About Fear of Intimacy

Why is it that people often fear intimacy?

Most people say that they are seeking love, yet paradoxically, they often find it difficult to accept being loved and acknowledged for who they really are.  Indeed, for centuries, authors and playwrights have written about the fear and distrust of love that keep people from freely accepting affection, respect, and love in their lives. We may be tolerant of realizing our dreams and desires in fantasy, but very often we are intolerant of having them fulfilled in reality. This is especially true in close relationships.

Being loved by someone we love and admire threatens our defenses and reawakens emotional pain and anxiety from childhood. In addition, both giving and receiving love tend to disrupt the negative, yet familiar, ways we have of thinking about ourselves. On an unconscious level, we may sense that if we did not push love away, the whole world as we have experienced it would be shattered and we would not know who we were.


What other factors contribute to people’s fear of intimacy?

The fear of intimacy is not only aroused because of challenges to the defenses that we formed to protect ourselves against early emotional pain; it is also based on existential anxieties and the fear of future loss. Being close to our partner, especially as our relationship becomes more meaningful, makes us mindful that our existence is precious. With this comes an increased awareness that life must eventually be surrendered. If we embrace life, we must also face death’s inevitability.

How do people tend to react when they become frightened of being loved?

Many people begin to hold back their most desirable or lovable traits to modify their partner’s loving feelings toward them. Men and women withhold their responses in many situations of everyday life: For example, a woman may fail to share financial responsibility with her partner and refuse to stay within an agreed-upon budget; a man may promise to spend a weekend away with his wife and children and then, weekend after weekend, lose himself in work and other activities.   Others tend to engage in behaviors that detract from their attractiveness: they may gain excessive weight, or become careless about the way they dress. Withholding behaviors often take the form of one partner first offering, then withdrawing, help or support from the other.  These manifestations of withholding in intimate relationships are so commonplace that they tend to be accepted by many people as “normal;” nevertheless, they have a powerful undermining effect on the relationship.

What can people do to overcome their negative reactions to being loved?

In order to become more accepting of love, people must be willing to challenge the negative image of themselves formed in childhood and give up long-established defenses even though they are hard to relinquish. They must also face the fact that someone sees them as unique and desirable, an awareness that connects them to feeling about their personal worth. The process of valuing ourselves and our experience increases existential concerns and arouses a poignant, painful feeling about the fragility and preciousness of life itself


Fear of Intimacy Resources





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