Love makes the world go ‘round, they say. Love will set you free, they say. And the best cliché of them all: love conquers all.
What good is love, though, when you’ve got someone who has a fear of intimacy? Or even more tragic, you are the one with it.
Sure, we all get scared of getting hurt by someone we’ve invested time, effort, and emotions in. However, when that fear has been taken to “the point of no return,” that’s when it can be a problem.
What Is the Fear of Intimacy?
Fear of intimacy is real; on the surface, it’s understood to be a form of social anxiety. Under that shell, however, is the manifestation of other fears that may have developed throughout life.
It can be a real dread trying to connect with someone on a deeper level, especially when you have a fear of intimacy. You cannot share your thoughts, ideas, feelings, or physical bonding experiences with another. There’s so much angst and jitters, which, undoubtedly, makes it a challenge to be in a relationship, let alone keep one.
This is far from the iconic Disney fairy tales that taught many of us the ideals of love and what a picture-perfect relationship looks like. As we went through our first heartbreak, a sense of weariness grew within us as it led to another and possibly more.
Underlying fears at the root of intimacy issues
There are a few types of phobias that lie under the umbrella of the “fear of intimacy.” A 2011 doctorate thesis paper highlights six of them: the fear of…
- Exposure: The fear that your partner will discover something about you, including things that you may be embarrassed about.
- Abandonment: The worry your partner will leave once they have gotten to know too much about you.
- Angry attacks: When you’re reluctant to reveal information in your relationship, in case it may be used against you.
- Loss of control: The risk of being intimate can be too great if it involves your fear of losing control.
- One’s own destructive impulses: You’re afraid of being in touch with what your partner is feeling.
- Losing one’s individuality or being engulfed: The fear that you’ll lose yourself in the other person or be completely engulfed by them.
Additionally, other phobias can include:
- Philophobia: Fear of emotional intimacy or of love.
- Pistanthrophobia: Fear of getting hurt by a romantic partner.
- Sarmassophobia: Fear of foreplay.
- Chiraptophobia: Fear of physical contact.
- Genophobia: Fear of sexual intercourse.
- Erotophobia: Fear of sexual intimacy.
- Anthropophobia: Fear of rejection.
These intimacy issues, if not addressed, can lead you down a dark path.
What Causes the Fear of Intimacy?
With any deep-seated distress, the fear of intimacy is often subconscious and stems from unresolved past experiences. It can also influence your attachment style, which is how you form relationships and the type of bonds you have with other people.
“The fear of intimacy is rooted in negative attitudes toward the self and others that develop early
in life,” explains researchers Dr. Anita L. Vangelisti and Gary Beck in Low-Cost Approaches to Promote Physical and Mental Health. And regardless of the root of it, the causes tend to have the same outcome — developing behavioral patterns that ultimately push the other person away.
So here’s a closer look at what causes someone to fear intimacy:
Neglect or abandonment
When it comes to intimacy issues, neglect or abandonment during a person’s formative years can cause such fear. It happens when a caregiver (a parent or guardian) is unresponsive, unavailable, or has not learned how to be comfortable with their own emotions.
Research suggests that when emotional needs during childhood are repeatedly ignored, invalidated, or minimized, it impacts relationships in adulthood. They’re often anxious, often insecure, and dependent on their partner for validation and emotional regulation.
While trauma can look different for every individual, it often forces a person to be in constant “fight or flight” mode. They often feel unsafe, insecure, and even panic. And when it comes to intimacy, it can show up as avoidance, inability to express feelings, irritability, lack of sexual desire, or sensitivity to touch.
And when triggered, they either hide their feelings, lash out, or shut down in response. The constant feeling of being on edge and the fear of trust make it extremely difficult to maintain relationships.
Like trauma, abuse can force someone to always be on high alert. In fact, a prospective study looked into childhood abuse and neglect and how it affects adult intimate relationships. Their results showed higher rates of cohabitation, walking out, and divorce among victims than among controls.
While those who have been through abuse may desire a healthy relationship, their past issues may distort their perception of self-worth and how they see others.
5 Signs You Have a Fear of Intimacy
“From birth, we are indoctrinated into fear,” explains clinical psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary at Mindvalley Live 2020. She adds that our inner reality is often too difficult to face, so we constantly find ways to escape it.
However, understanding how it manifests in your life is one step closer to overcoming it. Here are five fear-of-intimacy signs you should know:
1. You have difficulty trusting people
Trust allows you to rely on the other person’s integrity, strength, and respect. And because of that, it provides you with a sense of safety.
It’s a major factor in any relationship, be it romantic or platonic. As a matter of fact, a 2019 survey by Pew Research Center found that married couples have more trust in each other than those who cohabitate.
However, when there’s a lack of it, you may feel suspicious, doubt your partner, and even isolate yourself. As a result, the relationship will lack the stability it needs to create a safe, respectful environment for both parties.
2. You’re angry — a lot
There’s a right way to get angry. However, when this big emotion isn’t controlled and taken too far, it can lead to verbal, emotional, or even physical abuse — and that is not acceptable.
Explosive or frequent anger can cause a communication breakdown, lead to lapses in judgment, and lead to losing sight of what caused the frustration in the first place. In turn, it’ll leave your partner feeling unsafe and cause long-term — and sometimes irreparable — damage.
3. You’re unable to share your feelings or express emotions
Sharing your emotions can put you in a vulnerable position, but it’s crucial to being connected to another person. It’s all part of effective communication and can uphold passion in relationships.
However, if you struggle with alexithymia (which means identifying and expressing emotions), it robs you and your partner of emotional closeness. Moreover, it forces them to assume how you feel, which, as the saying goes, “makes an ass out of u and me.”
4. You hide behind masks
More often than not, we hide behind masks, revealing the versions of ourselves that we want others to see. This can lead to us losing ourselves in the identity we choose to show instead of our authentic selves.
“Authenticity” may make you roll your eyes, but it’s a buzzword for a reason. The concept is about discovering your values and beliefs and living by them with gumption and grit.
5. You’re afraid of not being perfect
Similar to hiding behind a mask, the idea of showing your imperfections can often cause anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. This phobia is called atelophobia, the obsessive fear of imperfection.
It’s an extension of believing that you’re “not good enough.” And no matter how great your relationship is, you tend to doubt whether you deserve it.
How to Get Over Fear of Intimacy: 5 Tips by Mindvalley Experts
A huge part of dating is pursuing intimacy — frequenting bars, swiping left or right on dating apps, joining relationship classes, or even old-fashion matchmaking. But that can all come to a screeching halt when an unhealthy amount of fear is thrown into the mix.
That’s why it’s important to recognize what blocks you from fully embracing intimacy. So we turned to Mindvalley trainers to provide their expertise to help you go from fear to fearlessness.
1. Practice mirror work | Rachel Pringle
On the note of finding your true self, finding love for yourself is essential. There’s truth in the saying, “You can’t love others until you love yourself.”
When you do so, you provide yourself with self-confidence, self-worth, and positivity. And that enables the Law of Resonance — when the vibration of a thing is projected, it attracts the energies of the same resonance — to come into play.
There are tons of self-love techniques to try, one of them being mirror work. It involves you looking at yourself in the mirror while saying positive affirmations, like “I am enough.”
It’s something you can do anywhere. And according to Rachel Pringle, embodiment coach and trainer of Mindvalley’s Wild Woman Sensuality Quest, it allows you to shift the way you see yourself and ground yourself in your body.
Rachel Pringle’s tip on how to get over the fear of intimacy: “We’ve all had experiences in our life that make us feel disconnected: traumas, woundings, self-doubt, self-criticism. … [Mirror work] is our opportunity to come back and re-instill that deep, profound connection of trust and receptivity within our own heart.”
2. Release your anger with a Spinal Flush | Donna Eden & David Feinstein
Energy healing can help strengthen your connection with your partner. One such technique, taught by Donna Eden and David Feinstein in Mindvalley’s The Energies of Love Quest, is the Spinal Flush.
It stimulates powerful points in the body, known as shu points in Chinese medicine, and balances them. That, in turn, releases negative energy, like stress and anger.
Donna Eden and David Feinstein’s tip on how to get over the fear of intimacy: “What [Spinal Flush] does is that if you’ve had an argument and you have the ability to stop the argument and give each other a Spinal Flush, it’s going to shift the energies completely between you.”
You can learn how to do the Spinal Flush in this demonstration by Donna and David:
3. Master your emotions | Jennifer Patridge
The idea of emotional mastery is that you’re so aligned with your thoughts and feelings that you can welcome uncomfortable emotions. You have the capacity to embrace sorrow, sadness, frustration, anger, and so on.
“So many of us just don’t want to go there,” explains Jennifer Patridge, tapping expert and trainer of Mindvalley’s Tapping Into Emotional Mastery Quest. “We would prefer to defend, to deflect, to make an excuse, and to numb.”
However, it’s not about keeping those emotions at bay. Rather, it’s about understanding that they are a part of you and they, too, deserve a seat at the table.
So instead of “sweeping things under the rug,” it’s important to understand you are the master of your emotions. And Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also known as tapping, is one powerful way to work with your thoughts and emotions rather than fight them.
Jennifer Patridge’s tip on how to get over the fear of intimacy: “You can’t heal any pain you refuse to feel. … [Tapping] is such an important tool because it gives us the power to heal all of that stuff that we’re suppressing, so we can truly step into the life that we are destined for.”
4. Take off the masks | Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani
“Don’t you find it paradoxical?” asks Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley and trainer of Live by Your Own Rules Quest. “We put on the masks so that we are accepted and loved. Yet scientists have discovered that to be accepted and loved, you have to take off the mask.”
Masks can have their purpose. After all, we’re expected to behave a certain way in different environments. (Like, can you imagine joking around during a funeral?)
The problem is when we forget that we’re wearing one at all. And we end up believing our masks are who we are.
So who are you without all the masks? Who are you without all the influences of societal expectations? And who are you when you look within?
These are valid questions to ask as you explore who you are authentically.
Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip on how to get over the fear of intimacy: “When I’m talking about being authentic, I’m talking about being honest with yourself and learning to love yourself. Love the full spectrum of yourself, not just the façade of perfection.”
5. Create conscious intimacy | Dr. Shefali Tsabary
How do you want to show up in your relationships? That’s something to ponder on when you do something with consciousness, even when you want to learn how to overcome the fear of physical intimacy.
Sure, you can reach for the Kamasutra book or learn tantra. However, conscious intimacy goes beyond that.
It is something greater than “you and I,” meaning you and your partner, according to Dr. Shefali Tsabary, who’s also the trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest. And that something greater is “we.”
“To enter that ‘we’ space is to enter interdependence, to enter oneness,” she explains. “You cannot enter it if you don’t know oneness within your own wisdom, the oneness that comes from entering a solitude of contemplation.”
Simply put, to create a deep connection with another, you should first know yourself. When you do, you’ll be able to show up in the relationship with kindness, compassion, and love. What’s more, you can reclaim your sexual power.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s tip on how to get over the fear of intimacy: “When you love another, what you really mean by that in the transcendent sense is that you so honor their being. Because you so honor your being. You see, once the inner self touches inner liberation, you will never steal it from another being.”
Great Love Starts With You
There’s a fitting quote from Dutch priest Henri Nouwen: “If fear is the great enemy of intimacy, love is its true friend.” When you allow fear to take control of your desire for intimacy, it takes away the prospect of truly knowing what love is.
If you are ready for it and want to explore how to come into this sacred experience, you can head to Mindvalley and learn from the experts.
- Wild Woman Sensuality with Rachel Pringle. Catered specifically for women, this quest focuses on healing deep traumas and releasing your inner blocks.
- The Energies of Love with Donna Eden and David Feinstein. With energetic tools and techniques, you can discover how to deeply understand each other, interpret each other’s unique energetic patterns, and return to a state of harmony with each other.
- Tapping Into Emotional Mastery with Jennifer Patridge. This quest helps you find and heal emotional memories and trauma that cause involuntary triggers through tapping.
- Live by Your Own Rules with Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani. Shed the masks of society and thoroughly explore self-discovery, self-liberation, and the most important relationship you’ll ever have — the one with yourself.
- Conscious Parenting Mastery with Dr. Shefali Tsabary. Parenting isn’t about your child; rather, it’s about your inner child and this quest will help you focus inwards and harness your self-evolution.
You can unlock your free access and try out sample classes from all the quests above, along with others that can help you with your personal growth. Moreover, you can explore the vast library of meditations to work on your mindfulness and consciousness.
There’s a sacredness in real intimacy. And it starts with the love you have for yourself.