Being afraid of intimacy is normal—no one wants to be hurt. But sometimes, to get something spectacular, you have to give a little of yourself.
When I was in my thirties, my best friend and husband was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. A very long story short, I ended up losing him after a long battle and watching things that I couldn’t ever describe even with my writer’s mind and vocabulary.
It would have been easy for me not to want to engage in a relationship again after that experience. Not wanting ever to lose something again, choosing never to feel love again would have been an excellent way to protect myself. The problem is, though, that I have never had the ability to close myself off. Although having a fear of intimacy, I have a personality style that craves connection and needs the warmth of someone in my life.
That does not mean that the relationships I have engaged in since have been easygoing. Everyone has some sort of past experiences that will inevitably come along with them into future relationships. That’s why being fearful of intimacy is not only understandable, but also very common. No one ever wants to be hurt, especially if they’ve been hurt in the past.
But as the saying goes, sometimes you really do need to feel some pain in order to find pleasure. Finding a relationship where you can open yourself to someone wholly, and completely trust and rely on that person is, I think, what life is all about. If we weren’t meant to be connected to people and feel love, I am quite sure that we wouldn’t have been given the gift of intimacy. [Read: 16 non-sexual touches to feel connected and loved]
What is intimacy?
The best place to discuss something like the fear of intimacy is first to define what it is. Intimacy can mean different things to different people, but it’s defined in technical terms as either “a close familiarity or friendship” or “closeness or an intimate act, especially sexual intercourse.” The type of intimacy I’m talking about here is where you allow someone to see the real you on an emotional level.
We all have more than one person within ourselves. There is the person who we show to the world, and then there is the one who we try to hide from it. The reason we keep ourselves back or hidden is that we are fearful that if someone knew the real us—who we really are, what we really want, the crazy that we are all capable of—they wouldn’t accept us. After all, isn’t that what we are all searching for—love and acceptance? It’s in our human DNA to not only want to be liked but to be connected and loved as well.
The problem arises when you want to form an intimate bond with someone, yet you are unable to let go of the fear that holds the real you from others. It’s hard to have an intimate relationship with someone who is keeping things from you. Keeping parts of your personality hidden from someone with whom you are in a relationship makes them feel disconnected. It may also give them the impression that you don’t trust them enough to allow your real self to show.
It is this fear of intimacy that can hold us back from forming a relationship with others. If you can’t be your genuine self and allow someone to see all sides of who you are, then they aren’t really having a relationship with you; they are having a relationship with someone who you are not. [Read: How self respect affects you and your relationship]
Why we hold ourselves back
There are many reasons why we might keep parts of ourselves hidden. Maybe we have let our real selves out to others in the past, only to find that they didn’t accept who we were, or maybe we let ourselves be real, and the relationship just didn’t work out for other reasons. The result of either situation is often pain and heartbreak.
Heartbreak is one of the most difficult emotions that we can experience. It is a loss like no other. But if we allow those past experiences to jade and guide our future behavior, it can become extremely hard to know the beauty of loving someone wholly with all that you are.
There is probably not a person on earth who hasn’t been rejected in the past. That is why we all have baggage that we carry with us. But holding yourself back isn’t going to stop yourself from being hurt; it’s only going to prevent you from feeling the biggest joy that a person can feel. Like everything in life, if you don’t give it a try, you have failed before you’ve even begun. [Read: Is going anti-love the perfect answer to heartbreak?]
Steps to overcoming your fear
Whatever it is that has gotten you to the point of fear of intimacy, the key is to let go of your experience and learn to leave it in the past. Those things that you have already experienced can’t hurt you any more unless you allow them to. In fact, if you can’t settle old wounds, you’re only allowing them to sit and fester.
Just because you were hurt in the past doesn’t mean that it will happen again in the future. If you were rejected for being who you were in a previous relationship, it wasn’t that you weren’t good enough or that you weren’t a good person. It simply means that you may not have been the “right” person for the one you were with.
Every learning experience that we have in life comes with both a good and a bad. If you didn’t get a promotion at work, it wouldn’t help you to succeed in the future if you just stopped trying altogether, right? The same applies to relationships. If it failed once, simply learn from your mistakes, fine-tune what went wrong, and approach the next one with a better understanding. Your probability of success will be much stronger. [Read: How to fall in love again after a breakup]
Fear of intimacy is not just your problem
When you don’t let someone in to see the real you, you are telling them that they are not good enough, or that you don’t trust them enough to show who you really are. If you don’t ever open up and put yourself out there, you are dooming your relationship from the start. No one can live with someone who is not their genuine self. Unless you start to let them in and open up and trust, you are going to lose many good relationships along the way.
There are still times when I feel myself getting too close in my current relationship, and there is a voice in the back of my head that sends out a warning signal. It is at those times when I overreact—I find things wrong with my relationship and I pull away to try to protect myself. Vulnerability and the realization that nothing can last forever are hard mental concepts to handle.
The truth is that living a life alone and never having the opportunity to find love again like I lost is more hurtful than loving and losing again. If you want to love, you have to let someone in enough to know who you are and to love you. [Read: How to know if you are truly in love]
Above all, if you make a mistake, as we all do, love is about forgiveness. Rather than having a fear of intimacy, take baby steps, let someone in slowly, and try to be open and honest with yourself and with them. The more positive experiences you have, the more intimate your relationship will become, and the more joy you will find. You just have to start somewhere.