Sex, Lies & Trauma

Straight Talk about Sexual Compulsivity

The Link Between Adult Attachment Styles and Sex and Love Addiction

Is sex and love addiction really an attachment disorder?

The controversy continues as to whether sex and love can be an addiction. I continue to use the term "sex addiction" and "love addiction" as an indicator of problematic sexual or relational behaviors while the researchers struggle to come up with a clear answer and diagnosis for these issues.


In addition to the qualities sex addiction Los Angeles share with other addictive and compulsive behaviors, these issues consistently indicate a dysfunction in the person's learned attachment patterns: that is, in their personality structure, their inability to self-soothe or seek comfort from others. Whether male or female, these problematic attachment patterns are likely at the core of why many act out sexually or in obsessive love relationships.

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Attachment patterns have to do with how the infant is tended to by his/her primary caregiver, typically the mother. This means that when an infant is upset, or dysregulated, the "good enough" mother soothes the infant thereby regulating his/her nervous system. This kind of consistent tending to and soothing not only assists the brain in forming its regulatory capacities but also encodes or patterns the nervous system to respond appropriately under stress. If a baby is soothed while under duress, that baby will grow into an adult who can soothe himself while under stress. This ability to self-soothe creates a securely attached adult.


On the other hand, if the mother is chronically dysregulated herself, meaning depressed or anxious, she will then impart those same patterns to her infant. This means that the infant will not have the brain or nervous system structures in place to regulate or self-soothe herself as an adult. When that happens, the depressed or anxious traits become insecure states and attachment patterns in the person. For example, we've all known people who are chronically depressed or constantly anxious. At the extremes, a highly dysregulated nervous system can lead to the making of an addict.
Addicts, whether they're using drugs, alcohol, food, love, or sex to soothe themselves, are typically chronically dysregulated. They're seeking relief from underlying issues like depression or anxiety and can't get it. Because they didn't get the appropriate input and modeling for how to seek and receive comfort from the adults in their lives, they turn to substances or behaviors that will give them temporary relief from their own internal dysregulation. Over time, the habituated use of sex or obsessive love, become patterned behaviors that are difficult to stop.


The simplest way of thinking about insecure attachment patterns are:


The Anxious-Avoidant type of person is both anxious and avoidant of intimate relationships. He can appear to be commitment phobic in his way of relating.


The Preoccupied personality is ambivalent in her attachment style. You get mixed messages from her where she seems to be saying, "come here, go away" at the same time. She, too, has difficulty with long-term commitment.


The Disorganized type is simultaneously terrified of engulfment and abandonment. If you get too close, too fast, they bolt. If you get close and have arguments or struggles in the relationship, they fear that you will leave them. It can be exhausting to be in relation with this attachment style.


The good news is that these patterns remain changeable over time. If a person who is engaging in problematic sexual behavior or is destroying themselves due to obsessive love relationships gets into therapy and takes a good look at the underlying mechanisms that drive them to do what they do, they can make profound changes in their psyche and nervous system. Over time, they will come to have the experience of being able to self-regulate, or soothe, themselves so they can tolerate a close intimate relationship with a significant other.

Alexandra Katehakis, M.F.T., is the Founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles. more...

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