Fear of intimacy, is also known as intimacy avoidance. It means the fear of sharing one or all of a close physical, emotional or sexual relationship with anyone. People that are afraid of intimacy ironically crave closeness but end up destroying or not pursuing any relationship that demands intimacy. Intimacy avoidance is different from the fear of vulnerability. People who are scared of vulnerability are overly conscious of how much they show while people who are scared of intimacy do not get close at all or allow anyone to get close. There are many forms of intimacy including, but not limited to, physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, and sexual intimacy.
Causes of Fear of Intimacy
- Fear of Abandonment
This could be rooted in childhood traumas like separated parents or past relationships that resulted in the person being abandoned. This trauma triggers phobia in the person the moment they sense any form of intimacy being developed in a relationship.
2. Fear of being Dominated
Those who are scared of being controlled or losing themselves and their identity in a relationship tend to avoid intimacy as well.
3. Social anxiety.
Social anxiety is actually a mental disorder that causes people living with it to be intensely afraid of judgment and rejection from other people. This makes them remain in total avoidance of not just intimate relationships but also regular, casual social gatherings.
Experiencing this as a child or at any point in life molds a person into being overly self-dependent which might be a good thing but in this case, it is usually not because even when people like this are in severe need of external help, they avoid it because they cannot bring themselves to do anything that might lead to or require intimacy.
5. Sexual Abuse.
If someone has experienced abuse in the past, it can still have significant impact on the person’s current and even future life. Anyone who has a history with sexual abuse, rape, or molestation is more likely to shy away from intimate contact like sexual intimacy. This is because they are usually unable to dissociate their past experience with the act of being intimate.
Signs of Fear of Intimacy
For people with this phobia, certain behavioral patterns are consistent. Some examples are:
- Serial Dating and Commitment Issues
They always have a new person or they are always in new relationships because the moment the relationship starts heading toward intimacy they run from it. They cannot stay in any relationship for long and they find it hard to trust their partners when they are in any.
2. Difficulties in Expressing Needs
Communication is the key to understanding and getting to know people and that exactly is what people living with this phobia avoid. They do not communicate their needs just to avoid getting into any form of deep connection with the person involved or being seen beyond the surface level.
3. Intentional Sabotaging of Relationships
As stated in the first sign, they cannot stay in relationships heading towards intimacy so no matter the effort of their partner, they always find a loophole to put an end to the relationship.
4. Discomfort with physical contact
They are not comfortable with being touched. This is a common sign in people with a fear of sexual intimacy. They flinch when touched or just get anxious from simple forms of contact. This is usually a reflex reaction that has become a part of them, especially a person that has been sexually abused in the past. It is usually a trigger for self-defense.
Ways to Overcome the Fear of Physical Intimacy
There are many ways to manage and cope with the fear of physical intimacy and sexual intimacy, including others. Here are a few that might help:
- Evaluate your past and look into your previous relationships and determine what could have been the reason behind the fear in the first place. This is a great start when trying to manage this phobia. Mental therapy would be helpful as a professional therapist would be able to diagnose you and set you on the right path to healing. Doing all the reflection alone might get terrifying or stressful and result in another trigger.
- Accepting uncertainty is another way to handle this phobia. Most people who are scared of intimacy are more scared of the consequences of the relationship going south than the relationship itself. Accepting that you cannot always control the outcome of relationships would not only help reduce this fear but also allow you to live in the moment and enjoy every second of the intimacy you can get.
- Give yourself time to heal and don’t be hard on yourself. Trauma is not so easy to get rid of. It is built on many layers of disappointing situations and circumstances. You can only deal with it one layer at a time. Healing takes time and effort.
Fear of Sexual Intimacy
This is also known as genophobia. It is not just a simple avoidance issue, it is a medical condition that can result in intense panic attacks if and whenever sexual intimacy is attempted. Symptoms of genophobia include panic attacks, profuse sweating, nausea, and anxiety when exposed to sexual situations.
It could be caused by medical conditions that can affect sexual performance, like vaginismus and erectile dysfunction. People with this medical condition are scared of the stigmatization that comes with their health condition which is why they avoid sexual intimacy with anyone. Another cause of sexual intimacy is a history of sexual abuse that has left the victim overly sensitive to sexual contact. Body dysmorphia and other types of phobia could be the cause of genophobia as well. Fear of consequences that come with sexual contacts like STDs and pregnancy is also another cause of this phobia.
Genophobia can be managed with therapy. The kind of therapy has to be determined by a professional, that is, medical personnel, who would then administer treatment based on the root cause.
How to Get Close to Someone with Intimacy Issues?
- By understanding they need all the time and support they can get
- Offer your support from a distance and do not try to force intimacy with them to prevent them from completely withdrawing from themselves.
- Do not trigger their phobia symptoms for fun or to tease them. This can get very harmful to their mental health because there is nothing fun about triggering anxiety or fear.
- Listen to them and make them feel comfortable. Even though people that are scared of intimacy do not share much about themselves, whenever they talk, no matter how irrelevant, it is important to listen to them and make them feel heard.
- Let your intentions be clear, known, and transparent when dealing with them.
Even though fear of intimacy is a mental disorder, this does not write about the victims. Just like every other mental disorder, they can be managed and treated with time. So, if you know a person who seems to be struggling with this phobia, it is only helpful for you to give them all the support they can get to cope with it.