The first step to overcoming fear of intimacy is recognizing the emotional walls and obstacles in your relationship. Here are signs of fear of intimacy, plus ways to get emotionally healthy.
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Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy by David Richo will help you learn why you fear trusting others, how to know if someone is trustworthy, the difference between naïve trust vs. healthy, adult trust, and what to do when trust is broken.
Fear of intimacy is often related to being hurt in the past. it involves the reluctance to open up and reveal your true self, perhaps because you’ve been hurt in the past. Or, if you grew up in an emotionally and socially closed environment and never learned how to be vulnerable to either friends or lovers, you may have a hard time opening up now. This is fear of intimacy.
We’ve all been betrayed and hurt by loved ones in big and small ways – a thousand tiny betrayals. Regardless of the pain was accidentally or deliberately caused, we’re naturally reluctant to open ourselves up again. Not wanting to get hurt can lead to an extreme fear of intimacy.
Personality characteristics such as introversion and extroversion can also contribute to fear of intimacy issues, and so can depression and anxiety.
Fear of intimacy is different than fear of commitment.
You can be married and not know your partner emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually. In fact, loneliness in marriage is more difficult than being lonely as a single person or widow. Marital loneliness springs from fear of intimacy in one or both partners.
The strongest foundation of an intimate partnership is a good friendship. Whether you’re friends or lovers (or both) there are three elements of a strong, healthy relationship: authenticity, communication, and honesty. These three elements can decrease fear of intimacy and increase emotional connection.
Signs of Fear of Intimacy
- Deliberately withholding personal information
- Withdrawing when others talk about their thoughts and feelings. Protecting yourself often involves fear of intimacy.
- Being critical of yourself or others
- Feeling angry or uncomfortable when others voice their thoughts and opinions shows a fear of intimacy.
- Lack of affection with loved ones
Don’t forget that some people are simply less demonstrative about their feelings; this doesn’t necessarily indicate a fear of intimacy. Remember that you can work to be yourself and develop trust and vulnerability in your love relationships, but you can’t change your loved ones.
How to Overcome Fear of Intimacy
Fear of intimacy involves hiding behind emotional walls. For people in love to overcome fear of intimacy, they must practice developing trust and vulnerability. Overcoming fear of intimacy is about learning to be yourself in your relationship – which involves developing trust and vulnerability in love relationships. This is simple in theory, difficult in practice!
An intimate relationship involves sharing what you really think, believe, and feel. It’s about opening up your heart and mind, and letting others do the same. Intimacy is risky, which is why fear of intimacy often develops.
Recognize why overcoming fear is important
Developing trust and vulnerability in your love relationships can be scary – but overcoming fear of intimacy can improve your relationships and deepen your life. Overcoming fear of intimacy allows real, deep emotional and physical connections for people in love.
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Recognize your habit of hiding behind emotional walls, whether it’s withdrawing silently or being overly effusive and talkative. And, remember that hiding doesn’t necessarily mean verbal silence. You can hide your real self and still be the extroverted centre of attention or leader of the pack. Noticing when you’re hiding, and consciously deciding if you should continue (sometimes you don’t necessarily want to spill your guts – you need to discern when to open up). When you’re working to overcoming fear of intimacy, you need to choose when to open up.
Be honest with your partner
Tell your partner that you want to hide, and you feel uncomfortable talking about your thoughts. Overcoming fear of intimacy means sharing your discomfort and fear, especially with someone you love. Communication often makes negative, fearful feelings dissolve.
Take small steps towards revealing yourself
Practicing sharing one thought at a time. Take small steps with people you trust; soon, sharing yourself will become a habit and you’ll be comfortable developing trust and vulnerability in your love relationships. You can overcome your fear of intimacy – one step at a time.
Seek help from a counselor if these steps for overcoming fear of intimacy don’t work for you. There are underlying issues that are making you fearful, and dealing with those directly may be the only way to overcome your fear of intimacy.
Be authentic in your relationship
Your feelings match your words and actions – even when you don’t intend them to.
For example, if you feel angry or betrayed, you’ll express your feelings with both words and behavior. Remember that 90% of communication is nonverbal, which means that even if you don’t speak your feelings, your actions will likely reveal them.
To express yourself in healthy ways, say things such as “I feel sad because I hoped to see you there,” or “I’m angry and frustrated because I was relying on you to take the garbage out, and now the garbage truck won’t be back for another week.” Instead of hiding behind fear of intimacy, step out and reveal yourself. You’ll feel vulnerable and afraid – there’s no getting around that. It’s part of being emotionally intimate.
Learn to communicate about big and little things
Mutual self-disclosure occurs when the two of you share your personal and everyday experiences. You open up at the same level; for instance, you both discuss experiences of being betrayed in the past – or neither of you shares it. You meet each other at the same level in terms of the amount and type of personal experiences and thoughts you disclose.
If mutual self-disclosure doesn’t happen, then you’re in an unbalanced relationship. One partner has opened their heart, while the other has hidden it away. Sometimes fear of intimacy can be reduced simply by talking about it.
Feel fear – and be real
Talk about what’s going on in your life, how you really feel and what you really think. You reveal what’s important to you, which builds trust in your relationship. You don’t play games, such as expecting your partner to read your mind or dropping hints instead of saying what you really mean. You may still have a fear of intimacy, but you’re honest about it.
The longer fear of intimacy festers, the worse it gets – and the more difficult it is to overcome. Now’s the time to face fear of intimacy and embark on a bigger, deeper life!
If your partner is afraid of intimacy…
Other than encouraging openness and honesty, you can’t do anything to change your partner’s fear or intimacy – just like you can’t expect to change their personality or habits. You can share how your partner’s lack of intimacy makes you feel (eg, “I feel scared when I don’t know how you feel when we fight.”), and express your wish for a closer love relationship. The more you discuss fear of intimacy, the more your partner may open up. Overcoming fear of intimacy requires honesty on both sides.
You can’t force someone open up to you, but you can choose who to become involved with and how much of yourself you give to them.
If you find yourself in an “on again, off again” relationship, read How to Stop Going Back and Forth in Your Relationship.
I welcome your thoughts on overcoming fear of intimacy below. I can’t offer advice, but you may find it helpful to express your feelings in writing.