Sex addicts often seem to have two distinct personalities. Often they will report to me that they experience themselves that way. One personality is thoughtful, loving and responsible while the other is self centered, impulsive and primitive.
If you make a cursory search of the Dr. Jekyll and Hyde idea along side that of sex addiction you will find a myriad of popular and scholarly references dealing with this parallel and arguing about whether the original Jekyll and Hyde story was in fact depicting a person in the grip of addiction.
This pattern of seeming like two different people is so commonly observed in sex addicts that it is impossible that they are all suffering from dissociative identity disorder (i.e. multiplicity). Nor are they all sociopaths. As I have argued in a previous post, there are a number of reasons why sex addicts can seem to be sociopathic and similarly, there are a number of reasons why it might appear that sex addicts have multiple personalities.
I believe that all of these processes which underlie the addict’s appearance of multiplicity have as their basis the addict’s fundamental disconnection from self and others. There are a number of ways in which this plays out in practice.
Black and white thinking
Sex addiction has been described as a “disease of extremes”. Pia Mellody (2003) gives an excellent account of the dysfunctional family issues that give rise to this tendency to think and react in extremes. She believes that in some families, the child either experienced caregivers who had difficulty seeing and expressing things moderately, or they had caregivers who left them with the feeling of not being heard, of being invisible.
Addicts often see themselves as all good or all bad. They experience their good self and their bad self as totally disconnected when in fact they are both part of the same person. When something goes wrong in an addict’s life it becomes an emergency. When they have a slip, all is lost. In treatment sex addicts begin to see the possibility of both feeling integrated and acting with integrity.
Dissociation during sexual acting out
During episodes of sexual acting out, sex addicts are often in a kind of “trance” state. They are not entirely able to guide their behavior on a rational basis. Typically, sex addicts have a ritual, a set of behaviors leading up to the sexual episode which serves the purpose of beginning this detachment from reality. The purpose of the ritual is in fact to create this semi-dissociative state in order to suspend the addict’s ability to think rationally about the consequences of what they are about to do.
Then too, a dissociative state, “zoning out”, comes easily to sex addicts because many of them used dissociation as children to escape painful experiences. So the habit of dissociation, being outside of oneself, is a skill the addict may employ to detach from any stressful situation. But all of this does not imply dissociative identity disorder or multiplicity.
Intimacy avoidance and the habit of sexual duplicity
Sex addicts compartmentalize their lives not necessarily out of a wish to be hurtful to anyone but because they cannot be intimate with all aspects of themselves. Sex addicts avoid sharing their inner life. Their early experience of intimacy was not one of comfort and safety.
Sex addicts go outside their relationships to find gratification without vulnerability. In their sexual acting out life sex addicts are able to be in control and to feel safe.
Many sex addicts grew up in repressive families in which talk of sex was taboo. There was often a hypocritical attitude which fostered the belief that sex should be seen as something separate and secret. Thinking of intimacy as dangerous and sex as taboo supports the addict’s “double life” in which feeling like two different people is the norm.
The Jekyll and Hyde addiction analogy
What makes the analogy so compelling is the idea that the only way Dr. Jekyll can feel safe in meeting some very basic human needs is to detach from those he loves, morph into a beast and then morph back again. There are not actually two separate personalities. The message is, or should be that all the parts of us need to be understood and accepted. Bringing the different parts of the addict together and helping the addict to connect with others are parts of the same process.