Sex, Love, and Other Drugs: Intimacy Disorders Defined and Discussed
Do you continue to find yourself in the same unhealthy, crazy-making relationships?
Do you find yourself compromising your values and parts of yourself in order to stay in a relationship?
Do you find yourself pining for, obsessing over someone who is unavailable?
Does your fear of being alone keep you in unhealthy or unhappy relationships?
Does guilt and obligation often drive your tendency to stay in a relationship?
Do you often wonder why your partner puts up with your “craziness” or strange antics?
Do you use (or abuse) substances as a consequences of the painful feelings around your relationships?
All of these behaviors can be explained with the psychology and neuroscience behind love addiction. The term “love addiction” can sound like a bad movie title but really it’s an intimacy disorder stemming from childhood wounds, deep obsession and fantasy, and a biological disposition for addictive behaviors. In short, love addiction is a maladaptive pattern of using sex, love, and relationships to bring intensity, control, validation, and worth to one's life. All addictions are essentially intimacy disorders (Intimacy disorders can be defined as dysfunctional ways of connecting with others and yourself) because—despite one’s better judgment and negative consequences—addicts seek external, “guaranteed” sources such as substances, sex/love, food, money, etc. to get a need met in lieu of meeting that need within themselves or trusting another to help them meet that need. In most cases, the addict is unaware what she* actually needs and is unable to ask for it (or she doesn’t think she’s worthy to ask). However, the addict knows exactly what she’s going to get from that bottle of Jack Daniels/one-night-stand/ chocolate cake/intense relationship/new pair of shoes (etc.) so the addict keeps going back to that guaranteed source over and over again until she develops an addiction to it and her life becomes unmanageable as a result of her prioritizing her addiction over everything else. With all intimacy disorders we are unable to meet a basic human need within ourselves and we are scared as hell to ask another to help us meet the need so we keep reaching out for those inanimate (or animate) objects to fill a bottomless, insatiable, undefined need (“Just tell me I’m good/pretty/smart/worthy enough!” "Just tell me I won't have to be alone."). The insanity of it all is the fact that nothing we buy, nothing we accomplish at work, no amount of hot people that we “conquer” in the bedroom, no other human or object can MAKE US FEEL LIKE WE’RE ENOUGH.
It reminds me of when I would work with teenage anorexic girls who were so depressed they were suicidal. Scarily underweight and paralyzed by insecurity, they often cherished their eating disorder because it was the one thing they were “good at” and the one thing they felt they had control of in a world that felt out of control. Ironically, this “best friend” and favorite coping skill was going to literally be the death of them. I would always ask them how many pounds they would have to be when they would finally feel worthy enough to not kill themselves. What “achievement” or body measurement would they need to get to so that they would allow themselves to finally ingest the life-saving calories? They would never have an answer. They knew they prioritized being skinny over anything else, including their health and relationships, they just didn't know what level of "skinny" would ever be enough to stop their insanity and harm to themselves and others.
While the intensity level of these types of behaviors vary from human to human, all of us struggle with that insurmountable, undefined list of things we have to do in order to be “enough”….to be content enough, attractive enough, successful enough, secure enough, smart enough. UNFORTUNATELY (OR MAYBE FORTUNATELY), THAT “GOOD ENOUGH” LABEL ONLY COMES FROM WITHIN. IT’S A BELIEF, A COMMITMENT, A LIFESTYLE.
I’M AN IMPERFECT BUT WORTHWHILE PERSON
Why Everyone Would Benefit from Exploring Intimacy and Intimacy Disorders
In the love/sex addiction field, we often find ourselves talking about “intimacy”. What the heck is intimacy, anyway? INTIMACY IS ALSO KNOWN AS “INTO ME YOU SEE”. If you’re truly intimate with another human being, you allow them to see all of you. The good, the bad, the light, the dark. In return, they are supposed to love you, despite your flaws, and you are supposed to extend them the same sentiment. Obviously, it almost never works out that way, and as Brene Brown points out: Whenever we experience rejection or disconnection from others, we experience great suffering. If you're a love addict, you often using substances, fantasy or obsessive thoughts about others people or circumstances or desires to distract from the feelings of vulnerability, loneliness, hurt, or anger. More extreme versions of this include depression, anxiety, or substance addiction. Mild versions manifest as crying bouts and empty promises to yourself to never love another again, or "stop dating jerks", or drink less, or not have sex on the first date, etc. Most of the suffering we experience during disconnection (or fear of disconnection) occurs due to deep seeded fears of unworthiness (That's shame).
Addicts or Normies, alike, will flounder when we lack self-worth and clarity in who we are and what we need. Hence the reason I value Brene Brown’s work so much. Essentially, she’s found that so much of what we do (or don’t do) is driven by our fear of being rejected by others and the shame of “I’m not good enough” feeding that fear. If we don’t believe we’re “good enough” and worthy of love from another (despite our flaws), we may operate out of a fear of losing that person. When we operate out of fear, we become willing to compromise who we are, what our intuition is telling us we SHOULD do, what our values and standards are; all in an effort to keep that relationship (because we’re prioritizing our relationship with that person over our self-worth, values, needs, and sometimes our sanity). Anytime we avoid showing or telling someone how we’re really feeling or what we’re really thinking, that’s a form of manipulation. We’re only showing our partner a certain version of our self versus “all of us” (our good, bad, light and dark). This is all in an effort to “control” the relationship and keep it going (Because, as I’ve mentioned before, we are neurobiologically wired to connect with others and we are very fearful of loss of connection). We cannot reach true intimacy with our loved ones if we are only showing them parts of ourselves. TRUE INTIMACY IS “INTO ME YOU SEE”. You get to see me, all of me, and still choose to stay connected with me.
Treatment of Love/Sex Addiction
If you or someone you love is struggling with love or sex addiction, please feel free to call ro email me with questions. There are also 12-Step programs such as SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous), SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous), CoDA (Codependents Anonymous), and therapists and treatment programs that specialize in treating these disorders. There is often a connection/correlation between those struggling with a substance abuse and love/sex addiction. Please make sure you go to a therapist and/or treatment center where both struggles are acknowledged and treated.
Check out my Recommended Reading List for more information.
*For sake of this article, I use “she” to describe the love addict but both genders can take on either addictions or roles.