Commitment phobia. Commitment-phobe. Fear of intimacy. We’ve all heard these phrases used to describe the reluctance of one person to settle into a long-term relationship with another person. While the terms are often used interchangeably, each means something very different. Commitment phobia generally refers to people who have a fear of committing to any intrusions on their life, including impositions on time, the introduction of new inanimate objects like buying a house or car, as well as embracing new people on more than a superficial level. Commitment-phobes are typically people who suffer from commitment phobia, while having a fear of intimacy is more rooted in anxiety about becoming emotionally close to another person. We generally think that men primarily suffer from this problem, but women also experience varying levels of fear and anxiety as relationships deepen. The Fear of Intimacy Scale can help identify specific traits that determine the likelihood a person fears intimacy and their accompanying level of fear.
What Is the Fear of Intimacy Scale?
The fear of intimacy scale uses data from a 35-question self-evaluation, which returns a score between 35 and 175, to establish whether the participant fears intimacy and how prominent their anxiety is. A high score indicates a high level of fear. Studies have shown that while men tend to score more highly on the fear of intimacy scale, women who fear intimacy often dictate the level of intimacy in the relationship as well as its longevity. Both men and women fear a loss of control, loss sense of self and a loss of freedom with close dating relationships. The fear of intimacy scale is accepted as a valid and reliable measure of a person’s anxiety related to close dating relationships. And over the last 30 years it has been used to expand research to include the relationship between actual and desired intimacy experienced by those who fear intimacy but are in an active dating relationship. Researchers have identified three key areas that tend to illustrate a whether a person is likely to fear intimate relationships.
- Content, which refers to the ability to communicate personal information.
- Emotional valence, which refers to how strongly one feels about the personal information that is exchanged.
- Vulnerability, which refers to how highly an individual regards the person with whom they are intimate.
Fear of intimacy does not necessarily mean there is a lack of desire to be intimate, but rather that a person becomes anxious when faced with the prospect of intimacy. People who fear intimacy often behave in a counterproductive manner to protect themselves by preventing the intimate interaction.
Where Does the Fear Originate?
So, what causes a person to become anxious about becoming emotionally close to another person? Although fear can be caused by a number of factors, people who fear intimacy often cite past bad relationships where trust was lost through abuse, infidelity, abandonment or similar issues. Anxiety about potential emotional closeness can also stem from childhood trauma, complicated familial dynamics and other negative experiences relating to close relationships.
How to Manage Fear
Individuals can manage their fear of close emotional relationships in much the same way other anxiety issues are controlled — by learning and employing coping skills. The following steps may help:
- Identify what you are afraid of
- Identify patterns and triggers
- Learn to be present with your emotions and deal with them
- Exercise small vulnerabilities and build upon them to increase closeness and trust
- Talk with your partner
- Talk to a therapist or counselor
Fear of intimacy can be a lifelong challenge for many people. But it is possible to overcome anxieties with some awareness and determination. The result could be the possibility of obtaining healthy, fulfilling relationships in the future. Sources: Fear of Intimacy Scale (Test) Development and Validation of a Fear-of-Intimacy Scale Fear of Intimacy Among Dating Couples