The signs of intimacy disorders seem to swing from one extreme to another. Some people with intimacy disorders are in love with the idea of love and have an extreme need for affection. Others are afraid to get too close to others and keep themselves closed off in relationships for fear of getting hurt. Regardless of how it manifests, understanding the signs of intimacy disorders can help you identify the condition and know when you may need help from a mental health professional.
What are Intimacy Disorders?
An intimacy disorder is an inability to form an emotional attachment with others. Sex, pornography, and masturbation addictions are all intimacy disorders. Many factors, including a lack of attachment in childhood and trauma, can cause these issues.
“Intimacy disorders aren’t really different in Christians than in others,” said Matt Wenger, MA, LPC, Clinical Director at Boulder Recovery. “The only major difference is that Christians who demonstrate signs of an intimacy disorder can sometimes have increased judgmental attitudes. It’s an effort to hide their behaviors or an externalization of the feelings they have about themselves. It can also show up as hyper spirituality like ‘the devil made me do it’ or being ‘under attack’ by Satan as a way to shift blame. Or the elevation of theology to replace emotions in their relationship with God.”
Signs of Intimacy Disorders
Like with other disorders, there are many signs of intimacy disorders. The symptoms also may vary, depending on the person and their unique situation.
Common signs of intimacy disorders:
- Struggling to connect with others emotionally
- Disconnection from others and “deep” relationships
- Habitual lying about inconsequential things
- Repeated betrayals with addictive behaviors
- Difficulty demonstrating empathy
- The development of inauthentic personas
- Struggling with aggressive or manipulative behaviors
- Unresolved trauma
- The persistent perception of rejection
What Causes Intimacy Disorders?
Unresolved trauma is almost always the cause of an intimacy disorder, Matt said. This trauma often occurred in childhood. Adults often experience symptoms of childhood trauma, even if they don’t realize it.
“This trauma can lead to negative core beliefs like, ‘I’m not worthy of love’ or ‘I’m bad.’ It puts people at an arm’s length from others,” Matt said.
Trauma also results in people using adverse coping methods to try to feel better emotionally.
“The pain of these traumas can lead to negative coping that one may feel the need to hide from others and thus widening the gap further and confirming to themselves the negative beliefs they already had,” Matt said.
While childhood trauma doesn’t go away, you can learn to heal from it.
What is Healthy Intimacy for Christians?
Healthy intimacy for Christians looks the same as in any intimate relationship. Truly intimate marital relationships involve a level of connection, vulnerability, and authenticity in all the major facets of what it means to be human: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, Matt said.
The intimacy pyramid in the book, “Full Disclosure: How to Share Intimacy After Sexual Betrayal,” is a good representation of intimacy and its components, Matt said. From the bottom or base up, the pyramid consists of these components, as Matt explained them:
- Truth. Couples have to share a version of reality. There can’t be major secrets or areas of shame or betrayal that one member of the couple doesn’t know about. These secrets turn into walls in the relationship in which the secret holder continually hides from the other. In this way, the secret holder is holding back their whole self and sabotaging intimacy.
- Safety. The relationship must be physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually safe. If any of these areas are unsafe, intimacy isn’t possible. Unsafety in these areas could include physical or verbal abuse, withholding financial resources, or determining God’s will for the family.
- Trust. This component is sharing yourself with your partner without being exploited, rejected, or abandoned.
- Vulnerability. The couple is sharing the deep parts of themselves — their true opinions, feelings, and perspectives. It allows them to open up to know the other person and to be known by them.
- Intimacy. Intimacy is at the top. It combines all the previous aspects into a shared vision for life and a free-flowing, playful movement between what it means to be human — physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
Getting Help for Intimacy Disorders
While what happened to you to cause an intimacy disorder likely was out of your control, your healing is within your control. You can work to heal from an intimacy disorder and recover from the adverse behaviors it resulted in. Various intimacy disorder treatments are available to address these disorders and their root cause.
Treatments may include:
- Therapy. You can explore counseling to address ongoing issues, either alone or with your partner.
- Group Work. A group setting may be ideal if you want to learn more about intimacy disorders and how they affect relationships. A group can provide support from people experiencing the same types of issues.
- Support Network. Your friends and family can also support you during this difficult time in your life. It’s important to have loved ones you can turn to when you need help.
- Pastoral Help. Your pastor likely isn’t an expert in intimacy disorders, but many of them also have experience in dealing with relationship and family issues. If your pastor doesn’t have that training, most likely, they can recommend a professional counselor who does.
Addressing the Signs of Intimacy Disorders
Intimacy and connection with others is a vital part of the human experience. Whether you feel unable to get close to others or look to others to fill a void, you may need help from a mental health professional to learn to be in a healthy relationship.
Boulder Recovery is here to offer the help you need. With our 14-Day Men’s Intensive, you can address the trauma that can cause various intimacy disorders by learning techniques to help heal trauma and attachment issues.
Contact us to begin your work toward healthy relationships.