A week has passed since I spoke to John’s wife, Rebecca. John and I met for our phone assessment and consultation. Over the years, I have learned to “see” with my ears. John was initially nervous on the call and burdened with a great deal of shame. I assured him that I was not there to shame him but to encourage him. As we started the assessment, I informed him that I was only looking for short answers, such as yes or no, to the questions I was asking. These answers would help me assess John for sexual addiction and intimacy anorexia.
Throughout the interview, John began to relax and answered the questions with greater ease. He informed me that he had been part of a men’s accountability group but has had very little sobriety past one or two weeks. He blamed the men in his group for not holding him accountable. I informed him no one can hold you accountable. You are only as accountable as you are honest. He admitted honesty was a difficult thing for him and has been most of his life, as he would lie about insignificant things.
We completed the assessment, and I informed him that he was a sex addict due to his past behaviors. Like any addiction, there are three areas we look at and evaluate. First, he had tried to stop using pornography yet has failed many times. Second, he needed more of the substance. Third, he needed more of the substance more often. He was now daily using and viewing pornography he wouldn’t have imagined himself viewing a year ago. In the assessment, we also identified that he struggled with depression and moderate alcohol use. Finally, we identified that he was also an intimacy anorexic.
He asked me what this term sexual or intimacy anorexia meant, because he had no problems with eating. I chuckled and let him know that was a great question. At Transformed Hearts, we use the term not in the medical sense to mean a starvation of food but to mean a starvation of love. Men are more often anorexic than women, but many women struggle with this issue as well.
I told him there were five behaviors I have observed in my life as a recovering intimacy anorexic as well as in the lives of my clients.
First, most anorexic men are what I call a nice guy. Everybody loved Cory before recovery. It was just my wife who could not stand me, as she observed the Jekyll and Hyde behaviors in our home. In public, I was a nice guy always willing to help others, be present, and listen to their problems.
However, I withheld this from my wife. I was so good at this that even my wife’s parents began to think that I was a nice guy, and she was the crazy one.
Second, anorexics are great at withholding love, as they will use love to reward or punish their partner passive aggressively. These behaviors often manifest in anger or long periods of silence. This silence in word and behavior is extremely painful to the partner, not the anorexic. Silence is violence. The partner typically does not know what they did wrong to cause such behaviors but are desperate to make it stop.
Third, an anorexic displays the ABCs. Before and during the period of withholding, an anorexic will verbally accuse, blame, and criticize their partner relentlessly. The anorexic has a very difficult time taking responsibility for their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as they need their partner to be bad. As long as they are good, they don’t need to change and are, therefore, not the problem.
Fourth, an anorexic typically has a heart at war. A heart at war seeks others to war with, and it’s usually their partner. They push their partner’s buttons until they war back. Once they have their battle going, they play the victim role, as if they have been severely wounded by a water pistol that they have been firing bullets from for days or weeks at a time.
This shifting of attitudes reinforces the belief that they are good, their partner is bad, and the partner is the one that needs to change, not them.
Finally, an anorexic, at times, displays a great deal of passivity. They have a difficult time being assertive in expressing their needs, wants, and feelings. They are passive in their behavior, as they are physically absent, busying themselves with work or when home busying themselves by doing things that appear to be justified or important. It may be working in the garage or on the yard, enjoying hobbies, or doing things with the kids. These behaviors do exactly what the anorexic wants them to do, and that is to create distance. The partner may feel burdened with responsibilities the anorexic is capable of doing but refuses to help with, such as household chores to paying the bills.
An anorexic is also passive in their language, as they will make everything a question, placing the responsibility of small and large decisions on their partner. “Do you want soy or almond milk? Do you want to go out for Mexican or Italian tonight? What movie should we see? Will you make love to me?”
The benefit of this is that the anorexic does not have to be responsible if things go wrong. They just blame their partner. If things go well, they say nothing or take the credit. Assertive behaviors and language can be very challenging for the anorexic.
John was grateful for this new information. Even with his past recovery work, he admitted to feeling a little overwhelmed, as he closely related to many of the examples I had just shared with him.
Cory’s original article, Part 2: What is Sexual/Intimacy Anorexia, was posted on TopAddictionsNetwork.com.
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.