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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
While many people assume that closeness refers to physical or sexual closeness, it actually comprises four main components: emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical. Emotional involves sharing how you feel with someone else, while mental happens during lively conversations or mutual enjoyment of a certain activity. Spiritual closeness reflects two people’s common values, beliefs, or spiritual practices and does not have to be religious in nature. Finally, there is physical closeness, in which two people feel comfortable in physical proximity. This includes a broad spectrum of touch, from handshakes to hugs to sexual intercourse.
Fear can take many forms and affect any gender. Some people may feel okay with touch but less comfortable with emotional vulnerability. For others, it might be the opposite. Intimate connections also fall on a broad spectrum with varying levels of intensity. Some people with fears may feel comfortable sharing their interests and activities but balk at the thought of having deep conversations about their history or aspirations.
If you are dating someone who experiences this fear — or you would like to — remember that there is no definitive form of closeness. The signs can be very different from person to person.
Therefore, it’s important to know your partner’s boundaries and understand their love language. Allow them to express their affection in a safe way for them, and consider how your own needs align with theirs. For example, if your love language is touch, but your partner has issues with physical closeness, don’t take their reluctance to have sex as a sign that they don’t like you. Most of all, never weaponize their fears or experiences. If your partner is seeking therapy, be supportive and remember that their issues may take time to resolve. In the meanwhile, you can still find ways to enjoy each other’s company by prioritizing communication and mutual respect.
How do you know if you have intimacy issues?
This fear looks different in everyone who experiences it. As a general guideline, you may be experiencing fears if you struggle to be vulnerable with a relationship partner. That could be a friend, romantic partner, or family member. You may feel nervous about expressing your thoughts or feelings or behaving in a certain way, or coming into close physical contact with someone. Note that there is nothing wrong with not wanting to spill your guts to strangers or have sex on the first date. These preferences are not necessarily signs of problems.
However, if you’ve experienced strife in your relationships, if people have told you they want you to open up to them more, or if your fear of being vulnerable prevents you from being close in a relationship, you may tend to avoid getting close to others. It could be a good idea to talk to a counselor about your concerns.
How do you know if a guy has these feelings?
Any gender can experience these feelings, and there is not always a clear sign. Some people may have a different love language than you. This can make it seem like they have problems, but they actually prioritize other forms of expression. It is normal to have a partner who prefers to express their affection sexually rather than verbally — or the opposite!
To know if your partner has problems with closeness, ask yourself if they seem able to be close to you, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. Do they share their deepest desires and fears with you? Do they lean on you for advice or support? Remember that sexual closeness is just one subtype of physical closeness.
Closeness is a mutual experience. So, if you feel like your partner is unwilling to express vulnerability or that they don’t understand your attempts at closeness, have a conversation about it. It could be issues, or it could be a difference in love languages.
Why does intimacy freak me out?
If you’re uncomfortable with being close to others, there could be several factors at play. The first thing to ask yourself is what types are challenging for you. Are you struggling to connect emotionally with potential friends and dates? Does sexual contact make you nervous? Think about various situations in which being vulnerable or close to someone would be uncomfortable for you. Then, take note of your feelings and emotions.
Signs of this fear include negative self-talk and catastrophic thoughts. Some people tell themselves that they are not worthy of love and affection, so they avoid vulnerable situations where they could be rejected or hurt. Others imagine that something bad will happen if they are intimate. Be honest about your self-talk and consider speaking with a counselor to address possible issues.
How do you build emotional intimacy with a man?
It is a common myth that men are most satisfied from sex while women only want sex after alternate forms of closeness. Another popular idea is that men purely associate closeness with sex while women prefer emotional connection. Many people also believe that most men fear closeness. None of these are true. According to research, men and women experience stronger sexual desire due to higher levels of connection, and there are no gender differences between them.
Therefore, the best means of building trust with a person of any gender is to engage with them honestly and fully. Take turns sharing your daily thoughts and experiences. Be vulnerable, whether that means telling your partner your hopes and dreams or discussing your fears and insecurities. In relationships with emotional closeness, both partners feel comfortable expressing themselves, and they feel supported by the other person. It can also be very helpful to practice daily affirmations and give compliments to both yourself and your partner. This builds a good foundation of trust for further closeness.
What does intimacy feel like?
Closeness can take many forms, but it always involves a higher level of closeness than you would have with a random stranger. For example, you are probably more comfortable venting about a bad day to a family member, partner, or best friend than you would to a fellow bus passenger. Being close allows you to feel safe even when you’re vulnerable, whether that’s expressing your biggest fears and worries or sharing your deepest passions and dreams.
When you have closeness with someone, you feel like you can trust them with your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and/or body. You feel a mutual sense of support and appreciation and may say things such as “They’ve got my back,” and “I’m here for you.” It’s important to note that vulnerability is not limited to physical affection or sexual contact. Rather, it is part of the foundation of trust that you can build with another person and encompasses many forms.
What does emotional intimacy look like?
Emotional closeness emerges between two people when they are comfortable sharing their feelings in an honest and detailed way. It involves a strong sense of trust even in moments of vulnerability. Both people feel invested in the other’s feelings, and there is often a give-and-take of expressing those feelings and listening to your partner express their own. Emotional closeness is more than “spilling your guts” to someone, although that can happen in intimate situations. Rather, it happens when one trusts another person enough to express deeply held emotions and see that person as emotionally available.
How do you restore emotional intimacy?
Emotional closeness may degrade over time if there is a violation of trust or if either person is not emotionally available. According to research, both men and women regard emotional accessibility as the primary success factor in a relationship. It happens with practice, so both people must be willing to express their feelings and vulnerabilities to help restore this closeness.
Unfortunately, emotional problems can be difficult to overcome and may have nothing to do with a current relationship. Because aversion to closeness is typically a defense mechanism against potential pain, emotional closeness can only be restored when both people in a relationship trust each other to provide pleasure and support rather than pain. To restore emotional closeness, it can be helpful to practice daily affirmations, spend time talking about each other’s experiences and emotions, and use “I” statements when arguing, rather than engaging in “the blame game.”