Obstacles to Intimacy Series
~Exploring God’s Gift of Intimacy~
In the Obstacles to Intimacy Series, we discussed Obstacle #1: Sex Addiction, Tips & Tools to Overcome Obstacle #1, Obstacle #2: Intimacy Anorexia, How We Become Intimacy Anorexics and Reactive Intimacy Anorexia.
The Anorexic Cycle
In an effort to help identify and discover the dysfunctional relationship of the intimacy anorexic, my husband created a cycle outline to help clarify the process. This cycle is based off personal and professional experience, observing our own process, as well as through recovery material, individual and group counseling experiences. We will walk through each road. Take some time to review the Anorexic Cycle and study it. This cycle stresses the importance of how we think and feel, as well as how we can respond to those thoughts and feelings and modify the outcome of our behavior. The goal is to respond in a healthy, productive way, taking responsibility for our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors in order to experience a healthy emotional metabolism rate.
A Heart at Peace
In Proverbs 14:30, it states, “A heart at peace gives life to the body.” This is the place we would love for our emotional metabolism to rest. We begin with a heart at peace, which is calm and relaxed. You are at peace with yourself and those you encounter in your personal and professional relationships. If we can effectively maintain our heart at peace, we would obtain a healthy emotional metabolism rate. This is where we are often the most comfortable in our relationships with others. Life is good and all is well. A heart at peace is when we can effectively identify our feelings and share our needs with our partner in the moment.
For example, my husband calls and indicates he may arrive home an hour later than expected. I have had a rough day with the kids. My workload is mounting on my desk, and dinner is already cooking in the oven. Instead of being upset about the unexpected delay, my healthy response would be to briefly share my feelings of being overwhelmed and the disappointment that he won’t be arriving home on time, as well as simply request my need for him to watch the kids when he arrives home, so I can have some time to finish the tasks I set out to complete for the day. In this example, I am sharing my feelings about my overwhelming day and clearly stating my need for help when he returns home. I can maintain my heart at peace, because I know I have been honest about my feelings and needs. He can remain at work without feeling he is upsetting me, and I have the assurance he will watch the kids while I finish my work. It becomes a win-win situation for both of us, because we are both clearly communicating our feelings and needs, as well as achieving our goals for the day.
Then an activating, triggering event occurs, which we experience through our five senses of sight, taste, touch, smell and/or sound. This event can produce a positive or negative experience for us. These are events that happen outside of our control. Based on these activating, triggering events, we have two variables.
- Things we can control – our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
- Things we cannot control – other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
For example, let’s use the same example as mentioned previously. The activating, triggering event is the phone call I received from my husband, stating he will be arriving home an hour later than expected. The variables I can control are my own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. I can control the thoughts that he will not be in time for dinner, and I will have to reheat it when he arrives home. I can control my feelings of disappointment regarding his late arrival, and I can control my reaction through my tone of voice and the words I select in response. I can choose to support him and his work endeavors, or I can choose to make him feel miserable for even calling to notify me of his lateness. I cannot control his thoughts, feelings and behaviors. I cannot control the reason he will be arriving late this evening or the tempting thought he had not to call me. I cannot control how he feels about staying late or how he feels about calling me to notify me of this situation, and I certainly cannot control his behavior and request he come home immediately for my sake.
In the face of an activating or triggering event, there are four roads you can choose.
Road #1: Honor Yourself
Based on the thoughts you have from the activating, triggering event, you can acknowledge how it made you feel and honor yourself by being assertive and honest. What you think and feel about that event, you will express through your behavior. The objective is to express your feelings in a healthy manner and maintain a healthy emotional metabolism rate.
For example, when I think about the fact that my husband will not be home on time, I can focus my thoughts positively, rather than negatively. My immediate feelings don’t have to be of neglect, abandonment or rejection. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to be home. There may be things out of his control that are preventing him from being home for dinner on time. In regard to my feelings, I can state my disappointment that he won’t be able to make it in time for dinner, especially because I made his favorite dish. I can always reheat it when he arrives home.
Do you see how this can allow you to maintain your heart at peace? How we filter life’s experiences and how we react to them can drastically change the outcome of any given situation. Focus your thought life positively, share your feelings and make positive behavioral changes.
Road #2: Betray Yourself
Depending upon your thought process about the original triggering event, you can become passive in what you think, feel, say and do. Generally, when we do not allow our emotions to be exposed, this is an emotional self‑betrayal. It conflicts with our values and core belief system. If you betray yourself, your thoughts are usually thoughts of victimization, entitlement, self‑righteousness, justification and anger, which can feed into a behavior of withdrawing from others. During the process of withdrawing, you continue to feed into more obsessive, lie-based thinking, such as the distorted anorexic thoughts. This can feed into further feelings and desires to withdraw and shut down our emotions. Your behavior can then become sabotage, blame, verbalizing anger, arguing, etc. You eventually come out of this event with a heart at war that leads to isolation. A heart at war can last an hour to several weeks. Some find themselves stuck in the cycle, unable to express their feelings to return to a heart at peace.
For example, when my husband calls home and states he will be late, I immediately begin to feel the outpour of emotion throughout my body – anger. I make assumptions that he could have been home on time had he wanted to, and I feed into all the distorted anorexic thoughts I possibly can, such as, “He is always late. He never makes it home on time. His dinner is going to be cold. That will teach him never to be late again. I’m sure he doesn’t even have to work late. It’s just another excuse. I bet he’ll have to call again just to let me know he’ll be even later than an hour. He’s never around for the kids. I always have to do everything in this house.” This type of thought life is only going to increase the risk of becoming angry, bitter and resentful. We will naturally wish to use silence or anger to punish our partner or try to isolate and blame them when they return home. This is when we may be drawn to act in or act out as a means of self-protection, though a very poor way to protect ourselves. At this point, we are then given three options. We can choose to follow Road #3, Road #4 or continue to repeat Road #2, which leads us to more negative thinking, feelings and behaviors. We cannot allow ourselves to stay on Road #2 where pride will only lead to destruction.
Road #3: Humble Yourself
To break the cycle of pride, we need to humble ourselves, confess our wrongs (sin) and repent. We need to adamantly begin to move toward our partner and back to a heart at peace.
From our example, we may have even stated some of the negative things we were thinking to our partner. When he arrives home from work, we may need to confess our wrongs, ask forgiveness for our thoughts, words and deeds, so we can begin to move forward in our relationship again. If we don’t, this cycle could continue for a number of days, weeks or months. We may even need to address the issue of extending forgiveness toward our partner for things they thought, said or did to hurt us. Eventually, once we have dealt with these issues of confessing our sins, making amends, repenting and forgiving one another, we can move toward a heart at peace.
Road #4: Deny Yourself
If you choose to deny yourself, you stay in isolation. You choose to deprive yourself of your needs. You are unable to verbalize your thoughts, feelings and needs to your partner and, therefore, may find yourself stuck in a heart at war. Through time (days, weeks or months), the issue is still unresolved, but temporarily, the pain has been blocked, stuffed or denied. You continue to live in the midst of your distorted anorexic thinking, negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors. However, you may feel you are back to a heart at peace but with a fractured heart in need of repair. A piece of your heart has been lost in the process. Over time, your heart has been slowly damaged. You may become unconscious of the road you have chosen. Each time you choose that road, it becomes more and more dysfunctional. You lose more and more of yourself. This road may lead to addictions to medicate the loss and pain or codependent behaviors.
In the previous example, I may still be behind on the work I wanted to complete, because I never communicated my need to my husband to provide the time necessary to complete it. I would be denying myself, which would lead to more negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward my partner. I may even continue a number of my distorted anorexic thoughts, as I would feel justified and entitled to feel anger from this one event. The bitterness may begin to intensify, and small things with no connection to the initial event may trigger an unwelcome response from me. It may have been a number of days since the original incident, but I may continue to shame and blame my partner for this one event. I may try to control the situation with the use of silence and/or anger to continue to punish him for days or even weeks. Since I have been unable to connect with him emotionally, I definitely have withdrawn myself from him physically and sexually.
Can you see how quickly intimacy, emotional or sexual anorexia can rear its ugly head in our life? The outcome of this road will eventually lead to a fractured heart, a heart that withholds love, intimacy, appreciation, encouragement and support from their partner. This is a heart full of pride that feeds off itself until it is no more. A hardened heart cannot demonstrate love toward others, nor accept love from others. Eventually, it may wither up and emotionally die from loneliness and isolation.
Generally, the anorexic cycle can run its course and resume a heart at peace, a heart at war or continue to contribute to a fractured heart. The withdrawal from acting-in behaviors can last a few hours, days, weeks or even months. Making monumental changes in your life doesn’t occur overnight. It is important to allow an intimacy anorexic, as well as ourselves, to change slowly over time. Remember, an infant doesn’t change immediately into adulthood. It is a gradual change over a long period of time. Patience is a critical aspect of recovery. However, if you don’t see consistent, positive change over time, protect your heart and set some boundaries.
Excerpt from Ashes to Beauty.
In my next blog article, I’ll be discussing tools and tips to avoid Intimacy Obstacle #2.
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.