The fear of intimacy can ruin relationships. We all crave connection, but due to trauma suffered in childhood, or perhaps as the result of a relationship in adulthood that went terribly wrong, some people learn that it’s safer to keep others at an emotional arm’s length. But doing so is counterproductive and often leads to destructive attachment or intimacy disorders.
What Is an Intimacy Disorder?
An intimacy disorder is a mental health condition characterized by profound difficulty establishing close or intimate relationships with other people. Intimacy disorders are believed to be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. If you have an intimacy disorder, you probably struggle with letting your guard down and being vulnerable with another person. This can be frustrating not only to the avoidant person, who may feel as if too many emotional demands are being made of them, but also to potential partners or spouses who desire a deeper relationship.
What Is the Word for Fear of Intimacy?
The fear of intimacy is sometimes referred to as aphenphosmphobia, which is the fear of being touched, and philophobia, which is the fear of emotional attachment or falling in love. For many individuals, intimacy problems can be traced back to experiences in their formative years, such as being abandoned or neglected by a parent, losing a parent, or suffering abuse at the hands of a parent — the person who, above all others, was supposed to love and protect them. Consequently, these wounded individuals are primed to develop trust issues. In addition, individuals with attachment issues may have had their heart broken as an adult and are petrified at the thought of ever putting themselves in the position of being hurt again.
What Does It Mean to Have an Intimate Relationship?
Intimacy is at the core of a close, personal relationship. It is an emotional connection that is often reserved for one’s “special person.” Experts say there are many types of intimacy:
- Emotional intimacy — We take off the mask we wear in public when we are with the people we hold most dear. There’s a sharing of feelings, both positive and negative, without worry of being judged. We know one another’s hopes and dreams, what makes them happy and what they most fear. It’s a safe place in the mind where we feel truly loved, understood and appreciated.
- Sexual intimacy — A direct expression of love and affection. It’s a sensual and sexual connection that is exciting and fulfilling for both partners.
- Intellectual intimacy — This form of intimacy grows through constant communication. You ask one another’s opinions, whether the subject is about parenting, politics, finances or health. Sharing ideas or even passionately debating opinions is a welcome exercise in which each partner is heard and respected.
- Spiritual intimacy — Spirituality for most of us is the feeling that we’re part of something greater than ourselves. Spiritual intimacy involves sharing this spiritual or religious connection, whether it’s in a church or on a mountaintop. Experiencing such grand moments together elevates the connection between partners.
Treatment for Intimacy Disorders
If you and your partner have drifted apart due to the fear of intimacy in any of these areas, you may wish to seek individual or couples counseling to understand why you’re not connecting. Through talk therapy, individuals are able to gain insight into the trauma or other emotional issues that underlie their behavior. They can identify negative thought patterns that play like a recording in the brain and change them to objective, positive ones that will help them get beyond past hurts and develop true intimacy.