Afraid Of Getting Close? Why People Fear Intimacy
Updated September 23, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Galyen, LCSW, BC-TMH
Why is it so hard to get close to people? When it comes to relationships and friendships, so many of us struggle to build intimate connections. It’s not always easy to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back.
Fear of intimacy is a common challenge for people of all ages. It can come from several sources and can make it challenging to build meaningful relationships. If you struggle with a fear of intimacy or find it hard to get close to people, you are not alone. However, intimate relationships are healthy, so all of us need to understand and overcome those fears.
This article will tell you all about some of the common causes of the fear of intimacy, signs to recognize in a partner or friend, and what you can do to overcome your intimacy anxiety.
Why People Fear Intimacy
Where Does A Fear Of Intimacy Come From?
To start, it’s important to note that intimacy looks different for everyone. There are many different kinds of intimacy, including familial, friendly, romantic, and sexual — and everyone experiences each of them in their own way. So, we can’t say that the fear of intimacy is rooted in a single cause.
However, to help you better understand your feelings, here are a few potential reasons people experience a fear of intimacy.
Fear Of Abandonment
A deep-rooted fear of loss or abandonment is one of the most common reasons why people fear intimacy. Love and intimacy are associated with the risk of loss, which can be hard for someone who has experienced loss or abandonment in the past.
The fear of abandonment can stem from many sources. A significant loss or abandonment in childhood could lead to a subconscious fear of being abandoned as an adult. Self-doubt and insecurity, feelings of unworthiness, and social anxiety can also heighten the fear of abandonment. To overcome a fear of intimacy, it might help talk through the sources of your anxiety about loss or abandonment with a trusted friend or counselor.
Trauma in a person’s past or childhood can often lead to a fear of intimacy in adulthood.
The loss of a loved one, especially at a young age, might trigger a fear of intimacy — again, because of that deep-rooted fear of being abandoned or losing someone again. Sexual assault and abuse in childhood can also lead to a serious fear of intimacy over time. The fear of being controlled or manipulated by a partner is common in survivors of abuse.
Healing from past trauma is never easy. It takes time and often professional help. Overcoming a fear of intimacy can be an essential step in recovery as it allows survivors to build meaningful, supportive, and intimate relationships in the future.
Fear Of Rejection
A fear of intimacy can also stem from a fear of rejection. This is common in people who suffer from social anxiety — if you have social anxiety, you might be highly sensitive to criticism and rejection. That sensitivity can lead to a fear of intimacy.
Rejection does hurt, as do loss and abandonment. However, people who avoid intimacy to prevent the sting of rejection often find that same pain in other sources. Building intimacy is essential, and intimate relationships can help to boost self-confidence and reduce social anxiety. So, overcoming the fear of intimacy can actually help you to overcome the fear of rejection in time.
Fear Of Intimacy Signs
Do you think a partner, friend, or loved one is suffering from a fear of intimacy? If so, it may benefit the two of you to seek counseling together.
Here are some common fear of intimacy signs to give you an idea of what to watch for in a partner who might be struggling with a fear of intimacy.
Intimacy issues can often manifest as trust issues in a relationship. Someone who is socially anxious, worried about losing their partner or being abandoned, or afraid of intimacy might struggle to trust their partner.
Signs of trust issues can include episodes of anger, setting strict “rules” in a relationship, difficulty letting people into the relationship (new friends, family members, etc.), and frequent accusations of disloyalty. While these actions might be a manifestation of a fear of intimacy, they can still be very hard on a relationship and cause stress. Professional therapy is the best way to work through trust issues and to overcome intimacy problems.
Fear Of Sex
A fear of intimacy doesn’t necessarily mean fear of sex. Sex and intimacy are not the same — while intimacy is often sexual, many different kinds of intimate relationships do not involve sexual feelings.
That said, if someone is afraid of getting sexually close, it could stem from a fear of intimacy. For many people, sexual connections open the door to the fear of rejection and abandonment or trigger past trauma memories.
Overcoming a fear of sex is never something that should be pushed or enforced by a partner. Building trust, closeness, and intimacy in a relationship may help someone work through a fear of sexual intimacy, but it always takes time. Again, professional counseling can be a huge help.
Over-Reliance On Sex
Fear of intimacy can also look like an over-reliance on sexual relationships. Someone who fears emotional intimacy might emphasize the sexual aspect of the relationship, as it can feel like a safer ground than emotional closeness.
The lines between a sexual and a romantic relationship are not always clear, and it can be confusing, especially for someone who has a fear of intimacy. Don’t be afraid to talk openly with your partner about how you each view your relationship and what you expect from each other. One of the best ways to work through a fear of intimacy in the early stages is with honest communication.
Fear Of Intimacy Scale
Curious about the level of intimacy in your relationship? You might have heard of the fear of intimacy scale.
The fear of intimacy scale is a 35-question test designed by professional psychologists to test the fear of intimacy in a relationship and show people the scale or “level” of their fear of intimacy. It helped researchers come to a better understanding of the causes and symptoms of the fear of intimacy, as well as helping patients address their own intimacy problems.
You can find the test online if you are curious about taking it. However, it’s important to remember that this scale was developed in the early ’90s and doesn’t account for modern relationships' dimensions. You should also remember that, while self-administered tests can help you to understand your feelings, it is impossible to diagnose yourself from a mental health standpoint.
If you want to professionally address your fear of intimacy, the best thing you can do is talk to a licensed therapist, either online or in person.
Why We Need Intimacy
So, why is it so important to overcome our fears and establish intimate connections?
Research suggests that intimacy is beneficial to your mental and physical health. Intimacy doesn’t just feel good — it’s good for you. Strong, healthy, intimate relationships and friendships can help to boost self-confidence, provide support and stability through difficult times, and improve your overall wellbeing. People who fear intimacy ultimately will have a harder time building personal and professional relationships.
Considering all that, a fear of intimacy isn’t something to be taken lightly. We all need intimate connections in our life, in one form or another. Intimacy issues can actually be harmful in the long run.
But fear of intimacy does not mean that you will never be able to overcome your anxieties or that you will never be able to build intimate relationships — not at all! So many of us feel like we push people away or can’t get close. It’s common, and it’s totally possible to overcome those fears. Addressing fear of intimacy signs in yourself and recognizing them in others is an essential step toward growth and emotional well-being.
You Can Always Get Help
If you are worried that you push people away, feel like you can’t get close to people, or are anxious about relationships and making new connections, you are not alone. These feelings are experienced by people of all ages, all around the world. They can be challenging, but they can be overcome with time.
There is never any shame in getting help or talking to a professional about your fear of intimacy. Consider getting in touch with a licensed therapist — they’ll be able to help you understand the source of your fears and get started on the road to overcoming them.
We are all afraid of getting close from time to time. But intimacy and close relationships are essential to our mental, physical, and emotional health. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you are struggling to build those intimate bonds.
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