What is intimacy?
Intimacy involves truly knowing another person and allowing the other person to truly know you. An intimate relationship consists of understanding and trust; allowing yourself to be vulnerable without fear that what you share will be used against you. Intimacy involves exposure; allowing the other person to see you after you have taken off the public mask that often hides your deepest insecurities.
Boundaries are those invisible lines that separate you from another. Individuals who have fairly loose boundaries may share anything with anybody, opening themselves up to the wrong people at the wrong time. This usually results in rejection, hurt, and betrayal. Individuals with rigid boundaries may not let anyone in. This often results in loneliness and isolation. When rejection, betrayal, and isolation have resulted from trying to form intimate relationships, a fear of intimacy may develop in some shape or form.
People with healthy boundaries take baby steps. They allow a relationship to grow and blossom with trust and understanding, before exposing deep parts of themselves that form an intimate relationship. This is not to say that individuals with healthy boundaries do not experience hurt and rejection. We all do. Healthy boundaries just reduce the risk and frequency. People with healthy boundaries are more likely to know when it is appropriate to share and when it is appropriate to withhold.
Creatures of connection
Most individuals really desire an intimate connection with another; however, many people consciously or unconsciously sabotage their relationships. Why is this? Perhaps it is because they fear intimacy. Getting emotionally close to another can be scary and it is easy to see why closeness would provoke fearful emotions. Fully exposing one’s self emotionally and becoming vulnerable involves risk, and risk creates anxiety.
Often times, individuals who have problems forming healthy long-lasting relationships have no idea that a fear of intimacy may be at the root. The individual may be consciously aware of their relational patterns, without being cognizant of the unconscious fear that drives their interactions. The following patterns are often related to a fear of intimacy.
A fear of intimacy in disguise
- Consistently attracted to individuals who are physically or emotionally unavailable.
- Put off or even repulsed by people who treat you with the love that you deserve.
- A desire to be close to another, only to pull away when the closeness is reciprocated.
- Abandoning and rejecting individuals before they have a chance to leave you.
- Pulling away from a relationship due to a fear of losing self/being suffocated.
- Triangulation: Forming a tighter emotional bond with a child than with your spouse.
- Co-dependency: Involving yourself with someone who has so many problems of their own that they can’t possibly have a healthy relationship with you.
- Addiction: Finding something unhealthy and habit-forming to fill the void that an intimate relationship could provide. This is especially true with pornography addiction.
There are usually two fears that are behind the fear of intimacy. They are the fear of abandonment and the fear of engulfment. The fear of abandonment is the fear of being rejected and deserted by another. The fear of engulfment is the fear of losing yourself by being consumed, swallowed, or suffocated by the other person. At first glance, abandonment and engulfment appear to be opposites, but with a closer look, we see that they are very much intertwined.
People who fear abandonment often have a history of physical or emotional abandonment. This fear is usually more pronounced if the person was abandoned in childhood by a primary caregiver. In adult relationships, this person may either find reason to end a relationship just as it starts to mature, due to an unconscious motivation to leave before being left, or he or she may cling desperately to the relationship, engulfing the other person. The partner being engulfed will usually respond by retreating, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for the one who fears abandonment.
People who fear engulfment often have a history of being engulfed or violated by a primary caretaker. This is often the result of a primary caregiver’s poor boundaries, fear of abandonment, and/or emotional hunger. As an adult, an individual who fears engulfment, may resist emotional intimacy out of fear of losing themselves to another.
What to do
- Self-examination: Awareness always comes first. Is there anything that you want or need to change? Does any of this apply to you?
- Educate yourself: Learn about healthy and unhealthy boundaries
- Be Mindful: Try to observe and describe what is going on in the here and now. What belongs in present, and what you have projected from the past may be better differentiated.
- Work on self-worth: When you feel worthless and you find someone who finds you worthy, you are likely to reject them, thinking What is wrong with them?
- Take a long look at your relational patterns: If you think that your fears are getting in the way and making it difficult for you to form healthy relationships, seek help from a mental health professional trained in interpersonal relating.
*One of the best books that I have ever read on this subject is a text-book entitled Fear of Intimacy by Robert Firestone and Joyce Catlett.
- Fear (letlifeinpractices.com)
- Discovering intimacy (toddlohenry.com)
- Intimacy (morgankratz.wordpress.com)
- Pathology of the Commitmentphobe (omgrey.wordpress.com)
- Bonding in Place of Self-fulfillment (ericpgranada1.wordpress.com)
- Icy Intimacy: A 3-Step Solution (psychologytoday.com)
- Control and Intimacy: A 4 Step Solution (my.psychologytoday.com)