Intimacy anorexia


So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.    Genesis 1:27

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God…     Genesis 3:8

Over the next few weeks I will be writing about a condition known as Intimacy Anorexia (IA). Similar in concept to the eating disorder of anorexia in which the patient starves the body by not eating, a man or woman with intimacy anorexia chooses to starve their emotions and avoid closeness in a relationship.

I am not a medical professional or licensed counselor, but have learned much about the condition as I have struggled to overcome it over the past few years and have worked with men struggling with the same. For this discussion, I will use my own working definition of intimacy anorexia, which some professionals also refer to emotional anorexia.

Intimacy anorexia is the condition in which an individual actively withholds emotional connection with the people in their life who most deserve such a connection.

For whatever reason of development or childhood conflict, the adult with intimacy anorexia does not demonstrate their emotions in a healthy way, especially with people whom they should be close to.  Instead, the intimacy anorexic does everything he can to protect his emotional center.  He pushes away or withholds closeness from the people that deserve intimacy, primarily his wife and children, but also other important relationships such as parents, siblings, and close friends.

The intimacy anorexic will demonstrate some very clear behaviors, known as “acting in” that withholds intimacy and an emotional connection while pushing away the other person. Cory Schortzman, a counselor and Executive Director at Transformed Hearts Counseling Center, has written extensively concerning this condition. He defines several common acting in behaviors:

  • Withholding love
  • Withholding praise and appreciation
  • Controlling through silence or anger
  • Ongoing or ungrounded criticism causing isolation
  • Withholding sexual intimacy from one’s spouse
  • Unwillingness or inability to discuss one’s feelings
  • Staying so busy in order to avoid relational time
  • Controlling or shaming another about money
  • Making problems or issue about another (blaming) in order to avoid owning up to one’s own issues

I believe that intimacy anorexia is truly a spiritual condition. It originates in our deep wound of being separated from God. We each were created in God’s image to love and enjoy a close intimate relationship with God, to walk with God in the garden in the cool of the day. However, we have each chosen to rebel against God and suffer the consequences of our sin – the cutting off of an intimate relationship with God. This breakdown was so severe and God’s desire to restore intimacy was so great that God sent His One and Only Son to achieve reconciliation with his lost people.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.    Romans 6:23

Humans were created to for closeness and intimacy. We each have a strong desire for closeness and intimacy, it is fundamental to our nature as humans. However, many of us don’t have the skills and knowledge how to do so. This has broken our relationships with each other. My upbringing and background cultivated my intimacy anorexia and is typical for many men.

One of the younger children in a large family, I tried my best to keep out of trouble and be a peacemaker. I did not learn healthy ways to express my emotions, and thus as I entered adolescence, I became adept at stuffing my emotions, rather than dealing with them. This became more of a problem as a young adult serving in the military and then later in marriage. When another one of the guys on the submarine did something to offend me, I didn’t go up to the other guy and say “Hey, what you just said hurt my feelings, can we talk about this? “ Nope, didn’t happen that way.  I stuffed my emotions rather than dealing with it directly through open and direct dialogue with the other guy.  This pattern reinforced itself over and over again until it was part of my nature.  Most importantly, iIntimacy anorexia prevented me from connecting with my wife and children. Instead, I acted in repeatedly in order to protect my emotional center and the façade of a fortress I had built around my emotional core.  My most important relationships suffered.

Fortunately, God was gracious to me. He gently led me to a place in life where I had to deal with my emotional starvation. He provided other men to safely walk with me through this journey of recovery and provided tools to help me learn how to acknowledge and express my emotions in a proper way. It has been a great journey of recovery and walking in emotional strength.

I think that intimacy anorexia is more common that we would like to admit. I intend to use this forum to help educate my readers about this condition and hopefully be able to point some to recovery and health.

More to follow in the coming weeks.

What do you think? Do you know someone who may be suffering from emotional/intimacy anorexia?

About John Forrest