Where To Get Help With Fear Of Intimacy

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 14, 2022

Fear of intimacy can develop from attachment styles from early childhood, relationship history, mental health, and other factors. Fear of intimacy may cause a desire more fulfilling relationships, but also a feeling of stalled by fear of intimacy, or something else. Throughout this article, we will cover fear of intimacy and how to begin addressing the barriers to be overcome from fear of intimacy. Fear of intimacy can be painful and difficult, but you are not alone in this.

Fear of intimacy can be thought of as fear of the closeness between individuals in a relationship. While many times the word intimacy is used in the context of sex, it is important to acknowledge that intimacy (and fear of intimacy) is not limited to sexual activity. At its core, an intimate relationship is about mutual vulnerability, and feeling truly seen and understood by another person.

managing fear of intimacy, both physical and emotional, in relationships; communication skills, attachment styles
If You Are Struggling With Intimacy In Your Relationships, You Are Not Alone

Signs: Fear Of Intimacy

People who have fear of intimacy often struggle with physical and emotional closeness. Intimacy troubles, as with any issue, exist on a spectrum and be experienced and expressed differently by different people. Some may experience difficulty in showing overt displays of emotions or crying at the movies. Sometimes, people who have fear of intimacy may seem cold or uninterested in the outside world. Often, the opposite is true. In other instances, troubles with intimacy may center primarily around physical touch, sometimes including sex. 

More obvious signs of fear of intimacy can include difficulties with sharing innermost thoughts and feelings, sexual enjoyment, and life experiences with another person. In many cases, this difficulty stems from previous trauma or negative experiences in relationships. Despite an individual’s desire for closeness, they may find that there are barriers holding them back from being able to open up and share themselves fully.

Intimacy boundaries are a defense mechanism that people may use to prevent themselves from having negative experiences. When people experience negative or traumatic experiences, they may consciously or unconsciously decide to avoid ever risking the same outcome again. As a result, situations, people, or similar circumstances that remind them of the negative event are likely to cause the person experiencing fear of intimacy to pull away or sabotage the relationship to keep it from going any further.

This can be true in the case of family relationships, intimate relationships, and even in your career. The brain has developed its way of preventing you from feeling pain by building a wall between you and a potentially negative experience. The downside to this line of thinking and coping is that not all of the experiences you have will be negative, and not all people you encounter who remind you of a certain person or event will behave in the same manner.

Causes, Beliefs, and Behaviors

Fear of intimacy can develop when maladaptive beliefs take hold as a defense mechanism or response to a negative outcome. For example, a person who has experienced rejection in their early childhood may erroneously believe, either consciously or subconsciously, that those whom they become close to will ultimately reject them. This maladaptive belief sets people up for developing fear of intimacy as they shy away from most, or in some cases any, close relationships because they believe or fear that they will inevitably end and/or result in hurt of some kind. An avoidance of intimacy may also stem from lacking trust in oneself or simply experiencing a lack of desire for either sexual or non-sexual intimacy, all of which can be caused by things like past trauma, difficulties with self-esteem, depression, an anxiety disorder, or many other possible factors.

It's important to note that there are many people who do not experience sexual attraction to others (known as asexuality), which is a sexual orientation that exists on a spectrum. People in the asexual community may have little to no sexual attraction to others while maintaining deeply meaningful and emotionally intimate relationships. Asexuality is valid, and not a sign of fear of intimacy.

Fear of Intimacy: the Physical

People who experience challenges with intimacy may find it difficult to develop or maintain physical closeness with another person. These individuals may have a hard time giving and receiving affection in the forms of hugging, kissing, holding hands, and/or sex. They could also be fine with some of these actions, but shy away from others. While some people with fear of intimacy might appear to be outwardly disinterested in giving or receiving physical affection, inwardly they may crave or need physical intimacy more than someone who doesn't experience these difficulties. Again, everyone exists on a spectrum and intimacy as well as troubles with intimacy do, too.

managing intimacy fear, both physical and emotional, in relationships

When someone fears being physically affectionate or close, they may also have an underlying issue with emotional intimacy. While fear of intimacy (whether physical and emotional) can exist independently, it is common for them to exist together and be tied to one another. People who experience fear of intimacy can often face challenges both physically and emotionally.

How To Overcome Fear Of Intimacy

Those affected by fear of intimacy include the people who experience fear of intimacy themselves, and the people in relationships with them.

fear of intimacy can affect the families and children of people who experience them in various ways. The person living with fear of intimacy may have trouble communicating with their intimate partners, families, children, or employers. They may shy away from hugging loved ones, or seem to tune out when personal matters are being discussed. When fear of intimacy begin to have a noticeable impact on your quality of life, it may be time to consider seeking further support. The first step to overcoming fear of intimacy is to understand that they aren't your fault. If you're struggling with fear of intimacy, more often than not, it are related to a personal trauma or experience you've had in the past.

In Cases Where Trauma Occured

Some people develop fear of intimacy due to early childhood neglect, abuse, or trauma. Children who become traumatized at an early age can develop fear of intimacy as they lose trust in their environment or circumstances. As a result of trauma, children may become detached from important figures in their lives - especially their parents. If this issue isn't addressed in early life, these children can grow up to be adults who experience fear of intimacy. 

There are a number of things that you can do on your own to try working through these stressful feelings. These can include:

  • Journaling – Writing about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking can be incredibly useful into gaining insight into our own minds. Oftentimes, thoughts and emotions bounce around and we may be aware of them, but oftentimes don’t give them enough attention to really understand them. By writing things down, we are able to physically see these thoughts and feelings, which can help us to dissect them a bit more easily. Journaling can also provide a wonderful release instead of simply holding things inside.
  • Mindfulness Exercises – If you’re feeling particularly stressed about some form of intimacy, or just want to get yourself to a more relaxed headspace in which you can better think about things, mindfulness exercises can be quite useful. These include things like mindfulness breathing exercises such as box breathing, the five senses mindfulness exercise, or some simple meditation. All of these can help take you out of your current state of mind and whatever may be worrying you and bring you back to the present.
  • Self-Care – Taking time to take care of yourself and do things that you enjoy can do wonders for helping us to feel more connected with ourselves. If we feel more connected with ourselves, we are more likely to be able to connect more readily with others, as well. 

If fear of intimacy is negatively impacting your life, the first step is to understand that they aren't your fault and give yourself some grace. Another step may be to get counseling to help yourself cope and work through the difficulties that you’re experiencing.

If You Are Struggling With Intimacy In Your Relationships, You Are Not Alone

Heal Fear Of Intimacy With Therapy

Many people struggling with intimacy and other mental health-related issues that impact their lives may not realize that they can get help. People who struggle with fear of intimacy may feel guilty for expressing their need for support. This is especially true of people who have convinced themselves that their difficulties with intimacy are their fault. Licensed psychologists and other mental health professionals can help people work through fear of intimacy to develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Board-certified therapists use methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy to teach people who have fear of intimacy healthier thought patterns and coping mechanisms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy operates on the principles of maladaptive beliefs, and essentially rewiring neural pathways to form different networks of thought and behavior than before. These brain-based therapists believe that maladaptive beliefs can be unlearned using a variety of techniques (decided upon by both the therapist and client) that then work to help the brain develop new neural pathways and thereby new solutions to the fear of intimacy being experienced.

To date, cognitive-behavior therapy has shown high success rates and is used by psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals. Cognitive-behavior therapy aims to teach people living with mental health issues that they can think more productive thoughts and experience less distress in their lives as a result. Cognitive-behavior therapy is one treatment method that a therapist may use when treating emotional and physical fear of intimacy.

Together, you and your therapist will determine the best course of action for you based on your life circumstances. Today's therapists are available to provide therapy and other mental health treatments online. Having access to therapy online makes it easier for people who need mental health support to reach out and find qualified providers within their state of residence. Let's take look at online therapy options.

Online Therapy Options

Today's mental health clients are taking comfort in accessing mental health therapy online. Gone are the days of long commutes or sitting in a waiting room. You can chat with a therapist in the privacy and comfort of your own home. Additionally, many of today's online therapists offer affordable rates online.

This means that many people who need therapy can gain access to therapy at a cost they can afford. Leading therapy providers like BetterHelp offer unlimited weekly therapy sessions starting at just $60.00 - $90.00 per week (billed every four weeks). Sessions with in-office therapists can cost as much as $200.00 an hour (or more), depending on your city and state of residence.

If you're ready to start healing your fear of intimacy, reach out to a certified therapy expert today!

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