What Causes Fear Of Intimacy And How To Overcome It

Updated April 11, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Intimacy comes in many different forms. It can be intellectual, social, emotional, sexual, spiritual, or physical. Each of these can be important in a relationship, but because every couple is different, how crucial these elements are in a relationship can vary greatly. Some who has a fear of intimacy may have difficulty in their close relationships, specifically those that are romantic in nature. They may struggle to form bonds, connections, and close relationships with others at all. A fear intimacy may develop for several reasons, which we will be exploring in the article. We’ll also be exploring different ways to face this fear and overcome it.

Wondering what causes a fear of intimacy?

What is the fear of intimacy?

The fear of intimacy refers to “the inhibited capacity of an individual, because of anxiety, to exchange thoughts and feelings of personal significance with another individual who is highly valued.” Individuals who are afraid of intimacy often view themselves as undeserving of love or affection, hence their apprehension and anxiety about close relationships. While men may struggle with the fear of intimacy, it is considerably more common amongst women.

Signs of fear of intimacy

fear of intimacy can be noticed in most circumstances involving closeness and vulnerability with other people. 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, and other forms of closeness as well. Individuals who dread close 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. Some signs of fear of intimacy include, but are certainly not limited to: 

  • Habitual anger
  • Perfectionism
  • Aversion to sex
  • A history of flings or short-term relationships
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of supporting a significant other through their problems
  • Trouble showing affection
  • Difficulty discussing personal goals and aspirations
  • Trouble expressing concern for one’s significant other

What causes the fear of intimacy?

Several reasons 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 several factors 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 emotions may grow up and with an insecure attachment. Due to their past trauma, they may develop a fear of getting close to someone. They may view emotions, connections, and other forms of intimacy as “bad” or uncomfortable.

Past failed relationships

For better or for worse, prior relationships can greatly impact one’s future romantic endeavors. Not every person who has past failed relationships develops intimacy issues. However, it is still a possibility. Often, this avoidance of intimacy is merely a defense mechanism. This 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 close relationships.

Lack of confidence

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 can play a significant role in the interactions and relationships that people have with others. Individuals who view themselves poorly may not see themselves as worthy of love, affection, or closeness with others. They may also begin to question why another person would want to be with 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 is more likely to have a considerably more challenging time baring their soul to another human being.

Past emotional, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse

Sometimes the fear of intimacy stems from prior abuse that a person has experienced. There are many different forms of abuse, and the impact it has can run deep and take years to heal from. Like people who have experienced prior failed relationships, a fear of intimacy can also be a defense mechanism for individuals who do not wish to subject themselves to more potential pain or abuse.


How to overcome the fear of intimacy

An important part of overcoming a fear of intimacy can be increasing your sense of self-worth. It can make all the difference to surround yourself with an uplifting support system, especially when you’re working toward improving your confidence. Another key aspect of self-esteem can be to redefine how you talk to and about yourself. You may be so habituated toward negative self-talk that you don’t even notice you’re doing it anymore. Maybe you constantly criticize your own intellect, appearance, or worthiness of being loved. This often starts early on in life when your thought patterns and sense of self-worth are solidified by those close to you. If we were raised in an abusive home, it may be the case that you struggle with more negative self-talk later in life than others might. 

Boosting your confidence and conquering insecurities can help you begin to move forward. If you struggle with intimacy, you can improve your self-perception by telling yourself, “I am worthy of love,” “I am beautiful,” “I have so much to offer,” “I deserve happiness,” “I deserve healthy relationships,” and so on. Believing the preceding affirmations can take time, especially if you have already formed negative beliefs about yourself. However, consistency may win in the end. If you stick it out and shift your self-talk from negative to positive, you might be able to feel better about yourself with time. 

Counseling can be another helpful option for those trying to overcome a fear of intimacy. Whether you pursue counseling in person or online, you can connect with someone who can help you heal from your past and improve how you feel about yourself. A therapist can set up a treatment plan to help you move toward happier, healthier relationships. 

Relationships with those who have a fear of intimacy

It can take time, work, and consistency over time to build a relationship with someone who has a fear of intimacy. This form of anxiety can at times be a struggle for both those living with it and those who want to get closer to them. With patience, trust, communication, and a commitment to connecting, it is possible to learn how to navigate a relationship with someone who has a fear of intimacy.

One of the first steps may be gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to be vulnerable. This is often done for the sake of the individual who is struggling with a fear of intimacy, but this exercise can also help the other person in the relationship learn more about the meaning of intimacy. It can equip partners with the ability to help their partner overcome the anxiety and phobias they have attributed to intimacy.

Next comes the ability to abstain from judgment. Sometimes, it can be easy for an individual to ask themselves, “Why can’t they just trust me?” While this train of thought is understandable, the person must also understand that the fear of intimacy is a very complicated internal issue. If the person who fears intimacy 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 can be one of the most helpful courses of action.

Finally, an individual involved with a person who fears intimacy can do their best to ensure that they validate their partner. 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. Appropriate validation can be as simple as hearing them out and ensuring they know their feelings are normal and that you are there for them. Too much validation is likely to have the opposite intended impact, so avoid heaping it on. Instead, do what you can to be a supportive, loving, and patient partner.

Wondering what causes a fear of intimacy?

Online counseling with Regain

While the steps above may help you overcome your fear of intimacy, sometimes speaking with a professional can help ensure that your progress is long-lasting and permanent. Regain is an online counseling platform that offers services to individuals and couples alike. Whether you’d prefer to address a problem on your own or with your significant other, there are options available for both. Regain lets you connect through video chats, phone calls, and in-app messaging, according to your schedule and comfort. This can make it easier and more convenient to get the support you need. While it may be challenging to speak to a licensed counselor about your fear of intimacy, rest assured that your therapist is there to help you, not judge you. 

The efficacy of online counseling 

Sometimes, a fear of physical intimacy can stem from conditions like erectile dysfunction, which can create sexual performance anxiety. Those struggling in these areas could benefit from online counseling. In one study, researchers found that an internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention was just as effective as a face-to-face CBT program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. CBT is a type of therapy that helps people learn how to recognize and then reframe their unhelpful thoughts into more encouraging ones. This can allow them to change their thinking patterns and behavior over time. 


Whether emotional, physical, or otherwise, intimacy can be a crucial aspect of a romantic relationship. When you have a fear of connection with your partner, it can create tension between the two of you. Identifying the root of your fear and seeking intimacy-related counseling can be a positive step in the right direction, particularly if you’re interested in maintaining a healthy relationship. Regain can provide counseling services from the comfort of your home, allowing you to be open and honest about what you’re going through. Working with an online therapist, you can learn how to heal from your past and look toward a healthier, more fulfilling future. 

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