Category : Women's Hub
Author : Sana Rubiyana

Sana Rubiya

Psychologist and Rational Emotive Cognitive Behavior Therapist.
sanarubiana@gmail.com

In a more extreme form, intimacy anorexia can be a form of emotional abuse, although it’s important to not conflate the two issues. Emotional abuse entails non-physical actions that are meant to control or isolate a person. These actions are intentional and can include any combination of threats, privacy violations, jealousy, intimidation, criticism, and hostility.

Dr Doug Weiss uses intimacy anorexia to describe patterns of people “withholding emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy” within their romantic relationships. Both partners in this dynamic experience sadness and hurt and the recipient generally feels lonely. Intimacy anorexia can emerge from poor attachment patterns and trauma responses- someone might not even be aware of the implications of their withholding behaviour.

In a more extreme form, intimacy anorexia can be a form of emotional abuse, although it’s important to not conflate the two issues. Emotional abuse entails non-physical actions that are meant to control or isolate a person. These actions are intentional and can include any combination of threats, privacy violations, jealousy, intimidation, criticism, and hostility.

Is it a real condition?

Intimacy anorexia isn’t categorized within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Therefore, it isn’t established as an official mental health diagnosis. It also isn’t an issue that all therapists or health providers treat. However, many couples and relational therapists recognize symptoms of intimacy anorexia in their work, even if they use different terms to describe the pattern.

Common signs:

Staying intentionally busy
Withholding affection
Being overly critical
Staying surface level
Acting like roommates
Projecting blame onto the partner
Having mood swings

What causes it?

It likely stems from a combination of individual temperament, past relationship problems and trauma.

Sexual trauma can significantly impact relationships, self-esteem, and emotional wellness. This applies regardless of when the trauma occurred. Someone might withhold intimacy because the idea of intimacy genuinely scares them. They might also withhold intimacy if parts of their current trauma remind them of past abuse.
When a parent doesn’t attune well to their child’s needs, that child may grow up with an insecure attachment style, which can result in adult attachment disorders and other attachment issues. Intimacy anorexia is just one of those attachment issues that may emerge. The individual doesn’t know how to express love and affection.
Poor role models- like attachment patterns, and intimacy anorexia can sometimes be a learned

behaviour passed down intergenerationally. How people observe their caregivers’ behaviour can directly impact how they behave in relationships later in life. If someone watched patterns that mimicked intimacy anorexia- or they grew up in households where chaos was prevalent- they may adopt similar tactics themselves.

 Tips for overcoming-

Seeking trauma support
Focus on strengthening emotional intimacy.
Practice having gratitude for your partner.
Spend more quality time together.
Recognize withdrawal patterns.
Reevaluate the relationship.

How can therapy help with intimacy anorexia?
Individual therapy is most helpful if you want specific trauma support or if you’ve identified internal issues contributing to your relationship’s dynamic. Couples or marriage counselling also helps couples improve intimacy problems. Marriage counselling works by showing patterns and how they both play a role within a specific dynamic. Neither party is entirely blamed for a specific behaviour, and each person is encouraged to reflect and take action to change. If the issues are specific to sexual function, sex therapy may be beneficial.

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