Emotional intimacy is one of the most wonderful experiences we ever have. Nothing else really comes close to the experience of sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings with another, of being deeply seen and known, of sharing love, passion, laughter, joy, and/or creativity. The experience of intimacy fills our souls and takes away our loneliness.
Why, then, would someone be afraid of intimacy?
It is not actually the intimacy itself that people fear. If people could be guaranteed that intimacy would continue to be a positive experience, they would have no fear of it. What they fear is the possibility of getting hurt as a result of being intimate with another.
Many people have two major fears that may cause them to avoid intimacy: the fear of rejection – of losing the other person, and the fear of engulfment – of being invaded, of being controlled and losing oneself.
Because we have all learned to react to conflict with various controlling behaviors – from anger and blame to compliance, withdrawal, and resistance – every relationship presents us with these issues of rejection and engulfment. If one person gets angry, the other may feel rejected or controlled and get angry back, give themselves up, withdraw or resist. If one person shuts down, the other may feel rejected and become judgmental, which may trigger the other’s fears of engulfment, and so on. These protective circles exist in one form or another in every relationship. When the fears of rejection and engulfment become too great, a person may decide that it is just painful to be in a relationship and they avoid intimacy altogether.
Yet avoiding relationships leads to loneliness and lack of emotional and spiritual growth. Relationships offer us the most powerful arena for personal growth, if we accept this challenge. So what moves us beyond the fear of intimacy?
The fear exists, not because of the experience itself, but because a person doesn’t know how to handle the situations of being rejected or controlled. The secret of moving beyond the fear of intimacy lies in developing a powerful loving adult part of us that learns how to not take rejection personally, and learns to set appropriate limits against engulfment.
When we learn how to take personal responsibility for defining our own worth instead of making others’ love and approval responsible for our feelings of worth, we will no longer take rejection personally. This does not mean that we will like rejection – it means we will no longer be afraid of it and have a need to avoid it.
When we learn how to speak up for ourselves and not allow others to invade, smother, dominate and control us, we will no longer fear losing ourselves in a relationship. Many people, terrified of losing the other person, will give themselves up in the hope of controlling how the other person feels about them. They believe that if they comply with another’s demands, the other will love them. Yet losing oneself is terrifying, so many people stay out of relationships due to this fear. If they were to learn to define their own worth and stand up for themselves, the fear would disappear.
When you deeply value yourself, you do not take rejection personally and become non-reactive to rejection. When you value yourself, you will not give yourself up to try to control another’s feelings about you. When you value yourself, you are willing to lose another rather than lose yourself. ~Jackie