I am scared of relationships
What It Is and How to Treat It
Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors
Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021
In this Article
- Causes of Philophobia
- Symptoms of Philophobia
- Risks of Philophobia
- Treatments for Philophobia
- How to Find the Right Therapist to Work With
- How to Work on Philophobia On Your Own
Philophobia is a fear of falling in love. It can also be a fear of getting into a relationship or fear that you will not be able to maintain a relationship. Many people experience a minor fear of falling in love at some point in their lives. But in extreme cases, philophobia can make people feel isolated and unloved.
Philophobia is not a condition that a doctor can diagnose because it is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). That is the guide that mental health professionals use to determine if someone has the criteria for a specific mental illness or mental health disorder. Even so, mental health professionals can often help with philophobia if it is affecting your life negatively.
Causes of Philophobia
The fear of falling in love has many potential causes, including:
Past experiences. Traumatic past relationships may contribute to the development of the fear of falling in love. Infidelity, betrayal, or heartbreak can cause you to stay away from romantic relationships. Other types of relationships can also give someone this fear, like parental relationships and close friendships.
Cultural experiences. In some cultures, there’s more pressure to marry at a young age under specific circumstances. If someone does not want to have this traditional experience, it can lead to philophobia.
Fear of rejection. Putting yourself out there can be scary. Studies show that rejection can have similar results in the body to physical pain. Most people are able to get over rejection, but if you have experienced several painful rejections, the fear of another one can stay with you.
Symptoms of Philophobia
The symptoms of this fear are different for each person. However, many people with philophobia experience:
- Lack of intimate relationships
- Always feeling anxious in relationships
In relationship situations or when thinking about relationships, you may also have:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Panic or anxiety attacks which may include chest pains
Risks of Philophobia
People who have lingering or more extreme cases of philophobia may have an increased risk of:
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation
Treatments for Philophobia
Most people experience some fear or resistance to intimacy or falling in love at some point in their lives. However, it can become a problem if your philophobia is causing you significant distress. If that’s the case for you, treatment is available.
The main treatment suggested for philophobia is to seek therapy or counseling. You can work with a mental health professional. They may go over your past relationships to identify what is causing your fear of falling in love. They may give you relaxation exercises or other types of therapeutic homework to help you feel more comfortable with dating and relationships.
Therapists may use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you notice the thought patterns and habits that contribute to your fear of being in a relationship.
They may also use systematic desensitization therapy, also called counterconditioning. This is when the therapist slowly exposes you to the idea of falling in love to desensitize you to your fear. They may give you real-world tasks as you get more comfortable with the idea of falling in love.
Hypnotherapy is not like the stage hypnosis shown in movies. It is more like a guided meditation that enables you to imagine yourself doing what you would like to do.
How to Find the Right Therapist to Work With
Finding the right therapist can be a process of trial and error. If you are ready to work with someone, start by researching different types of therapy so you’ll understand how a particular therapist will approach working with you. Then, ask potential candidates about their specialties. You want someone that has experience and expertise in philophobia. Finally, make sure they have the proper licenses for your area.
If you don't feel comfortable with a particular therapist, try another. It's a good idea to trust your gut feeling about therapists. Following these tips, you can find someone who can work on your philophobia with you.
How to Work on Philophobia On Your Own
You can also do things on your own to help with your fear of falling in love. You can work on these exercises alone or with a therapist:
- Evaluate your relationship history to see if a past hurt is making you afraid of repeating the experience in a new relationship
- Identify negative voices in your head that prevent you from feeling happy in relationships
- Allow yourself to feel difficult emotions; that is how you can move through them
- Question or evaluate the preconceived notions you have about relationships
- Recognize where the defenses that prevent you from opening up to people come from
How to Deal with Relationship Anxiety
How to Deal with Relationship Anxiety
Our relationships can be our deepest source of joy, but they can also be a breeding ground for anxious thoughts and feelings. Relationship anxiety can arise at pretty much any point in our romantic lives. For many single people, just the thought of being in a relationship can stir up stress. If and when they do start dating, the early stages can present them with endless worries:
“Does he/she really like me?”
“Will this work out?”
“How serious is this?”
Unfortunately, these worries don’t necessarily subside when things become more serious. In fact, as couples get closer, anxiety can become even more intense. Thoughts come flooding in like:
“Can this last?”
“Do I really like him/her?”
“Should we slow down?”
“Am I really ready for this kind of commitment?”
“Is he/she losing interest?”
All this worrying about our relationships can make us feel pretty alone. It can lead us to create distance between ourselves and our partner. At its worst, our anxiety can even push us to give up on love altogether. Learning more about the causes and effects of relationship anxiety can help us to identify the negative thinking and actions that sabotage our love lives. How can we keep our anxiety in check and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to someone we love?
What Causes Relationship Anxiety?
Put simply, falling in love challenges us in numerous ways we don’t expect. The more we value someone else, the more we stand to lose. On many levels, both conscious and unconscious, we become scared of being hurt. To a certain degree, we all possess a fear of intimacy. Ironically, this fear often arises when we are getting exactly what we want, when we’re experiencing love as we never have or being treated in ways that are unfamiliar.
As we get into a relationship, it isn’t just the things that go on between us and our partner that make us anxious.; it’s the things we tell ourselves about what’s going on. The “critical inner voice” is a term used to describe the mean coach we all have in our heads that criticizes us, feeds us bad advice and fuels our fear of intimacy. It’s the one that tells us:
“You’re too ugly/fat/boring to keep his/her interest. ”
“You’ll never meet anyone, so why even try?”
“You can’t trust him. He’s looking for someone better.”
“She doesn’t really love you. Get out before you get hurt.”
This critical inner voice makes us turn against ourselves and the people close to us. It can promote hostile, paranoid, and suspicious thinking that lowers our self-esteem and drives unhealthy levels of distrust, defensiveness, jealousy, and anxiety. Basically, it feeds us a consistent stream of thoughts that undermine our happiness and make us worry about our relationship, rather than just enjoying it.
When we get in our heads, focusing on these worried thoughts, we become incredibly distracted from real relating with our partner. We may start to act out in destructive ways, making nasty comments or becoming childish or parental toward our significant other. For example, imagine your partner stays at work late one night. Sitting home alone, your inner critic starts telling you, “Where is she? Can you really believe her? She probably prefers being away from you. She’s trying to avoid you. She doesn’t even love you anymore.”
These thoughts can snowball in your mind until, by the time your partner gets home, you’re feeling insecure, furious or paranoid. You may act angry or cold, which then sets your partner off to feel frustrated and defensive. Pretty soon, you’ve completely shifted the dynamic between you. Instead of enjoying the time you have together, you may waste an entire night feeling withdrawn and upset with each other. You’ve now effectively forced the distance you initially feared. The culprit behind this self-fulfilling prophecy isn’t the situation itself. It’s that critical inner voice that colored your thinking, distorted your perceptions, and ultimately, led you down a destructive path.
When it comes to all of the things we worry ourselves about in relationships, we are much more resilient than we think. In truth, we can handle the hurts and rejections that we so fear. We can experience pain, and eventually, heal. However, our critical inner voice tends to terrorize and catastrophize reality. It can rouse serious spells of anxiety about dynamics that don’t exist and threats that aren’t even tangible. Even when there are real things going on, someone breaks up with us or feels an interest in someone else, our critical inner voice will tear us apart in ways we don’t deserve. It will completely distort reality and undermine our own strength and resilience. It’s that cynical roommate that always gives bad advice. “You can’t survive this. Just put your guard up and never be vulnerable to anyone else.”
The defenses we form and critical voices we hear are based on our own unique experiences and adaptations. When we feel anxious or insecure, some of us have a tendency to become clingy and desperate in our actions. We may feel possessive or controlling toward our partner in response. Conversely, some of us will feel easily intruded on in our relationships. We may retreat from our partners, detach from our feelings of desire. We may act out by being aloof, distant or guarded. These patterns of relating can come from our early attachment styles. Our attachment pattern is established in our childhood attachments and continues to function as a working model for relationships in adulthood. It influences how each of us reacts to our needs and how we go about getting them met. Different attachment styles can lead us to experience different levels of relationship anxiety. You can learn more about what your attachment style is and how it impacts your romantic relationships here.
Understanding and Overcoming Relationship Anxiety
Length: 90 Minutes
In this Webinar: While the notion of falling in love can sound blissful, interpersonal relationships almost always challenge us in ways we don’t…
What Thoughts Perpetuate Relationship Anxiety?
The specific critical inner voices we have about ourselves, our partner and relationships are formed out of early attitudes we were exposed to in our family or in society at large. Sexual stereotypes as well as attitudes that our influential caretakers had toward themselves and others can infiltrate our point of view and shade our current perceptions. While, everyone’s inner critic is different, some common critical inner voices include:
Critical Inner Voices about the Relationship
- People just wind up getting hurt.
- Relationships never work out.
Voices about Your Partner
- Men are so insensitive, unreliable, selfish.
- Women are so fragile, needy, indirect.
- He only cares about being with his friends.
- Why get so excited? What’s so great about her anyway?
- He’s probably cheating on you.
- You can’t trust her.
- He just can’t get anything right.
Voices about Yourself
- You’re never going to find another person who understands you.
- Don’t get too hooked on her.
- He doesn’t really care about you.
- She is too good for you.
- You’ve got to keep him interested.
- You’re better off on your own.
- As soon as she gets to know you, she will reject you.
- You’ve got to be in control.
- It’s your fault if he gets upset.
- Don’t be too vulnerable or you’ll just wind up getting hurt.
How Does Relationship Anxiety Affect Us?
As we shed light into our past, we quickly realize there are many early influences that have shaped our attachment pattern, our psychological defenses and our critical inner voice. All of these factors contribute to our relationship anxiety and can lead us to sabotage our love lives in many ways. Listening to our inner critic and giving in to this anxiety can result in the following actions:
- Cling – When we feel anxious, our tendency may be to act desperate toward our partner. We may stop feeling like the independent, strong people we were when we entered the relationship. As a result, we may find ourselves falling apart easily, acting jealous or insecure or no longer engaging in independent activities.
- Control – When we feel threatened, we may attempt to dominate or control our partner. We may set rules about what they can and can’t do just to alleviate our own feelings of insecurity or anxiousness. This behavior can alienate our partner and breed resentment.
- Reject – If we feel worried about our relationship, one defense we may turn to is aloofness. We may become cold or rejecting to protect ourselves or to beat our partner to the punch. These actions can be subtle or overt, yet it is almost always a sure way to force distance or to stir up insecurity in our partner.
- Withhold – Sometimes, as opposed to explicit rejection, we tend to withhold from our partner when we feel anxious or afraid. Perhaps things have gotten close, and we feel stirred up, so we retreat. We hold back little affections or give up on some aspect of our relationship altogether. Withholding may seem like a passive act, but it is one of the quietest killers of passion and attraction in a relationship.
- Punish – Sometimes, our response to our anxiety is more aggressive, and we actually punish, taking our feelings out on our partner. We may yell and scream or give our partner the cold shoulder. It’s important to pay attention to how much our actions are a response to our partner and how much are they a response to our critical inner voice.
- Retreat – When we feel scared in a relationship, we may give up real acts of love and intimacy and retreat into a “fantasy bond.” A fantasy bond is an illusion of connection that replaces real acts of love. In this state of fantasy, we focus on form over substance. We may stay in the relationship to feel secure but give up on the vital parts of relating. In a fantasy bond, we often engage in many of the destructive behaviors mentioned above as a means to create distance and defend ourselves against the anxiety that naturally comes with feeling free and in love. Learn more about the fantasy bond here.
How Can I Overcome Relationship Anxiety?
In order to overcome, relationship anxiety, we must shift our focus inward. We have to look at what’s going on inside us, separate from our partner or the relationship. What critical inner voices are exacerbating our fears? What defenses do we possess that could be creating distance? This process of self-discovery can be a vital step in understanding the feelings that drive our behavior, and ultimately, shape our relationship. By looking into our past, we can gain better insight into where these feelings come from. What caused us to feel insecure or turned on ourselves in relation to love? You can start this journey for yourself by learning more about the fear of intimacy and how to identify and overcome your critical inner voice.
Learn more strategies for overcoming relationship anxiety in our Webinar with Dr. Lisa Firestone: Understanding and Overcoming Relationship Anxiety.
About the Author
Tags: anxiety, anxiety and intimacy, anxiety and relationships, critical inner voice, fear of intimacy, how to fix a relationship, intimacy problems, relationship advice, relationship issues, relationship problems
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. nine0004
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. nine0005
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. nine0005
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. nine0004
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.” nine0004
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. nine0005
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. nine0005
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. nine0005
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. nine0004
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. nine0004
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. nine0005
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. nine0004
“I'm afraid of relationships and that's why I date married people”
Man and womanQuestion to the expertKnow yourself
I am 52 years old, but after a divorce, life did not go as it should be. I began to fear that they would leave me, and I did it first. And then she only dated married people. It was only recently that I realized that I was afraid of relationships. I look for an excuse not to date, or I begin to criticize myself.
Maybe I guess the reason: most likely, this is my childhood. My father was an alcoholic, he beat my mother, and I got humiliation and insults. How to deal with it? I am so insecure and not confident in myself ...
Rimma, 52 years old
Rimma, hello. Yes, from what you're describing, it sounds like you might have a fear of emotional intimacy with your loved one. That is why you choose either not to build relationships at all, or to build them with men who are at a greater distance from you than free ones. It turns out, according to your feelings, it’s “safer”.
Of course, you attract such partners and this type of romance unconsciously, succumbing to those automatic reactions and choices that are realized on the basis of your deep childhood traumas and attitude towards yourself. nine0005
You correctly understand the origins of such life strategies of yours, they have been formed and owned by you since childhood. It is there and from there that we learn about what emotional intimacy, love, and trust are.
Unfortunately, it so happened that in your childhood this was difficult. There were cases when it was painful and dangerous to show up: you saw this with your mother as an example, and you felt it with your whole body when your father offended and humiliated you. It was then that in the depths of the subconscious could be the knowledge that a man is scary, that trusting him hurts and “I am not worthy of love and cannot be worthy of it.” The experience of divorce confirmed this knowledge, and the fear of repeating the painful experience increased. nine0005
To the question “what to do?” I would like to advise you to go to psychotherapy in order to gradually unravel everything that has accumulated since childhood and is intertwined from that experience with a new one. Perhaps you are projecting onto men some of your assumptions about them, about how they can and will behave with you, without separating real people from their deepest fears.
It is not easy to do this on your own, because uncontrolled reactions that have been living with you for many years are activated. But, if you still want to try to cope with this without the help of a specialist, you can start by realizing that your "complexity" is the result of your childhood experience, and not a statement of reality. nine0005
Where to start?
List in writing all your achievements in life, for the near future.
Think about your positive qualities and why you can be proud of yourself.
Be sure to thank yourself for what you have in life.
Get in the habit of writing at least three thank yous at the end of the day.
Become that loving parent who can praise, say words of love and support. nine0005
Learn to be your ally, be on your side.
Perhaps you have close people, friends, work colleagues who can also tell you about your positive qualities. Let their words be for you the strengthening of faith in yourself and the understanding that you are the person who deserves the best.
It is very important to learn to trust people, build an emotional connection with them, without fear of humiliation, pain and betrayal. Plus, work out your self-esteem: understand that you are beautiful, that you can be loved for who you are, that not every person wants to offend and injure. nine0005
It would be nice to find support in yourself and the confidence that despite the fact that the relationship is a risk, you are ready for it and know that you will cope with any experience and set of circumstances, you will endure. After all, this is the only way to learn to trust first, and then build relationships with those men who are able to become reliable and faithful partners.