What Causes Fear Of Intimacy & How To Overcome It

By Mason Komay|Updated June 23, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

Although the fear of intimacy can be complex, seeking treatment has helped individuals recover. Clinically, the fear of intimacy has been listed as an anxiety disorder and social phobia, in which the 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.

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 is living with this form of anxiety.

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, phobia is considerably more common amongst women.

Symptoms Of The Fear Of Intimacy

Trying to Figure Out What Causes A Fear of Intimacy? (And How to Overcome It?)
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.

Trying To Figure Out What Causes A Fear of Intimacy? (And How To Overcome It?)

A Psychology Expert Can Help. Chat With A Board-Certified Therapist Online.

This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.

A fear of intimacy can be noticed in most circumstances involving closeness and vulnerability with other people. According to the Albert Ellis Institute, 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.

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 can be responsible or partially responsible for 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?

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 develop attachment issues. Due to their past trauma, they may 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. 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 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.

Individuals who view 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 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 forms of abuse, and the impact of these 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.

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. But with patience, trust, communication, and a commitment to connecting, it is possible to overcome the fear of intimacy.

First comes getting a deep understanding of what it means to be vulnerable. This should be 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. Still, they will also be more equipped 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 completely 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 is one of the best courses of action.

Finally, an individual involved with a person who fears intimacy should always ensure that they validate their partner. However, be careful not to go too far, as extreme validation is likely to have the opposite intended impact. 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.

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 overwhelming task, our team at ReGain has years of experience helping people (and couples) 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,” “They might hurt you if you open up to them,” or “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.

Equally important to overcoming the fear of intimacy is to increase 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 is to redefine how we talk to and about ourselves. Many of us are so habituated toward negative self-talk that we don’t even notice we’re doing it anymore. Maybe we constantly criticize our own intellect, appearance, or worthiness of being loved. This often starts early on in life when our thought patterns and sense of self-worth are solidified by those close to us. If we were raised in an abusive home, it may be the case that we struggle with more negative self-talk later in life.

However, the opposite is also applicable, where boosting confidence and conquering insecurities comes into play. Individuals who struggle with 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 individuals have already formed negative beliefs about themselves. However, consistency wins in the end. If the person sticks it out and shifts their self-talk from negative to positive, they will inevitably feel better about themselves. You have to give things time.

A Final Word

Trying to Figure Out What Causes A Fear of Intimacy? (And How to Overcome It?)

Trying to Figure Out What Causes A Fear Of Intimacy? (And How To Overcome It?)

A Psychology Expert Can Help. Chat With A Board-Certified Therapist Online.

While most anyone can take the steps above to overcome their fear of intimacy, sometimes speaking with a professional can help ensure that the progress is long-lasting but permanent. Sometimes, people have difficulty seeking help and view it as a sign of weakness rather than strength. However, thankfully the negative stigmas around mental health and mental health treatment are shifting as we begin to understand their incredible importance more.

You might feel embarrassed about speaking to a licensed counselor about 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 can be 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 affect your intimacy, a vetted professional is properly equipped to help you and your partner conquer anything and everything.

Experiencing difficulties either in the bedroom or with non-physical forms of intimacy is difficult enough as it is, so you might not want to deal with the added stress of having to find a qualified therapist who offers counseling sessions in your area. 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.

Helpful resources for relationships & more in your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak With A Licensed Therapist
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.