Avoidance as a Survival Strategy (Part 1)

Scratch the surface of compulsive sexual behavior, and you’ll find an avoidant attachment style. As a matter of fact, sexual compulsivity and intimacy avoidance are inseparable. Because you had poor role models to show you the way, substantial intimacy blocks are inevitable. In other words, giving and receiving love has been dangerous territory for you resulting in brokenheartedness and profound isolation.

How you experienced love in the first months and years of life lays the blueprint for your style of relating to others as a grown-up. One of the keys to sustainable recovery is to integrate sex, love, and intimacy. In the movie, Moulin Rouge, the protagonist named Christian declares that “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” Because of my own challenges with intimacy—both longing for and fearing closeness—this was a very moving message in the film as he desperately pursued love with someone who was truly unavailable and potentially life-threatening to him.

Christian’s anguish escalated when ongoing attempts to establish deeper contact with his object of desire remained futile. The obsessive quest for the unavailable person—sometimes referred to as the impossible love—creates emotional hunger and unsatisfied longings. Giving and receiving love more freely is a powerful antidote to compulsive behavior. When you’re able to develop true intimate contact with others, seeking the impossible love loses steam, and sobriety gains traction.

Jan Bauer’s book, Impossible Love, describes both the suffering and the growing edge that goes along with looking for love in all the wrong places—for example, affairs and emotional entanglements. Although the excitement of the brief adrenaline rush may be supercharged, it’s unlikely to be converted into long-term intimacy. Don’t get me wrong. The impossible love can be a fantastic learning opportunity, but only if you’re able to recognize it, gain perspective on your part in the relationship and tease out the deeper meaning and purpose beneath your longings.

If you have the luxury of owning a pet, this may be one of the finest intimacy laboratories. My dogs have always been instrumental in my practice of giving and receiving. Pets are powerful healers because of their instinctual way of loving. And if you pay attention to the free flow of love they offer, they demonstrate a rare template of intimacy unsurpassed by humans. No expectations. No conditions. No pressure. Pets offer a rare 24/7 consistency as a true companion and wholehearted creature. In the second half of this post, we will take a closer look at attachment wounds and how to repair them.

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