The fear of being discovered as defective makes sex addicts fear intimacy. The closer they move to their partners, the more vulnerable they feel. This increasing vulnerability scares sex addicts into aggressive and defensive postures.
The emotional walls addicts construct cause them to conduct their relationships in extremes. Their containment boundaries fail them, and they spew their emotions like a garden hose. Or their protective boundaries fail them, and they become emotionally flooded, not allowing themselves to be approached or touched by any emotion or physical contact. Or they may wall themselves off so thoroughly from their own authentic emotions and the desire to be physical that they become as silent and untouchable as a tightly shut clam. Boundary practice teaches us to regulate the levels of respect, affection, and sexual intimacy that are appropriate to our relationships.
With implementation of boundaries, the development of healthy relationships, it is helpful to apply the concentric circle model. This concept may be difficult or awkward for the recovering sex addict because of his limited ability to relate. To explore these levels, let's consider the diagram below.
Inner circle: Intimate relationship
Second circle: Second level friendship
First circle: First level friendship
Outer circle: Acquaintances
The concentric circles represents levels of relational development or emotional connection: The closer to the center of the circle, the more intimate the relationship.
The outermost region represent acquaintances, such as the clerk in the coffee shop. You are friendly with him or her but share little about your internal emotional world: "How is it going? Can you believe this weather? How about that game last night?" This emotional level allows for an amiable hello or passing exchange of niceties. The level of emotional risk is low, the exchange pleasant.
The next circle represents first-level friendship. These relationships are deeper than acquaintanceship. This may be a new relationship you are building and perhaps assessing to determine if it is appropriate to move into a deeper emotional connection. Or it could be a long-term relationship based on shared interests, hobbies, or beliefs. You enjoy the relationship but realize your emotional connection is limited.
The second-level friendship is developed and nurtured through deep trust and emotional connection. These are confidantes who have established mutual respect and are committed to the continual growth of the relationship. These friendships are very similar to an intimate relationship minus the sexual connection.
An intimate relationship reflects the emotional of a second level-friendship but includes a physical component. These are committed relationships between potential or lifetime partners. These relationships are nurtured at the deepest levels.
The circle and its levels can be adjusted for individual needs. For example, your levels of friendship maybe more defined; an added level or levels may feel more appropriate within your internal construct. The levels are also fluid; a person who is an acquaintance may progress into a second-level friend, or someone with whom you have a more intimate relationship may shift to an outer level. Life circumstances -- such as a move, a shift in job responsible, an illness, or the birth of a child -- may dictate a change in connection to another person.
I invite the sex addict to asses each relationship and where it falls within this continuum. You may realize that one level is deprived, whereas other levels are overflowing. As in all aspects of recovery, the goal is balance. Hopefully, this exercise will assist in the conscious assessment of your connections to others and in the enrichment of their development.
Relational closeness may feel overwhelming to the recovering sex addict because the threat of emotional exposure is not longer masked by sex. Learning to be present, authentic, and honest is part of the learning cure in developing healthy relationships.