Lately, this has been a relatively common question, particularly among teenagers who are experiencing anxiety. They fear that they might be pedophiles. Perhaps they hone in on this fear because pedophiles are considered the ‘worst of the worst’ in our society. That’s true even in prison environments. Sex offenders are often placed in segregation units for their own safety and protection. Correctional officials know that these individuals are often targeted because of the nature of their crimes. In fact, in California, sex offenders account for a disproportionate number of deaths in prison facilities. These deaths are often at the hands of other prisoners.
In some ways, it makes sense that people with anxiety, especially among those with untreated anxiety, would fear what they perceive as being the worst-case scenario which is being a pedophile. It’s the ultimate form of catastrophizing.
Nothing you have described indicates pedophilia. The path to pedophilia often begins with inappropriate sexual fantasies and viewing illegal images online. Pedophiles are also known to use cognitive distortions, essentially lies that they tell themselves, about their behavior. These cognitive distortions facilitate their more aggressive behavior and pave the way for acting on their fantasies. They target vulnerable children, particularly those lacking stability. They find excuses to be around children. Jerry Sandusky, for instance, a former assistant coach at Penn State University, ran a nonprofit organization for disadvantaged children. He didn’t start this charity out of the goodness of his heart. He did it to make it easier to be around children. A number of his victims were assaulted during sleepovers at Sandusky’s home, after having seduced them with attention and gifts. He used his power and position and his charity to victimize vulnerable children.
A few glances and a few thoughts crossing one’s mind does not make someone a pedophile. The psychology of pedophilia reveals them to be impulsive, deviant, and often psychopathic. I tried to explain some of the psychology of their thinking above. Hopefully, it resonates.
As you noted, the problem is that you may have an untreated anxiety disorder. Of course, you should never use the Internet to self-diagnose. It is ill-advised precisely because it could lead you to believe in something that isn’t true.
I would highly recommend consulting a mental health professional. They would be in the best position to evaluate your symptoms and to provide a diagnosis, should one be warranted. Most importantly, they can provide treatment for your symptoms. The good news about anxiety is that it is highly treatable. The bad news about anxiety is that it can worsen if it’s left untreated. By taken action, and by asking for help, you will be on the road to recovery.
In the meantime, avoid the Internet for diagnosis. It’s fine to educate yourself about mental health topics but be very cautious about interpreting what you read and applying it to yourself. It’s best to take your findings to a trained mental health professional and ask for their input. Good luck with your efforts. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle