To be intimate with someone is to share close emotional or physical ties. If you fear intimacy, you fear becoming too close to others.
Intimate relationships can be divided into four types:
- Experiential. You share common activities, interests, or experiences that bring you together.
- Intellectual. You bond through an exchange of ideas or deep, meaningful discussions.
- Emotional. You share innermost feelings or form a spiritual connection.
- Sexual. You have a close sensual relationship.
If you have a fear of intimacy, you may be deliberately avoiding intimacy or you may not realize you’re doing it.
Fear of intimacy doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t want intimate relationships. You may long for intimacy, though you can’t seem to allow yourself that vulnerability.
Continue reading as we explore some reasons for fear of intimacy and what you can do about it.
Fear of intimacy may be obvious, but it can be misinterpreted as anger, indifference, or coldness. Someone who fears intimacy may:
- have low self-esteem
- have trust issues
- experience episodes of anger
- actively avoid physical contact
- have trouble forming or committing to close relationships
- have a history of unstable relationships
- be unable to share feelings or express emotion
- have insatiable sexual desire
- live in self-imposed social isolation
There are a number of things that might cause someone to fear intimacy. It may have to do with past experiences, especially those of childhood.
It’s likely a defense mechanism. You don’t allow yourself to become vulnerable or trust in someone else because you don’t want to get hurt.
Fear of rejection
Fear of intimacy may be rooted in fear of being rejected, so you never take those first steps toward building a relationship. You may fear rejection because it happened to you before or you’ve seen it happen to others and you don’t want to experience that kind of hurt.
Fear of abandonment
You might be worried that once you’re in an intimate relationship, the other person will leave. Fear of abandonment can be due to something that happened in childhood. It could be the death or separation of a parent or other close adult.
Avoidant personality disorder
Avoidant personality disorder, also known as intimacy anxiety disorder, is an anxiety disorder affecting about 2.5 percent of the population. It affects men and women equally and tends to start in childhood.
Symptoms of avoidant personality disorder include:
- low self-esteem, shyness, awkwardness
- fear of judgment or humiliation
- avoidance of social situations
- oversensitivity to criticism
- exaggerated sense of potential problems
The cause of avoidant personality disorder isn’t clear, but it tends to run it families. One theory is that it’s caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It could be triggered by an instance of rejection or abandonment.
Childhood sexual abuse
Sexual abuse in childhood can lead to fear of intimate emotional or sexual relationships. Such abuse can make it challenging to trust another person enough to become intimate.
Symptoms of fear of intimacy linked to childhood sexual abuse may include:
- inhibited sexual desire, difficulty becoming aroused
- seeing sex as an obligation
- feelings of anger, disgust, or guilt when touched
- emotional distance during sex
- inappropriate sexual behaviors
- physical problems such as pain, erectile dysfunction, or difficulty having an orgasm
Some other potential causes of fear of intimacy are:
- previous verbal or physical abuse
- parental neglect
- separation issues involving overdependence on parents and family
- fear of being controlled or losing oneself in a relationship
Fear of intimacy can have a significant impact on your life, particularly in a romantic relationship. Research shows that anxiety disorders can negatively affect the quality of a partner relationship.
Fear of intimacy may cause one to withhold affection or put up barriers to emotional or sexual affection. If your partner doesn’t know about or understand this, they may feel unwanted and unloved.
Other effects are:
- social isolation
- greater risk for depression and substance abuse
- serial dating or having a lot of short-term relationships
- sabotaging relationships by being difficult and overly critical
It’s always a good idea to start with a complete physical checkup, especially if you haven’t had one in a while. Once physical illnesses have been ruled out, a doctor can refer you to an appropriate mental health specialist.
Psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to conduct evaluations and diagnose anxiety disorders such as fear of intimacy or avoidant personality disorder.
Your approach to overcoming these fears depends on why you have them in the first place, as well as how severe the fear is.
You may have a very mild fear that you can deal with on your own or with some behavioral therapy. But if your fear is due to trauma, is severe, or is accompanied by depression, professional counseling is recommended.
Coming to terms with your fear of intimacy
Think about events in your life and try to understand where your fears come from. Are you unconsciously destroying relationships? And do you want more meaningful relationships?
All relationships come with a degree of uncertainty. Many intimate relationships are worth having, even if they don’t last forever.
Cut yourself some slack: You’re not perfect, but neither is any potential relationship partner. If someone ends a relationship with you, it says nothing about your value as a person.
Be open with your partner. If it’s not too painful, talk about your fears and where they come from. If it’s too painful to discuss, explain that you’re willing to work through these issues with a medical professional.
Define your personal boundaries. Describe what helps you feel safe, as well as things that trigger fear. Tell your partner what you need and let them know you’re trying to overcome your fears.
Seek help from a professional
The main treatment for avoidant personality disorders is psychotherapy. Mental health professionals can help you understand where those fears originate and how to cope with them.
When your partner fears intimacy
If it’s your partner who has a fear of intimacy, keep the lines of communication open. Let them know you’re available to listen, but don’t push them into revealing the source of their fears. This may be too painful.
Support them in seeking therapy. Ask what you can do to help them feel safe. Be patient, because learning to cope takes time. It’s not easy, but keep in mind that their fear of intimacy is not about you personally.
Fear of intimacy is a mental health disorder that can lead you to sabotage relationships and isolate yourself. It takes time and patience, but with professional guidance, you can learn to overcome your fears and form meaningful bonds with others.