The Fear of Intimacy

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • The fear of intimacy is described as the fear of developing emotionally close relationships. This is not the same as the fear of commitment. Emotional intimacy isn't the same as sex, it involves a deep emotional bond with another person, it encompasses sharing thoughts and feelings, of being secure to be yourself, of sharing both love and passion with another person. Most people crave intimacy but for some, their fears prevent them from getting too close to someone else. According to Margaret Paul, Ph.D., in an article that appeared in the Huffington Post, stated that there are two major reasons people fear intimacy. One is the fear of rejection, the fear that you will lose the other person. The other is the fear of engulfment, that you will lose your own identity if you become too involved.

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    As with many forms of anxiety, one of the coping strategies is avoidance. With the fear of intimacy, this doesn't mean you avoid all relationships. Imagine Joan, a single woman in her early 30's. Joan desperately wants to be in a relationship, most of her friends are married and many have children. She wants a family too, but ever since her fiance broke off their relationship a month before her wedding almost 10 years ago, her relationships usually end before they even get started. Twice she dated married men, believing in the beginning they would leave their wives and be with her but knowing deep down that wasn't what she wanted. One many she dated told her up front he didn't want a commitment but she spent a year dating him anyway, thinking she could change his mind. One many she dated traveled for work and spent most of the year on the road. Time after time, Joan invested time and energy into relationships that were doomed. The men she dated were either physically or emotionally unavailable. Those that were both physically and emotionally available just weren't "right." Joan would find something wrong and break off the relationship. Joan didn't see this as her fault, she saw it as bad luck, she just wasn't meeting the right men. In reality, Joan was choosing men that were unable to commit to her because that meant she didn't need to commit to them. She could have a relationship, but didn't need to develop a deep emotional bond.

    Brad had grown up with a very controlling and overbearing mother. No matter what sport he became involved in, his mother was right there, telling him what he was doing wrong. His mother wanted to be in every aspect of his life, even interjecting herself in his young relationships. She solved his problems and orchestrated his choices, girlfriends, activities, jobs. Brad didn't remember the last time he made a decision without his mother interjecting her opinion. Brad was tired of it and wanted to stand on his own two feet. He wanted to know he could control his own life. Whenever he was in a relationship, as soon as his partner would tell him what he should do, or wear, or what he should think, he ran. He broke it off without explanation. Brad was afraid that relationships meant control, that if he was in a close relationship he couldn't think for himself.

  • Both of these people chose to deal with their fear by avoiding situations that involved intimacy. Joan found men that wanted superficial relationships and Brad ran away any time a relationship became uncomfortable.

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    Overcoming a fear of intimacy means understands its roots. Joan was obviously afraid of rejection, ever since her fiance broke off their relationship. She didn't want to feel that pain again and so she protected herself by not getting that deep into any relationship again. The root of Brad's fears come from living with a controlling and overbearing mother and never getting a change to find his own identity.

    When someone rejects us, we take it personally, we believe we were rejected because of some failure in ourselves. This can come from a lack of self-esteem. When you accept rejection as your failure, you are allowing the other person to define who you are. Developing a healthy self-love means you define who you are, not your partner. Your self-worth is no longer dependent on someone else's approval.

    A healthy self-love also means you know how to set limits and boundaries. You understand it is okay for someone to express their opinion about what you do, but it is also okay for you to say, "No thanks." Many times we accept other people's control because we are afraid we will lose them if we reject their ideas. If this is your situation, it is time to learn to stand up for yourself and define and believe in your own self-worth.

    For many people, learning to love yourself, learning to set boundaries and learning to accept love in your life is hard work. Some may need the help of a counselor or therapist. If you want a relationship but have not been able to find or hold on to the love you are looking for, talk with a therapist, not about finding love, but about finding and loving yourself.

    For more information:


    How's Your Relationship With Anxiety?


    Social Anxiety Disorder Affects Personal Relationships 


    Anxiety in Relationships



    "Fear of Intimacy," 2011, June 28, Margaret Paul, Ph.D., Huffington Post

    "Fear of Real Intimacy," 2009, Nov 15, Frances Cohen Praver, Ph.D., Psychology Today

Published On: July 13, 2011