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Fear of intimacy: signs, symptoms, and how to overcome

fear of intimacy
Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

The interesting thing about fear of intimacy is that those who suffer with it long to be close to people. However, something stops them from taking actions to increase connection.

Instead, consciously or not, they push people away. I’ve done this with good men in my past. I decided they were too good for me and ruined things before they could find out “the real me” and reject me.

For intimacy to thrive, we have to be willing to talk about our feelings, share our innermost thoughts, and let people into our world.

For intimacy to thrive, we have to be willing to talk about our feelings, share our innermost thoughts, and let people into our world. Click To Tweet

This requires vulnerability (taking the risk of getting hurt) which can feel terrifying to someone who felt unsupported in childhood.

If you struggle with attachment issues, you feel uncomfortable when relationships start getting too close. Maybe you refuse to share your experiences, thoughts and feelings, even when the other person shares with you.

You keep things surface level for fear if they knew you they would reject you. Or you end the relationship over something small because you can’t bear the messiness of real relationship.

What causes us to fear intimacy and prevents us from attaining those connected relationships our hearts desire?

1. Fear of abandonment

We hold back from giving ourselves to another person because we fear they will leave us. We think it will hurt less if we don’t get too involved emotionally.

Childhood abuse and neglect contributes to fear of abandonment. If we concluded that needing someone caused disappointment or harm, we shut off that need.

Or we feel the need but retain the fear it won’t be met. Our fretfulness and desire for constant reassurance pushes people away, creating the very abandonment we seek to prevent.

2. Fear of engulfment

This is a fear of another person dominating or controlling us in a relationship. Of losing yourself when you become involved with someone.

Like me, you may have had a controlling mother, or an enmeshed toxic family. Getting too close to someone feels suffocating, like being erased in the face of the other person’s needs.

3. Fear of rejection

You fear if people knew the real you they would not like you. So, you refrain from showing them your true thoughts and feelings.

In social situations, you feel terrified of judgment and unable to let go and be yourself. You’re constantly assessing others’ for cues of what they think of you. So, everything you do is based on how others perceive you.

It’s paralyzing and makes it impossible to relax and be yourself. You want to escape to a safe place, by yourself, where no one can hurt you. Or you wear a social mask of superficiality which prevents people from knowing the real you.

Since you won’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, there’s no way for intimacy to flourish. You crave connection but are unable to let go of your conviction that you’re unlovable or unacceptable.

How to beat fear of intimacy

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Both perfectionism and fear of intimacy stem from a need for guaranteed outcomes. What if we give ourselves to someone and things don’t work out? What if the person leaves us?

For people without trauma, these are the normal risks of relationships. They assume the best or that the risk is worth the reward.

They’re willing to face the fact they might get hurt, and pay attention to red flags along the way that warn whether this person is safe or not.

Traumatized individuals lack those life skills and have an irrational fear of getting hurt or rejected in relationships. Both rejection and failure feel like death and not worth the risk of trying.

But we can learn the skills to help us achieve connection in relationships. Here are a few things you can do:

1. Acknowledge fear of intimacy

The first step is to acknowledge where this fear comes from (your past). Then realize what you fear has already happened.

The first step is to acknowledge where fear of intimacy comes from (your past). Then realize what you fear has already happened. Click To Tweet

Achieving intimacy with another requires the risk of getting hurt. But you’re an adult and can develop skills to nurture yourself in the face of such hurt, if it comes.

If the relationship fails, take lessons from the experience and apply them to your next attempt. Congratulate yourself for the courage to express your needs, and for making strides in your growth journey.

Start with baby steps, opening up a little bit with someone you trust. Feel buoyed by any positive response.

Don’t make the mistake of unloading all your troubles on someone you just met. Or sharing more than you listen. That’s not intimacy but ambush and will push people away.

2. Practice parenting yourself

fear of intimacy

Getting to know yourself and developing self-worth are essential to conquering fear of intimacy. Self care and self discipline go a long way to helping you value yourself more.

Getting to know yourself and developing self-worth are essential to conquering fear of intimacy. Self care and self discipline go a long way to helping you value yourself more. Click To Tweet

When you treat yourself as someone worthy of love, care and discipline, your view of yourself will change.

You’ll realize you deserve more than what you’ve been getting and take steps to make that happen. You’ll determine you’re worth the risk it takes to open up and share your true self.

3. Challenge your beliefs

Do you settle for less as a defense mechanism? Live with lowered standards to avoid disappointment and hurt?

Maybe you tell yourself true love is a myth or that you’ll never find that special someone. And pretend to be okay with that.

Perhaps instead you fantasize about the ideal relationship but have no idea how to get it. But intimacy and connection are basic human needs, not unicorns out of reach.

By allowing yourself to believe you too can have fulfilling relationships, you bring them into the realm of possibility. You can begin to pray for God to bring the right people into your life.

You can show up differently by challenging yourself when you pre-judge people or want to end relationships over small things.

You’ll form a new narrative that says you are valuable and deserve love and fulfillment. Then you’ll take the necessary steps to get those needs met.

That includes assessing what’s worked and what hasn’t. It means looking honestly at your past and how that impacts the way you relate to people today.

The journey to intimacy takes tremendous work and courage. It won’t happen overnight but in time you will enjoy the fullness of letting yourself be known and seen. And seeing others in return.

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