A fear of intimacy can have a significant impact on your well-being. You may experience a fear of emotional or physical closeness, or you may not feel like intimacy is very important. Intimacy is complex and nuanced, and how individuals define intimacy can vary significantly from person to person. Although there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, if you've noticed a fear of intimacy affecting your life, there are steps you can take to address your concerns.
What Does Intimacy Mean To You?
For some, intimacy is synonymous with sex or physical closeness to another person, usually a romantic partner. For others, intimacy may mean a feeling of emotional closeness, connection, and trust. Confusion often arises because there is more than one type of intimacy. Although everyone can adopt their own definitions of what intimacy means to them, researchers who study interpersonal relationships have defined four principal types of intimacy:
- Physical Intimacy. Physical intimacy includes sensual touch with a person you are close to. Sex is included in physical intimacy, as is hugging, kissing, or holding hands. Physical intimacy does not always involve sexual touch, although it is common in romantic relationships.
- Emotional Intimacy. Emotional intimacy refers to a trusted closeness with another person. It is not the same as falling in love, although emotional intimacy is a component of a healthy, loving relationship. Emotional intimacy can occur between romantic partners, friends, family, and coworkers. Examples include keeping another person's secrets or recognizing the trustworthiness of others.
- Cognitive Intimacy. Cognitive – or intellectual – intimacy occurs when two people exchange thoughts and ideas. Cognitive intimacy is especially pronounced when discussing differences between opinions; if two people are open and comfortable when discussing their differing views on an issue, they likely have strong cognitive intimacy.
- Experiential Intimacy. Experiential intimacy evolves from similar experiences and working toward a common goal. It is not based on verbal communication. Instead, intimacy is developed through co-involvement in mutual activities.
People have differing preferences for what type of intimacy they enjoy the most and what kind of intimacy may cause feelings of fear. People also differ in the intensity of intimacy they may feel comfortable with.
Intimacy And Romantic Relationships
Physical and emotional intimacy tend to be the most important when considering romantic relationships. High physical and emotional intimacy levels are two of the best predictors of high relationship satisfaction. Those who struggle to overcome a fear of intimacy and closeness will likely feel the impact in their romantic relationship the most. However, every person has their own preferences regarding intimacy. Some people might feel the most connected through physical touch, while others might find deep conversation more intimate than sex.
If you're concerned about a fear of intimacy, consider taking time to evaluate what intimacy means to you. You may find that your fear is more nuanced than you originally thought. Here are a few questions you might consider asking yourself as you analyze your fear of intimacy:
- Does my fear arise in all intimate situations?
- Does my fear arise for all types of intimacy?
- Am I afraid of being intimate with everyone or just specific people?
- Have I had personal relationships in the past where I enjoyed intimacy?
- Do I have people in my life who I feel I can trust completely?
Taking time to analyze your concerns related to intimacy may reveal insights that can be helpful. For example, if you find that you don't have a problem confiding in and trusting a close friend, but you are fearful at the thought of sexual touch from a romantic partner, you may want to focus on processing that area of your life.
In addition, it is important to note that a fear of intimacy is distinct from a personal preference for low intimacy. Some people may prefer lower intimacy levels and are told they fear intimacy by romantic partners or others around them. Distinguishing between a personal preference for low intimacy and a fear of intimacy comes down to the level of distress the intimacy causes. If you aren't distressed by a lack of intimacy, it is possible that you simply prefer less. On the other hand, if you feel that intimacy is something you should want but are unable to, you may be experiencing a fear of intimacy and closeness.
What Causes Intimacy Issues?
Several factors can contribute to a fear of intimacy. One commonly cited reason comes from attachment theory, a psychological theory that attempts to describe how individuals bond to one another in interpersonal relationships. Attachment theory suggests that people form how they bond with others during childhood and adolescence. Those who experience abuse or neglect in childhood are significantly more likely to experience intimacy-related challenges in adulthood. Similarly, those with very strict or distant parents may have trouble being close and intimate with others.
Fear of intimacy may also be caused by traumatic exposure. Those who experience significant trauma, whether or not it is related to a relationship, are significantly more likely to experience problems in close relationships, particularly romantic ones. Significant traumatic exposure is also associated with comorbid disorders like depression, which can interfere with love, connection, and intimacy.
Anything that makes it more difficult for a person to be vulnerable will likely impact intimacy. Intimacy and vulnerability are closely related; it is difficult to be close to someone else if a person experiences difficulty being vulnerable. Similarly, trust issues can also significantly impact a person's ability to be intimate. If a person cannot trust, they will likely find it very difficult to connect meaningfully to those with whom they are close.
How Can Intimacy Fears Be Addressed?
If you want to prepare yourself for intimacy and work toward building it with another person, here are a few things you can do:
Focus On Your Wants And Needs
A fear of intimacy can have many causes, but evidence suggests that relationships are more stable when both parties maintain their own support networks, friend groups, and individual goals. Not only does maintaining a robust personal life help you feel safer in yourself, which may help you be more intimate, but keeping a life outside of a particular relationship helps bolster cognitive and emotional intimacy by providing you with stories and experiences to discuss with one another.
Communication is vitally important in all interpersonal relationships, especially in romantic relationships, where intimacy problems are most likely to cause concern. If fear of intimacy impacts your relationship, speak to your partner about your feelings and concerns. Let them know what you are doing to address the issue and inquire whether they are willing to help. Working together to help you overcome your fear of intimacy may be an ideal way to bring you closer together.
Build Your Self-Esteem
Those with low self-esteem often carry interpersonal perceptions and exhibit behaviors that can interfere with intimacy-building. Take time to objectively examine your strengths and weaknesses, noting what areas might increase or mitigate your intimacy fears. You can work toward a habit of using positive words to describe yourself. Negative self-talk – or always putting yourself down – can make you feel like you're not worthy of intimacy and that it is not worth pursuing.
Focus On Emotional Availability
Being emotionally available is considered essential in a relationship to most couples. A person is emotionally available when they can provide their partner with close communication and trustworthy behavior. If you're uncomfortable during open and honest conversations, you may wish to focus on noticing and avoiding knee-jerk reactions to emotionally charged communication. For example, many people respond to emotional conversations by withdrawing from the conversation. Although they do not intend to hurt their partner, withdrawing is likely to reduce the intimacy in a relationship.
Can A Therapist Help?
Seeing a therapist is likely the most promising option for addressing intimacy fears quickly. Whether you're just starting to confront your fears or need some help to continue your journey, a therapist can help. You can even meet with a therapist through an online platform like BetterHelp, allowing you to avail therapy from the comfort of your home. A therapist can offer a safe space to process fears of intimacy, and online therapy can feel more comfortable because of the physical distance between you and your therapist.
Online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven to be just as effective as in-person alternatives. Patients reported high satisfaction and significant reductions in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress, which can all be tied to fears of intimacy.
"Joseph has been of great help and has helped me work on a few different aspects of my life. I've struggled with intimacy related issues that have caused my self esteem to dip, as well as career path anxiety. He's been a great help in guiding me to feel better about everything which has allowed me to continue to improve and get better. I'll definitely be coming back to him in the future if needed."
"He's not only provided me support but insight and encouragement to let me know I'm on a good path to self improvement and discovery. Furthermore, Mark has provided me valuable insight on my romantic relationship, specifically with learning more about the relationship dynamics and how to build a stronger, healthier relationship."
Can fear of intimacy be overcome?
A fear of intimacy may be challenging to manage, but many can overcome their fear through self-reflection and mindfulness, therapy, and having a trusted partner who is patient and understanding. In time, an individual may be able to associate intimate relationships with positive emotions instead of rejection, fear, or anxiety.
A fear of intimacy does not always refer to sexual intimacy. Individuals may fear emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and closeness with another person.
How do you treat someone afraid of intimacy?
Someone who fears intimacy, especially if they're your partner, may need space to express their feelings and understanding of their position. There may be many reasons for someone to fear intimacy, such as anxiety disorders or sexual abuse. Having someone who can show empathy, encouragement, and support may help them start to overcome their intimacy fear. Another way you can try to help with your intimate partner's fear may be to suggest therapy if you know they have mental health struggles or traumatic experiences in their past.
Why do most people have a fear of intimacy?
People may experience a fear of intimacy based on several factors. Some forms of intimacy avoidance may go back to their childhood relationships with their parents, where love and affection weren't consistent or available. Some may have experienced neglect or childhood sexual abuse. Others may have fears of abandonment or vulnerability based on separated families, the death of a family member, partner, or close friend, or negative past relationships.
Aside from past events, many people who struggle with intimacy avoidance may also have an anxiety disorder or other mental health conditions where they feel uncomfortable in intimate situations. These experiences may result in challenges with developing an emotional connection or maintaining adult relationships with intimate partners.
How does fear of intimacy manifest?
Fear of intimacy can manifest in different ways, such as avoiding physical touch or emotional closeness, feeling anxious or uncomfortable when someone tries to get close, or sabotaging relationships. An individual may express negative attitudes about the idea of a vulnerable or intimate relationship, or they may begin to behave differently than they usually do when engaging in sexual intimacy.
How do you deal with intimacy issues in a relationship?
Communication is often helpful in maintaining meaningful relationships with a fear of intimacy. Talk to your partner about your fears, desires, and concerns, and work together to establish trust and build a stronger connection. Partners may wish to attend relationship counseling to discuss intimacy issues and develop an emotional or spiritual intimacy that might bring them closer.
How do you fix lack of emotional intimacy?
Again, communication is often helpful. It may help to make an effort to connect with your partner on an emotional level, discuss your feelings, and listen to theirs.
What are the effects of withholding intimacy?
When one partner withholds intimacy, it can impact the emotional connection between them. The partner who is experiencing the effects of withholding intimacy may feel rejected, unloved, and unwanted, leading to feelings of frustration and resentment. Over time, this may create distance and erode trust between partners.
When intimacy is withheld, it can also affect the physical and emotional well-being of one or both partners. They may begin to feel neglected and unimportant, leading to a loss of self-esteem and confidence.
Why are you scared of getting attached to someone?
Fear of attachment can stem from past traumas, fear of vulnerability and rejection, or a lack of trust in oneself or others.
What does lack of intimacy do to a woman?
Lack of emotional or physical intimacy may lead to feelings of loneliness, frustration, and low self-esteem in women, just as it can with other people. It may also impact their mental health and overall well-being.
How do you deal with intimacy issues in a relationship?
The best way to deal with intimacy issues in a relationship is to communicate honestly with your partner, seek therapy if necessary, and work together to build trust and connection.
- Previous Article
- Next Article