When you begin a relationship, you might feel vulnerable. But overcoming fear of intimacy is possible.
If you’re afraid of getting too close to someone, you’re not alone. It’s a common feeling.
Emotional wounds can stay with you for a while, even if you don’t always notice them. They can make you avoid situations that could lead you to experience that pain again.
When you hold people at arm’s length to avoid getting hurt, you might be living with a fear of intimacy. Uncovering why you’re afraid of intimacy can be the first step toward coping.
Intimacy is a personal connection with someone who makes you feel secure, supported, and bonded. The connection suggests you’ve developed a close tie to another person.
Many people assume intimacy occurs mostly at the sexual level, but most literature agrees there are at least four types of intimacy:
- intellectual: bonding through ideas, morals, beliefs, thoughts, and opinions
- emotional: a sense of trust that allows for expression of personal and private feelings and vulnerability
- experiential: connecting through activities, life experiences, or mutual interests
- physical and sexual: sharing romantic and physical touching or closeness
Fear of intimacy can involve all areas of closeness, but it can all come down to emotional intimacy for many people.
Brenda Wade, a nationally recognized relationship expert and a practicing psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area, says people who live with a fear of intimacy are often fearful of being emotionally hurt.
They may be worried that someone will discover their “dark secret” — like their belief that they aren’t good enough, for example, or fear that the person will leave them when they’re already emotionally invested, Wade adds.
Fear of intimacy and emotional unavailability: The same?
Fear of intimacy and emotional unavailability share many similarities and can overlap, Wade says. Also, one can be the byproduct of the other.
The primary difference, though, comes down to the underlying causes of fear.
A person emotionally unavailable is often afraid of losing their independence or sense of self, so they don’t get emotionally invested in the relationship.
Fear of intimacy can come from avoiding emotional distress after being abandoned, heartbroken, or disappointed.
Relationships can move quickly from joyful to stressful when you live with a fear of intimacy.
Initially, you might feel comfortable when your connection isn’t close enough to cause concern. At this stage, you might enjoy the social aspects of a new friend or partner.
But as the bond strengthens, signs of intimacy fear can surface.
You may experience:
- skepticism when you’re given a compliment or they express love for you
- suspicion of your partner’s relationship motives
- emotional outbursts or relationship cycles
- signs of self-sabotage
- withdrawal from physical contact
- decline in effective communication
Outside of a relationship, signs you might be living with the fear of intimacy can include:
- history of serial dating
- emotional urgency to be perfect and lovable to all
- inability to express your needs or feelings openly
- discomfort when someone expresses needs or feelings
- signs of low self-esteem
Fear of intimacy and fear of abandonment: The same?
Fear of intimacy can also involve feeling abandoned, but fear of abandonment or separation anxiety isn’t the same as fearing intimacy.
A fear of intimacy can prevent you from allowing people to become close — emotionally isolating you to avoid feeling hurt.
The fear of abandonment can do the opposite. It can push you into quick attachments, sometimes keeping you in unhealthy relationships because your greatest concern is preventing the other person from leaving.
Jason Polk, a clinical social worker, relationship coach, and the owner of Colorado Relationship Recovery in Denver, says the fear of intimacy is a self-protective mechanism.
“This reflex is found more in an anxious-ambivalent attachment style,” he says. “The developmental trauma from this is usually an experience of abandonment growing up.”
Attachment style is how you relate to other people or your relationship patterns. Psychoanalyst John Bowlby first developed the concept in the 1950s.
Bowlby said adult relationships are based on early childhood interactions with primary caregivers. Anxious-ambivalent attachment style is one of four Bowlby and his colleagues outlined.
Anxious-ambivalent attachment style develops when you receive inconsistent care during childhood. For example, having an attentive parent one minute and indifferent the next. This can result in a need for attention, insecurity, and anxiety.
But attachment style isn’t the only factor contributing to fear of intimacy.
Clinical psychologist Hüdanur Akkuzu of Istanbul says repeat behaviors or experiences throughout life that encourage someone to feel unworthy of love can contribute to intimacy fear later.
Also, fear of intimacy can be caused by trauma and mental health conditions, such as avoidant personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If you feel you live with the fear of intimacy or notice some of the above signs in yourself, these tips may help.
Consider professional guidance
Wade, Akkuzu, and Polk recommend speaking with a mental health professional.
“In order to overcome the fear of becoming attached to someone, you must first look at your own history and the subconscious patterns you have developed,” says Wade.
“This is where you need to work with a qualified professional to work through it because these are complex and sometimes deep-seated issues that need to be carefully and gently examined, confronted, and healed,” she adds.
Professional support can help you work through your emotions and find ways to cope with them.
You can learn more about therapy options if you can’t afford a professional.
Try to work on your self-esteem
You don’t have to live with poor self-esteem to benefit from working on self-love.
When you live with the fear of intimacy, you may feel as if you don’t deserve love or care in a relationship, Akkuzu says.
Focusing on building your confidence, developing your interests, and increasing self-worth can help.
Here are some options to help:
- positive journaling
- staying active and exercising
- exploring your creative energy
- joining a goal-oriented sport or hobby
- working through signs of impostor syndrome in relationships
Learning to reparent yourself can help
Reparenting is about giving yourself the care and support you might not have received as a child.
“You can have a conversation with that younger part of you, the part that experienced the abandonment growing up, and gently say to that part, ‘This was not your fault. I see you, I love you, and I can take it from here,’” says Polk.
This approach can keep you in your adult-self mindset, the part of you that knows and wants to work through the fear of intimacy, he explains.
Try to cultivate your self-worth ownership
Another tactic Polk recommends is actively acknowledging that you — not others, including your partner — have ownership of your self-worth. You can try reminding yourself, through verbal or written affirmations, that your relationship isn’t a reflection of your value as a human being.
“You overcome this fear by remembering your inherent self-worth,” Polk says. “For example, say to yourself, ‘I have self-worth, my partner does not possess it; they can’t walk away with it. I can go after my wants and needs in this relationship regardless of what happens.’”
This might help you feel more confident about getting close to someone else. They can control what they do and feel, but not what you do and feel, and vice versa.
The fear of intimacy often comes after experiencing emotional distress in relationships, even the early ones.
Getting too close to another person can mean exposing your vulnerabilities — emotional hotspots where you could be hurt. But intimacy can also offer you support, understanding, and a sense of connection.
Speaking with a mental health professional can help you explore why you may be afraid of getting close to others and help you build skills to encourage confidence and self-love.
How do you overcome the fear of being close to someone? ›
Express Self-Compassion. In order to successfully battle the fear of intimacy, you must first be comfortable with yourself. If you truly know and accept your own value and worth as a person, then you know that rejection is not as crushing as it may seem.Why do I get scared when people get too close? ›
The fear of intimacy often comes after experiencing emotional distress in relationships, even the early ones. Getting too close to another person can mean exposing your vulnerabilities — emotional hotspots where you could be hurt.Why does liking someone give me anxiety? ›
"A sudden rise in dopamine (which causes feelings of exhilaration and anxiety) and an associated increase in cortisol and norepinephrine (the two main stress hormones) causes a sharp drop in serotonin (a mood stabilizer)," says Clair Burley, Ph. D., a UK-based clinical psychologist.Why is it hard for me to get close to someone? ›
People say they feel too different, shy, depressed, anxious, or insecure to connect meaningfully. Others find it difficult to trust people, or their lives are just too busy to make enough time for their friendships. Even physical ailments make some people reluctant to open themselves up to others.Why do I fear being with someone? ›
Causes of Philophobia
The fear of falling in love has many potential causes, including: Past experiences. Traumatic past relationships may contribute to the development of the fear of falling in love. Infidelity, betrayal, or heartbreak can cause you to stay away from romantic relationships.
- Learn stress-reduction skills.
- Get physical exercise or be physically active on a regular basis.
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Limit or avoid caffeine.
- Participate in social situations by reaching out to people with whom you feel comfortable.
Give it time
- getting enough sleep and physical activity.
- supporting yourself with positive self-talk.
- trying out the healing benefits of massage or yoga.
- spending time in nature.
Being loved arouses anxiety because it threatens long-standing psychological defenses formed early in life in relation to emotional pain and rejection, therefore leaving a person feeling more vulnerable.What is love bombing? ›
Love bombing is a manipulation technique often used by narcissists to overwhelm their victim with romantic gestures designed to make you feel more than simply flattered.Why do I pull away when I get close to someone? ›
Fear of intimacy
Pushing people away is one way of avoiding intimacy. In fact, this avoidance can act as a defense mechanism for people afraid of getting hurt in relationships. This could be because a past relationship ended badly, perhaps with rejection or even bereavement.
What are you scared of getting attached to someone? ›
Philophobia is the fear of love or of becoming emotionally connected with another person.How can I overcome my shyness and confidence? ›
- Overcoming shyness takes practice. People who are shy tend to give themselves fewer chances to practice social behaviors. ...
- Take slow, steady steps forward. Going slow is OK. ...
- It's OK to feel awkward. Everyone does sometimes. ...
- Know that you can do it.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.Why do people develop social anxiety? ›
Negative experiences. Children who experience teasing, bullying, rejection, ridicule or humiliation may be more prone to social anxiety disorder. In addition, other negative events in life, such as family conflict, trauma or abuse, may be associated with this disorder.How do I become less socially awkward? ›
- Read up on people skills. ...
- Practice reading social cues. ...
- Be sincerely positive to make it less awkward. ...
- Don't try to make people like you. ...
- Act as usual even if you blush, shake, or sweat. ...
- Change the way you talk to yourself. ...
- Ask for clarification when you don't understand.
It's natural to feel nervous when you talk to your crush, but you can keep your cool by taking deep breaths to calm yourself before you approach them. If you're nervous about being alone with them, try talking to them in groups first.How do you flirt with anxiety? ›
As nervous as you might feel, try not to show it. Don't cross your arms, look at the ground, or clench your hands. Instead, force yourself to keep your shoulders back and your arms free. This will make you look and feel more confident.Why is it hard for me to accept affection? ›
It could be past trauma, unfamiliarity with receiving, feelings of unworthiness, and much more. Regardless, it is very common to feel resistance to receiving love in compliments, affection, accepting help, and more.What is the fear of people liking you called? ›
Social phobia (sociophobia) is the former name for social anxiety disorder. Someone with social anxiety disorder might not feel anxious if they are in a crowd where no one knows them. But someone with anthropophobia feels anxious in any crowd. Their fear is specific to people, not specific to social settings.How do I know if I'm in love with someone? ›
- You feel charged and euphoric around them. ...
- You can't wait to see them again — even when they've just left. ...
- Everything feels exciting and new. ...
- You always make time for them. ...
- You don't mind making sacrifices for them. ...
- You have fantastic sex. ...
- You idealize them.
What is future faking in a relationship? ›
Future faking is when a person lies or promises something about your possible future in order to get what they want in the present. It could be as basic as promising that they will call you later, and then never calling.Is love bombing healthy? ›
Love bombing is considered unhealthy by many relationship experts because it makes it harder for the other person to maintain their personal boundaries.Why do I push away everyone? ›
You may push people away because you don't feel like you're worth others' time and energy. This problem relates to low self esteem and self compassion. Low self esteem can stem from other mental health struggles, like depression or anxiety. It can also trace back to your childhood, when your inner voice was shaped.Why does he act interested one minute and distant the next? ›
He needs some time to be sure of his feelings. Sometimes, guys withdraw from a situation to be able to see it from a different perspective. By keeping a distance from you, he is trying to see the relationship differently and understand if he really wants to keep this going.› 7-reasons-most-people-are-a... ›
7 Reasons Most People are Afraid of Love
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Noun. pistanthrophobia (uncountable) (informal) The fear of trusting one's partner in a romantic relationship.What is the fear of being near a lot of people? ›
People with agoraphobia often have a hard time feeling safe in any public place, especially where crowds gather. You may feel that you need a companion, such as a relative or friend, to go with you to public places. The fear can be so overwhelming that you may feel unable to leave your home.What does enochlophobia mean? ›
Noun. enochlophobia (uncountable) (rare) Fear of crowds.What is Traumatophobia? ›
Noun. traumatophobia (uncountable) An abnormal fear of battle or war, or being physically injured during activities like sports.What is Agliophobia? ›
Algophobia is an extreme fear of physical pain. While nobody wants to experience pain, people with this phobia have intense feelings of worry, panic or depression at the thought of pain. The anxiety of algophobia can also make you more sensitive to pain.
What is Dumasaphobia? ›
Dumasaphobia is the fear of people with low intelligence. Advertisement.What causes shyness? ›
Shyness is partly a result of genes a person has inherited. It's also influenced by behaviors they've learned, the ways people have reacted to their shyness, and life experiences they've had. Genetics. Our genes determine our physical traits, like height, eye color, skin color, and body type.What is the longest phobia in the world? ›
Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is one of the longest words in the dictionary — and, in an ironic twist, is the name for a fear of long words.What does Blennophobia mean? ›
blennophobia (uncountable) (very rare) The irrational fear of slime.What does Gerascophobia mean? ›
1. Introduction. Gerascophobia is a fear of growing or aging .What does Ablutophobia mean? ›
A fear of bathing (called ablutophobia) and water, it turns out, is a very common toddler phobia, and usually shows up around ages 1-2. There's a reason for that: During these years of rapid brain growth, toddlers develop what seems like a hyperawareness of their surroundings.