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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.


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


  1. 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?

  2. 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

  3. 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.

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