Fear of Intimacy: Signs, Causes, and Coping Strategies
Fear in relationships can be detrimental to your happiness and well-being. It often affects relationships that have value to you, although it can be easily misinterpreted as coldness or indifference. Some people may not realize they avoid intimacy.
It is also tightly connected with the fear of vulnerability – fear of intimacy doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t want to get close or intimate, but they simply cannot accept to become so vulnerable.
Keep reading to find out more about the fear of intimacy, how therapy can help, and what you can do about it if you or your loved one experience these symptoms.
What Causes Fear of Intimacy?
Unfortunately, there may be numerous causes of fear of intimacy – and most of these stem from one’s childhood. Many people who suffer from fear of intimacy also have fears of engulfment and abandonment, among others.
These create conflicting behaviors – such as pulling and pushing your partner, resulting in feelings of confusion.
Fear of Abandonment
Many people who grow up as adults with fear of intimacy have experienced abandonment at some point in their life – such as the physical or emotional abandonment of a parent or another important adult during childhood.
Fear of Engulfment
Some partners may not be willing to give themselves to their better half because of the fear of engulfment. This refers to being afraid to be controlled or dominated in a relationship.
Being afraid to become intimate with your partner is often a subset of social anxiety disorder or social phobia. In this case, there may be other phobias, too, such as the fear of physical contact.
There are people who suffer from social anxiety disorder or social phobia and still have numerous friends on social media. However, they do not have any meaningful personal relationships.
Thanks to mobile phones, people can hide in the virtual environment, and they might easily shy away from intimate connections.
As each person is unique, the fear of intimacy is more of a spectrum than a condition with a fixed set of triggers.
Some other causes of fear of intimacy include:
- Emotional neglect during childhood
- Losing a parent or another important adult figure during childhood
- Parental illness or substance abuse, leading to the feeling that you cannot rely on anyone or you have to care for others (i.e., younger siblings)
- Verbal, physical or sexual abuse, which often leads to sex life issues
- Children are taught at a young age not to trust strangers
How to Identify Fear of Intimacy?
There are several signs of fear of intimacy. These may differ from person to person as each individual is unique.
Some people who fear attachment can interact with others – at least at the initial stages of a relationship. However, when it starts to become more valuable and important, the person experiences fear of emotional intimacy and commitment.
Instead of connecting with their partner, the person chooses to end the relationship and replace it with another one. In most cases, this pattern repeats, so the person ends up serial dating, exposing a pattern that can be easily identified.
People with attachment issues often feel like they are not enough or they do not deserve love. This is when they start to turn into perfectionists, always striving to do more and be better. Unfortunately, this behavior often pushes the others away rather than consolidates the relationship.
In some cases, the fear of attachment leads to the fear of physical contact. You may notice that people who experience the fear of intimacy have difficulty initiating and maintaining physical contact. However, this works with the other extreme too – namely, to have a constant need for physical contact.
As the roots of fear of intimacy go back to childhood trauma, professional guidance is often mandatory. If you or your loved one struggle with physical contact and intimacy, therapeutic support and therapy could help you identify the causes and address them.
Whether you opt for a mental health therapist or not, you still may want to cope with these symptoms – in a way that no one else can. You need to understand why you developed this fear and what negative behaviors are associated with it.
The main coping strategies include:
Accept uncertainty in your relationship
You need to understand that there is no guarantee when it comes to life or connections with another person. Choose someone you can trust, create beautiful, positive memories together, and focus more on daily happiness rather than the outcome.
Be compassionate and kind to yourself
To eliminate the fear of intimacy, you need to accept yourself and feel comfortable. If you accept that you are a valuable person worthy of love, fear of abandonment or rejection may not seem as crushing as before.
Catch your inner critic
We all have an inner dialogue, which is often our worst critic. Instead of accepting those criticisms, try to understand where they come from and correct yourself by replacing them with kind, positive affirmations.
Time is everything
Healing does not happen overnight and you need to embrace setbacks. Adopt an understanding approach and do not think of the fear of intimacy as your major flaw, but rather something that you work on, and you will do your best to solve in order to have a better, happier future.
What to Do If Your Partner Fears Intimacy?
Partners may also be impacted by fear of intimacy, especially as it often breaks relationships. If your partner struggles with attachment issues, you need to be patient – sometimes, setbacks will happen but you need to provide them with a safe environment.
For instance, if your partner is pushing you away in one way or another, don’t be angry or take it personally. You need to understand that fear of intimacy is not about your partner rejecting you – rather, your relationship is so valuable for them that they fear losing you as it is closely connected to the fear of being abandoned.
If your partner went through childhood trauma, keep in mind that their upbringing might cause them to interpret your actions differently than you and they might have intimacy issues.
For instance, if you want to surprise them and say that you are both going on a trip, your partner who grew up in an enmeshed family might feel like they are being controlled. In this case, you can offer them clear choices and involve them in all the decision-making.
Finally, regular statements of love and affection are extremely important. You should not assume that your partner “knows” you love them – rather, build an environment where you show that you love them and that they are worthy of it.
The fear of intimacy can create a vicious cycle for some people. With an appropriate coping strategy and relationship therapy on Calmerry, people can overcome it and create meaningful connections with others. This would help you or your loved one be happy and have a long, healthy, and happy intimate relationship.
About the Author
Kate has a B.S. in Psychology and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and has been working in healthcare since 2017. She mainly treated depression, anxiety, eating disorders, trauma, grief, identity, relationship, and adjustment issues. Her clinical experience is focused on individual and group counseling.
Follow Kate here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-skurat-5348381b9/