How many times have you heard the phrase ‘fear of intimacy’? Personally I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard this or read about this somewhere, which leads me to believe that it’s more common than you might think. Maybe, even, at some point in life we will all have a fear of intimacy in one way or another.
First there is the fear of emotional intimacy. That is, of course, the process of bonding with another on an emotional level to bring us closer together on a deeper level. It may or may not surprise you to hear that many, many people fear this particular kind of intimacy. Personally I do not, but I imagine it’s because emotional intimacy makes us feel vulnerable to another person. Well, not just feel vulnerable – we are vulnerable during this kind of close bonding. To be fair, I can see how it would be rather scary to tell someone something that perhaps you’ve never told anyone, much like a secret or something that you’re not proud of. Self-disclosure can be difficult, so I’m not surprised that many people find it hard to allow themselves to be intimate with another person in this way and to willingly let them in on such a emotional and deeply personal level.
Then there is the fear of physical intimacy. This is something which I can personally relate to in many ways, as I myself can admit to having this fear at present and for many years in my life. To be even more specific, I’m talking about sexual intimacy. This is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember, although I’m not sure where it has stemmed from in my case. It is the fear of connecting with someone on a sexual and highly intimate level during physical contact. This can be just as scary and just as difficult as emotional intimacy, as the concept is ultimately the same.
Those with a fear of emotional intimacy may put up an emotional ‘wall’ to keep others from accessing their inner most self. This kind of wall is a classic example of protecting ourselves by keeping others at a distance, where they are not able to hurt us, and may also be implemented from a lack of trust in other people. Those with a fear of physical intimacy, however, usually maintain this same idea of self-protection through physical barriers. It’s common to physically push another person away when they’re trying to get close to us, and use our hands and legs to establish this physical barrier that comes between two people during physical intimacy.
These two acts are both defensive mechanisms that maintains our sense of control and safety in the situation. Without these, we risk losing it and come to the realisation that we are currently vulnerable, and all we are left with is the trust we have in the other person. It’s at this point when you find out if you truly trust them or not, because you’re highly unlikely to give up control and face vulnerability for someone you do not trust.
Both physical and emotional intimacy put us in a highly vulnerable state, in which we give up control in order to let another person in and allow them to see a side of us which shows us exactly as we are to our core. It’s about having your guard down and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and leaving the door wide open to things like rejection and criticism but also more positive results such as appreciation and respect. It can cause us to lose or gain self-confidence but ultimately it is about putting yourself out there regardless of the result, whether it be positive or negative, no matter what the consequences. It’s a leap of faith, in my personal opinion, and takes a lot of guts to do.
If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and another person takes advantage of this in a negative way, (such as abusing the power we’ve willingly given them and/or abusing the trust we have in them), it can result in us closing ourselves off in similar situations that come about in future. We will remember what happened last time and it will give us an even greater fear of returning to a similar situation/state of mind next time around. In saying that, it’s also up to us to learn how to combat this fear as well as to keep an open mind. To learn from past experiences, and to also not be afraid to allow ourselves to experience what is right in front of us. After all, intimacy is what brings us closer together, allows us to connect on a deeper level and gives us a greater understanding of others (and them, you).
Lucy Rebecca x