Love avoidants are afraid of getting hurt. It may appear that they are aloof, unemotional, and cold, but beneath the surface their emotions are quite intense. Somewhere in their lives they have learned to numb their emotions. Often love avoidants attract anxious or ambivalent partners who pursue them in order to get their emotional needs met and the anxious-avoidant cycle of attachment ensues. Love avoidants can also be sexual anorexics.
“I want to have a relationship. I would like to get married and have kids, have a family. But I can’t seem to find the right person.”
“I’m thirty-five and I haven’t had a girlfriend, what’s wrong with me?”
Love avoidants can say they really want a relationship and mean it, but because of deeper unresolved hurts, it does not play out that way in real life. They may choose emotionally unavailable partners, married partners, or just avoid dating altogether, They may marry and have a family, but keep a certain distance that leaves spouses feeling bereft and lonely. They may also have sexual anorexia because sex produces intimacy, feelings that are uncomfortable for them. If they get close, they could be abandoned, feel loss and get hurt and the hurt would be overwhelming. Often there is a trauma event that occurred as a child. It need not be a large event. It could be what we call little t or smaller traumas, like having devoted, loving parents who divorced or overemphasized achievement and invalidated emotions. It could be a big T like sexual molestation or incest. Having a parent die suddenly can leave a small child with an emptiness inside and deep abandonment fears that make it impossible to withstand the risk of adult relationships. Middle school and teenage bullying experiences can scar children and influence their ability to trust in adult relationships.
The characteristics of sexual anorexics include but are not limited to:
- Dread of sexual pleasure
- Avoidance of any topic connected to sex
- Extreme focus on other people’s sexual behaviors
- Body image issues
- High anxiety about sexual adequacy
- Engaging in other destructive behaviors in an effort to limit sex
Some sexual anorexics avoid sex altogether. For others, it is a part of a binge-purge cycle. They may engage in a sexual addiction and then cycle back to abstaining. It is not unusual for a person to be sexually anorexic with his or her partner while acting out in a sexually compulsive way with people outside the relationship. There can be extreme anxiety regarding being sexual within a relationship.
If you find yourself struggling to have a relationship, feel lonely and isolated, you could be a love avoidant.
Love avoidants learn that to be intimate includes vulnerability and they don’t want to go there. It is a scary place. They try their best to never incur the sort of hurt and pain they felt years ago as a child. That hurt damaged them. There still is the desire to attach to others, so they may say they want to be in a relationship and they may very well marry or date but there is still little intimacy or feeling close and connected within the relationships.
Often it is the partner of a love avoidant who will say they feel unfulfilled in the relationship. The distance hurts. They may be love addicts and co-dependent already or, develop co-dependency because of the situation. The partner feels particularly needy or even desperate, struggling for more closeness and intimacy while the avoidant pulls back – it can feel like she will die if he leaves him. Often this is the person who calls for a counseling appointment and is on the verge of ending the relationship but can’t seem to do it. She can’t go on this way either. There is strong ambivalence: “I know I am not getting what I need here” and at the same time, “I can’t imagine not being without him.” This scenario produces pain and suffering. It feels impossible to sit with that pain and tolerate the distress so she must act – check his email, lash out, cry, end the relationship, have an affair, make suicidal gestures. She is bonded to her love avoidant and also wanting to leave. She is stuck.
Sometimes the symptoms are subtle.
The couple may be engaging in sex and see that as a positive thing. Or one partner may feel detached. No matter what, emotional needs are not being met. She turns inward and becomes depressed, hopeless, sapped of life and energy. Let’s say she re-focuses her attention on her child and makes that child her surrogate or emotional partner. Growing up she played that role for one of her parents too and so it feels natural. Treating a child like a little adult and confidant, especially when confiding about the other parent is enmeshment, covert incest and emotional abuse. It happens all the time and continues the cycle of dysfunctional relationships.
As the parent confides in the child, the child feels special in the moment and feeling special feels good. But it is also a burden to have this special role. Children do not have the coping skills to understand the complexity of adult relationships. Plus, the child is one half of each parent, so if dad is terrible that means 50% of her is terrible too. This will have a negative impact on how she views partners throughout her adult life. She will learn to believe: you can’t depend on anyone, men are babies, women are crazy, do not trust anyone, relationships are scary and will let you down. Better to be alone forever than rely on someone and be hugely disappointed.
These ideas become core schemas (the beliefs we live by) and influence how we select and relate to our partners. They shape our self-worth, how we see the world and greatly affect our ability for happiness, success, our health, emotional well- being.
Without functional, solid relationships we lead lives filled with depression, anxiety, and fear fueled by addictions – because addictions send a message to our brain that we feel “happy” for a moment and we are so yearning for that feeling that we will accept the addiction. We go out for drinks with friends and can’t stop. We smoke pot daily and think it’s not a problem. We go shopping and max out a credit card. We reach for a cookie or ice cream to get a quick fix.
These are unhealthy coping skills that become addictions and continue the cycle of pain and suffering.
If these behaviors or scenarios sound familiar to you, if you think you are in the thick of an unhealthy cycle with your partner or on your own, please consider contacting me. With specialties in sexual addiction, sexual anorexia, intimacy disorders and relationships, I can help you stop the cycle.