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Understanding Fear of Intimacy

What is Fear of Intimacy?
What is Fear of Intimacy?

Fear of intimacy is an often subconscious fear of closeness that frequently affects people’s personal relationships. This fear of physical and/or emotional intimacy tends to show up in people’s closest and most meaningful relationships.

Where Does This Fear of Intimacy Come From?
Where Does This Fear of Intimacy Come From?

While there are times when we are aware of actually being apprehensive and distrusting of love, we are more likely to identify these fears as concern over potentially negative outcomes: rejection, the deterioration of a relationship or feelings of affection that aren’t returned. However, our fear of intimacy is often triggered by positive emotions even more than negative ones. In fact, being chosen by someone we truly care for and experiencing their loving feelings can often arouse deep-seated fears of intimacy and make it difficult to maintain a close relationship.

Why Do Positive Feelings Trigger a Fear of Intimacy?
Why Do Positive Feelings Trigger a Fear of Intimacy?

It may be surprising to learn that the real resistance to intimacy often doesn’t come from the acts of our partners, but from a lurking enemy within us.

The problem is that the positive way a lover sees us often conflicts with the negative ways we view ourselves. Sadly, we hold on to our negative self-attitudes and are resistant to being seen differently. Because it is difficult for us to allow the reality of being loved to affect our basic image of ourselves, we often build up a resistance to love.

Where Do These Negative Attitudes Come From?
Where Do These Negative Attitudes Come From?

These negative core beliefs are based on deep-seated feelings that we developed in early childhood of being essentially bad, unlovable or deficient. While these attitudes may be painful or unpleasant, at the same time they are familiar to us, and we are used to them lingering in our subconscious. As adults, we mistakenly assume that these beliefs are fundamental and therefore impossible to correct.

How Does Fear of Intimacy Affect Us?
How Does Fear of Intimacy Affect Us?

We don’t intentionally reject love to preserve a familiar identity. Instead, during times of closeness and intimacy, we react with behaviors that create tension in the relationship and push our loved one away.

Here are some common ways people distance themselves emotionally as a result of a fear of intimacy:

  • Withholding affection
  • Reacting indifferently or adversely to affection or positive acknowledgement
  • Becoming paranoid or suspicious of a partner
  • Losing interest in sexuality
  • Being overly critical of a partner
  • Feeling guarded or resistant to being vulnerable
How to Overcome a Fear of Intimacy?
How to Overcome a Fear of Intimacy?

In order to overcome our fear of intimacy, we must challenge our negative attitudes toward ourselves and not push our loved ones away. It is possible to challenge our core resistance to love. We can confront our negative self-image and grow our tolerance for a loving relationship.

We can overcome our fears of intimacy and enjoy more loving and more intimate relationships.

Ways to Improve Your Relationship
Ways to Improve Your Relationship

Relationships expert, Dr. Lisa Firestone explains some simple ways to improve your relationship.

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Love by any operational definition of the word (kindness, affection, respect, sensitive attunement, and shared companionship) is not only hard to come by, but strange as it may seem, it is even more difficult to accept and tolerate.  Most of us profess that we want to find a loving partner but what we wish for in fantasy is not necessarily tolerable in reality. The experience of real love often threatens our self-defenses and arouses our anxiety as we become vulnerable and open ourselves up to another person. This leads to a fear of intimacy. Falling in love not only brings excitement and fulfillment; it also creates anxiety and fears of rejection and potential loss. For this reason many people shy away from loving relationships.

Early in life, when we experienced rejection and emotional pain, we began to rely heavily on fantasy gratification as a coping mechanism.  Overtime, we came to prefer our reliance on these fantasy processes over actual personal interactions and positive acknowledgment. After being hurt in our earliest relationships, we fear being hurt again and are reluctant to take another chance on being loved.

The negative feelings we developed toward ourselves in our developmental years, became an established part of who we think we are. Therefore, when someone is loving and reacts positively toward us, we experience a conflict within ourselves between their view of us and our core identity. We then react with suspicion and distrust because our fear of intimacy has been aroused.

fear_of_intimacy_buy_now

Existential issues also negatively impact our capacity to accept love and enjoy loving relationships.  When we feel loved and admired, we come to place greater value on ourselves, and in appreciating and prizing our lives more, we necessarily face more pain related to death’s inevitability. We fear both the loss of our loved one and of ourselves, and in the process often unconsciously pull back from a love relationship.

Even though the fear of intimacy is a largely unconscious process, we can observe its effect on our behavior. We see it when we push away our partner and are refractory to their affection or positive acknowledgement. It is at play when we withhold the positive qualities our partner finds most desirable, thereby making ourselves less lovable. Our distancing behaviors act to reduce our anxiety, preserve our negative self-image and ultimately maintain our psychological equilibrium.

We can recognize the behaviors that are driven by our fear of intimacy and challenge these defensive reactions that preclude love. We can remain vulnerable in our love relationship by resisting retreating into a fantasy of love or engaging in distancing and withholding behaviors. We can maintain our integrity, learn to “sweat through” the anxiety of being close without pulling away, and gradually increase our tolerance for being loved.  By taking the actions necessary to challenge our fear of intimacy, we can expand our capacity for both giving and accepting love.

Read More Articles About the Fear of Intimacy

19 comments

  1. You know so many interesting infomation. You might be very wise. I like such people. Don’t top writing.

  2. This is the best article that I’ve read on the subject and I have read a few. It is certainly the most helpful. Thank you for using a movie that I loved (and never really knew why until now) to illustrate your point. Thank you.

  3. wow, this is really a good article, will definitely go watch this movie again. Do keep writing!

  4. I wonder what film the comments are about… The article above (Understanding fear of intimacy) doesn’t mention any!
    I guess the original article was removed, but they left the comments :-(

    • PsychAlive

      Yes, the article originally referenced the way fear of intimacy was demonstrated in the movie ‘As Good as It Gets.’

  5. Someone needs to say something about articles like this, which expresses a conventional wisdom that is practically Disney-esque in its reassuring simplicity – and cluelessness. After years of struggling with – and fleeing or sabotaging – relationships, I did what you recommend, and it’s not so simple and rosy: in fact, it was a bad move. It was such a bad move that I can warmly recommend that avoidants should do the opposite of what you suggest, and learn to be alone until such time as those fears have subsided naturally (if they ever do). Fear of intimacy may be based in intuition about oneself: ignoring it and pressing forward may be a terribly bad idea. In my case it led to a growing dependence on my partner that can only be described as an addiction: I have become engulfed, precisely what I now realize I feared. I don’t especially enjoy the relationship, but thoughts of it ending create intolerable distress and panic. I have gradually given up my own goals, which do not fit my partner’s, and have sunk into a kind of depression, which has made it even harder to dig myself out. My partner, a wonderful person, is mostly unaware of what’s going on, because I am afraid to tell her and “rock the boat”. The situation is distressing, painful, and embarrassing (go ahead, tell friends and family that you have lost yourself, are miserable, and need rescuing from a relationship with someone they all believe is the best thing that ever happened to you).
    Avoidants may act like they do because they know themselves better than they think: like someone who avoids alcohol out of a subconscious awareness of a tendency to addiction, they absolutely should NOT be encouraged to ignore their concerns. A “normal” person may be equipped to handle the siren song of a relationship (or alcohol), but the avoidant may be an avoidant precisely because (s)he is not.

    • Well…..Here’s a song I wrote and sang about Pushing Someone Away….. **sigh**

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLyKAv-H6uc.

      And Hang in there Thomas, I feel for you with your post….Whatever you do, you’ve gotta get your Goals back, as I am sure they were once very important to you. Peace :)

    • Dear Thomas,
      I may be wrong but I feel your raw wounds behind your sarcasm. Yeah adressing the fear of intimacy in just an article may seem disneyesque I agree. However, I also think it’s a good start and it can give us some clues where to start. Being avoidant is not a paradox of being dependent. Both are attempts to jugulate love relationships. You are right again, distancing was indeed your defense against losing yourself in a relationship. I think what we have to work on is find the right distance in a relationship. We have to admit we want to love and be loved. Keeping away from love will just starve that part of us craving for it.
      Good luck in your path to love,
      And most of all your path to self love
      Just Me

    • Hi Thomas, I feel like you just wrote my life story. OMG! It does feel worse to ignore your instincts and push on. It feels cruel and as if you are not honoring yourself. Instead you are running over yourself with a bulldozer. It weakens your spirit and just makes you a worse partner for the person you are coupled with. Pair your low self-esteem with new doubts as to who you are and if you are indeed a strong person and then….., let the dysfunctional codependent relationship begin!!!
      As for the reply from Just Me, I agree, learning the right balance so one does not lose themselves in a relationship is the key. But if one is not whole on their own, then what are they bringing to their partner? Why force it when a healthy step back and reflection may be in order for the intimate-fearing person?

    • Thomas,
      You just said everything that’s going on with me as well. Yeah, he’s the best thing that happened to me. That’s all I hear. I, too, have that fear of ending the relationship. I’m so trapped. Though I do love him, he is not for me. I’m just wasting time.

  6. I suffer from this problem and have no idea what to do. Will it go naturally? IV decided to go to therapy to help my self esteem because apparently it’s a big cause of fear of intimacy. Also does this problem lead to one falling for much younger girls because they are subconsciously unavailable? Help would be greatly appreciated

  7. I have been married for 42 yrs. My husband & I both have issues but I’ve worked on mine over the years but husband refuses to see that he too has issues. Don’t know what to do – feel like I’m no more than a maid. He avoids any kind of touch and when he does I feel violated not loved. I don’t want to be touched by someone who thinks he is doing me a favor? I’ve been advised to leave but it is so so hard too!

  8. I’ve been sabotaging my relationships without knowing what’s wrong with me. Lately I’ve come to understand that I’m really scared of letting people come close to me and I see myself acting differently in different situations in the relationship than I actually act. On paper my life is really good so it’s hard to explain people that taking the risk and making the leap are not so easy for me when I’m crippled with fear inside and intimacy is really hard for me. “Just go for it” doesn’t really help. In meaningful relationships i push people away and make all the excuses why i don’t like them and why it wouldn’t work. Then after I start blaiming myself for hurting the other person and go get them back. And this repeats. I’m 25 and in a way I feel lucky that I understand that I’m not crazy, but this is something that I can work for. I go to therapy because I want to be able to enjoy life and not become my mother who was never emotionally there for me. I don’t think it goes away by itself. Some people can learn to live with it and some can work on it by themselves, but for me therapy at the moment is the way to go. I haven’t found the tools to help myself so I need help from an outsider. And yes it is a lot to do with self esteem. When others say that you’re are beautiful or smart and you see yourself the opposite, it’s really hard to believe that they love as the way you are.

  9. For a lot of reasons I do feel related myself into the contents of this article. For some reason I am constantly sabotaging any sort of relationship (specially romantic ones). Although I have people that I talk to, I simply can’t make them come closer to me and feel more intimate , I always fear what will happen next and expect some bad ending to any sort of relationship. I feel a lot the fear of loss, and that is pushing me away from any sort of true relationship. In my teenager years, I was known for being the guy that was better left alone, someone that simply you wouldn’t waste your time with. The few people that decided to stick with me, later on I found out that they were not even friends, they were opportunists that expected me to grant them something that they alone couldn’t attain (most of them was about marks and studying matters, since I always was someone who hadn’t difficulties with this subject). After that, colleague is when everything went to worse: people just turned their backs to me only because I didn’t fit in their “normal” behavior or ways of having “fun”. Since then, my personality became a lot more distant and most of the time I just wanted to be alone and try to enjoy myself as much as possible (although I ended up crying on my own sometimes for some reasonable amount of time, but I would wind up those feelings some time after, even if they came back after some time, which could be weeks or even months). After I graduated, I then noticed something very weird: I was maybe being “stubborn” about myself and something was truly missing, even without knowing what it was. After some self reflection about it (which was almost an year) I came to realize that what I was missing was a true relationship, being with someone you could be yourself without trouble and having the other person being herself without reservation, having mutual affection to each other. After I realized that, I tried to engage with some women I knew, but the point here is, I “tried”. When I though about it, felt a lot restless and my brain instantly sounded the alarm I should “stay away” from that sort of thing because I actually felt something “weird” about it. And this is when I stumbled upon this article and cleared up the matter for me. You maybe thinking this is just another rambling from an idiot that doesn’t even know how to live his live, but if you read my rambling this far I thank you, stranger, for your precious time to read all of this.
    And one more thing, I am thankful for the author to come up with this article!

  10. I can’t really personally relate to this issue but my best friend seems to be the one going though it. I met her online years ago and while we were far apart, we had a tremendous friendship. She opened up to me easily and I did the same. We talked constantly and she always gave me the things I needed in a friendship (love, compassion, care, time, affection, etc). About a year ago, I moved to her town. We had discussed how exciting it was and how amazing we thought it’d be to experience life physically together. But, once I got here, EVERYTHING changed. She became distant and was more worried about talking to and spending time with people who weren’t physically here. She neglected me and my needs and anytime I brought up the issue, she brushed it off and blamed it on her having a tough time adjusting from being alone to being with someone day in and out. I trusted her. But for a year, we had problems that only got worse and worse. She hid things that she never hid before. Lied to me about important things in her life. And just kept me in the dark for months on in. Eventually, I got tired and so did she. We had a blow out and her anger was the only thing allowing her to express her true inner most feelings towards the situation. She told me that when I moved there, I got too close and her body reacted. I didn’t know what this meant exactly. But she later said that online, it is easy being there for someone emotionally. Physically, it’s way different and the pressure is too much. She explained how in person she never let’s anyone in and although she had never expected to push me away, after years of being close, she ended up doing it anyone pretty much subconsciously. At this point, we are both holding on so tightly to a friendship we don’t want to lose. She’s terrified of losing me but deep down feels like she can’t be the person that I need (the person she was online). I believe that she needs to face her fears and get past them somehow but she’s convinced that at this time, she can’t. What should I do? I want to stay friends and be there for her but she is basically asking me to be casual friends with her (like have fun but without an emotional attachment). And I feel that is asking a lot of me considering we’ve been best friends with an emotional attachment to one another for years already. And I feel it may be just too hard to change from that and I feel that she may be being kind of selfish asking me to cater to her fear and enable her. I love her so much. She is like family to me and I want to see her succeed. But how can I convince someone to try when they are already convinced they can’t change?

  11. After realizing that maybe I was the problem, I started researching what was “wrong” with me. When I found this article, I felt that I could relate, and suddenly everything became a little clearer. But discovering the reason for why I push people away, didn

  12. have you ever went 41 years without love and intimacy?do you have any concept to thar? if you did experience that much time passage,please explain how you felt.i will check back on you,r fallow up answear.one more,i lived this life,and i can tell if you are just acting out a fantasise or telling the truth.by for now.

  13. Very interesting read, but I do disagree with forcing yourself to be intimately close to someone when you are simply not ready to share yourself with another. With age it’s become harder and harder for me to connect (I am 28) when I am more set in my ways and a lot more selective about people that enter my life. It’s a contious decision, and I believe, a rational one. I am not fearful of being hurt, and fear is not a good word for me… Maybe I stuck in denial, but I simply don’t want to settle and waste my time when I feel complete and content with being by myself. I don’t suffer for any major insecurities and believe to have a healthy self-esteem and many suitors to chose from, I am unsuccessful in finding an emotionally mature partner and can look past my exterior and see that I have much more to offer and give. How can a person appreciate my other qualities when he is only focused on my looks alone?!

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