May 26, 2010— -- In a "Nightline" exclusive, Jesse James claims that he was a victim of child abuse, and cited shame and lack of self-worth as factors that drove him to cheat on his Oscar-winning wife and destroy his fairy-tale marriage.
"I grew up with a huge amount of shame and fear and abandonment on my shoulders from a very young age and I think, you know, the way my mind rationalized [cheating], 'Well, you know, I might as well do whatever I can to like run her off cause she is going to find out what I am anyway and leave me anyway,'" James said.
The 41-year-old James said he cheated on Sandra Bullock, 45, with multiple women, but that it all stemmed from his own emotional shortcomings.
"The struggle within myself for the things that I did ...to damage marriage and my life and everything else, it's all me," James said. "I'm doing it because, you know, I've basically never felt good enough for anyone."
After multiple women came forward claiming to have slept with him and a paparazzi firestorm followed, James said he checked himself into rehab in late March to take refuge. Though James said he went in with "a little bit of an ego," the seemingly-tough owner of West Coast Choppers garage opened up and discovered what was at the root of his marital problems.
"After about two days I realized, 'Wow, I'm kind of more messed up than most of the people here.' It was like peeling an onion. Every day it was a new revelation about myself and the things I've been doing," he said. "I cried more in rehab in the last 30 days than I have in my whole life. No BS. That's the truth."
During his month-stint in rehab, James said he received treatment for sex addiction and anger management, but above all for being a victim of childhood abuse. Rehab, he said, forced him to confront memories he says he had for 30 years that he didn't realize had such an impact on him.
"Bike builder, 'Monster Garage' TV star, all that stuff is a huge smokescreen so that people won't see that I'm a scared, abused kid, a seven-year-old," James said.
While he reflected on his memories of his father, James teared up and took a moment to collect himself.
In an email message to ABC News, James' father Larry James says the allegations of abuse are not true.
In rehab, James said he determined he wasn't a sex addict -- at least in the traditional sense.
"I don't think I have a sex addiction where I'm running around trying to have sex with everyone and I can't stop," James said. "I think I do things to sabotage my life, including having extramarital affairs, texting, overworking myself, injuring myself, doing stunts and stupid things. I think I do a lot of things in my life that I shouldn't be doing that aren't conducive to being a perfect husband, you know, and the affairs are just one of them."
But many people who were abused don't go on to cheat on their wives. James countered that many victims of abuse do go on to "sabotage" their lives, either through drug addictions or in his case, with extramarital affairs.
"There's a lot of people who are abused that go on to abuse, or go on to do drugs...or go on to, you know, cut themselves ...They'll do it to self-sabotage their life to because, because of their abuse they've never felt good enough," James said. "Why would I totally destroy my wife's life and humiliate her when I knew it was bad, you know? I may seem like a monster in peoples' eyes, but I'm not that kind of person where I will willfully, you know, 'I'm gonna get her, I'll show her,' that's not what it's about. It's about trying to push someone away that I thought was going to leave anyway."
Bullock filed for divorce in April, after James' infidelity made headlines. Despite their plans to divorce, he said he hopes to continue a relationship with Bullock.
James said he feels like a different man since he checked out of rehab.
"I lived this false self for so long because I, you know, I didn't want anybody to see the real me," he said. "I really wish I didn't have to go through all this and put everybody else through this to get to this place, but hopefully with time and my actions, and the things that I do, I hope people realize that, you know, Hey, I'm human, I make mistakes and I'm sorry for what I did."
CLICK HERE for more on Bullock's adopted baby.
CLICK HERE for the major events in the couple's relationship and public breakup