Sex addicts seem to be good at looking out for themselves, but in reality the opposite is the case.  They are most often crippled when it comes to relating in a confident and genuine way.  Instead of speaking their truth, sex addicts rely on avoidance, aggression, placating and manipulation.

I believe this is part of the codependence that is at the root of all addiction.  Sex addicts predictably approach other people with insecurity and mistrust.  They have early life experiences that leave them alienated: expecting little from others and fearing abandonment, abuse or neglect.  Being open and genuine in interpersonal intimacy is felt as stressful and potentially dangerous.  This is an intimacy disorder.

Aggression vs. assertion

Self assertion, including healthy confrontation, is actually the opposite of aggression in all the important ways.  What is the difference?

Assertion involves saying and doing things that will give you the best chance of getting what you need but not at someone else’s expense.

Aggression involves saying and doing things designed to get what you need at someone else’s expense.

If you are assertive you are clear about what you need and want but in a way that is respectful of the fact that the other person may or may not go along with what you want.  You have a right to ask for anything, but the other person has a right to say no.

In aggression, you try to push, bully, manipulate or frighten.  You make the other person do what you want but you create a negative experience which is harmful to them.  You get what you want but you damage the relationship.

Avoidance, placating and manipulation

Addicts are often so lacking in the confidence that they cannot tolerate being vulnerable to potential rejection or open to negotiation.  They seek instead to control the situation as a way to stay safe.  They may completely avoid talking about anything that goes on inside them.  Often they have a very elaborate “façade” by which they appear to be what they think the situation demands.

Other times addicts simply bury their own strong needs and feelings by just going along with whatever their partner wants.  Placating is a way of staying in control by dodging any situation which the partner might not like.  This works for the addict because although they resent playing this “childlike” role, they have an outlet, a secret life of acting out that allows them to gratify themselves unhindered and without risk.

Manipulation is another form of control that allows the addict to dodge real communication and avoids negotiation and compromise.  It can be aggressive, as when the addict “guilt trips” their partner or it can be underhanded, as when the addict pits someone else against their partner to achieve an outcome or dishonest, as when the addict flat out denies what their partner is experiencing and tries to distort their reality.

In any of the above examples, the addict is avoiding any real confrontation because (a) it is not something they feel they know how to do very well and (b) it is frightening to be transparent with their feelings and needs.  But intimacy in a relationship demands that both people be willing and able to be clear and open about what they want, how they feel, and how things affect them.  No one can do this all the time and no one can be expected to do it flawlessly.  But if one or both of the partners cannot put their needs out on the table they have placed a drastic limit on where the relationship can go.  Learning healthy confrontation can go a long way toward resolving intimacy disorder.

Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource 

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  1. Good but tough article. Good because it helps me see how I’m communicating. Tough because seeing this is a little uncomfortable. Seeing is good but I tend to stay stuck in good intentions and need to put this into a practice. As a recovering sex addict I see myself throughout the article. I realize I edit and filter nearly everything I say so as to gauge the other persons level of acceptance of me. Or maybe I’m trying to manipulate them to not reject me. I actually wonder if I can relate in a confident and genuine way. In a sense can I be “real” with another person. I’m aware also how I place the other person in a higher position. You know more than I do or you’re better than I am. I see this as manipulation. Sometimes I wonder if my compliments are backhanded forms of manipulation. I do tend to over think things. I would like to be candid and spontaneous and honest in my conversations. I guess before I speak I need to pause and ask what are my intentions. Will what I say be an attempt to avoid, manipulate, placate or be aggressive.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I totally get what you are saying. We addicts sometimes have trouble discerning when we are being real.

  2. When is this symptomatic behavior an intimacy disorder and when is it a personality disorder, like borderline… or is it both?

    • Good point. There could be many reasons for intimacy problems. Certainly borderline or any other personality disorder could be one of them.

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