actually do? What is the pattern of our acting out in the sin of pornography use? What happens first? Then what happens? How long? How much? An exploration of this area of getting caught in the sin is a behavioral description of our acting out as well as a description of our thoughts and actions in connection with acting out. What is the process of our acting out and what repeating patterns do we see in that process? Exploring this helps us to find God-pleasing ways to intervene and stop the sinful behavior.


Positive Outcomes – What need does our addictive or abusive behavior seem to fill for us? What emptiness, yearning, discontent, anxiety, sadness, or pain seems to be met by our addictive or abusive behavior? These are the lying and self-justification excuses and reasons for action out in our sinful behavior. For example, we talked about Jim above. He feels a temporary relief from his loneliness and anger when he uses porn. He knows the relief is a lie. It never lasts. But it is the relief his brain is used to and it is the relief his brain craves. A positive outcome for Jim is that he feels pleasure for a brief time while using porn. He escapes the pain for awhile.
Negative Outcomes – What punishment, shame, or negative thing will or may happen to us because of our sinful, abusive, or addictive behavior? What are the legal, physical, societal, or spiritual consequences of our behavior? These things include job loss, the loss of important relationships, relatives who no longer trust the porn user to be alone with their children, marriage problems, the distrust of children, and the knowledge that God is angry at them and will punish the sin of lust. Matthew 5:28, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” These negative outcomes can be a strong expression of condemnation upon us. Here is where we need God’s peace and forgiveness as we confess our sins in repentance and faith to our God of love.


When trying to help someone else using the “Caught in the Cycle of Sin” chart, the negative outcomes that are explored are often a strong expression of Law. “This will happen to you because you have done this sin.” Here is where the Repentance Model (Psalm 32) is helpful.

Repentance Model

We speak God’s Law.
We hear the Confession which they speak.
We hear them speak about their Contrition, or sorrow for their sin – for the specific sin of lust and porn use.
We speak God’s Gospel message of forgiveness by the work of Jesus Christ, crucified and arisen.
We hear them express their Faith in Jesus as their Savior from their sins and from this specific sin.
We speak Absolution, assuring them that Jesus did die for their sins and for this specific sin.
We discuss with them the Fruits of Repentance. These are the things they will do, by God’s grace, to change their sinful behavior.

The Repentance Model is more completely explained in the Getting out of the cycle of sin section under Your fight.

Everything that happens that is positive in connection with the use of this chart is understood as flowing out of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. We give God the glory for his love and work in us and through us in others.

Back to Your enemy.