Anxiety. We hear a lot about it, but what is it really? I see anxiety and depression closely linked. I believe people generally struggle with anxiety and/or depression when their behaviors do not match their core beliefs or values. Their heart, head and behaviors are out of alignment. For example, let’s say a person believes in eating healthy, exercising, being honest and respectful as well as honoring themselves and others. Now let’s say their behaviors do not match these values or their beliefs about these values. They most likely will experience some high or low level of anxiety.
The person may not understand this to be anxiety but will experience some form of discomfort within themselves. To remove this discomfort, they will either need to change the new behavior to match the old core belief or value or change the old core belief to match the new behavior. Most people are not aware that this is what needs to happen so instead they will medicate this discomfort (or what we call in mental health anxiety) with food, work, busyness, drugs, sex, alcohol, shopping, gaming, etc. You name it. This form of medication is only a short fix and cycles back around when the old core belief is violated and will need to be medicated again.
So what is this anxiety about and what does it have to do with intimacy anorexia or addiction in general? As a recovering intimacy anorexic and sex addict myself, even though I look calm on the outside, I am a very anxious person on the inside. Many of my clients are the same way. So here is a breakdown of what this cycle or process looks like.
Self-Betrayal. This can take many forms. A person can betray themselves by cheating on their diet by eating a piece of cake or eating a carb, overspending, becoming angry at the kids for no good reason, not being able to say “no” to their boss, spouse, or parents, not having the courage to say something they wanted to say, saying something they should not have said, running late for a meeting because of the inability set boundaries at the last meeting, viewing pornography, drinking alcohol, or cheating on their spouse. These are all examples of self-betrayal.
Guilt. Guilt begins almost immediately with negative self-talk. They realize this behavior is a violation of their values. “I did a bad thing. I can’t believe I just did that. I need to stop this behavior. Why can’t I stop this behavior?”
Shame. Guilt becomes shame, as it turns inward, and we internalize this self-talk. “I can’t stop this behavior, because I am bad. I am stupid. I am an idiot. I am a mistake.” As they say in recovery, “Stay in your head, your dead.”
Anxiety. They are now fully in themselves unable to escape this internal prison. Shame becomes anxiety, and the pressure builds with more negative self-talk. The feeling of fear begins to take root. They become scarcity minded thinking, “How am I going to pay for that item or burn off those calories?” They become self-focused and unable to see the needs of others nor effectively serve them. Their heart begins to war with the mind and the mind with the heart. The anxiety begins to be seen outwardly in the person’s behaviors. They might irritable, grumpy, or short tempered.
Offended. They now become easily offended with real or imagined offenses. A heart and mind at war needs to find another person to war with. Married couples generally seek out their spouse. The anxiety is finally discharged with accusing, blaming, and criticizing words and behaviors.
Victim. When attacked the human response is to defend oneself. The spouse wars back in self-defense. The offended person, who has betrayed themselves about something unrelated to their spouse, believes and sees themselves now to be victimized with no wrong doing of their own. They now play the role of the victim with passive aggressive behaviors and comments. “What is your problem? Why are you so emotional? This is all your fault that we are out of money. This kids act this way because of you. Your own parents think you are crazy, and your behavior right now is the perfect example.”
Intimacy Anorexia. Intimacy Anorexia is now fully activated. The intimacy anorexic will now shut down and become silent withholding their thoughts and feelings for days or weeks. They may also become filled with anger by expressing physical or verbal threats. They are now fully acting in. They will continue to withhold themselves physically, sexually, spiritually, and relationally from their spouse.
Acting Out. If not able to process their anxiety in a healthy way, the intimacy anorexic will eventually act out with pornography, masturbation, sex outside of the marriage, alcohol, or more silence and anger in an attempt to discharge the discomfort of their anxiety.
Repeat Self Betrayal. We have come full circle. Without the help from someone outside this couple’s sick system, anxiety will remain a huge part this couple’s intimacy anorexic behaviors.
Just by simply giving this couple a language by naming it “anxiety” and “self-betrayal” can be a great way to avoid future problems. Begin having victory over anxiety by asking yourself or your partner these simple questions:
- How have you/I betrayed yourself/myself today?
- What core value or belief did you/I violate today?
- What are you/I feeling guilty about today?
- What are you/I feeling shame about today?
- What are you/I feeling anxious about right now?
- Why are you (or am I) trying to put your anxiety on me (you) right now?
- How can you/I begin to take responsibility for your/my thoughts, feelings, choices and behaviors?
- What do you/I need to do to stop betraying me/myself in the future?
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry 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. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
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.