Fear of Intimacy: How to Recognize It and Overcome It
Fear of intimacy limits our ability to deeply connect, to feel genuine closeness, to experience real love, and to allow our bodies the pleasures of physical loving. A sustained fear of intimacy means that, usually unconsciously, we will push away those who do, or would, truly care about us. With this fear, we erect barriers that make it difficult, if not impossible, to experience deep soul love – given or received.
Said another way, intimacy rests at the heart of every fulfilling relationship, especially romantic relationships. Without intimacy, relationships never fully bond. They never develop the sustaining factors that allow them to survive the natural ups and downs and inevitable challenges that every couple will face.
Intimacy matters that much and fear of intimacy can be that devastating. Our capacity for intimacy actually determines our capacity for genuine love. Our courage to be intimate predicts the likelihood that we will sustain a romantic relationship – not just as friends and roommates over the decades, but as best friends and passionate lovers.
The very fact that our availability for intimacy stands as a primary prerequisite for experiencing genuine love explains why fear of intimacy is the most impactful fear that arises in intimate relationships.
If we want deep and lasting romantic connection we must be open to, and skillful with, intimacy. We must find a way to meet and move beyond fears of intimacy. Although we can not do it for them, we also will, ideally, be available to and supportive of our partner’s endeavors to release their intimate fears.
As we dive deeper into this exploration of the fear of intimacy, we must also recognize that the word intimacy is probably one of the most misunderstood words we use in romantic relationships. While we’ve acknowledged how important intimacy is, it’s uncommon to find two people that define intimacy in exactly the same way.
For our purposes here, we’ll define intimacy as an experience of closeness and connection that leads to a feeling of unity. Notice that while the definition includes physical intimacy, the true definition of intimacy is much broader, incorporating emotional, energetic, physical and spiritual unity.
Types of fears we often don’t recognize as fear of intimacy
In a moment we’ll look at fear of intimacy signs, but first let’s consider a variety of ways fear of intimacy can show up and how it is often disguised as another fear. You’ll see that many of the fears we experience in relationships ultimately lead back to a fear of intimacy.
Because intimacy, and the closeness it creates, requires us to let another person into our inner world, we must be willing to open ourselves up to them. This opening requires that we both trust ourselves and the other person.
It requires an acceptance of the feeling of vulnerability. When we open ourselves up to another, when we let ourselves be seen in our entirety – in the good, the not-so-good, and even the ugly – in the parts that we’re proud of and the parts we usually want to hide – we are vulnerable. We take the risk of being rejected or judged, as well as the risk to be embraced and loved.
No wonder so many people have a fear of intimacy.
Here are some of the many ways the fear of intimacy disguises itself in the form of other fears…
- Fear of vulnerability – We simply can’t experience intimacy without vulnerability. So, if we fear vulnerability, we also fear the intimacy that comes with it.
- Fear of being seen – Fear of being seen could also be called fear of exposure. In this case we’re afraid that someone might see a part of us that we usually try to hide from others, and even frequently from ourselves. If we hide, we limit closeness and unity.
- Fear of rejection – By definition, fear of vulnerability and fear of intimacy are only fears because we imagine that we might be judged or rejected when someone sees who we truly are. (However, it is equally true that in our vulnerable intimacy, we might also be loved in a way we’ve never known before.)
- Fear of abandonment – Similar to fear of rejection, allowing ourselves to be intimate means that the person we open ourselves up to may not stay.
- Fear of emotions – Emotions are the language of intimacy. Yet most of us have been deeply conditioned not to actually feel. If we feel, we have to be intimate with ourselves. If we allow someone to witness our feeling, we automatically open the door to closeness.
- Fear of commitment – Often we fear commitment because making a commitment to be in a deep relationship, or to spend our lives living and sleeping with someone, demands a level of intimacy that we cannot escape. On the surface our fear of intimacy can show up as a fear of commitment.
- Fear of physical closeness – When we allow another to touch our bodies, especially in a sexual way, we actually open ourselves up to several different types of intimacy simultaneously, and hence our fear of intimacy can be amplified even more.
- Fear of being needy – If we have a fear of being needy, if we feel as if our strength depends on our ability to fend for ourselves, we inherently avoid the closeness of intimacy and interdependence that is necessary for lasting soul partnerships.
- Fear of losing ourselves – If we have felt as if we were losing ourselves in a relationship, then quite often, in response, we will erect walls of protection that, while potentially making us feel more secure in ourselves, simultaneously block the closeness at the heart of true love.
- Fear of ourselves – In order to be intimate with another person, we must first be intimate with ourselves. We cannot express a feeling, need, or desire without knowing and acknowledging it first ourselves. So, if we fear looking into ourselves (self intimacy), then we can never really be known fully by another. And if we never let ourselves be known fully by another, we will never truly be available for, or able to trust, love.
Being intimate requires risk. Hence the fear of intimacy pervades so many relationships, shows up on so many dates, and even reveals itself in dating profiles.
Yet, ask yourself, are you willing to give up intimacy, to give up the deepest experiences of love itself, in order to protect yourself from these fears? Is it worth it?
Fear of intimacy signs
Fear of intimacy and its related fears can show up in a variety of both obvious and subtle ways in relationships. If you are dating, you might notice these even in your early connections. However, remember that it’s not our job to judge another person, even one we are dating or especially when we are married. What is important is to notice how we feel with another and whether we’re experiencing the connection and love we seek.
Common behaviors that can be signs of a fear of intimacy include…
- Changing the subject when vulnerable or intimate topics come up
- Keeping attention focused on anything except oneself
- Patterns, behaviors or addictive patterns that keep us from feeling
- Staying busy so we don’t have to talk much
- Avoiding eye contact
- Not being connected to our physical body
- Cracking jokes when things get intimate, emotional, or serious
- Not knowing how we feel
- Getting uncomfortable when someone else shares how they feel
- People pleasing and self-abandonment
- Emotional unavailability
- Challenges communicating
- Difficulty trusting
While not an inclusive list, this gives you an idea of what to pay attention to. It’s important to be aware of these fear of intimacy signs in yourself as much as you notice them in another person. As you’ll see below, what’s happening in you greatly impacts what’s happening between you.
Should I be single or in a relationship to release my fears?
Singles often have the advantage here because, ideally, we will have worked through some of our intimacy fears before we enter into a committed relationship. Yet, if you find yourself in a romantic partnership or marriage where you, your partner, or probably both of you, have fears of intimacy, it’s ok.
You can work through those fears in your relationship by first having each of you look at your own personal fears. Once you each get intimate with your own fears, then you can begin to share about your inner experience with your partner – which by definition, automatically begins to create an experience of intimacy between you.
Contrary to popular belief, it only takes one to create an experience of intimacy. If you become intimate with your partner, your relationship will inherently become more intimate. It’s wonderful if your partner joins you from the start in this adventure into intimacy, but don’t wait for him, her or them. You might find pushing them counterproductive.
Quite often, when fears of intimacy are strong, if we push our partner to be more intimate with us, they will become less intimate. Their walls of protection will become stronger, reinforced. If you want to change the intimacy in your relationship, start by changing your personal relationship to intimacy.
How to overcome the fear of intimacy
Whether single or partnered, overcoming fear of intimacy starts by strengthening your relationship with you. Start by ensuring that you have worked through your fears – the obvious ones as well as those showing up in disguise.
Trust matters in this process. Do whatever you need to do to ensure that you truly trust yourself. If we don’t trust ourselves, it’s nearly impossible to actually trust another, without which we surely can’t experience true intimacy.
On the path of soul love, we call this developing our capacity for Ecstatic Authenticity. In developing that ecstatic authenticity, we find genuine trust of self and we begin dropping our fears of intimacy, our fears of love. We develop our capacity for vulnerability and find our strength to be true to ourselves. This in turn opens the door to stage two, Ecstatic Intimacy, where you can truly bond heart-to-heart, body-to-body and soul-to-soul.
In short, overcoming fear of intimacy within ourselves happens when we counteract our fears with their anecdotes: self awareness, self confidence, self trust, and self-love. We dissolve our fears of intimacy by falling in love with ourselves.
And, if that feels too daunting starting out, then focus simply on the first step: get to know yourself and your specific fears of intimacy. Notice any intimacy avoidance in you.
Then, either with your own deeply compassionate heart, with the support of a therapist or coach, or within a supportive program structure, begin to discover how you can release those fears and find a trust of love, intimacy and connection within yourself.
We must trust ourselves before we can trust another.~Joanna Shakti
Relationships succeed through intimacy
As a last note, if you are in a relationship, remember it’s not your partner’s job to fix or assuage your fears of intimacy. Expecting our partners to show up in a way that never triggers our fears not only keeps the fears in place, it also puts undue pressure on our beloved which only further amplifies a sense of disconnection and lack of intimacy.
Fear of intimacy breaks up relationships not because anyone did anything to damage the relationship, but because without intimacy, a relationship can’t thrive. It withers without the closeness and connection that intimacy provides. That closeness happens through physical connection; yet, as you’ve seen here, the closeness necessary to maintain a romantic relationship over the long term has more to do with the heart than the genitals.
In reality, the presence of heart-based intimacy can actually re-open the doors to physical intimacy that has been lacking. On the other hand, rarely does physical intimacy re-open the door to heartfelt intimacy.
So, whether you’re seeking a partner or rekindling the love with your partner, first take the time to build your relationship with you. When you are free of your fears of intimacy, or at least many of them, then your romantic relationship – present or future – will flourish.
*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.