What is an Intimacy Disorder?
Intimacy is the ability to be real with another person. In its essence, intimacy is the connection between two people who are equals and are genuine and open about what they are feeling in the moment. In other words the capacity to be intimate involves the ability to take the risk of being known for who you really are. It is necessarily a willingness to take the risk of getting hurt or rejected.
Addiction and intimacy
Addicts of all kinds, including sex addicts have difficulty being real in their relating to people including a significant other. They typically have early experiences in their family of origin that failed to produce a secure attachment to their caregivers. These may take the form of neglect, abuse, abandonment or the absence of an appropriately nurturing caregiver. Addictions are an adaptation or coping mechanism usually beginning early in life as a way to handle stress and regulate emotion.
Addictive behaviors are a way to adapt that does not depend on another person for comfort or support. If other people are involved in the addictive behavior, it is because they facilitate or support the addict using a drug or behavior with which to distract, stimulate or soothe themselves.
Addiction is intimacy avoidance
Because of their early life experiences, addicts are afraid of intimacy. Depending on their early experiences with their caregivers addicts will predictably approach the prospect of being intimate with:
Fear of abandonment
The addict tends to do and say what the other person wants rather than what they really think and feel
Fear of rejection
The addict feels that rejection will be devastating and will reinforce an already insecure self-concept
Fear of engulfment
The addict fears losing their separate identity and becoming totally absorbed into another person
Fear of conflict
The addict fears the other person’s anger and the sense that they cannot stick up for themselves or set boundaries
Addicts prefer to avoid getting close beyond a certain point. Patrick Carnes states that intimacy is the point in a relationship when there is a deeper attachment and that this requires “profound vulnerability.” He calls this “the ‘being known fully and staying anyway’ part of relationships.”
Addicts view intimacy as potentially painful.
Addicts often view intimacy as an inherently painful experience. This may be all they know from experience and all they have ever observed growing up. Many addicts would much prefer physical pain to the emotional pain they might experience in an intimate relationship. Often they learned early to be careful and self conscious around people. Addicts will often avoid even close friendships or social situations because they anticipate having to play a role. And playing a role is much more strenuous than being yourself.
Intimacy requires strength
The strength required for intimacy is a strong sense of self and self worth. I prefer to use the concept of “self-efficacy” over that of “self-esteem.” Being intimacy “abled” is not so much having a positive view of yourself as it is having a sense that you should and can act in effective ways to protect yourself and enhance your own life.
This is the strength that neutralizes all the fears that make the addict run from intimacy. It is not a question of being tough; on the contrary, it is knowing that you may get hurt but that you will not get devastated.
Gaining these skills involves a combination of not only addiction treatment and therapy but assertion training, which involves de-conditioning what is essentially a phobic reaction to being emotionally honest and practice with basic relationship and communication skills.
Learning to be stronger is what allows us to be vulnerable in relationships. And this vulnerability is a sign of strength.