When I met my current partner, they knew pretty much right away that they wanted us to be together. I, on the other hand, needed more time to stew in indecision. It's not that I didn't like them, or enjoy being with them, or that they had given me any reason why I shouldn't take that leap. I just needed time — time to process, time to waver, time to get over my terror of commitment and its unavoidable, terrifying companion: intimacy. You see, I was showing one of the many signs you’re afraid of intimacy. In this case, I was pushing away someone who wanted to be close to me because I was just straight-up scared.
My fear of letting people get close to me comes from a checkered past in my relationships — with lovers, friends, and even, sadly, my family. I’ve been hurt by the people I loved and trusted, and as a result, instead of embracing intimacy, my subconscious goes on red alert when someone attempts to get close to me. I experience it as a red flag. I go into fight-or-flight mode and do things that, honestly, aren't the most healthy.
There was a time I didn't even realize my reactions were a pattern. I just thought this was how life was. But as it turns out, it doesn't have to be, and you can get over your fear of intimacy eventually if you put in the work. The first step is to recognize that you even struggle with it at all. So, I reached out to experts in order to understand the signs someone might be afraid of intimacy. Here's what I learned.
1. You sabotage your relationships.
It only makes sense that if getting close to someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you're going to try and escape that situation — even if it's happening on a subconscious level. This is why relationship expert and author Alexis Nicole White says people who fear intimacy have a tendency to sabotage their seemingly happy relationships. She explains they do so by “creating problems that do not actually exist to contaminate their happiness.”
Another extremely effective way to self-sabotage is by being unfaithful, which is exactly what many folks who fear intimacy do, according to Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent relationship expert in Los Angeles. He says this can be a result of “deficits in your relationship that you don't want to face,” but also simply because, as he explains, “it helps keep some emotional distance between you and your partner so you don't have to risk being vulnerable and close.” Whatever the reason, the result is the same: You’ve sabotaged your way out of a connection that may have been growing too close for your comfort.
2. You fear abandonment.
It’s totally normal to fear losing someone you love, but when that fear comes from feeling as though are you are undeserving of love, then there are bigger issues at play, according to Dr. Brown. He says that if your struggle with intimacy comes from “somewhere inside yourself, [and if] you don't really feel that you are worth loving,” it can lead you to “avoid intimate relationships altogether. This way, you don't face rejection because you never get involved to begin with.”
3. You have a history of picking unhealthy partners.
Do you have a tendency to pick partners who, if you’re totally honest, you know you don't have a future with or who won't expect anything long term from you? Maybe you don't even know why you keep picking these people. According to Dr. Brown, the appeal of these kinds of partners is that they allow you to avoid intimacy. This can manifest in a handful of different ways, says Dr. Brown, such as “you either have no romantic encounters or you engage in a long series of indiscriminate hookups that leave you feeling empty...but safe.” Or (and this may sound very familiar), “you keep on picking the wrong people for your romantic interests. They have a pattern of rejecting you [which] may be fueling a self-fulfilling prophecy that you are going to be abandoned.”
4. You push people away when they get close.
As I mentioned previously, reflexively pushing people away when they start getting close is a strong sign that you struggle with intimacy. One way of doing this, says White, is by ghosting people. “Ghosting,” she says, “is also an indicator that one is afraid of intimacy.”
5. Physical intimacy can be complicated.
When being intimate with someone feels unsafe, it can show up in how you feel about sex, according to Dr. Brown. “You fear sex — or you don't fear sex itself, but you fear something else that is often equated with just ‘sex’ — actually making love,” explains Dr. Brown. “If you are afraid of being intimate, you may be OK with the physical act of sex, but tend to avoid being vulnerable during the act of sex. There is a big difference.”
What To Do If You Fear Intimacy
If these feelings and behaviors feel eerily familiar, then you likely have some fears about intimacy. But it doesn't have to stay that way. There are some things you can do to help get over them. The first step is to recognize that there is a struggle and start looking into the root cause, preferably with the help of a professional.
“Take a deep dive into looking about why you feel this way," says Dr. Brown. "You really have to be honest with yourself about why you are avoiding intimacy. This is going to take some courage.”
He’s not kidding. Oftentimes, our fear of intimacy is rooted in some really painful memories and experiences, but the rewards for persevering are totally worth it. As Dr. Brown explains, “with our fear of abandonment also comes difficulty embracing our own self-love. When we learn to love ourselves at a deeper level, we become more intimate with ourselves. This is incredibly empowering to help us overcome our fears of being abandoned.”
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