Intimacy can mean different things to different people. It is a word that has numerous meanings and interpretations. The meaning I am going to be looking at here is closeness.
Although closeness is usually experienced in relationships of the opposite sex, it can be experienced in any relationship where there is an emotional connection. And an emotional connection can also be felt with friends, colleagues and teachers for example.
The Fear Of Intimacy
To become close to another involves opening ourselves up and a natural consequence of this is that our defences are dropped. We are then vulnerable; which is perfectly normal and part of being human.
However this feeling of vulnerability can be so strong and so overwhelming that it can cause one to retract and avoid closeness altogether.
For others it can mean that they will allow closeness to occur, but only so close. And if it were to go any further than what they are comfortable with; they will likely retract and wait for the level of closeness they are comfortable with to return.
Where Does It Come From?
So where does the fear of intimacy originate from? Through my own experience and research I would say that the fear of intimacy is created during our younger years. What happens during that time and how we interpret what happens is what causes the fear of intimacy.
It is the relationships that we have with our caregivers that have the potential to define how comfortable we are with intimacy throughout our whole life.
The Forgotten Past
Everything that has happened during those years is often largely forgotten about. What are not forgotten about are the emotions, thoughts, sensations and behaviours that these experiences have created.
These can seem random and to just happen, without cause or reason, when the opportunity for intimacy appears.
The primary relationship that one has during their early years is usually where ones meaning of intimacy is formed. It is during this time that the mind forms associations of what is safe and what is not, in regards to emotional closeness. It also forms associations of what happens when intimacy occurs and what intimacy is.
I believe there are three main scenarios going on here. Which are: the distant caregiver, the hot/cold caregiver and the overbearing/smothering caregiver. These are fairly lose descriptions, as they can merge together; with each scenario having the potential to combine and influence each other.
This is the caregiver that is rarely around physically. It might also be a caregiver that is around, but is emotionally unavailable when they are around. So either way, they are not present or available.
This is the caregiver that has moments when they are around and when they are not, this might sound perfectly normal. However, this is not based on routine or plan; these moments are irregular and uncertain. With the child not knowing, when or if, the caregiver is going to be there for them.
With this caregiver, they are present and are able to be relied upon, however they can cause the child to be overwhelmed and suffocated. The Child's boundaries are ignored; the child is then used to fulfil the caregivers own needs, with the child's needs often being ignored and neglected.
The consequence of this is that one's model of intimacy will be at best skewed and at worst dysfunctional. This of course has the potential to cause years of pain around intimacy.
In the first scenario the distant caretaker is seldom available. This can create feelings of: alonesss, hopelessness, shame, rejection, abandonment, shame and betrayal. This can also form problems around being able to trust people and on being able to rely on them.
With the second scenario the caretaker cannot be consistently relied upon to be there either. This can create feelings much like the ones above, but perhaps there intensity is different. These are: hopelessness, rejection, shame, abandonment and worthlessness.
In the third scenario the child experiences an extreme level of closeness. This can create feelings of: suffocation, panic, overwhelm, hopelessness, helplessness, betrayal and shame.
Reliance And Trust
If our caregivers could not be consistently relied upon or trusted to be there for us, it is only normal for one to doubt the likelihood of being able to rely on or to trust that others to be there either. And if one was brought up by an overwhelming caretaker; it is only normal to expect that from other people if one were to get close.
And if this is the kind of intimacy that is familiar to the ego mind and therefore what is safe and as a result continually attracted into one's life, it is only normal to avoid it.
Fear Of Closeness
The following fears can then be experienced: if we get close to another they will disappear or they will be distant or that we will lose ourselves and become overwhelmed if we experience intimacy.
These fears can then be projected onto others and other people with the same traumas can be attracted to us.
With these original experiences still playing out in ones unconscious mind; one will continue to create the same scenarios, to play the same roles and have others play the same roles as ones caregivers did.
This can cause one to sabotage any chance of intimacy and this is not necessarily because of the type of relationships that they are exposed to, but due of the minds original associations of what intimacy is and the perceptions that this creates.
What also makes the fear of intimacy hard to notice is repression and how ones fears can get projected externally. What I'm talking about here is that the fear of intimacy could show up as external rejection. It could also lead to the rejection of others.
The ego mind will then take on the role of the victim or the perpetrator. If one is continually rejected, the mind can then play the role of the victim. And if it is an experience of continually being the rejecter, the role of the perpetrator could be taken on.
The first position has the potential to cause one to regress back to how they felt as a child, with all those unprocessed feelings flooding back. And the second position will occur through one identifying with the caregiver as a way to feel a sense of power; this will also cause feelings to emerge.
These are two sides of the same coin and are neither healthy nor helpful in the pursuit of intimacy.
Processing The Past
These scenarios and roles will continue to play out until they have been made conscious and processed. The minds tendency is to avoid looking at what is painful and has numerous defence mechanisms to do it, such as the one mentioned above. But it is in facing our pain that will lead to healthy and fulfilling intimacy.
Ones story might be about the fear of intimacy and the pain, suffering and isolation that this brings, but this doesn't have to define one's life.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 25 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.