Treatment for Intimacy Issues

As they grow up, most people learn how to develop intimacy in personal relationships. This term is commonly used in its sexual sense, but there are also important, non-sexual forms of intimacy. Being intimate with others you care for can be one of the great joys of life. Unfortunately, some people have had personal experiences that make it difficult to feel this kind of closeness which leads them to intimacy disorder.

Mental health experts refer to conditions that interfere with the ability to be intimate as intimacy disorders. These disorders typically stem from certain kinds of problems in childhood. Often, those problems involve some sort of serious trauma. With help from trained professionals, you can recover from an intimacy disorder. Proper treatment helps you discover or reconnect with the rewards of intimate feelings.

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What Is Intimacy

At its core, intimacy is a feeling of closeness and emotional connection. It allows you to share yourself and your feelings, thoughts and dreams with other people. In this way, it helps you feel centered, happy and vitally alive. As a rule, true intimacy does not happen overnight. Instead, it builds up over time as you get to know someone and make the effort to share experiences.

For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word intimacy is probably sex. This can, indeed, be an important form of bonding and sharing. However, most dimensions of intimacy are not sexual. Instead, they are:

  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Intellectual
  • Creative

Typically, the first experiences of intimacy come in early childhood. They occur naturally as your family members nurture you and take care of you. You also learn intimate behavior from your childhood friends and peers. As you grow older, you continue to develop and experience new forms of intimate closeness.

As teens and adults, most people put a lot of effort into forming bonds of sexual intimacy. However, other intimate connections are at least as crucial, if not more so. These sustaining bonds tie you to your loved ones, friends and other people you connect with.

Compulsive sexual behavior

What Is Intimacy Disorder

What is an intimacy disorder? The term does not refer to any specific condition with that name. Instead, it refers to a range of conditions that can reduce your ability to be intimate with other people. Forms of intimacy disorder include both officially defined and less well-defined mental health issues.

Forms of Intimacy Disorder


PTSD is the accepted shorthand for posttraumatic stress disorder. This disorder is triggered by exposure to certain kinds of highly traumatic experiences. Only a small percentage of adults who live through these experiences will develop PTSD. However, among children, the odds are roughly 50/50.

People with PTSD have a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Unwanted reliving of their past trauma(s)
  • A strong urge to avoid any trauma reminders
  • Negative, harmful emotions and thoughts
  • A sense of always being on high alert

In addition, people with the disorder frequently find it hard to be intimate in both a sexual and non-sexual sense.

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Attachment Disorders

Attachment disorders develop in childhood. There are two of these conditions:

  • Reactive attachment disorder, or RAD
  • Disinhibited social engagement disorder, or DSED

Children affected by RAD have had major negative interactions with adults while very young. As a result, they find it harder to form connections to others. Children affected by DSED have more or less the opposite problem. They do not recognize long-standing ties of intimacy and treat people they know and strangers with equal familiarity.

Doctors do not diagnose attachment disorders in adults. Nevertheless, adults can continue to feel the effects of these conditions. When this happens, you can have difficulty making healthy, intimate connections with other people.

Compulsive Sexual Behavior

Compulsive sexual behavior is better known as sex addiction. This condition does not have an official definition in the U.S. Still, many experts agree that you can develop damaging, sex-related thoughts and behaviors. Things affected people may experience include:

  • Loss of control over fantasies, behaviors or urges related to sex
  • Lack of success when trying to regain control
  • Feeling compelled to commit certain sexual acts
  • Using compulsive sexuality to avoid emotional issues
  • Not stopping sexually compulsive behavior despite major, negative consequences

Importantly, people with compulsive sexual behavior often find it hard to form or sustain intimate relationships.

Causes of Intimacy Disorder

What are the causes of intimacy disorders? These conditions develop in different ways. However, they generally have one thing in common: people affected by them have experienced significant trauma.

Trauma and Disorders of Intimacy

Trauma occurs when you go through an experience that seriously strains your natural ability to handle stress. Experiences known to have this effect include:

  • Sexual assault, abuse and rape
  • Physical assault and abuse
  • Emotional or psychological abuse
  • Physical and emotional neglect
  • Natural disasters
  • Being a witness to violence against others
  • Exposure to war or terrorism
  • Having a serious injury or illness
  • Losing a parent or other loved one

Adults have a lot of resilience to trauma. They tend to recover from traumatic experiences on their own. However, this is not always the case. A significant percentage of men and women will go on to develop serious mental health issues. Children are much more susceptible to the impact of traumatic experiences. This is true, in large part, because they have not yet developed the coping mechanisms available to adults.

PTSD is well-known as a trauma-related condition. However, the same is also true for attachment disorders. Both RAD and DSED tend to appear in children who have suffered physical or emotional abuse or neglect. The causes of compulsive sexual behavior are not fully understood. However, research indicates that many affected people lived through traumatic events as children.

Treatment for Intimacy Issues

Some Symptoms of Intimacy Disorder

In some ways, the symptoms of intimacy disorder depend on the condition affecting you. However, the key point is the impact that condition has on your capacity for intimacy.

For example, PTSD has its own detailed criteria for diagnosis. To receive such a diagnosis, you must meet those criteria. However, by themselves, these criteria do not make PTSD an intimacy disorder. Instead, what matters is the effect the illness has on your ability to be intimate. The same holds true for other forms of intimacy disorder.

Diagnosing Intimacy Disorder

As noted, when diagnosing intimacy disorders, doctors look for the symptoms of specific conditions. This is easiest to do for PTSD. Why? Posttraumatic stress disorder is a well-defined mental health diagnosis. That diagnosis can apply to children, as well as adults.

The situation can be a bit more complicated for attachment disorders and compulsive sexual behavior. Technically, attachment disorders are childhood conditions. For this reason, doctors may not always recognize their lingering effects in adults.

Compulsive sexuality poses a different challenge. Namely, it has no official definition. Some doctors may make an unofficial diagnosis in affected people. However, other doctors may diagnose you with something else. One potential alternate diagnosis is impulse control disorder.

Treatment Options for Intimacy Disorders

In many ways, the treatment options for intimacy disorders are similar. This is true regardless of the specific disorder affecting you. For example, PTSD can treated with several different forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. This therapy helps change how you feel, think and react in everyday life. Compulsive sexuality can also be treated with CBT, as well as other therapies. In addition, therapy is the main option for treating attachment disorders in adults.

There are also some similarities in medication. For example, people with PTSD sometimes benefit from antidepressants. The same is true for people affected by compulsive sexuality. Medication use may also differ in some ways. For example, some men with compulsive sexuality receive anti-androgens. Medications of this type help control sexual urges.

Get Help for Intimacy Disorders at Emerald Isle Recovery

Intimacy disorders are complex mental health issues. In one respect, they produce effects that differ in many ways. However, in another respect, their effects are quite similar. Specifically, they reduce your ability to be intimate with others. The impact of this limitation is serious. That is true because intimacy plays a central part in the human experience.

Fortunately, intimacy disorders are treatable. That is true no matter the source of these disorders. It takes a long time to build deep intimacy with someone. In the same way, it takes time to recover from intimacy problems. Still, with effort and effective care, you can succeed.

At Emerald Isle, we feature a full slate of treatments for mental health issues. That includes issues related to problems with intimacy. First, we diagnose your condition in a thorough evaluation process. Next, we help you create a treatment plan based on that diagnosis. All plans are customized for your situation. In all cases, we focus on therapies known to address intimacy problems.

Whether you suffer from mild, moderate or severe problems, our in-house specialists can help. Some people benefit from outpatient treatment. Others need the more extensive services of inpatient treatment. Emerald Isle features both types of programs. To learn more about our many services, call us today.