Fear of Intimacy: Main Symptoms, Causes & Coping Strategies

Updated on July 26th, 2021

Being intimate with someone means being emotionally and physically connected to another person. Due to a certain reason, some of us cannot bond with other people and, therefore, are afraid of building close relationships. For some people it’s connected to the fear of being abandoned, for others to the fear of engulfment, and so on.

Fear of Intimacy

So now it’s the perfect time to dig deeper and find out what it is all about. Keep reading, as in this article you will have a chance to explore the following:

  • what is intimacy fear?
  • what are the main signs of fear of intimacy?
  • what causes fear of being emotionally intimate?
  • how to cope with relationship fears?

Let’s get started right away!

What Is Fear of Intimacy?

Simply put, fear of intimacy is the fear of being close to someone: physically, emotionally, spiritually. There are four main types of intimate relationships:

  • Emotional (you share your deep emotions with another person)
  • Intellectual (you share thoughts and ideas during meaningful discussions)
  • Sexual (you have a sensual connection and physical sexual contact with another person)
  • Experiential (you share experiences, activities, and interests)

When you have fear of intimacy, you deliberately avoid it on any (or all) of these levels. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to get close to someone. It implies that you are scared of this experience in your life and don’t want to become vulnerable.

This is not a mental illness but it is a challenge. It holds a person back from living a fulfilling and happy emotional life. Also, it can cause a lot of anxiety and an inability to build social relationships.

What Causes Fear of Emotional Intimacy

Now, let’s explore what causes fear of intimacy and why you are going through this.

The main reasons are very serious experiences that may be traumatic and require much time to heal.

Fear of Rejection

Whether it happened to you in the past or not, you can experience fear of intimacy because you are afraid of getting rejected by your partner. You don’t want to hurt yourself so you just avoid closeness with people.

Fear of Abandonment

This cause is connected to the previous one and related to worries that a partner will abandon and leave you emotionally broken. This fear can be caused by death or separation from a close person in your childhood.

Fear of Engulfment

Some people avoid intimate connections because of the fear of losing themselves in a relationship. They consider emotional commitment as a threat. They are afraid of being controlled by their partner and suffocate in this romantic partnership.

Childhood Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse is a traumatic experience. It can lead to problems not just in sex but also in the emotional life of a person. This experience makes it hard to trust other people and get close to them.

People who are victims of sexual abuse in their childhood might suffer from trauma, have deviant sexual behavior, be emotionally distant during sex, feel awful during intercourse, or have other sex life problems.

Healing may take years, tons of self-care and self-compassion, and much work with mental health professionals.

Other Childhood Trauma

Our behavior patterns and emotional problems are all rooted in our childhood. Our very first communication with parents defines who we are and how we interact with other people. Any other kind of childhood trauma like neglect or loss can lead to attachment issues in adulthood.

Previous Failed Relationships

Our past experience can certainly define our future as well as our emotional responses. If you have been cheated on in your relationships before, most likely you will restrain from building a new one. Perhaps, you want to break this circle and protect yourself from possible hurt.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

This disorder is characterized by low self-esteem, fear of being judged by other people, oversensitivity to criticism. It can affect everyone and create problems with building intimate relationships in the future.

Social Anxiety Disorder

This disorder is associated with a social phobia and can also cause intimacy fear. People are unwilling to be involved in social activities, establish connections with others, and, therefore, get intimate with a romantic partner.

Lack of Confidence

Maybe you think that you are not enough for someone. Or you think that you don’t deserve to be loved and appreciated. This is why such people often question their partners and don’t want to bond and open up to them.

Other causes of fear of intimacy might also include: 

  • verbal or physical abuse
  • parental neglect
  • overdependence on family and related separation issues
  • parental substance abuse
  • mental illnesses of relatives

Women & Men Fear of Intimacy: Symptoms

Before we move to tips that will help you with overcoming the fear of intimacy, read the list of the signs and symptoms that indicate the problem.

Among the main symptoms that accompany the fear of physical contact and emotional closeness it’s possible to name:

Serial Dating

A serial dater is a person who only has short-term relationships and cannot move on to something more serious and lasting.

At first, constantly dating new people might seem fun. But once it gets too far, you may feel empty and voided inside.

Fear of Being Abandoned

Deep down, you may be simply scared of possible rejection or abandonment. Maybe you have experienced a similar scenario in the past or the fear is rooted in your childhood.

No matter the reason, you may be frightened of the possible rejection. You simply avoid any sort of relationship to protect yourself emotionally.

Sabotaging Relationships

Sometimes, people do everything possible to end the relationship and reject a potentially matching partner with no apparent reason.

As getting close to someone makes you feel anxious and extremely uncomfortable, you simply want to escape this emotional commitment in all possible ways.

Being Overly Critical to Yourself a Partner

It’s all about being a perfectionist who demands way too much from themselves and the people around them.

Perhaps, in your childhood and teenage years, you were with overly demanding parents with high standards. Or, you always had to deserve their attention and love only if performing well.

It makes you demand a lot from yourself in adulthood as well as demand from your partner. Often, you can also over-criticize your partner and end relationships because of the problem that doesn’t really exist.

Trouble Sharing and Expressing Emotions

You are reluctant to talk about your feelings and do all your best to avoid dialogues about your deepest feelings. These conversations make you feel distressed and tense. So you cannot discern, express, and communicate your emotional needs to your partner.

However, this is not the complete list of main symptoms. Here are some additional signs that can also accompany the fear of intimacy:

  • low self-esteem
  • avoidance of physical contact with other people
  • issues with anger management
  • fear of being controlled
  • trust issues
  • problems with committing and building relationships
  • history of abusive and unstable relationships
  • being socially isolated
  • lost sexual interest
  • being indifferent or adverse to affection

If you are not sure whether you have fear of intimacy, you can take a quick fear of intimacy test available online. It will take only a few minutes but you will be able to define your emotional state and some symptoms.

However, for a more detailed problem explanation, it’s recommended to turn to a mental health professional and your GP. They will provide you with the necessary support you need.

If you’re in crisis or need immediate help, reach out to emergency resources, domestic and sexual abuse helplines, online volunteer or local organizations, and social groups.

Ways to Cope with Your Fear of Intimacy

Once you know much more about the fear of intimacy, it’s time to move on to the most important section in this article.

Down below, you will find out what are the most effective ways to overcome this fear of intimacy, improve your relationships with other people, and be more open to establishing new connections.

1. Define Your Life Goals

The first thing to do is to define your life goals.

Are you willing to establish valuable connections and build a serious long-term relationship? Or are you fine with having short-term relationships that lead to nowhere? Or, are you okay with isolophilia?

If you choose the first option and your ultimate goal is to bond with a person and live a happy loving life, focus on healing and changing yourself.

2. Gently Dive Into Your Past

Once you understand that you truly want a committed relationship with a happy ending, your job now is to understand the main reason you experience intimacy fear.

To do this, try to dive into your past and analyze all your previous experiences starting from your childhood.

Was it happy? Were your parents caring and loving? Do you have emotional trauma? What were your previous relationships like?

This can be quite a traumatic experience. So you may try to do it under the gentle guidance and support of a therapist. By answering these questions in a fully-accepting and safe environment you will get closer to a new version of yourself.

3. Learn to Express Emotions

Start talking about your feelings and emotions. The best way to get closer to a person is to share everything you experience inside. You don’t necessarily have to spill everything that’s on your mind and heart.

It’s not that scary to discuss your feelings with a partner. Define your boundaries and then move them away once you are ready. You will get gradually more comfortable expressing your emotions and sharing your feelings with a partner.

4. Embrace Uncertainty

Some people avoid serious relationships as they are afraid it will turn sour in the end. However, it’s pivotal to understand that we have no guarantees in our lives. No one can be sure they won’t be hurt or cheated on again.

Every day is a journey and you have to embrace this uncertainty life gives us.

5. Accept Yourself

No one is perfect and nor are you. Accept yourself as who you are with all your imperfections. Understand your value and self-worth and realize that rejection is not as scary as it might seem.

By setting boundaries you will be able to avoid negative consequences of engulfment and abandonment. Learn to let people go away from your life if they don’t fully accept you and stay open to someone new in your life.

Love yourself!

6. Give Yourself Time to Change

Don’t rush yourself into becoming a whole new person who easily lets people in their lives. This type of emotional and life change may take time. Don’t be so hard on yourself if your progress is not fast as expected.

With enough desire to build a committed long-term relationship, you will be able to change your attitude and learn to get close to people. Be patient and you will achieve the desired goal.

Also, it’s crucial to keep in mind that being emotionally available and open to establishing new emotional connections doesn’t mean you have to randomly let everyone in your life. Get to know a person first but leave your heart open and be ready for a new romantic adventure that might turn into something great and meaningful.

How Online Therapy Can Help with Intimacy Fear in Relationships

If you are willing to make a change and finally say goodbye to being afraid of bonding with people, online therapy can help.

Many people think that therapy is only for treating some mental health issues like depression or personality disorders. In fact, therapy can be beneficial for every person and for those who are afraid of intimate connections, too.

This is a perfect chance to work through intimacy fear with a licensed professional with relevant experience. An online therapist will come up with the most suitable treatment plan and provide you with additional resources and coping skills. They will boost your healing process and will let you live it up.

In addition, you can also talk about everything that bothers you — everything with your past, present, and future.

Seize your chance to get to know yourself better, get equipped to deal with your fears and trauma, and get the most life enjoyment!

How Online Therapy Works

After you choose or get matched with a therapist on an online therapy platform, you can connect with them and work on your problem.

Online sessions are an affordable solution to a wide range of mental and emotional issues. There are usually different pricing plans available, so that everyone can afford to connect with qualified and experienced counselors.

Also, there is no need to waste time commuting to a therapist’s office. All sessions are digital.

You can chat with a counselor from your smartphone, have audio and video calls from a desktop or tablet.

You are completely free to choose the most comfortable way for you to talk to a therapist and share your deepest thoughts and feelings.

Summing It Up

As it turns out, fear of intimacy is a common problem for people who struggle to bond with people and create meaningful and committed relationships with others.

However, you can cope with this challenge. Remember that overcoming such a problem takes time and much effort. Be patient, gentle with yourself, and consistent.

Online therapy is a powerful way to better understand yourself as well as the root of your intimacy fear. If you engage a therapist, you will be able to cope with your fears, traumas, and positively transform your life.

Make your first step to changing your life for the better and improving your well-being.

Matthew is an experienced and passionate BIPOC and inclusivity mental health expert. They are also a blogger, speaker, and relationship coach. Matthew helps people practice self-love and find mental and emotional peace through simple, practical tips and resources.

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