What is Intimacy?
Intimacy is often mistakenly thought to just be about romance. But physical intimacy is only one form of this important aspect of human nature. The verb ‘intimate’ translates as ‘to make known’.
So intimacy is simply a term for letting yourself be closely known and experienced, even as you make an effort to deeply know and experience others.You can have intimacy with partners, friends, children, or siblings.
Of course to truly know someone requires vulnerability and honesty, not least with yourself. Intimacy means you are able to recognise your real self and trust others with it.
But Do I Really Need Intimacy?
Intimacy is now thought of as a biological need. Humans are, after all, essentially pack animals who once lived in small clans. Being connected to a tribe ensured our very survival.
Of course many thousand years later the game has changed, and we can now logistically survive alone. But does our new world of self-sufficiency mean we no longer need others?
Quite the contrary – it has resulted in more of a need for connection then ever before. Loneliness has become pandemic and led to widespread depression. And you only need to look at the modern success of cults, with their offer of understanding and community, to see just how much humans still long for intimacy.
Studies are constantly backing up the absolute need for humans to feel connected to others. It’s now understood that infants who are not held, touched, and nurtured fail to thrive, which is the basis of Attachment Theory.
In your adult life, healthy functioning relationships help you feel like your life has purpose, boost your feelings of self-worth, leads to better moods, and even affects your physical wellbeing.
What If I Just Don’t Like Intimacy?
If somewhere along the line you learned that connecting with others is a dangerous game, you will drive it away no matter how lonely you secretly feel.
This fear of intimacy can lead to depression and an inability to achieve in life. Why? Because you don’t work well with others, or know how to ask for help when you need it. It inevitably leads to struggling to maintain long-term relationships or even friendships.
Not sure if your problem is or isn’t anything to do with fear of intimacy? Take a look at these surprising signs.
7 Signs You Suffer Fear of Intimacy
1. You never sit still.
Are you one of those people who is always busy, your life full to the maximum? If you do have down time, do you immediately think of what you can do to fill it? Or are you known as a workaholic?
Behind a fear of intimacy is a fear of facing up to yourself and what you perceive (erroneously) as your weaknesses. An intimacy phobic person fears others getting close because they would then see these apparent ‘flaws’, which can be feelings of sadness, anger, shame and grief.
But if you are constantly busy all the time you can avoid such feelings so effectively you can deny that you have them at all, and you have the perfect excuse to not have time for other people who are trying to get close enough they might see what you are trying to hide.
2. You are known as someone who is very positive.
People who fear intimacy prefer to come across as someone who never gets upset and is always strong and in a ‘good’ state of mind.
But always being forcefully upbeat is often a tactic to avoid deep connection. The truth about human nature is that we don’t bond over strength but weaknesses. Sure, we can bump chests and high five over group wins, but we form long lasting bonds when we see each other vulnerable and have a chance to share empathy.
3. You are the strong one others turn to.
If you are the one others turn to, the conversation is always about someone else’s issues and needs.
It’s a perfect diversion from anyone ever seeing your true vulnerability or ever asking about how you feel – which as an intimacy phobic sort, you’d hate.
4. You appear perfectly put together. Always.
The more perfect you appear externally, the less others can see that you are human and weak just like they are, and the less they will dare get close.
Your perfectionism acts as a sort of way to intimidate others, and it keeps you too busy for relationships anyway.
5. You are sure you know exactly what you want in a partner, you just haven’t found him/her yet.
Do you keep a ‘list’ of exactly what you want in a partner? Another form of perfection, the ‘ideal mate list’ is usually something that nobody can live up to, and is a convenient way to brush off connecting with others by claiming ‘I am sure of what I want and you just aren’t it.’
Of course, as an intimacy phobic person, even if you did stumble across your ideal partner, you wouldn’t choose them. Intimacy phobes are after one thing, and that is to avoid being hurt.
So you will pick someone who is emotionally unavailable (already taken, not looking for love, still hung up on someone else), or codependent – wanting to find their happiness through another and willing to manipulate to get it.
Intimacy phobic people are in fact often called ‘counter dependent‘ as they are the other ‘half’ of the codependency pattern, the aloof one to match the codependent’s voracious need.
6. You are many different things to many different people.
When you are afraid of intimacy, you don’t know how to be yourself around others. You are so used to hiding the bits you deem unacceptable and assume others could not love that you mould yourself to instead be what you think others want.
This could be called ‘Marilyn Monroe syndrome’. Everyone who claimed they knew her well had a different take on who the ‘real’ Marilyn was – the girl next door, the siren, the secretly intelligent woman. If anything, the real truth was that she was lonely and felt that nobody knew her.
If someone falls for an image of you they want to see, how can you be hurt if they decide they don’t like the image? You can just laugh at them and claim ‘well you didn’t really know me anyway’.
7. You have very strong opinions.
If you have very strong opinions of others and become known for this, it scares others off trying to get too close, lest they become next in your line of fire.
Okay, I Admit It, That Does Sound Like Me. But Why Do I Suffer Fear of Intimacy?
Fear of intimacy stems from childhood, and a failure to complete important parts of psychological development. These parts are known as bonding and separation.
Bonding is when as a child you develop a sense that you can trust others. It hopefully starts at birth, involves being nurtured and held and encouraged, and means that by about aged three you are ready to physically and emotionally separate from your primary caretaker with the confidence that the world is a safe place and you are strong enough to navigate it.
But for some of us this process was disrupted. This could be because of emotional, spiritual, physical or sexual abuse, or emotional or physical abandonment or neglect.
But it doesn’t even need to be so traumatic. In many cases fear of intimacy as an adult stems from a lack of emotional attunement between child and parent. This can be a parent who is unable to love you due to depression, has a lack of understanding for your needs, is too controlling, or is simply too distracted by their own problems such as divorce or addiction to take time to understand you.
When bonding and separation don’t occur for you as a child, the effects are felt in each further state of psychological development, creating a pattern of isolation and disengagement as well as the creation of psychological ‘walls’ to protect you from further emotional pain. This all of course leads right to an adulthood marked by an inability to trust others and have healthy relationships.
How Do I Overcome My Fear of Intimacy?
The good news is that you absolutely can overcome a fear of intimacy and learn how to experience caring and deep connections, no matter what your past or your belief you ‘aren’t the type’.
The first step is to get out of denial about your fear of intimacy and admit that there is an issue. And the next step is to get help. This might be the assistance of a few good books on the subject at first, and/or perhaps journalling about the feelings that arise when you try to let people close. It can also involve learning how to give yourself the care you might have missed out on as a child, sometimes called ‘self-parenting’.
Therapy is recommended to overcome fear of intimacy. As a deep-rooted issue going right back to childhood, it can help to have someone guide you in the unravelling of it. Therapy also offers you a relationship based on trust, and it’s therefore a great place to safely learn how to experience a sort of intimacy. And a good therapist can make sure you don’t resort to blaming yourself, which is an easy pattern for strong-minded sorts used to managing everything alone to fall into.
The wonderful thing about learning not to fear intimacy is that not only will your intimate relationships improve, but so too will your friendships, your ability to work with colleagues, and your capacity to actually create the life you want for yourself.
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