What Causes Fear Of Intimacy & How To Overcome It
By Mason Komay
Updated February 11, 2020
Reviewer Karen Devlin, LPC
Although the fear of intimacy is a complex phobia, seeking treatment has helped individuals recover. Clinically, it has been listed as an anxiety disorder and social phobia, in which the afflicted individual struggles to form bonds, connections, and close relationships with others. Many analysts have conducted studies into the fear of intimacy to advance treatment options. However, before one can truly overcome the fear of intimacy, they must have a clear and concise understanding of the situation.
Source: Vic via flickr.com
In a nutshell, the fear of intimacy is "the inhibited capacity of an individual, because of anxiety, to exchange thoughts and feelings of personal significance with another individual who is highly valued." Healthline affirms that 2.5% of the entire population suffers from this affliction.
Individuals who fear intimacy ultimately view themselves as undeserving of love or affection, hence their apprehension and anxiety about close relationships. While men can suffer from the fear of intimacy, the phobia is considerably more common amongst women.
Symptoms Of The Fear Of Intimacy
In most circumstances, the fear of intimacy is revealed by other phobias, which involve closeness with other people. According to Promises Treatment Center, feeling uncomfortable or uneasy about sharing deep feelings, emotional truths, or past traumatic experiences can serve as telltale signs of an individual who fears intimacy. Contrary to popular belief, intimacy involves much more than taking off one's clothes and having sex. Emotional intimacy can be just as powerful as physical intimacy, if not more so.
Fear of intimacy is not mutually exclusive to being afraid of sharing personal details. Individuals who dread personal relationships are also likely to experience anxiety at the notion of another person becoming close to them or viewing them as a source of emotional support or someone they can confide in. The anxiety disorder mentioned above causes the fear of learning about a significant other's problems, showing affection, discussing personal goals and aspirations and expressing concern for that significant other.
Reader's Digest also shares a list of less apparent symptoms pointing to the fear of intimacy. These include, but are certainly not limited to, habitual anger, perfectionism, aversion to sex, low confidence levels, and attempts to hide one's partner from other individuals.
What Causes The Fear Of Intimacy?
There are several reasons that may be causing one's fear of intimacy, and we'll explore the most prominent of them in the section below.
Past Childhood Trauma
While there are several factors that can produce the fear of intimacy, past childhood trauma is well-documented as a frequent cause. The very first relationships that children have are with their parents or caregivers. A person who grew up being either abused or neglected when they expressed sadness, anger, or other emotional may grow up and develop attachment issues. Due to their past trauma, they will view emotions, connections, and other forms of intimacy as bad or uncomfortable.
Past Failed Relationships
Unfortunately, prior relationships can greatly impact one's future romantic endeavors. Not every person who has past failed relationships will develop issues with intimacy. However, it is still a possibility. Often, this avoidance of intimacy is merely a defense mechanism. The afflicted individual may have invested a lot in their prior relationship only to have the other person hurt them in one form or another. As a result, they begin to shut themselves off by avoiding future occurrences that involve intimacy, which prevents them from potential vulnerability and additional heartache.
Lack Of Confidence/Low Self-Esteem
In some situations, the fear of intimacy is prompted not by past trauma or failed relationships, but simply by how the individual views themselves. Confidence and self-esteem play a significant role in the interactions and relationships that people have with others.
An individual who views themselves poorly may not truly view themselves as worthy of love, affection, or closeness with others. They may also begin to question why another person would want to open up to them or bond with them. In addition, they may fear eventually letting the other person down and, therefore, avoid situations where intimacy could arise altogether.
Before someone can become intimate with another person, there must be a degree of comfort within themselves. Someone who sincerely dislikes themselves will have a considerably more challenging time bearing their soul to another human being.
Past Emotional/Physical/Psychological/Sexual Abuse
Sometimes the fear of intimacy stems from prior abuse that the victim has experienced. There are many forms of abuse, yet all of them have devastating impacts that can take years to heal from. Like people who have experienced prior failed relationships, fear of intimacy can also be a defense mechanism for individuals who do not wish to subject themselves to more potential pain or abuse.
Dealing With Someone Who Suffers From The Fear Of Intimacy
Being involved with someone who fears intimacy can be a challenging feat. This journey can be very taxing and stressful, and it is certainly not for everyone. However, people who are up to the task should take certain steps to keep the relationship intact.
First comes getting a deep understanding of what it means to be vulnerable. This should be done for the sake of the individual who suffers from the fear of intimacy. Not only can this exercise help the other person in the relationship to learn more about the meaning of intimacy, but they will also be more equipped to help their partner overcome the anxiety and phobias that they have attributed to intimacy.
Next comes the ability to abstain from judgment. Sometimes, it can be so easy for an individual to ask themselves, "Why can't they just trust me?" While this train of thought is completely understandable, the person must also understand that the fear of intimacy is a very complicated internal issue. If the afflicted person feels as though they are being judged, they will likely retreat further into their shell or cut the other person out of their life altogether. Displaying acceptance and kindness rather than judgment and anger is one of the best courses of action.
Finally, an individual who is involved with a person who fears intimacy should always ensure that they are validating their partner. However, be careful not to go too far, as extreme validation is likely to have the opposite intended impact. However, appropriate validation can be as simple as hearing them out and ensuring that they know their feelings are normal.
Sometimes people assume that their significant other is already aware of certain positive affirmations, but verbally hearing words of kindness can make all the difference in the world. This is especially applicable to an individual who is phobic or anxious about intimacy.
How To Overcome The Fear Of Intimacy
While overcoming the fear of intimacy may feel like an impossible task, our team at ReGain has years of experience helping people recover from this phobia. The first step is to stop listening to your critical inner voice. Often, this is the voice that tells people, "you can't do that," "he/she might hurt you if you open up to them," "you're better off being alone." The ability to essentially shut out this voice takes a sense of awareness. Each person should know who they are, believe in themselves, and rest assured that they are lovable and worthy of enjoying intimacy with another human being. If you're reading this and thinking, "but not me," then that's a sign you could benefit from hearing an outside perspective.
What's equally important is the determination to increase confidence levels and relinquish personal insecurities. Surrounding oneself with positive, supportive company can make all the difference in the world, as can uplifting affirmations. Many people don't realize the power of habitual self-talk. Individuals who regularly tell themselves that they are too fat, too skinny, too dumb, too ugly, etc. will eventually believe these things, regardless of how untrue they may be. In many cases, the negative self-talk comes from another person who was present during an earlier period in life. For example, if you grew up with a father who told you, "you're too fat," or, "you're useless," you might have grown to believe him, and wind up telling yourself similar things today.
However, the opposite is also applicable, which is where boosting confidence and conquering insecurities comes into play. Individuals who suffer from intimacy can improve their self-perception by telling themselves, "I am worthy of love," "I am beautiful," "I have so much to offer," "I deserve happiness," "I deserve healthy relationships." Believing the preceding affirmations can take time, especially if the individual has already formed negative beliefs about themselves. However, consistency wins in the end. If the person sticks it out and shifts their self-talk from positive to negative, they will inevitably feel better about themselves. You just have to give things time.
A Final Word
While anyone can take the steps above to overcome their fear of intimacy, sometimes speaking with a professional can help just as well to ensure that the progress is not only long-lasting but permanent. Sometimes, people have a difficult time seeking help and view it as a sign of weakness rather than one of strength.
You might feel embarrassed about speaking to a licensed counselor for your fear of intimacy, but rest assured that your therapist is there to help you, not judge you. Seeking counseling for intimacy-related issues may end up being one of the best decisions for your relationship, as it can help you regain the closeness that you and your partner are having trouble achieving. Sexual dysfunction is a major cause of relationship breakdown and stress within a relationship, so taking steps towards a healing process can be most beneficial. No matter what particular issues are affecting your intimacy, a vetted professional is properly equipped to help you and your partner conquer anything and everything.
Experiencing difficulties in the bedroom is difficult enough as it is, and the last thing you should be dealing with is organizing countless face-to-face counseling sessions. This is where online counseling services like ReGain offer solutions. With the guidance of one of our licensed therapists, online counseling cuts out the need for long drives and inconvenient appointment times. Instead, you have the freedom to reach out to your counselor whenever and wherever you want to at a fraction of the cost. Below are some reviews of ReGain counselors for you to review, from people experiencing similar issues.
"Rhonda has been very helpful and consistent over the past few months as I worked through issues related to fear of intimacy. Her observations have shed light on aspects of myself that I took for granted, which I realize now are actually are holding me back and are in my power to change. I would gladly work with Rhonda again, and recommend her without hesitation."
"Emily is a very effective counselor in our very first call she drilled down and uncovered some of our intimacy issues and gave us a game plan to help resolve them. She's timely, easy to talk to, listens but also gives advice (which I've found uncommon with some professionals). We'd use her again and recommend her in a heart beat."
Being intimate with your significant other is one of the most beautiful experiences in life. However, fear of intimacy can cause problems not only in the bedroom but for your relationship as a whole. Luckily, the help and tools you need to begin overcoming a fear of intimacy are only a few simple steps away.