Fear of Intimacy

The one chronic disease that I have had my entire life has been loneliness. We might have experienced the feeling. Symptoms of the disease are thinking that you are not worthy of connection, having anxiety around having to interact with people, thinking that people don’t like you for no apparent reason, having a hard time reaching out to people, and so much more. It is a pretty debilitating disease, not only mentally and emotionally for sure, but can have physical effects as well.

Loneliness is truly my old friend. My mother passed away from cancer when I was 13, and my dad passed when I was 21. During both traumas, I was alone. I felt as if I didn’t have anyone. It was even worse when my mother died. My mother was my best friend, and I was left with my father, the severe narcissist, who didn’t know how to deal with his pain, didn’t allow me to deal with mine, and instead would say things like “People told me that I should not continue to raise you and give you away.”  I felt worthless, unlovable, figured something was wrong with me and embraced loneliness as my protector.

Loneliness kept me safe. I figured I deserved it and people were inherently bad anyway. I compounded my loneliness by striving to be really independent, by using my introverted nature as an excuse. I pushed good people away, I thought I was better than everyone else, got used to the deafening silence, and acted in selfish ways. I remember going out for a hike (another solitary activity) after a day of being alone and being annoyed that there were other people on the hike. The world wasn’t rejecting me, I learned to adapt by rejecting the world.

Before I go further I would just like to say that if there is any post of mine I wish my younger self could have read, it would be this one. Recently discovering that I have a fear of intimacy has been groundbreaking for me. It put together all the missing pieces and answered all the questions I had on why I had felt I struggled for real connection and intimate relationships.

To begin, let’s go over what fear of intimacy is and what causes it.  Fear of intimacy is defined as the belief that one is not deserving or worthy of love and support. It has been said that engulfment and/or abandonment are underlying fears of fear of intimacy. Engulfment meaning that we are afraid we will be “taken over” by someone- we will not be able to express our feelings, thoughts, or actions around someone. Sound like codependency, anyone? Abandonment is a little more understood, it means it is the fear of others leaving you, usually stemming from you thinking someone will find something out about you and then that will cause them to leave you.

Is anything sounding familiar? So on to causes. Some causes may obviously be abandonment and engulfment. Others are neglect, loss of trust, living in emotionally and sometimes physically deprived conditions, abuse, and so on. Basically, it is caused by never having a healthy intimate relationship with someone, probably for a prolonged time. We don’t know what love, support, and acceptance looks like. So we fall for old patterns. And don’t know how to break free of the chains of abuse. The disease of loneliness has an onset, and then it becomes part of our identity and thus a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here is an example. Let’s say it was hard to make friends when you were little and you didn’t have a lot support throughout the process. The human mind immediately thinks that something is wrong with us and thus starts creating defense mechanisms in those situations in order to keep us free and safe from experiencing that kind of pain again. That first experience might have been bad luck; things are always out of our control. But, because we didn’t know that, no one showed us healthy coping mechanisms for pain and rejection, no one told us we are lovable as our imperfect selves or showed any support and understanding throughout the process we were not able to move past the shame, and instead we created a deficiency in ourselves.

And that brings us to narcissism. If someone had the bad luck of growing up with a narcissist or being in any kind of relationship with a narcissist for a long time we know the feeling of projection and judgment being thrown at us. Everything is our fault because the narcissist is perfect. We are trained to feel deficient so the narcissist has complete control and fulfills their own ego by abusing others.

Fear of intimacy can manifest itself in different ways. For me in romantic relationships it manifested in various different ways. I would do anything in order to keep myself safe from rejection. Some ways it would rear its ugly head was through desperation to be liked followed by aggressiveness, the need to appear to be perfect or find such so called perfect partners, finding excuses on why someone wouldn’t like me or the relationship wouldn’t work out with people that were interested in me and that I liked back, fantasizing about real or fake partners and our experiences together instead of finding those experiences in real time, and finding partners that were unavailable in order to keep myself safe. Other ways it manifests are through defensiveness, judgment, being controlling, trying to predict the future, fearing people and the world, and judging everything instead of accepting it. These are all characteristics of drawing disconnection instead of connection.

I felt most safe when events were planned, when I could be in control of the situation. I felt safer with people that I knew and that knew me, and always had a hard time with small talk. But as much as I wanted to be in control, control is an illusion. I was always afraid of going out and interacting with people. Part of me was always incredibly desperate for human connection, longing for little bits and pieces of love that I saw everywhere: a couple sharing a cookie at a coffeehouse, families taking a walk downtown, a group of friends meeting up for a hike, a toddler who has stopped crying because his or her mother tenderly picked them up, and so on. It reminded me constantly of what I didn’t have and the fact that I was usually a witness to these displays of love when I was alone. I didn’t want to live in this world mostly because this world runs on love. And I didn’t know love.

What I learned, and what I wished I knew earlier is that love is everywhere, especially in those small and seemingly fleeting tender moments. I wish I knew how to love myself enough to form healthy relationships with good people that would treat me well and that would not take advantage of my kindness. I wish I knew that I was worthy and that I deserved better. I wish I knew that I am good person who is broken but that is okay because every good person is broken in one way or another. I wish I knew that intimacy was a two way street of giving and receiving. I wish I knew that the only difference between me being single and others being in relationships is the fact that other people felt comfortable with showing up and letting others show up broken and just be together. They knew they were capable of and deserving of true intimacy.

The only way to get through whatever you are going through is to go right through it. I could not have had these realizations without constantly putting myself out there and being committed to finding connection. Go outside, interact with others, expect rejection, expect feeling down about yourself because of failures, you will cry, but you will also get through it. There is much uncertainty and troubleshooting to come. Despite all the hardships, continue to bring awareness to your feelings, experiences, and interactions. The first step is to bring that awareness without forcing yourself to figure it out right away. Patterns will appear and answers will come to light. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask for help, advice, or support. There will be breakthroughs and beautiful moments. The truth is everyone is going to hurt you, we each come with our own problems. But, certain people are worth hurting for, choose the ones that are worth fighting for.

It pains me to write these stories, to go back, and to look forward as well. At these tough times of realizations it is easy to be hard on oneself. Despite on observations on how I could have lived better, I do really have some amazing people in my life and am proud of myself. I have lived through the effects of narcissism. Because I believe in connection, love, peace, and joy I am committed to the fight using compassion, forgiveness, acceptedness, openness, vulnerability as my tools. Please allow yourself the same.

Written by: Anna (Creator of Echos Corner)