Do you worry that you’ve never actually been in love but are just pretending? Or have you decided that love is silly anyways, you don’t really need it, and it’s time to give up?
Psychologically speaking, we do need love. Not the false representation offered by films and novels (more often than not a culture of addictive relationships over real love) but consistent connection and support from others that helps us recognise our value. Shutting down to love can lead not just to loneliness but to depression, anxiety, and a lowered immune system.
So before you decide that you can’t fall in love, consider if these psychological blocks are the real problem.
10 Psychological issues that block the capacity to love and be loved
1. Fear of intimacy.
Is there a point part way into any relationship where you start to experience feelings of panic and either sabotage the connection or just leave? Do people tell you you have a ‘wall’ they can’t get past?
Just because you appear confident and positive in relationships doesn’t mean you don’t suffer from fear of intimacy. Love cannot develop unless we trust others enough to show them our weak side and our worries. So fear of intimacy is fear of being fully seen for all that you are, and also fear of being seen as imperfect.
[Read more in our popular article, 7 Surprising Signs You Suffer Fear of Intimacy].
2. Low self-worth.
Do thoughts occasionally pop into your head like, ‘I am just too hard to love”, or, “there are too many things wrong with me”? Do you often feel flawed, ugly, or useless?
Low self-worth means you feel like you are not as good as other people or that there is something wrong with you that can’t be fixed. While it’s normal to struggle with self-esteem now and then, if you truly feel you are worthless it either attracts someone who will take advantage of you over love you or means you might hide from love, worried others will only see the negative things you focus on.
[Our comprehensive Guide to Self-Esteem Issues can help you recognise if this is something you are struggling with].
Do you get so needy whenever someone likes you that you scare them away?
Dependency is when you have a core belief that you cannot manage life by yourself and need others to take care of you. You are unable to see your own inner resources. It might mean as a child you were heavily criticised or discouraged from being independent.
4. Abandonment issues.
Do you constantly worry the person you are dating is going to cheat on you or leave you? Do you often leave at the slightest sign they are not happy with you?
If at some point as a child you were let down or neglected by the adults around you, even if as an adult you can rationalise what happened to you (a family death, a divorce that was for the best), it can affect your capacity to trust others.
Do you want to make others happy in relationships, but somehow always end up feeling unhappy and drained yourself? Do you often feel you are madly in love then suddenly you see your partner totally differently and panic?
Codependency involves confusing pleasing others with love, and often stems from a childhood where you were only given attention if you were a ‘good’ child, or were forced to take care of others instead of being taken care of.
6. Attachment issues.
Are you an independent person who is horrified to feel needy and manipulative whenever you try to like someone? Do relationships cause fear and anxiety for you? Or do you just feel completely unable to trust anyone to do what they say?
Attachment theory believes that to grow up into an emotionally stable adult, we need to have had a strong, trusting bond with a caregiver as an infant, and that we needed that bond to be consistent no matter what our behaviour was – happy, sad, or upset. Otherwise we grow up into the codependent or intimacy-fearing adults mentioned above.
7. Childhood abuse.
Do you just not trust anyone? Or are you attracted to the wrong types of people despite yourself?
Abuse of any kind, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse, can leave you an adult who is wary of letting others close. Left unresolved, childhood abuse can also lead to choosing partners who are abusive, neglectful, or unavailable, replicating the pattern you learned as a child. Even if you convince yourself it is love at first, it isn’t. Abuse never is.
8. Addictive behaviours.
Do you mean to find love, but your work is so important that each year a relationship gets put to the bottom of the pile? Or do you not have time for a relationship because you spend two hours at the gym every night?
Just because a behaviour is socially acceptable doesn’t mean it’s healthy. If something like work, exercise, or overeating has become an addiction for you it can not only mean there is no room in your life for love, but that you have deeper issues around relationships you are using your addictive behaviours to hide from.
Are you endlessly seeking for the perfect partner but can’t find them?
There is having standards and self-respect, and then there is using perfectionism to block love and hold so tightly to an unrealistic view of love you end up alone. Perfectionism becomes a psychological issue when it is used to hide fear of intimacy and low self-esteem as well as things like black and white thinking.
10. Personality disorders.
Do you just feel completely confused by why you can’t have a good relationship, or not understand why it seems so easy for others when you try so hard but fail?
It might be you have a personality disorder, which refers to consistent patterns of thinking and behaving you would have had since adolescence that are markedly different from the norm. Because you think and feel differently than others, it makes it hard for others to understand you and be in a relationship with you, or can sometimes mean, like in the case of avoidant personality disorder, you don’t even feel an attraction to others in the first place.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) in particular is known for making healthy relationships a challenge, because sufferers deeply want to be loved but are so emotionally sensitive and afraid of abandonment that trying to fall in love is overwhelming and leads to overreacting, sabotage, and depression.
What do I do if I recognise these issues as my own?
First of all, don’t panic. You are far from alone with your issues – sadly, we live in a society that often means children don’t receive the protection and care they need to grow up allowing themselves to be loved. All of the above issues are actually ones that counsellors and psychotherapists deal with all the time.
The good news is that you can absolutely learn to overcome, or at the very least manage, your issues that block you from receiving and giving love. All forms of counselling and psychotherapy help you with relating to others simply as they give you a clearer idea of who you are and what you want from life and relationships. And some forms of therapy even specialise just in looking at your patterns or relating to those around you, including cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) and dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT).
Have we forgotten a psychological issue that means you can’t fall in love? Share below.