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There is no “intimacy disorder” listed in the official diagnostic manual for clinicians, but culturally the phrase has come to mean an interactional pattern that happens when a person struggles to get emotionally close to another, remain emotionally close with another, or feel safe trying to do so. When someone struggles with intimacy, they often have difficulty initiating or maintaining positive relationships with others. Here are 4 common patterns of intimacy disorders.
Love avoidance looks like a “fear of commitment” or “on again, off again” type relationships. This happens when a person thinks or says they are afraid of being smothered by another person, while really feeling afraid of being abandoned or left alone. These people often work out this tension by engaging in interactional patterns of “tug-of-war” with periods of closeness and periods of pulling away. While healthy relationships cycle through periods which feel more “close” than other times, love avoidance is extreme enough to break trust in the relationship. Symptoms also include attempts to escape relational intensity with external solutions, such as pornography, substance addictions, emotional affairs or distracting activities.
Love addiction can also look like very intense relationships that are “on again, off again”, but it is the opposite extreme from love avoidance. Often called “co-dependency” in its more mild form, the love addiction tension is between abandonment and unfamiliarity with what is healthy. This dynamic will keep a person trapped in even an abusive relationship because the danger that is familiar is less scary than a healthy relationship that is yet unknown. In fact, some people may unconsciously choose abusive relationships because the unfamiliarity of unhealthy relationships causes them so much anxiety. Symptoms include spending too much time and energy on their partner, neglecting care of self and unrealistic expectations from their partner.
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