There are lots of people out there that fear sharing physical ties or becoming close to others. They deliberately avoid intimacy, not allowing themselves to become vulnerable so they won’t get hurt.
This doesn’t imply that they don’t want to be involved in an intimate relationship, in fact they may long the most for intimacy, though can’t see to allow themselves to become close to others. Unfortunately, fear of intimacy is often misinterpreted as indifference, coldness or anger when most of the time it’s only a defence mechanism. But what are the real reasons people avoid sharing a close emotional relationship and how they can overcome this fear?
Intimacy avoidance might be a consequence of a childhood experience that involved neglect or abuse and it makes people sabotage their relationship, even if they long for the closeness they never got.
Most of the time this fear comes together with:
Fear of rejection – most people who fear of intimacy are afraid of being rejected. They don’t want to experience that kind of hurt so they avoid to experience closeness and connection. These people will never take the first steps towards building a stable relationship.
Fear of abandonment – linked to the separation or the death of a parent, fear of abandonment it’s rooted in childhood and makes people worry that once they’re in an intimate relationship, their partner might leave them.
Fear of engulfment – most people who grew up in an enmeshed family are afraid of being controlled or losing themselves in a relationship.
Anxiety disorder can be another cause for fear of intimacy. Shy people who are afraid of other’s judgements or evaluation are more afraid of developing personal connections. Rooted in childhood and sometimes triggered by an instance of abandonment or rejection, anxiety affects both men and women and it’s usually characterised by symptoms such as: shyness, low-self-esteem, awkwardness, over-sensitivity to criticism, fear of humiliation and an exaggerated sense for potential problems.
Childhood sexual abuse can also lead to fear or intimate or sexual relationships. Such a terrifying experience makes people hard to trust another person enough to become close to them.
Overcoming fear of intimacy is possible but it takes time and it implies understanding the contributing causes to this condition and practising a habit of vulnerability.
Most people who fear intimacy have trust issues, low self-esteem, frequent episodes of anger, an insatiable sexual desire and a history of unstable relationships. They have trouble committing to someone, they actively avoid physical contact and they are not able to express emotions or share feelings.
Those who suffered from sexual abuse in their childhood might experience inappropriate sexual behaviour, inhibited sexual desire, feeling of guilt, anger or disgust when they are touched, emotional distance during sex, difficulty having an orgasm, erectile dysfunction and other physical symptoms like pain.
Other potential causes of fear of intimacy are parental neglect, physical or verbal abuse or over-dependence on their family.
Effects of fear of intimacy
Fear of intimacy can put up barriers to developing a healthy romantic relationship, can make the other partner feel unloved and unwanted, can lead to social isolation, serial dating, being overly critical and increases the risk of substance abuse and depression.
Diagnosing fear of intimacy
A mental health specialist can conduct several examinations to diagnose an underline condition such as avoidant personality disorder or anxiety disorder. Mild fear of intimacy can be treated with the help of behavioural therapy but if this fear is caused by a serious traumatic event or accompanied by depression, professional counseling is recommended.
During the therapy session, the person learns to understand where their fear originates, becomes more aware of its effects on meaningful relationships, learns how to communicate with their partner and to value themselves more. A mental health professional can be the support they need to talk openly in a safe environment about their fear and to overcome it.
If your partner is the one that fears intimacy, let them know that you are available to talk about their issues but without pushing them into revealing the source of their problem. Consider that it might be a trauma that is too painful for them, not something about you personally. Keep the lines of communication open and offer your support because fear of intimacy can sabotage any relationship and lead to isolation and exclusion. With time, patience and sometimes professional guidance, fear of intimacy can be treated and those who fear intimacy can learn to form meaningful bonds with other people.