the Skinner on intimacy
In October 2014, I was blessed to be able to attend a special conference for women who had experienced varying levels of betrayal trauma in their lives. Togetherness (Midway) was a beautiful weekend of sisterhood, learning, feeling, and being pampered. So much love there! I initially felt that I would be out of place in attending, as we are so far along in recovery, but I felt that there would be benefit for me in being among those who 'just get it' and in attending some of the classes. This post is the first in a series of posts about the conference, my experience, and the things I learned there.
The number one request I get regarding my time at Togetherness Midway is for my notes from Dr. Kevin Skinner's class: "Making Sense of Intimacy." I was really excited about attending this class because I feel like restoring and re-establishing healthy intimacy is one of the trickiest situations when you are dealing with a sexual addiction (or lust addiction as some prefer to term it). Plus, Dr. Skinner is a pretty big deal. A Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist, a member of the AddoRecovery team, creator of the compassion model for treatment, author of the best-selling book "Treating Pornography Addiction", and creator of numerous assessments and tools for use by therapists all over. He, or his work, has been instrumental in the recovery of many individuals and marriages.
First and foremost, it is not possible to have addiction and intimacy co-exist in a relationship. Sexual intimacy is the byproduct of healthy intimacy, which is allowing another person to truly see into us. Intimacy is a skill we have to learn, not something that we naturally do. In trying to build, or restore, intimacy, we must also be careful not to become addicted to our emotions. Let that sit on you awhile.
Sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder and intimacy is a direct byproduct of attachment. Studies show that we develop one of three different attachment styles by age three, but also that these attachment styles can be changed with behaviors over time. Brene Brown is one who talks about how attachment can be learned. The three different attachment styles are secure, anxious/ambivalent, and detached. Secure individuals feel sure that their attachment figure will be available to meet their needs and thus have confidence as they explore and learn, knowing they have a safe place to return to. The anxious or ambivalent individuals fail to develop feelings of security from their caregivers, often from inconsistent levels of response to their needs. Thus they will often be clingy or needy, but reject affection or attention when it is given. It is as though they are constantly testing the waters. Detached individuals may have had caregivers that were insensitive or rejected their needs. They are very independent both physically and emotionally, and they do not seek contact when distressed or dealing with difficult tasks. Remember, these are developed by age three (just think of how overwhelmed mothers are with children under 3!), but that the good news is that over time the attachment styles can be relearned with different behaviors.
It is important to note that there are also nine types of addicts. If you have an addict in your life, you may find that one or more of these types seems to apply to your addict. That is normal. They may have two or three and they may vary between them. It is important to understand the types of addicts in relation to the various attachment styles they formed at a very young age, in order to then begin to understand how to make sense of being intimate with these individuals. Remember, we are not just talking about sexual intimacy, because sexual intimacy is the byproduct of healthy intimacy and intimacy is an ability to see into the soul of one another, to connect on a deeper level.
The first type of addict is the functioning addict. This person has little motivation to change and doesn't really see what the problem is. The ADHD addict is very thrill-seeking, intense, and hard to keep up with. They view pornography as simply another form of escape. The addict who is begging for love is filled with shame and doesn't feel lovable. They are seeking someone to just love them and they seem to struggle with regulating their emotions. For them, porn is like a comfort blanket. Therapists find these and the next kind particularly great to work with and see a lot of success particularly with them. The next kind of addict is self-confident but admits to needing help. They seek change and are hungry for information. This person wants very clear help and guidance and thus working with a trained professional is particularly helpful for them. In the fifth type of addict, anxiety rules and they act out to soothe their anxiety. They are perfectionists and frequently struggle with social anxiety, fearing shame and needing order. They often feel like their mind is always racing. The hopeless addict may remind you of Eeyore as they are depressed, have low energy, and are lethargic. If you know one of these, it is wise to advise them to get medical testing done, particularly for testosterone levels with sex addicts. The punisher sulks, punishes, is unpredictable, and is very passive aggressive. Some addicts have legitimate personality disorders and may be a narcissist, histrionic, or have borderline personality disorder. These and the punisher may be very difficult to work with. The final type of addict has what is termed Don Juan syndrome and they simply feel as though they can never be alone. Now, think of all these in terms of the various attachment styles that we just discussed. It becomes easier to see where they've come from. In seeing where they come from we may be able to better develop empathy and intimacy with healing.
If we are going to address intimacy in a relationship, we must first be willing to ask ourselves some important questions. How emotionally intimate are you available to be, not just with your spouse but with people in general? You can't beat yourself up mentally and be intimate with others. When the brain feels flooded with negative thoughts or addiction, it creates a sort of tunnel vision that blocks the brain's access to social processes like humor, creativity, and empathy. The ability to listen accurately or with compassion becomes inaccessible to this physiologically aroused person. Ask yourself the following questions: Who am I closest to? With whom can I share my deepest concerns or fears? With whom do I feel safe? Through my life, who has been the person I have trusted most? Healing cannot occur if we don't look deep. "Intimacy is sharing our thoughts and emotions without reserve"
"Years of thinking certain thoughts, and then feeling the same way, then thinking equal to those feelings, creates a memorized state of being in which we can emphatically declare our I Am statement as an absolute." - Dr. Joe Dispenza 'Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself'
Know that the meaning of sex will change significantly over time. You are probably already familiar with how the meaning and expressions of love change over time. Same idea. You must create boundaries that have specific meaning in order create a safe environment for intimacy. Again, intimacy is not just sex. It is deep bonding and it is an outcome of attachment. Verbal, emotional, intellectual or cognitive, and spiritual intimacy.... all of these things must be present for sexual intimacy to truly occur.
A final thought: You must find self-intimacy first and foremost. Unless you are comfortable with yourself on an intimate level, how you can you expect to allow that vulnerability in any other relationship? How do you find self-intimacy? Do things that you enjoy, spend time alone, meditate, and take care of yourself through those self-care activities that matter to you.