Avoidance and Addiction

Many therapists (if not most) who work with sexual addiction acknowledge that attachment challenges contribute to the emergence of the disorder.

Mary Ainsworth (December 1, 1913 – March 21, 1999) was a developmental psychologist known for her work with children. She advanced our understanding of emotional attachment that had been pioneered by John Bowlby.

Ainsworth designed an experiment with children called the “Strange Situation” that allowed her to identified a number of different “attachment styles” children form with their parent or other primary caregiver.

We now identify Three basic “attachment styles” that provide insight into how different people experience relationships with others.

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  • Secure Attachment. People with this style are comfortable with intimacy and tend to sustain warm and affectionate interaction with their intimacy partner.
  • Anxious Attachment. People with this style crave intimacy and tend to feel that they just can’t feel close enough with the intimacy partner.
  • Avoidant Attachment. People with this style feel a loss of independence in relationship with their intimacy partner, the closer they get, the more unsettled they can feel.
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Generally, men how have developed an Avoidant Attachment style over the course of their life-times tend to be more vulnerable to sexual addiction than others. The reason is simple. Avoidant types separate sexual expression from relational connection.

Anonymous sex, internet pornography, and transactional sexual encounters (massage parlors, prostitutes, etc) allow a person to experience sexual release without the obligation of responsibility for the well-being of the partner. On the surface this appears rather convenient. And perhaps it may well be in the beginning.

The problem is that each person has genuine affiliation needs. even a person who may have developed an Avoidant Attachment style.

Each of us require regular doses (multiple times of day) of experiences of appreciation, validation, and affirmation from others. In a relationship characterized by healthy intimacy, sexuality serves to meet our needs for affiliation and to heighten the experience of appreciation, validation, and affirmation from one’s intimacy partner.

The person who may have developed an Avoidant Attachment style, has a more difficult time experiencing and accepting the messages and actions that communicate, “I love you”.
Thus, a young person may emerge with a fundamental belief about one’s self that, “I am not okay” and “I am not worthy of love”. He may dismiss the loving gesture or invitation to sustain a relationship of healthy intimacy.

A sexual addiction exacerbates this already challenging condition. Acting out sexually as part of an addictive process only reinforces one’s sense of shame. The isolation of the Avoidant Attachment style moves from being simply problematic to positively catastrophic.

When treatment for sexual addiction includes work that addresses the Avoidant Attachment style, one learns to connect in healthy ways with others and to receive the affirmation, appreciation, and validation everyone needs to live a full and joyful life.

 

Image by HVargas