Many people with fear of intimacy have difficulty trusting others, especially those closest to them. This is often due to a history of difficult childhood experiences and trauma.
Getting over this fear can be challenging, but it is not impossible. The best way to get to the root of your fears is through therapy, which will help you discover healthy coping skills.
1. Talk to a therapist
A fear of intimacy can affect your relationships in many different ways. While it’s most commonly associated with romantic relationships, it can also impact your friendships, work connections, and virtually every other relationship you have in your life. Putting up hard boundaries or barriers to physical, emotional, and/or sexual intimacy can end your relationships before they even get off the ground.
Generally, people who have a fear of intimacy are worried about either abandonment or being dominated by another person. Both of these concerns can be rooted in childhood trauma or even a history of abuse. Emotional intimacy can also be difficult for someone with a fear of intimacy to achieve, as it may take a great deal of trust to be vulnerable.
A therapist can help you identify the sources of your intimate fears and how to address them. They can also help you learn to develop a healthy self-confidence over time so that you can open up and trust others, regardless of past hurts or traumatic experiences. Choosing the right therapist for you can be difficult, but there are online counseling platforms that offer flexible scheduling and secure video calls to connect with qualified professionals.
2. Take a break
A fear of intimacy can affect different areas of a relationship, including emotional and physical closeness. It may also include an avoidance of sexual intimacy, which can have a direct impact on overall relationship happiness. Identifying this issue and seeking counseling, whether in person or online, can be a positive step towards addressing a fear of intimacy.
Often, people with intimacy phobia have never experienced comfortably intimate relationships in the past. It can feel too risky to trust in others and open up, especially if they were hurt or abandoned in the past, either as children or in later life.
As a result, they may sabotage connections when they start to matter and focus all of their energy on preventing their partner from leaving them or seeking constant reassurances that they will not be left behind. This can lead to an unhealthy pattern of avoiding vulnerability and emotional closeness in both the personal and professional lives, which may also extend to family relationships. While this issue can be very serious, it is not insurmountable. Taking a break from a relationship if it’s not healthy for you and practicing intimacy in group therapy, as suggested above, can be a helpful way to overcome this fear of intimacy.
3. Practice intimacy
Intimacy can take many forms, including physical intimacy—the affection felt through holding hands and tender hugs—emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy (sharing deep, meaningful conversations), and spiritual intimacy. While it can be difficult to work with someone who has a fear of intimacy, those who are afflicted still crave genuinely connecting with others and may just need a little help in finding the right path to do so.
Often, a person’s fear of intimacy stems from something painful they experienced in childhood—either emotional, psychological, or physical abuse, Hirsch says. It can also be a result of divorce, neglect, or any number of other traumatic events, which prevent them from trusting others and allowing themselves to feel vulnerable.
If you or a loved one suffers from intimacy fears, encourage them to seek therapy and help them find a therapist who can compassionately help them connect the dots of their past to understand why they experience these feelings. Above all, remember that their fear isn’t personal—it’s a normal human reaction to trauma. In time, with patience and understanding, they can overcome their fears.
4. Make the time for dates together
If you are in a relationship with someone who has intimacy avoidance, you can help them learn to communicate openly and express themselves. If they don’t, they may harbor feelings of resentment and loneliness, and the relationship might suffer.
Intimacy is not just about sex, but also emotional, spiritual, and even intellectual closeness. This can affect virtually every relationship in a person’s life. It can prevent people from forming platonic friendships, causing trouble in romantic relationships, and hindering work or family relationships.
Many factors contribute to intimacy fears, including past trauma. People who grew up with severe trauma, such as parental neglect or abuse, are often more fearful of intimacy.
A therapist can help you uncover and understand what’s underlying your intimacy fears. They can teach you techniques to overcome them, and give you the tools you need to build a healthy, long-term relationship. Online therapists are a great option for those who want to get counseling without leaving the comfort of home. You can use a teletherapy app or video chat, depending on your preference and schedule.
A fear of intimacy can have a negative impact on both romantic and platonic relationships. It may interfere with the ability to introduce new people into a relationship or make existing ones more intimate. It can also get in the way of physical closeness, such as hugging, kissing, holding hands, and sex.
Some people who have a fear of intimacy have experienced past childhood trauma that has led them to believe that emotions, connections, and other forms of closeness are bad or uncomfortable. They may also develop a pattern of avoiding those things or actively sabotage relationships that threaten their survival.
Maladaptive beliefs can be replaced by healthier ones through methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of treatment involves learning to recognize and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors that might be keeping someone from being close with others. A therapist may also help you learn to practice mindfulness, which is an approach that focuses on the present moment and input from your senses. It can ease anxiety and phobias by training the brain to respond in a more healthy manner.