When you hear the phrase “fear of intimacy,” you probably assume that it’s a fear of letting someone get close to you physically, but that’s not entirely the case. We decided to tap Alysha Jeney, a millennial relationship therapist/owner of Modern Love Counseling in Denver (also a co-founder and relationship expert at Modern Love Box, a subscription box meant to inspire the modern relationship) in order to delve deeper on the topic. “I would describe a ‘fear of intimacy’ as a conscious or subconscious fear of being emotionally and/or physically vulnerable with another person,” says Jeney.
"It is a fear of exposing the really raw, authentic parts of you that you tend to keep very private and internal." (Side note: She describes intimacy itself as “showing a part of yourself to someone that no else sees or experiences.”)
First, we wanted to debunk the myth that a fear of intimacy is just physical (or sexual). Jeney explains that anxiety can show up in any relationship, including with family, friends, and even co-workers. "It’s giving yourself permission to ask for what you need, express how you are feeling, and to give the other person the privilege of seeing and experiencing who you really are."
When we brought up to Jeney that an estimated 17% of adults in Western cultures have a fear of intimacy in relationships, she said she was surprised that the number was so low. “I personally and professionally believe we are all—on some level—afraid of some form of intimacy, and I believe we all struggle with it in different forms at different stages of our lives,” she told us. The problem occurs when we don’t keep this fear in check because then it can cause us to keep our guard up. This unintentional act of pushing someone away can make the other person feel insecure in whatever type of relationship you happen to be in.
“From the outside, it may look like that person [who has a fear of intimacy] is being closed off, but I see it as a coping strategy that helps them soothe themselves and feel safe,” Jeney explains.
The relationship expert insists having a fear of intimacy is normal and sees it as an innate part of being human. “Working through the fear of intimacy can be done by becoming more self-aware and emotionally empowered,” she says. Possible ways to do so include counseling, retreats, practicing mindfulness, and working on your spirituality (if that is of interest to you). To help decode whether you (or someone you know) may be going through this, we’ve asked Jeney to break down the top five signs someone may have a fear of intimacy. Once the fear is realized, it becomes easier to overcome.
You have trust issues
Do you often question whether someone is being authentic or whether you can be honest with them? Intimacy is fostered by trust and trust supports us in being vulnerable, according to Jeney. “Without trust, you cannot fully embrace all levels of intimacy or feel extremely safe with someone,” she says.
You don't ask for what you need
Communication is key to any relationship, and we know that. In order for you to experience intimacy with someone, you need to be able to hear, share, and support each others’ needs and requests. “By not requesting what you need from your partner in a direct way, you block an opportunity to get closer and experience more intimacy in your relationship,” says Jeney.
You struggle with your emotions
Ugh, we’ve all grappled with trying to figure out difficult feelings at one point. It’s often easier for us to move away from pain and discomfort rather than articulating what we’re feeling, and that may be because we’re afraid of expressing or feeling those things, Jeney muses. And guess what? It might be doing others some harm, too. “If you dismiss your own emotions, you’re most likely dismissing your partner’s, and this perpetuates a disconnect in understanding,” she says.
You push people away when you need them most
Sometimes we need others to support us when we’re going through something, but it’s someone with a fear of intimacy’s inclination to handle it on their own. “If you tend to push people away instead of leaning toward them, this is an indication because you’d prefer to suffer alone than to be vulnerable with your emotions,” Jeney says.
You can never say you're sorry
Knowing that you’re wrong is one thing, and saying you’re sorry is another. It can take a lot of effort for us to admit a mistake and apologize, as it can make us feel like we’re putting the other person in a position of power. “If you struggle with telling someone you’re sorry, you’re struggling with letting your guard down,” says Jeney. “You struggle with trusting that person isn’t going to kick you when you’re down.”
Is there anything else about a fear of intimacy that you’d like to add?Continue the conversation in the comments.
Up next are the most common relationship problems and how to solve them.