Fear of intimacy, alternately referred to as intimacy avoidance, pertains to the fear of experiencing physical or emotional intimacy in a personal relationship. People experiencing a fear of intimacy may long for closeness but find themselves unable to open themselves up; conversely, they may seek shallow or fleeting interactions that require minimal emotional and/or physical investment.
Fear of intimacy can affect all areas of a relationship, not just sexually, and can often apply to friendships and familial relationships as well. There are many types of intimacy, ranging from the romantic to intellectual, and all are punctuated by one's ability to connect. Here are the main types of intimacy:
- Emotional: The ability to express your emotions with another
- Sexual: The ability to enjoy a healthy sexual relationship with a trusted partner
- Intellectual: The ability to share your thoughts and observations about topics like philosophy, news, arts, and culture
- Experimental: The ability to share experiences, as well as create new ones
There are several causes of intimacy avoidance, including childhood trauma and unresolved phobias and anxieties. In order to overcome fear of intimacy, it's important to understand the contributing factors and their origins, as well as detect the telltale signs.
First, let's explore the most common traits of intimacy avoidance.
Common traits of intimacy avoidance
1. Inability To Be Vulnerable
Vulnerability is an essential component of trust, which in turn helps to establish healthy relationships, be they romantic or platonic. Opening yourself up to others is vital to building a foundation for all types of relationships to grow, and those with a resistance towards intimacy often maintain a “shell” or tough exterior, and are seldom inclined to share potentially painful or embarrassing details about themselves. Doubts, insecurities, painful memories, or honest feelings are often kept under wraps, even when the other party discloses their own.
2. Sabotaging Relationships
Contrary to popular belief, those with a fear of intimacy long for stable, trusted relationships. However, a deep-rooted fear of abandonment or uncomfortable engulfment can cause panic, and a subsequent termination of those relationships. Destructive behavior can be a frequent occurrence, usually with a passive or unconscious wish that it will result in the other party leaving, thus reaffirming the pattern.
3. Aversion To Physical Contact
It's hardly unnatural to prefer not to be touched by people we're not familiar with, but those with deep-seated intimacy issues avoid physical affection even with close friends, family members, and romantic partners. This can include hugging, cuddling, gestures of condolence, or sexual interaction.
4. Inability To Express Needs or Engage in Confrontation
Confrontation is extremely stress-inducing for those with intimacy issues, and in response they often avoid it altogether. Expressing personal needs in an honest and forthright manner can be next to impossible, resulting in deflection, outbursts, or the aforementioned avoidance.
5. Obsession With Perfection
Many who struggle with intimacy believe themselves not good enough to deserve absolute love and affection yet, and will set incredibly high standards for themselves that are all but impossible to meet, thus delaying acceptance from others. The pursuit of perfection is a control mechanism, and those with intimacy issues will use it as a way to justify not getting close to others until they've reached their goals, however unnecessary or unobtainable.
6. Frequently Inappropriate Or “Immature” Behavior
Much like confrontation dodging, deflective behavior is a common trait amongst those with intimacy issues. Rather than avoid confrontation altogether, they will instead crack jokes, divert the other party's attention from the matter at hand, or even engage in inappropriate behavior in response to being confronted or caught in a moment of vulnerability. This tends to occur in those with a history of trauma, when such memories are triggered by confrontational or intimate gestures.
7. Casual Or Revolving Relationships
Those with intimacy issues may find themselves engaging in casual, fleeting, or noncommittal relationships, ultimately taking the “no strings attached” approach. This stems from the fear that the more attached they become to a friend or partner, the greater their chances are of being let down or, conversely, uncomfortably engulfed. High risk behavior can also be attached to the pursuit of casual relationships, leading to a number of potentially fatal consequences.
What Are The Causes Of Intimacy Resistance?
As mentioned above, there can be a number of underlying issues resulting in a fear of intimacy. Previous trauma, including verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, sexual assault, neglect, or abandonment can all contribute to a resulting resistance to intimacy. Low self esteem and anxiety related factors can also lead to intimacy avoidance, particularly if one has been shamed or rejected in the past for showing vulnerability.
In some cases, intimacy circumvention is inadvertently taught in childhood, when one grows up in an environment that shuns emotional openness. Lack of experience or delayed growth are also known causes, particularly in connection to the “Peter Pan syndrome,” where one essentially refuses or is unable to adapt to an adult lifestyle.
Is There Help For Those With Intimacy Issues?
Absolutely! A fear of intimacy can happen to anyone, and there are a number of options available for those looking for support and guidance. Professional counseling is highly recommended, as a licensed and experienced therapist can help you pinpoint the cause of your intimacy struggles, as well as apply healthy measures towards improving and strengthening your relationships. While you may opt for a brick-and-mortar location, online or e-counseling has gained enormous popularity in recent years, thanks to the well-reviewed and reputable counselors features, as well as the convenient platform.
Affordable online counseling can provide you with the tools you need to overcome your intimacy inhibitions, all from the comfort and privacy of your own home. With sessions booked according to your scheduling needs, you can build your appointments around your busy day-to-day responsibilities.
Regardless of the method you choose, it's important to regain your comfort and trust where matters of intimacy are concerned. Allowing ourselves to be open and vulnerable can make all the difference in the pursuit of a fulfilling life and ensuing relationships.