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What Is Fear of Intimacy?

Fear of intimacy can involve being afraid of connecting with another person sexually, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually. Learn more. Fear of intimacy is characterized as the fear of sharing a close physical or emotional relationship with another person. People with a fear of intimacy may experience distress or anxiety at the thought of being intimate with another person. Intimacy

  • Posted on 26th Jan, 2022 04:15 AM
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Fear of intimacy is characterized as the fear of sharing a close physical or emotional relationship with another person. People with a fear of intimacy may experience distress or anxiety at the thought of being intimate with another person. Intimacy can take many forms, including sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, experiential intimacy, and spiritual intimacy.

Learn more about the fear of intimacy, its characteristics, causes, and ways to cope.

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Defining Fear of Intimacy

The word "intimacy" comes from the Latin word "intimus" which means "innermost." It refers to the idea of sharing the innermost or most genuine parts of ourselves with others and relates to building closeness and connection in relationships.

Fear of intimacy involves having anxiety about or being afraid of sharing a close connection with another person. People with this fear usually don't want to avoid intimacy entirely, and may even desire closeness, but they may frequently push others away or sabotage their relationship due to their fear.

Those with a fear of intimacy may experience fear around all kinds of intimacy, including emotional, spiritual, and sexual. Some define types of intimacy as including the following:

Emotional intimacy

Being emotionally intimate with another person may involve sharing your deeply held thoughts, fear, dreams, or emotions. Sharing an emotional intimacy means being comfortable to speak openly about sensitive matters with another person. This helps both parties feel safe.

Experiential intimacy

Those who share experiential intimacy bond over shared experiences and moments. This may take the form of inside jokes or sharing memories with each other. Sharing experiences together can create a sense of closeness and connection.

Intellectual intimacy

Sharing an intellectual intimacy with another person may involve sharing views on a particular topic and knowing this will be valued. It does not mean agreeing with the other person or feeling pressured to change one's own viewpoint.

By feeling comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas freely, intellectually intimate people often have thought-provoking conversations that may challenge a person's views but without feelings of being attacked or judged.

Spiritual intimacy

Sharing an intimacy with a spiritual basis may or may not involve a certain religious practice. Spiritual intimacy involves becoming close through a jointly held belief. This may involve prayer or worship between a couple.

Sexual intimacy

Sexual intimacy involves sharing a close sensual relationship with another person. Sharing sexual expression together, either through intercourse or other sensual activities, can form a feeling of connectedness and closeness between people.

Characteristics of Fear of Intimacy

People with a fear of intimacy can usually form relationships, including romantic attachments and friendships, but when pressed to show vulnerability or share closeness in other ways, they may react with indifference, coldness, or other behaviors meant to push away others.

Some common ways that people with a fear of intimacy may distance themselves from another person include:

  • Withholding affection, being dismissive, or reacting negatively to others showing affection
  • Avoiding physical contact
  • Avoiding sexual contact
  • Becoming paranoid or suspicious of a partner
  • Having bouts of anger or lashing out
  • Being extremely critical of a partner
  • Feeling guarded or having difficulty sharing emotions or feelings
  • Issues with trusting people

People with a fear of intimacy may also have a history of self-imposed social isolation or relationships that were rocky or unstable. They also may struggle with low self-esteem and fear of commitment.

What Causes Fear of Intimacy?

The causes of fear of intimacy can be complex and varied. Some researchers have suggested that everyone has a fear of intimacy to a certain extent. However, more severe fear of intimacy is generally rooted in past childhood experiences, trauma, or abuse.

Negative Childhood Experiences

A painful or distressing experience from childhood may cause adults to develop a fear of being intimate with another person. Experiences in childhood can determine how an adult trusts other people. If a child's trust was violated through abuse or trauma, as an adult they may struggle to trust another person enough to be intimate with them.

Trauma or Abuse

If any relationship involves abuse or violence, intimacy can be impacted. One partner using their power inappropriately over the other partner leads to a break down in trust and lack of safety necessary to be intimate with another person. Past experiences involving physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse can also lead to a fear of intimacy.

Conflicts

People in relationships who experience ongoing conflict may find it difficult to feel intimacy with their partner. Underlying issues like anger, resentment, hurt feelings, a lack of trust or feelings of being under-appreciated can lead to people avoiding intimacy.

Communication Problems

Those who are in relationships marred by communication problems may have problems with intimacy. This can stem from not feeling well understood.

Underlying Fears

Fear of intimacy can also develop due to other underlying causes, including:

  • Fear of abandonment. Worry that a partner or person will leave once they really get to know you
  • Fear of exposure. Concern about a partner or friend learning information that you find embarrassing
  • Fear of attack. Worry about sharing personal information with a partner in case it will later be used against you
  • Fear of loss of control. Fear that growing closer or being intimate with someone else will cause you to lose some sense of control over your own life.

Diagnosing Fear of Intimacy

Clinicians use the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association's official handbook, to diagnose mental health conditions, including phobias.

However, fear of intimacy is not a clinically recognized phobia, so there is not a specific diagnosis for fear of intimacy. A psychologist, therapist, or other qualified mental health professional can work with you to determine if you have a fear of intimacy, and where you fall on the spectrum. Some people experience mild traits, while others may not be able to form close relationships at all.

The Fear of Intimacy Scale is one measurement tool that can help therapists objectively assess the condition.

Coping: Navigating Fear of Intimacy in Relationships

Many people experience barriers to intimacy at times. But if a fear of intimacy is interfering with relationships or daily life, help is available.

Some ways to cope with a fear of intimacy include:

  • Speak with a relationship counselor or therapist
  • If you are in a relationship, focus on the good things and tell your partner how much you appreciate them.
  • Be open about what you are feeling, especially with your partner
  • Make an effort to create opportunities for intimacy. This may involve planning a regular time to interact together.
  • Explore new ways of building intimacy. This may involve trying new activities to build experiential intimacy, discussing ideas to build intellectual intimacy, sharing emotions you wouldn't normally share with others to build emotional intimacy, and discussing spirituality to build spiritual intimacy.
  • Create a safe space where you and your partner or other companion feel comfortable and personal space is respected

Summary

A fear of intimacy can involve a person becoming afraid, anxious, or distressed about being intimate with another person. This can happen in all kinds of intimacy including sexual intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, experiential intimacy, or spiritual intimacy. Those with a fear of intimacy may have a history of unstable relationships, avoid physical or sexual contact, be isolated, and have trouble sharing how they feel. Speaking with a relationship counselor or therapist is an important step in helping to overcome a fear of intimacy.

A Word From Verywell

A fear of intimacy can be upsetting, but there is help available. If you are in a relationship but have a fear of intimacy, consider telling your partner how you are feeling and be open about your fears.

A relationship counselor, psychologist, or therapist can help you develop strategies to cope with a fear of intimacy, regardless of whether or not you are in a relationship right now.

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