The fear of intimacy is a very common type of fear that many people of varying ages experience throughout their lives. It can also be referred to as “avoidance anxiety,” or “intimacy avoidance,” but overall means the same thing: a fear of sharing a close emotional or physical relationship. For those who are facing the fear of intimacy, our series of articles “The Fear of Intimacy” parts one, two, and three might be for you. In part three, we cover diagnosis, treatment, and management for intimacy avoidance.
How is the Fear of Intimacy diagnosed?
When it comes to intimacy avoidance there is a spectrum for diagnosis. For some people, they experience only mild manifestations and are unable to form close relational bonds. These people can often be diagnosed by their medical doctor, who can help with minor therapies and at-home actions for treatment. For many others, their issues are severe and will need the intervention of psychometric testing, a psychologist or therapist, and regular therapy to work on getting back on track.
Here are some of the top warning signs that medical professionals report seeing in their patients struggling with intimacy avoidance.
- An inability to express what you need and want from those in your life
- Poor communication or avoidance of serious topics in your relationships
- Trouble trusting your partner with important matters or decisions
- An unwillingness to share your dreams and/or goals
- Purposely sabotaging relationships once you begin to get close to the other person
- Avoiding physical contact with your partner
- Refraining from being spontaneous or adventurous in the bedroom
Treatment for Intimacy Avoidance
If you are struggling with moderate to severe fear of intimacy, professional guidance is most often required to navigate and learn how to handle this avoidance. When choosing your therapist, be sure you choose someone who you connect with and are comfortable discussing your life in detail. This is essential to having your therapy and sessions work to your benefit. This might mean that you try out several therapists before finding one that fits.
Your therapist will then help you to realize and recognize certain triggers, fears, and situations that are preventing you from experiencing intimacy. The time frame on how long therapy might take to help you accept intimacy is not set. This is different for each individual and their experiences making them fear intimacy.
Many people who experience the fear of intimacy also deal with other issues like substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and depression- which will also be addressed by your therapist. Taking the time to work through each issue you face will help you to overcome and embrace the life you desire.
The next topics are ways you can begin to work through and mange your fear of intimacy.
How to Manage and Cope with Intimacy Avoidance
While working with a therapist is a vital aspect of overcoming the fear of intimacy, many people begin with smaller self-work tasks on their own. The negative outlook and metal attitudes are things that can be worked on by practicing daily self-care and working every day to re-route positive thoughts and thinking into the brain. This process takes time and a true willingness to accept uncertainty, accept not being perfect, and the effort it will take to review your life and embrace the path that you see yourself on in the future.
As you work through these issues, many people end up discovering what set them on this path to fear intimacy and life initially.
Accepting Uncertainty with Intimacy Avoidance
Those who fear intimacy typically also fear the consequences of relationships that turn bad. It is important to remember and understand that there are no guarantees in life or in relationships. Every connection made with a person where we share pieces of ourselves can make us vulnerable for let downs and turmoil. Aside from that, social relationships can also be just as difficult.
Courage can make a difference, although finding your courage may feel too difficult. Developing a positive outlook on life in general can also help to decrease fear of intimacy. Trust is another important aspect of relationship development and overcoming your own personal fears.
Expressing Self-Compassion with the Fear of Intimacy
To battle and win against your fear of intimacy, the first step you must take is to become comfortable with yourself. Truly accepting ourselves, understanding and knowing our value and worth, along with knowing we deserve love- can be some of the most difficult aspects to accept. But doing it, along with setting boundaries, can help you to deal with fears as they arise.
Self-compassion is another aspect that might sound easy in discussion but proves to be more challenging in everyday life. For some, self-compassion is intuitive and part of their every day lives. For others, it is elusive and something that they have to purposefully work on.
Revisit the Past to face your Intimacy Avoidance
Many people do not want to spend time thinking back on ugly or rough situations we faced as we grew up, or at those relationships we had that destroyed us in our teenage or young adult years. Truth is, these past relationships and interaction have a direct impact on us as we age through the years. This is why revisiting and working through difficult past relationships can be beneficial to your healing and health.
If you are a person who experienced abuse, neglect, or have a strained relationship with your parents- you should definitely take the time to revisit your past, and work to learn to calm your inner child.
Listening to your Inner Voices
Your inner dialogue plays a direct role in your everyday life, choices, and actions- and with a manifestation of intimacy avoidance. The fear of intimacy is often deep-rooted and after a lifetime of being your own worst critic, which can start to feel like normal to you. Instead of accepting your critical dialogue, begin to reverse your negative thoughts with positive ones. Your therapist can help you to discover the best mode for accomplishing this important feat.
Review your Goals
Begin by asking yourself some important questions- Are you happy in life? What do you really want? Are you seeking a long-term relationship? Do you want this deep connection? Have you pushed people away in the past? Why?
Take the time to write as many questions and give yourself as many answers as you can. After you have your answers, work on making goals for the topics you’d like to focus and work on.
Give yourself Time to Unlearn & Relearn
Working through and overcoming your fear of intimacy will not happen overnight. Even on the good days where you make progress, there will also be many setbacks. Give yourself the space to understand this is normal and extend yourself some grace. Try not to sit and think about your fear of intimacy flaw, and instead look at it as something that stems from your past that you are working hard on overcoming. Just another bump in the road.
Research has also shown that positive relationship experiences can be great for those who have intimacy issues.
How can my loved ones help?
Loved ones, even friends, can help with managing, coping, and living with a fear of intimacy by being understanding and patient. Here are some tips on how they can help:
- Establish safety and trust in communication.
- Try not to react personally or with anger if your loved one pushes you away. Understand that this is not rejection, but them rejecting the fear of you rejecting them.
- Hold your person’s fears in mind when communicating. Understand that they fear being abandoned, rejected, and left alone, and that it is most likely due to past experiences which makes the way they interpret your actions slightly skewed.
- Give reminders of your love via words and actions as often as you can.
- Never assume your partner or person “feels” loved. Instead, create an environment of open communication and discussion on feelings, emotions, and love, reminding them that they are deserving.
- Reassure your partner that you are there to help them through this, and that you are a team.
- Do not push for information on their past or childhood, or why they fear intimacy. Allow them the time and safety to open up to you on their own.
- Remember that intimacy is not just intercourse, and that there are many ways intimacy can happen in a way that your partner or person feels comfortable with.
- Know that if your partner or person is expressing to you that they are fearing intimacy with you, that your relationship with them is important- as many people who face a fear of intimacy only do so with those relationships that mean the most.
If you are struggling with the fear of intimacy, plan a discussion with your medical care team or therapist to dive into the depths of finding out the reasons why this is, and how you can work to control this fear, learn to live with it, and reclaim your life.
Interested in learning more about the fear of intimacy? Read up on our series: The Fear of Intimacy: Are you Afraid? Part One and The Fear of Intimacy: Signs and Manifestations: Part Two.