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Understanding the Fear of Intimacy

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Maybe you feel as though you are craving more closeness and connection in your relationships, but are having difficulty openly sharing yourself with those in your life. Or perhaps you find yourself in a pattern of ending relationships before they get too close. You may even feel like there are barriers to truly connecting with your partner emotionally or sexually. All of these situations may indicate challenges with intimacy.

What is intimacy?

While intimacy is often thought of as physical or sexual, there are actually several other types of intimacy. The word ‘intimacy’ simply refers to experiencing closeness and connection with another person. The main types of intimacy include:

  • Intellectual intimacy. Exchanging thoughts and ideas, engaging in discussions about meaningful topics
  • Emotional intimacy. Revealing innermost feelings with each other
  • Experiential intimacy. Having experiences together, bonding over common interests
  • Sexual intimacy. Sharing yourself with another person sexually

Many individuals find that they crave closeness and want fulfilling relationships, however they experience challenges with allowing themselves to be truly vulnerable with others.

For more information and advice about overcoming intimacy issues, visit BetterHelp.

Signs you may be afraid of intimacy

An individual’s fear of intimacy may play out in various ways in their friendships, family relationships, and intimate partnerships. Some potential signs that may indicate a fear of intimacy are:

  • Fear of commitment 
  • A pattern of unstable relationships
  • Inability to share feelings with others
  • Challenges with expressing needs
  • Low self-esteem/feeling unworthy of support from others
  • Experiencing trust issues
  • ‘Sabotaging’ relationships by being overly critical or difficult
  • Avoidance of physical contact

Fear of intimacy causes

There are numerous reasons in which an individual may develop a fear of intimacy. Many times, it can be a result of childhood experiences and past trauma.

Two central factors that contribute to difficulties with intimacy are the fear of abandonment and the fear of engulfment. A person may fear that someone they become close to will leave them, or that they will be controlled or ‘lose themselves’ in a relationship. These fears can cause an individual to refrain from getting too close to others.

Other risk factors that may contribute to the fear of intimacy include past abuse (verbal, physical or sexual), neglect, loss of a parent, parental mental illness or substance abuse, and being part of an enmeshed family with a lack of boundaries.

In some cases, fear of intimacy may indicate the presence of a mental health disorder such as an anxiety disorder or avoidant personality disorder.

Effects of avoiding intimacy

Having a fear of intimacy can cause an individual to feel unsatisfied with their life, particularly if they crave close connection with others, yet feel like they continue to push others away. A person may experience a pattern of short-term relationships due to fear of commitment or finding ways or reasons to end the relationship when it starts to feel ‘too close.’

In extreme cases, an individual may experience complete social isolation, which can lead to an increased risk of experiencing depression.

How to overcome the fear of intimacy

The first step in overcoming a fear of intimacy is acknowledging it. Take some time to consider what past events and experiences may be contributing to your challenges around intimacy.

You may find it beneficial to seek out the support of a mental health professional, who can work with you to identify and address the root causes of your fear of intimacy. From there, you can work to challenge core beliefs about yourself and your worthiness of love and support, work through fears that arise in the context of close relationships, and move towards self-compassion and healing.

Intimacy issues are not resolved overnight. However, it is possible to seek support and do the inner work necessary to form the meaningful relationships that you desire.

Marie Miguel is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com.

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