Obstacles to Intimacy Series
~Exploring God’s Gift of Intimacy~
Reactive Intimacy Anorexia
A reactive intimacy anorexic is one who may be displaying behaviors simply in response to their partner’s intimacy anorexic behaviors. They tend to react to their partner’s acting-in behaviors by withdrawing emotionally, physically or sexually. A reactive sexual anorexic may have had healthy, long-term relationships prior to their current relationship with their partner. Their acting-in behaviors are simply a form of self-preservation.
A family of origin intimacy anorexic is one who may have been born into a family where emotional, physical or sexual anorexia was demonstrated; and therefore, the family messages, values, communication styles, traditions and ways of dealing with feelings was anorexic in nature, causing the individual to have emotional, physical or intimacy anorexic tendencies.
So, how do you know if you are a reactive sexual anorexic or a family of origin sexual anorexic? First, we need to remember this question is not to blame someone else for our intimacy anorexic tendencies. We are responsible for our own behaviors. However, it is helpful to understand how and why you display these behaviors in your current relationship.
Through honest self-examination, ask yourself the following questions to determine if you have had consistent, intimacy anorexic tendencies throughout your life or just during your relationship with your current partner. If any part of the question is true, please indicate yes.
- Do you withhold love from your partner, children or others?
- Do you withhold praise or appreciation from your partner, children or others?
- Do you try to control your partner, children or others with silence or anger?
- Do you have ongoing or ungrounded criticism that causes isolation from your partner, children or others?
- Do you withhold sex from your partner?
- Do you withhold intimate, deep or meaningful thoughts, conversations or activities with your children or others?
- Do you have many superficial relationships versus one or two very close friends?
- Do you have an unwillingness or inability to discuss your feelings with your partner, children or others?
- Do you stay so busy there is no relational time with your partner, children or others?
- Do you make problems or issues about your partner, children or others instead of owning your own issues?
- Do you control or shame your partner, children or others about money issues or any other area of their life?
- Do you become overly involved in the decision-making process of your children or others?
- Do you make your partner feel like a roommate?
- Do you make your children or others feel insignificant to you?
- Do you feel as though you can do it alone without the help or encouragement of others?
- In past relationships, did your partner(s) initiate intimacy more often?
- In your past, did you notice a turning point when you may have hardened your heart? If you experienced emotional, physical or sexual trauma, did you notice things changed after that time?
- In your current relationship, does your partner initiate intimacy more often?
- In your current relationship, have you lost your desire for intimacy?
If you answered yes to ten or more of these questions, you are more than likely an intimacy anorexic. Regardless of how you developed this condition, I highly recommend you seek professional help from a certified sexual recovery therapist.
Those who are reactive or residual anorexics may find the road of recovery much easier. Once their partner becomes healthy, they may find it easy to revert back to their healthy relational skills as well. However, those who are family of origin intimacy anorexics may find recovery much more difficult. As their partner becomes healthy, they may find themselves struggling even more and the relationship difficulties may only intensify. Family of origin intimacy anorexics will need to work through their own personal relational issues in recovery. It may not come easily or naturally for them to relate without intimacy anorexic tendencies. They may need to work hard and put forth more effort throughout their recovery process.
Some family of origin intimacy anorexics may even find themselves bitter and resentful toward their partner for finding freedom in their own recovery. They may feel left out and abandoned. They may continue to blame and throw false guilt on their partner, shaming them for their addiction or their anorexic behaviors, even if they are much healthier than they were previously. They may be unable to release the role of the “victim” and live in a healthy relationship with anyone. Anger, bitter and resentful roots run very deep and will need to be removed entirely before healing can begin.
From a clinical perspective, treatment may be similar for both – the reactive intimacy anorexic or family of origin intimacy anorexic. Women generally develop intimacy anorexia due to a wound involving a male, such as abuse, trauma, etc. Men generally develop intimacy anorexia due to sexual addiction or sexual trauma. Regardless, both require the individual to give of themselves, emotionally, physically and sexually. You have to give your heart to others. The bottom line is to determine the payoff. What is the benefit for you continuing your behavior? Is intimacy anorexia a means of self-protection, safety or security for you?
As I was writing Ashes to Beauty, I discovered I had anorexic tendencies long before I met my partner. However, since my partner was also anorexic, it only magnified my anorexic tendencies as well. I could give you example after example of my anorexic behaviors prior and throughout my relationship with my addict. I have many examples of anorexic behavior in my workplace alone, thinking I could do it all myself without the need of others to help me.
As you can see, there are a number of reasons one could become an intimacy anorexic. Many of us experienced a combination of these items, which have contributed to our own sexual anorexic acting-in behaviors.
Excerpt from Ashes to Beauty.
In my next blog article, I’ll be discussing the intimacy anorexia cycle.
Kerry Schortzman is the Director of Operations at Transformed Hearts Counseling Center as well as an author and speaker. She has traveled the road of recovery alongside her husband through the wildfires of intimacy anorexia. She has a heart and passion to see healing and restoration in relationships and marriages as well as to bring public awareness to eliminate sex and human trafficking. Kerry has been married since 1998 and lives in Colorado with her husband and four daughters. She and Cory have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.