Love is not only hard to find, but strange as it may seem, it can be even more difficult to accept and tolerate. Most of us say that we want to find a loving partner, but many of us have deep-seated fears of intimacy that make it difficult to be in a close relationship. The experience of real love often threatens our self-defenses and raises 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.
The good and the bad news is that this pattern is totally normal…but this doesn’t mean that it feels good to be in a relationship with someone who detaches and deactivates their emotions when things get heated. But it is important to understand that avoidance of intimacy does not necessarily mean someone doesn’t care. It usually isn’t even a conscious process. It is in large part a biological reaction that was ingrained in the structures of the central nervous system through certain parenting practices in childhood.
The fear of intimacy is the fear of being emotionally and/or physically close to another individual. This fear is also defined as “the inhibited capacity of an individual, because of anxiety, to exchange thought and feelings of personal significance with another individual who is highly valued”. Fear of intimacy is the expression of existential views in that to love and to be loved makes life seem precious and death more inevitable. It often results from past traumas such as rape or childhood sexual abuse. Fear of intimacy is also related to the fear of being touched.
However, we can overcome fear of intimacy. We can develop ourselves to stop being afraid of love and let someone in. 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.
SIGNS YOU SUFFER FEAR OF INTIMACY
1. You never sit still
2. You are known as someone who is very positive
3. You are the strong one others turn to
4. You appear perfectly put together. Always
5. You are sure you know exactly what you want in a partner, you just haven’t found him/her yet
6. You are many different things to many different people
7. You have very strong opinions.
WHY DO I SUFFER FEAR OF INTIMACY?
Fear of intimacy stems from childhood, and a failure to complete important parts of psychological development. These parts are known as bonding and separation.
Bonding is when as a child you develop a sense that you can trust others. It hopefully starts at birth, involves being nurtured and held and encouraged, and means that by about aged three you are ready to physically and emotionally separate from your primary caretaker with the confidence that the world is a safe place and you are strong enough to navigate it.
When bonding and separation don’t occur for you as a child, the effects are felt in each further state of psychological development, creating a pattern of isolation and disengagement as well as the creation of psychological ‘walls’ to protect you from further emotional pain. This all of course leads right to an adulthood marked by an inability to trust others and have healthy relationships.
How Do I Overcome My Fear of Intimacy?
The good news is that you absolutely can overcome a fear of intimacy and learn how to experience caring and deep connections, no matter what your past or your belief you ‘aren’t the type’.
The first step is to get out of denial about your fear of intimacy and admit that there is an issue. And the next step is to get help. This might be the assistance of a few good books on the subject at first, and/or perhaps journalling about the feelings that arise when you try to let people close. It can also involve learning how to give yourself the care you might have missed out on as a child, sometimes called ‘self-parenting’.
Therapy is recommended to overcome fear of intimacy. As a deep-rooted issue going right back to childhood, it can help to have someone guide you in the unravelling of it. Therapy also offers you a relationship based on trust, and it’s therefore a great place to safely learn how to experience a sort of intimacy. And a good therapist can make sure you don’t resort to blaming yourself, which is an easy pattern for strong-minded sorts used to managing everything alone to fall into.
The wonderful thing about learning not to fear intimacy is that not only will your intimate relationships improve, but so too will your friendships, your ability to work with colleagues, and your capacity to actually create the life you want for yourself.
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