How to deal with someone who has intimacy issues
Coping with Your Partner's Fear of Intimacy
Can you get close to someone with intimacy issues? There are several strategies to try if you know someone who avoids forming emotional connections.
Intimacy is at the heart of human connection. Families, friends, and couples share a closeness that enriches relationships and strengthens bonds.
But if you have someone in your life that has issues with intimacy, you may wish things could be different — and wonder if there’s anything you can do to help.
People who are afraid of intimacy (sometimes called intimacy phobia) don’t mean to create distance. They want connections just as much as you do, but experience intense anxiety from intimate encounters, so emotional unavailability may be present.
Although their anxiety may not make sense to you, learning more about why they might fear intimacy can help you understand your loved one and how you might help.
People living with intimacy phobia benefit if their loved ones help them feel safe. Just keep in mind that their self-imposed isolation stems from anxiety.
You can address their anxiety with patience and support. If you handle your interactions sensitively, it can help you build an emotionally safe relationship.
Consider these strategies for developing closeness:
Communicate your thoughts and feelings in a way that’s non-confrontational. When communicating:
- If you’re under stress, make sure they know it’s not their fault. You can specifically state the source of your mood, such as fatigue or frustration caused by work.
- If they find the courage to share their thoughts and feelings, resist the urge to react with correction, criticism, or judgment. Instead, find common ground to join the conversation.
When you’re empathetic, you understand or sense another person’s perspective. This can help them feel seen.
Some ways you can practice empathy include:
- Listen actively.
- Avoid withdrawing when they put up a wall. Instead, be present without infringing on their personal space.
- Remember that their challenges with intimacy are not your fault, so don’t take it personally or act defensively.
- Refrain from using manipulation strategies, no matter how well-intentioned.
- Pay attention to whether you’re pressuring them, and if so, adjust your approach.
You may want to consider raising the topic of therapy with the person who has intimacy anxiety.
They may not be ready to take this step, so you’ll want to make the suggestion without pressure. Offer to participate in couples therapy if it’s your partner. If you’re supporting a parent, sibling, or child, you can try family therapy.
The goal of therapy is to identify the root of anxiety, then figure out coping strategies. Sometimes, intimacy issues stem from complicated factors that take time for a therapist to decipher.
Labeling emotions is a tool mental health professionals teach to people living with anxiety. Rather than trying to suppress or ignore the fear, facing and identifying it can reduce its power.
Mindfulness can also help ease anxiety and phobias. Meditation is one way you can practice mindfulness.
When you meditate, you pay attention to the present moment and input from your senses. You might close your eyes and focus on your breath. As thoughts arise, let them pass. Return your focus to what you can hear, feel, and smell.
You could suggest mindfulness to your loved one as an activity you do together.
Fear of intimacy can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. After all, philosopher Aristotle described humans as “social animals,” a statement that recognized our need for connection.
Emotional connection is so powerful that its presence or absence can cause physical changes.
Research in 2018 found that touch — such as hand holding between people who share emotional intimacy — can reduce physical pain.
On the other hand, people who are isolated are more vulnerable to the health effects of the stress hormone, cortisol. High cortisol levels can lead to chronic disease, altered immunity, and disrupted sleep.
When someone has intimacy phobia, stress can occur from isolation and loneliness, interfering with socializing and forming friendships.
Intimacy fears affect couples the most because of the impact on multiple areas of intimacy — such as emotional, physical, and sexual. Sometimes, the fear of emotional closeness can expand to include a reluctance toward sexual intimacy.
It helps to know whether your relationship has stalled because of general incompatibility or a true intimacy phobia.
Here are some potential signs that intimacy anxiety is the culprit:
- relationship sabotage
- an unstable relationship history
- a tendency to be a “workaholic”
- fear of abandonment
- avoidance of physical contact
- a reluctance to discuss emotions or feelings
- issues with emotional regulation
- a lack of trust
- self-imposed social isolation
- challenges self-advocating
- extra sensitivity to criticism
While these signs might make sense, there are some others that you might not typically consider.
For example, perfectionists may not feel deserving of intimacy if they fail to live up to their own high standards. Meanwhile, excessively positive people avoid opportunities to bond over hardship and instead remain forcefully cheerful.
There are less well-known, hidden characteristics often shared by people who fear intimacy. Many things exist beneath the surface of the behaviors you can easily see.
Those who experience intimacy phobia sometimes:
- react to what they assume you’re thinking because they have too much anxiety to effectively communicate
- fear judgment if they share their thoughts and opinions
- are unable to trust themselves
- criticize themselves enough to lower their self-esteem
- fear losing themselves if they open up
- worry that feelings they share will be used against them
- anticipate rejection
- have previous trauma that damaged trust, such as abuse or the death or separation of a parent
The more you learn about intimacy issues, the easier it is to cope and come up with helpful strategies.
You could try a new shared hobby, or regularly scheduled one-on-one time to forge a connection. If it’s your partner, suggest a regular date night with no agenda other than to simply have fun.
Learn how to help them by investigating and reaching out — not only to mental health professionals, but also to people living with intimacy issues, if they’re able to share. You can connect with support groups, read blogs, and listen to podcasts.
Having intimacy phobia, or being in a relationship with someone who does, does not have to mean that you’ll never have a close relationship. It may take patience, time, and sensitivity on your part, but in the end, you might find the connection that works for you and your loved one.
5 Strategies for Dealing with Your Partner's Fear of Intimacy by Dr. Lisa Firestone
5 Strategies for Dealing With Your Partner’s Fear of Intimacy
Critical Inner Voice and Intimacy, Fear of Intimacy, Relationship Advice, Relationship Problems, Relationships By Lisa Firestone, Ph. D.
As a therapist, I often hear couples complain that whenever one partner tries to get close, the other pulls away. It’s a painful reality that love isn’t always as easy to give and receive as we’d like to think. Many people have developed defenses that make them intolerant of too much love, attention or affection. Our personal limitations and insecurities are regularly acted out in our closest relationships. Very often, our current reactions (especially our overreactions) are based on negative programming from our past. In the blog “Why You Keep Winding Up in the Same Relationship,” I discussed how and why we form defenses that make it difficult to get close. In this blog, I want to offer a few ways to work on overcoming a fear of intimacy that may exist in our partners and even in ourselves:
Don’t build a case
Although relationships can feel like a tug of war with one of us struggling to pull closer while the other resists, engaging in the blame game is never the solution. Too often, we build a case against the people we are involved with. We use their flaws against them, cataloging their shortcomings in our minds until admiration slowly erodes into cynicism. When this transformation occurs, we become highly attuned to our partners’ less desirable traits. We start to filter and distort our view of them, so that they fit into the case we’ve built against them. We fail to see our partners as they really are, with strengths and with weaknesses. When we don’t see all aspects of a person, we become bent out of shape ourselves. We may act out or behave in ways of which we don’t approve. Conversely, when we interrupt this tendency to build a case, we can focus on ourselves and act in ways that truly represent who we are and how we feel. Staying vulnerable, open and compassionate toward our partner can make them feel safe and allow them to take a chance on being close. Being our best is the surest way to bring out the best in our partners.
Look at ourselves
If we notice our partners pulling away at certain points, it’s helpful to explore ways we might be contributing to the problem or even provoking it. Be open to the reality that we help create the situations we’re in. A good exercise is to look at what our partner does that we dislike the most, then think about what we do right before that. If a partner is unwilling to open up, do we do anything that might contribute to them shutting down? Do we nag? Get distracted? Do we talk down to them by trying to fix their problems or telling them what to do? Do we complain to them? Do we ever draw them out or just let them vent? We can take a powerful position in making our relationship closer by changing our own behavior. As psychologist and author, Dr. Pat Love says, “Feel your feelings, then do the right thing.”
When people feel close, they react. Sometimes these reactions are positive, and sometimes they are negative. The reasons for this are complex and have a lot to do with how we’ve learned to see ourselves and the world around us throughout our lives. We may respond perversely to positive treatment, because it conflicts with negative ways we’re used to being seen or related to. Wherever these challenges come from, we can start to overcome them by identifying destructive patterns and dynamics in our relationships. For example, when our partner pulls back, how do we respond? Perhaps this action creates a certain amount of desperation within us, which in turn might leave us acting more needy or dependent toward them. Our distressed behaviors may make our partner more critical, perceiving us as weak or clingy, and they may then pull back further. Alternately, a partner’s withholding may leave us angry or hardened against him or her. We may withdraw in response and become colder in our actions. Naturally, this too will leave us estranged and emotionally distant from each other.
Talk about issues in non-heated moments
When engines are revved and chords are struck, it’s not always the best time to get into a conversation about the state of our relationship. However, once we’ve cooled down and have our emotions in check, we should have an open dialogue with our partner about the patterns or issues we observe. We can draw them out and really listen to what the experience was like for our partner. We can also discuss why we reacted the way we did in the hurtful interaction. We can develop our compassion for each other. We can show genuine interest when we ask our partners to think about what provokes them. We can even inquire as to how this reaction might be related to their past. Did they have an intrusive caretaker who left them feeling like they need to be guarded? Did they have a manipulative parent who left them feeling untrusting?
Seeing a therapist can be very helpful in uncovering why each of us is sensitive to certain triggers. We can make connections between past events and current tendencies. We can each learn where our critical self-images came from and why it threatens us to have them contradicted by someone who loves us. The more we understand ourselves and what drives our behavior, the better able we are to choose our actions and be open with our feelings; the better able we are also to live more fully in the present instead of recreating our past. When two people in a relationship know themselves and each other, they can point out when the other is overreacting without placing blame or building a case.
Don’t take a powerless approach
No matter what goes on in our relationship, it’s important not to feel hopeless or that we are at the mercy of someone else. No matter how perfect we aim to be, people struggle, and when our partners have a hard time, we shouldn’t always take it personally. We can learn to be solid and secure in ourselves, maintaining our personal power and building our emotional resilience. We can do this by knowing ourselves and learning not to react to our loved ones from a childish or primal place.
When a partner struggles, we can learn to be compassionate rather than feeling victimized or cynical. Watch yourself to make sure you aren’t making statements that start with, “You make me…” As adults, rarely can we be made to do anything. We control our own behavior. Rather, you could say, “When you do that, I feel…” which places no blame, but instead invites your partner to know you more fully.
When it comes to relationship goals, our chief aim should be to be kind and loving, not provoking or reactive. We should be open to working on ourselves and evolving psychologically so that we can express our feelings in a way that is mature and independent of wounds from our past. We should seek to better understand, and develop more compassion for, our partners and ourselves. With these initiatives in mind, our fears of intimacy may still exist, but they will be greatly weakened in their effort to limit our pursuit of love.
About the Author
Tags: critical self-image, defenses, fear of intimacy, relationship goals, relationships
Why are you afraid of close relationships and is there anything you can do about it
Intimacy is different - intellectual, emotional, sexual. Intimacy implies the ability and desire to share one's thoughts, emotions, feelings and innermost experiences, to allow another person to one's body. There are people who find it extremely difficult to trust themselves to someone . They are afraid to open up, to show real feelings - and there are various reasons for this.
practicing psychologist, member of the Monstars influencer team
— Fear of intimacy is a paradoxical phenomenon. On the one hand, everyone wants to find a person who is similar in spirit and share a feeling of love and affection with him. On the other hand, as soon as a person appears on the horizon with whom intimacy is possible, the first begins to panic and reject.
The one who avoids intimacy is called counterdependent. Counterdependence is dependence on independence.
Possible reasons for fear of close relationships
Have you been betrayed or deceived
Perhaps there is no person who did not get burned one day, trusting and opening up to someone too much. After deceit, neglect of feelings, betrayal, our brain remembers that excessive emotional openness leads to pain. Therefore, he tries with all his might to avoid repeating this experience. Surely you have experienced a feeling of "internal" pain after a quarrel or a difficult breakup. It didn’t seem to you that for the human brain there is no difference between physical pain and moral pain.
You don't trust people
You were offended in childhood, loved ones mocked you - the reasons can be different. If you are a hypersensitive person, even a minor remark could cause you serious injury and cause you to avoid intimacy in the future.
You are afraid of judgment or ridicule
You avoid intimacy because you are ashamed of your real self, your emotions, appearance, attitudes, beliefs. At some point, you decided for yourself that it is easier to close yourself off from everyone than to constantly expect condemnation or ridicule.
You are afraid of being abandoned
Usually this fear comes from early childhood. The child is left alone for a long time, they do not have time to pick him up from the kindergarten at the usual time, they forget about him - and the kid is horrified that the parent supposedly left him forever. Such an experience can pass without a trace, or it can leave a deep mark and affect adult life.
You are afraid that you will cease to exist as a person
You have long and carefully shaped yourself as a person and now you are afraid that someone will “destroy” you at one moment. Fear of being controlled. The fear of being "absorbed" by another person appears due to self-doubt. It seems to you that you do not have enough energy to be on an equal footing with another person.
practicing psychologist, member of the Monstars influencer team
— Man is a social being. In childhood, parents swaddle us, wash, hug, cradle. The process of birth and growing up of a baby implies close contact, the baby cannot survive without parental care. It turns out that from childhood we are accustomed to contact, to tactility, we need "stroking" - physical and psychological. Everyone needs support, care, affection and love. This is how we are.
The reasons for the fear of intimacy lie in childhood. The parent is the most important person in a child's life, and it is from the parents that the child learns love, intimacy, emotionality, tactility. A counter-dependent person could be rejected, ignored, or he did not have an emotional connection with his parents. Because of this, the child received a psychological trauma that he would never want to experience again. Now he lives according to the scenario: “I will be the first to reject my partner so that he does not have time to leave me and I do not experience that pain again.”
How to understand that you are afraid of intimacy
Fear of intimacy can be experienced by both very open and sociable people, and closed ones. Here are signs that indicate that you are afraid of intimacy:
You go on dates without commitment
Meetings without obligations seem to you a good alternative to a serious relationship. You often change partners, while avoiding talking about the future and feelings. You prefer an anonymous sex dating app to Tinder - you don't want to contact people who are planning something serious. You say you want to live for today, but sometimes you realize that you are deceiving yourself.
You have isolated yourself from people
And it's not about self-isolation because of the coronavirus. You do not try to establish connections, communicate, avoid any communication other than forced, for example, at work. It seems to you that no one can understand you, so there is no point in wasting energy.
It's hard for you to explain what you want
Because of this, the relationship does not last long. Partners do not know how to read minds, and it is difficult for you to express your desires and needs. In this way, you can push away a person who will eventually leave you without understanding the reason.
You feel that you do not deserve attention and support
Low self-esteem, neglect of oneself as a person leads to ignorance of real needs. Perhaps you want warmth and emotional closeness, but you think that you do not deserve it.
You avoid sex
under various pretexts. You've convinced yourself that you don't feel like it or that sex is an unnecessary cost of communication. In fact, it is difficult for you to open up to another person.
practicing psychologist, member of the Monstars influencer team
— When someone by his actions or words recognizes and shows the importance of the counter-dependent for himself, it seems to him that he is being strangled. He begins to avoid meetings, moves away and behaves coldly. Interestingly, from intimacy and love, such a person really becomes hard and even physically ill.
The counter-addict is in a trap: on the one hand, he is afraid of intimacy and runs away from it so as not to suffer as in childhood, and on the other hand, he wants intimacy because he feels lonely. But he cannot afford it.
As a rule, people who have a fear of intimacy are successful professionals, workaholics and perfectionists. Why do these people go into perfectionism and strive to be perfect? They are driven by the fear of rejection. To protect himself, a person tries to be perfect.
The counter-addict seeks not to depend on anyone and to provide himself with everything he needs. He is financially independent, he feels great alone, even locked up. He doesn't need someone else.
The usual feelings of a counter-addict: anxiety, self-aggression (aggression directed at himself), feeling that he can do more and better.
Each case is individual, so the best solution is to find a therapist or psychologist with whom you will be comfortable solving the problem. Compassion for yourself and acceptance of your feelings is the first step towards overcoming the fear of intimacy. Give yourself time, don't make hasty decisions. Imagine that that very child still lives inside you - a little boy or girl who really wants to feel the safety and care of a loved one. Now you are able to give yourself all the warmth you need.
practicing psychologist, member of the Monstars influencer team
- Fear of intimacy is a deep problem. Counter-addicts usually don't see this as a problem, so they don't do anything about it. They devalue all partners, convincing themselves that they are not good enough for him. Because of what they do not linger in a relationship for a long time. To overcome counter-dependence, it is important to recognize the problem, and then turn to a specialist.
How to overcome the fear of intimacy - Knife
You may have already met people along the way who were sincere conversationalists, tactful lovers and caring listeners, and then for no reason at all pushed you away and said: “Everything has gone too far . We need to break up." This is often done by counterdependent people - those who are afraid of emotional intimacy, although they want it as much as you do.
Clinical psychologist Angelina Chekalina explains that counter-dependence is a form of self-defense.
“When a person enters into a relationship and begins to feel something that is vaguely reminiscent of what he experienced in childhood, many emotions from past traumatic experiences come to the surface, which are not experienced and repressed. He becomes uncomfortable, and even painful. And I want to quickly do so that it does not hurt. But there is no such way. And then running away from painful intimacy can become an effective form of behavior. ”
In the book “Fear of Proximity. How to stop being defensive and start loving,” psychotherapist Ilse Sand lists several ways that counteraddicts resort to insuring their hearts from pain. The first one is giving up real attachments and replacing them with relationships based on mutual exchange, for example: you give me sex, I give you money. Sand sees nothing bad in such a relationship, but argues that if this is the only kind of affection that a person is capable of, then he loses a lot.
The second trick is endless attempts to catch the "pie in the sky" . In real life, it may look like this: a guy constantly falls in love with girls who are indifferent to him, which allows him to stay at a safe distance and still experience feelings. Or - and this is the third way of self-defense - he hopes to melt the heart of the beautiful , make her happy with his love - and that then she will never run away from him. And if the girl still shows interest in him, he can actively look for flaws in her . At some point, it may seem to him that she is not very smart, not very beautiful, and generally an abuser. Who seeks will always find!
Ilse Sand names a couple more strategies for self-defense - these are the search for an ideal partner and the desire to become ideal yourself . In the first case, a person cannot come to terms with the fact that his chosen one is somehow not up to "the same one" or his feelings for him are not as bright as "should" be. In the second, he tries to make of himself someone who could be loved forever. And self-help literature helps him in this, in which the mantra is repeated page after page: "First heal yourself and only then build a relationship."
Symptoms of fear of intimacy
I asked several men and women to share how fear of intimacy manifests itself in their lives.
Anatoly, 32 years old : “I understand that women need me only when everything is fine with me, and if I feel like a ruin, I show my weakness, they start kicking, beating and abusing me. However, my desire to be with someone close did not go away, so I overcame fear, entered into a relationship, got hurt and crawled away. And so it happened again, and again, and again. Finally tired of living like this, I forcibly protected myself from any contacts. Every day I want to try to find intimacy, but I hold myself back.”
Asya, 30 years old : “I feel almost physical discomfort from the presence of another person when I understand that he can see me by anyone: both in the“ instagram-front ”incarnation, and in unsightly angles. I noticed that I avoid answering questions that require frankness, that I stoop if a person shows attention to me and involves me in close communication; muscles contract, tremors go through the body - the classic "run" reaction is turned on. I don’t trust people, I’m afraid to make a mistake, it’s difficult for me to write first or ask for a date, so I avoid intimacy, and this turns into (self) isolation, both in friendly and romantic relationships.
Mikhail, 25 years old : “When I am alone, I constantly seek the attention of women. But as soon as there is a hint of reciprocity, I have obsessive thoughts and fear that I will stop controlling myself and start hammering on myself, my boundaries and desires to please another person. These thoughts make me find evidence that this partner is bad, and urgently leave him.
Petya, 23 years old : “I have no fear of intimacy with girls - I easily build friendly relations with them. But with the guys there is anxiety. Firstly, I am afraid to meet men who are attractive to me, so I often communicate with those who are not quite my type. Secondly, if a guy with whom I went on a date a couple of times or we had sex starts to like me, I avoid him. He may ask why we do not see each other, and I write that I am busy or that I have a difficult period, and then I block him on all social networks. That is, yesterday I liked the person, but today I don’t feel anything, as if there is a desert inside me. Probably, my biggest fear is that my heart will be broken, as was the case in my first serious relationship, after which I had many years of depression. So now I'm trying my best to protect myself."
Toma, age 40 : “A close person is my enemy. I'm afraid that if I open up to him, sincerely tell about my feelings, experiences, about something very personal, then he will then take advantage of this.
Similar symptoms can be found in all of these stories. Some of them are mentioned in "Fear of Proximity" by Ilse Sand, others are described in the book "Flight from Proximity" by psychologists Berry and Janey Weinhold. Here they are:
Causes of fear of intimacy
Let's say you have found 10 of these signs in yourself and decide that you want to get rid of them. You go to a psychologist, and the first thing your therapy begins with is to find the causes of your fear. Psychologist Angelina Chekalina says that for this you will have to turn to the early experience of relationships with significant others: parents, grandparents and other relatives, peers or other people who are important to a particular person.
“We need to find out if the person has had a traumatic experience, such as physical, emotional, sexual abuse. Did he have experience of loss, did he receive support, protection, sympathy, were his needs for autonomy met, could he freely express his emotions, talk about his needs. If a person had at least one such experience, then there will be no trust and security in the relationship, but it will be painful and scary. In addition to thinking about relationships as unsafe, the experience of rejection, abandonment, and abuse can also form distorted ideas about people and yourself: for example, “I’m so bad that I don’t deserve to be treated well.”
Why look at this? Because at the heart of such a view are attachment theories. One of them was designed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. According to her, for a child, attachment is important from the point of view of safety and survival, it is biologically determined, and the experience of relationships with significant adults in the first years of life determines its further mental development and ability to build relationships. Based on fieldwork in Uganda, longitudinal studies in Baltimore, and the Stranger Situation experiments, Mary Ainsworth identified four types of attachment.
- A secure attachment type is formed when the mother (or other person who provides primary care) in the first months of a child's life is tender, caring and sensitive to the needs of the baby. Children with this type of attachment are not afraid to explore the world because they are sure that their significant adult will return when they need it.
- An ambivalent type of attachment is formed if the mother was unpredictable and inconsistent in her actions. When she leaves, the child feels anxious, and when she returns, he does not feel relieved or even shows aggression. That is, children with this type of attachment seek contact with the parent, but at the same time resist it.
- Anxious-avoidant type is formed if the mother was cold, not tactile and avoided contact with the child. In this case, the child will also avoid contact with an adult and show little emotion when he leaves and comes. It is assumed that the equanimity of such children masks their grief.
- The disorganizing type is attributed to children who show conflicting behavior: they are either drawn to adults, then they are afraid, then they rebel.
B 19In the 1980s, scholars Sidney Hazan and Philip Shaver applied Bowlby and Ainsworth's theory of attachment to adult romantic relationships. They proceeded from the fact that a close relationship between two adults is a "safe haven", like a "mother-child" relationship, that is, their most important function is to ensure the safety of partners. Hazan and Shaver also identified four types of attachment:
- Adults with secure attachment perceive themselves and others positively, they seek closeness, are not afraid to open up to a partner, be honest and in a good way depend on him, but at the same time remain self-sufficient .
- People with anxious type of attachment often seek confirmation of their own worth, underestimate themselves and idealize their partner. They can “strangle” with their love and become very jealous. They may also often feel that they are not loved.
- A person with avoidant-rejecting type of attachment may consider himself strong and independent, think that he does not need anyone. He can keep a distance, show coldness, hide feelings, break off relations first, be afraid to show weakness in front of a partner that he will be abandoned.
- Anxious-avoidant attachment partners seek intimacy but are afraid of rejection, so they end relationships when they become too close. It is difficult for them to trust another. They may have a "loud" inner critic, a strong fear of rejection.
Here you can find out your type of affection.
So, people can acquire counterdependence if they were separated from their mother too early in childhood or did not receive enough care and warmth from their parents. Therefore, in adulthood, intimacy may be associated with the pain of loss or rejection.
Lina, 25 years old : “When I was two years old, my mother went to the hospital and left me with my father. I was told that I then cried for several days, did not eat and practically did not sleep. And when my mother returned, I did not run to meet her. Apparently, she stopped trusting her. I grew up - she worked a lot and gave me to my grandparents for three months. And distrust grew. Therefore, now it is difficult for me to open up to people, show my emotions, I am wildly afraid that they will leave me, and I constantly check my partners for lice: I throw tantrums, be rude and try to leave to find out if they will stop me or not.
Another reason may be overprotective parents. Such controlling behavior does not allow the child to gain independence, and in the future he perceives close relationships as a threat to personal freedom.
Tanya, 33 years old : “I am a late child, and I also have a heart defect from birth, so my parents wrapped me in a blanket out of care and took care of me until I was 22 years old. I have never had a long relationship, a maximum of six months. The first months everything goes well, we talk about our interests, go on dates, have sex, and then questions about childhood begin, talk about the status of our relationship, and I literally turn away from the person. He becomes disgusting to me, and I can no longer have sex or communicate.
The third option: the child could observe the relationship of significant adults, in which there were screams, quarrels, violence, and decide that the relationship is a pain that he definitely does not need.
Alina, 31 years old : “My dad drank a lot and beat my mom. We constantly had screams in the house and a lot of fear. I just can't get over my relationship panic. And I think it's better to be alone than to meet the same man."
Devaluation of the child's feelings can also cause fear of intimacy. Parents could support certain emotions of the baby and reject others that were “unfavorable” to them. Having matured, such a person may conclude that it is impossible to express their true feelings.
Asya, aged 30 : “My perfectionist parents firmly planted in my head the thought ‘Either be the best or not at all’ and instilled the habit of earning love through achievements or ‘good’ behavior. Now I track self-accusations that sound in parental voices, most often absolutely groundless. Well, I'm afraid to make mistakes."
There is also an assumption that negative life experiences can change the type of attachment of a person, that is, traumatic relationships in adulthood can become a source of fear of intimacy. This was the case with Anatoly, who, after several toxic relationships, put an end to his personal life. And Toma, whose first husband died, and now she is very afraid of losing her partner.
Fear of intimacy as a social phenomenon
Sociologists look at the problem of counterdependence more broadly and take into account the environment. As Evgenia Shamis, coordinator of the Theory of Generations in Russia — Rugenerations project, notes, the childhood of the generation of the current 25-30-year-olds took place in the 1990s and early 2000s, when major economic crises affected almost every family in our country. Political unrest, unemployment, and the struggle for a better life all robbed the children of that time of the parental warmth and care that we know affects the formation of attachment.
Modern parents, in turn, apparently trying to compensate for this lack of love, often practice helicopter parenting — this is how the good old hyper-custody is called in foreign media. They buy smart watches for children that track their location, send them to numerous circles and worry about depriving the child of attention. So far, there are no studies on how this format of parenting affects the relationship of their children, but we already know that this approach can also be fraught with counterdependence.
Moreover, modern popular culture, with its cult of individuality and phrases like "I have myself - and this is the most important thing" or "I don't owe anyone anything" encourages counter-dependent behavior. Polina Aronson, a sociologist and author of the book Love: DIY, tells how we came to the conclusion that being alone is much safer than being in close relationships:
“Firstly, life has become easier and more fun, so people in big cities , which can easily provide for themselves, choose singletonism. Secondly, intimacy is subject to a wild number of requirements: it should not contain gaslighting, abuse, harassment, etc. On the one hand, this is not bad, because Soviet pop culture often legitimized violence by talking about love. We can see this, for example, in the book "Bury Me Behind the Baseboard", in which the grandmother and mother tyrannized the boy because they loved him. And it turned out that the post-Soviet generations grew up with the fear of love as a transgression, because in their eyes it is inevitably associated with violence, and the violation of boundaries can by no means be pleasant. At the same time, a neoliberal agenda comes to us with the leitmotif "no one owes anything to anyone", which is successfully integrated into the Soviet understanding of the world with Solzhenitsyn's "don't believe, don't be afraid, don't ask". As a result, we are dealing with a ruthless form of attitude towards oneself, which forbids a person to take from others. And people become afraid to open up to others and depend on them even for a second. ”
5 steps and one exercise to treat the fear of intimacy
Clinical psychologist Angelina Chekalina believes that the therapist-client relationship can become a relationship - perhaps the first in a person's life - in which his need for secure attachment will be satisfied . And this is the first step to healing the fear of intimacy.
The second is empathy training because often these people have not had the experience of unconditionally accepting their feelings. They have learned to be strong and do not tolerate weakness in themselves and other people. In general, you need to do painstaking work with emotional intelligence.
Next comes working through false beliefs eg: “If I trust other people, I will lose myself”, “If I listen to what others say, it will change my own views”, “If I get close to someone he will see how unattractive I am and will reject me.” To work with beliefs, methods from rational-emotional-behavioral therapy can be used with a focus on reformulating irrational attitudes.
The fourth step is working on personal boundaries . Counterdependent people may or may not have rigid personal boundaries and be unable to stand up for themselves. And then the task is to create more flexible boundaries that are optimal for relationships.
And the fifth is development of conflict resolution skills . Due to "undeveloped" personal boundaries, counterdependent people can avoid conflicts, because they can easily be "bent" in them. Or, in a conflict situation, they may begin to speak from the position of a wounded child, in other words, "throw insults." You can read about this in Marshal Rosenberg's book Nonviolent Communication.
Psychologist Maria Volodina says that the most important task in working with the fear of intimacy is healing the wounded inner child. To do this, she offers an exercise that you can do yourself.
"In order to get rid of the fear of intimacy, you need to face the negative feelings of the inner child associated with the fact that the parents did not give him something, relive them and free yourself.