The Fear of Intimacy and How To Overcome It

How do you define intimacy? Is it sex? A physical expression? An emotional relationship? According to Maisha Johnson, Newsletter Editor at Healthline Media, intimacy is the closeness between people in personal relationships. It builds over time and can include physical or emotional closeness, or even a mix of the two.

Now, can you relate to any of the following scenarios?

  • You have many friends, but don’t open up to (a lot of) them.
  • You’re okay with finding a relationship, but you’re not interested in taking it any step further.
  • You trust others easily but detach yourself easily, too.

These can be considered as indicators of you having a fear of intimacy. A lot of factors can cause it – fear of abandonment, anxiety, previous experiences, and unease at the thought of being controlled. Do these sound familiar to you? Are physical and emotional relationships something you struggle with? Today, we will talk about the fear of intimacy and ways to help overcome it.

Friendly disclaimer: If you can relate to any of these signs, please do not take this feedback as an attack on your character. This article is meant to be a self-improvement guide for those of you who have been feeling a little stuck. You can do it!

1. Don’t rush yourself.

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It is very important to be patient with yourself. When you are working towards recovery, you may have the tendency to want to feel better as quickly as possible. This is understandable, but it can help to comprehend that you did not hit rock bottom overnight, so recovery won’t come overnight as well (Stockton, 2018). You can try setting little goals at your own pace and not forcing yourself to do what you dislike. Are you the type of person who gets intimidated when going on dates? If so, then you can try getting to know the other party first through emails, messaging, and video-chatting until you’re comfortable seeing them in person. Having a support or friend group is also encouraged as they can assist you throughout the process.

2. Acknowledge your issues.

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Do you have difficulty connecting emotionally and physically with your family, friends, or relationship partners? Are you able to determine why? Understanding the reason behind your fear is beneficial since it can help you get into terms with how you got that fear in the first place. Here are some fear of intimacy causes:

  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of abandonment
  • History of separation
  • History of physical or verbal abuse
  • Fear of being controlled
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Childhood sexual abuse

If you are struggling with any of the causes mentioned above, please reach out to a qualified healthcare provider or a mental health professional to aid in your recovery. It might feel difficult to accept these feelings, but please remember help is always available. Don’t give up!

3. Know your worth.

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Why does rejection hurt so much? Is it a matter of pride? Does it affect your self-esteem? According to Guy Winch, a licensed psychologist, the same areas of our brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. That’s why even the smallest forms of rejection like ones we receive from our crushes and relationship partners affect us so much. Being aware of your own value as an individual is significant. When you are able to truly recognize all that you are and all that you have to offer, your confidence will skyrocket (Schafer, 2017). This may help you realize that when a relationship does end, it says nothing about your value as a person (Pietrangelo, 2019) but as an opportunity for growth. 

4. Practice trusting those who deserve it.

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How many people in your circle of friends do you fully trust? Many people who have a fear of intimacy socialize with a number of people but don’t actually open up substantial information about themselves. Dr. Ellen Hendriksen,  a clinical psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD), stated that the fear of trust is so common it’s an official phobia: pistanthrophobia. Establishing trust with people you consider worthy can be a good step to moving on from your fear. To do this, you may try asking favors bit by bit and seeing how they react to it. It may also help to stop rationalizing bad behavior from others and understanding that you deserve to be around trustworthy people (Hendriks, 2021). You can also try reading 6 Ways You Can Break Free from Your Trust Issues to learn more about this topic.

5. Set your own boundaries. 

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Opening up to people is not as simple as it sounds. What others consider comfortable might not make you feel the same way and this applies to them as well. Have you ever done something because you couldn’t or didn’t know how to say no? How did it make you feel? Finding out your limits is also an integral part of getting over the fear of intimacy. Once you identify what you’re okay and not okay doing, you can be more confident in approaching different social situations. Are you okay with kissing after the first date? If not, then it might be a good idea to bring this up to your date partner before they do anything that makes you uncomfortable. If yes, then you can go ahead and ask if they’re fine with it, too. Setting boundaries doesn’t only apply to romantic situations as well. If your friends are demanding you to talk about deeply personal topics, then you may politely tell them about your reservations and make them understand your side.

6. Don’t be afraid to be verbal.

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Do you feel guilty saying no to a friend’s request? Is this a constant challenge in your day-to-day life? As social creatures who want to be part of the herd, we also want to preserve our relationships. So, we might blurt out yes because we don’t want to be seen as difficult, says Dr. Emily Anhalt, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Coa, an online mental fitness club (Tartakovsky, 2021). You can say no nicely by being clear about your refusal, expressing gratitude, giving a short explanation (optional), and providing an alternative. It could go like this:

“Hey. I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to say no. I plan on resting today but thank you for considering me! If you’d like, I could get you in touch with someone who knows how to deal with your problem.”

Aside from saying no, it’s also important to ask questions. Knowing the boundaries of other people is just as important as knowing yours. You can try asking them about their physical and emotional habits. Which topics are they comfortable talking about? Which activities do they enjoy? Which do they dislike? How do they best express themselves? The bottom line is that being open to speaking about what causes your fear can lead to healthier relationships with others and yourself. Don’t be afraid to keep practicing.

7. Don’t be afraid to try again.

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Failure and rejection are normal parts of life and as a person with a fear of cultivating deep emotional and physical connections, coming to terms with this may help you. Accepting failure is a constant conscious choice to experience pain (Ye, 2020). With that cycle of awareness and perseverance, you might take small steps towards goals that are just a little outside your comfort zone. These may be stating bits of information about yourself to your beloved friends, holding hands and linking arms with your romantic partner, or even trusting a family member to keep a secret. Your recovery is a mix of yourself, your support group, and your present limitations which will grow smaller by the day through patience. There is no time limit or deadline because this is your life and you deserve to grow and overcome the fear of intimacy. So the next time someone asks,

Don’t you trust me?

Don’t be afraid to take a deep breath, and answer:

Not yet, but I will get there.

What did you think after reading this article? Do you think you have a fear of intimacy? What made you aware of it? Please share your experiences with us. We would appreciate knowing about your story. If you wish to read more about this topic, you can check 7 Reasons Why We Avoid Intimacy, 7 Signs You’re Afraid of Intimacy, and our video on 7 Signs You Have A Fear of Intimacy.

REFERENCES:

Bamidele, O. (2016, March 3). How to embrace pain as your friend and guide to healing. Counselling Directory. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/how-to-embrace-pain-as-your-friend-and-guide-to-healing

Fritscher, L. (2021, July 9). How a Fear of Intimacy Can Cause You to Avoid or Sabotage Relationships. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/fear-of-intimacy-2671818

Hendriksen, E. (2021, January 12). How to Trust People Again. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-be-yourself/202101/how-trust-people-again

Johnson, M. (2019, April 16). How to Understand and Build Intimacy in Every Relationship. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/intimacy

Lanenberg, K. (2020, September 29). The Importance of Knowing Your Worth | Her Campus. Her Campus | HerCampus.Com Is the #1 Global Community for College Women, Written Entirely by the Nation’s Top College Journalists from 380+ Campus Chapters around the World. https://www.hercampus.com/school/winona/importance-knowing-your-worth/

Pietrangelo, A. (2019, January 10). Defining and Overcoming a Fear of Intimacy. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/fear-of-intimacy#treatment

Stockton, E. (2021, June 20). Why is it Important to Have Patience with Myself? | Drug & Alcohol Rehab Center in Tampa FL | Riverside. Drug & Alcohol Rehab Center in Tampa FL | Riverside Recovery. https://rrtampa.com/important-have-patience-myself/

Tartakovsky, M. M. S. (2021, June 14). How and When to Say No. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/lib/learning-to-say-no#why-its-hard

Winch, G. (2020, October 5). Why rejection hurts so much — and what to do about it. Ideas.Ted.Com. https://ideas.ted.com/why-rejection-hurts-so-much-and-what-to-do-about-it/

Ye, B. (2020, January 28). When You Fail, Just Try Again – The Startup. Medium. https://medium.com/swlh/when-you-fail-just-try-again-d8ffbf58ed78

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