Most everyone carries fears about intimacy and being vulnerable. We are afraid of being hurt, abandoned, rejected, humiliated, or betrayed. Some of us are more afraid than others because of experiences that shaped us growing up. Attachment style with our parental relationship serves as a model for adult experiences, particularly in the most intimate of relationships. When a parent is emotionally absent, dismissing, inattentive, constantly distracted or downright cruel and rejecting, the distress confuses the child and desperate behavior begins to intensify. As adults these children fear the threat of rejection or abandonment more than others. They can become extremely clingy and angry, overwhelmed by their unmet dependency needs and unable to contain anxiety. Often, they become people pleasers to receive approval from others.
Adults that have a negative self-image are fearful and doubting in their ability to keep a partner interested and maintain a loved one’s attention. They worry excessively about rejection. They are emotionally dependent and constantly feel unappreciated. In intimate relationships they are romantically obsessive and jealous. They tend to take hostages and are preoccupied with their partners.
Some adult children are dismissing and come across as emotionally disconnected, cold, and uninterested in intimate relationships. They can waver between being distant and cut-off emotionally, to being critical and controlling. These people are cynical and have negative views of others. They are particularly guarded, mistrustful, and reluctant to self-disclose in most intimate relationships. They tend to have more break-ups and are less invested in partnerships. They feel less grief or distress when they have break-ups than others experience. They just don’t seem to care as much.
Those who don’t care at all and are emotionally shut down as a result of trauma are often incapable of human intimacy. If their behavior is characterized by a lack of remorse, lack of empathy, manipulations, and emotional coldness they may be a psychopath. True psychopaths are constitutionally incapable of normal human interaction. If you are in a relationship with someone like this, run, get out. You cannot experience genuine intimacy with someone who abuses power and control and deals with emotional discomfort by blaming and attacking.
Many of us have these problems because we are afraid of being hurt or betrayed. We still want intimacy, but are afraid of depending on someone and then getting wounded again. These experiences are a driving force in ambivalence about intimacy. The more painful and unresolved our earlier experiences are the more we crave intimacy and the more we feel threatened by it. This is demonstrated by “come close”, “go away” relationship behavior. We get close, get afraid, find fault with our partner, feel hurt and sabotage the relationship. We then find ourselves alone, crave closeness again, and the repetitive behavior starts all over. So if you sabotage intimacy and see it as a negative behavior you want to change, focus on the fear that fuels your actions. You can learn to be compassionate with your fears and with others. When you can see your fears and needs more clearly you can stop the cycle. Love is what we really want and often we are afraid of love without consciously knowing it.
If you love someone and want more intimacy, and a decent relationship, you can learn how to create intimacy better. Find out what your partner needs and how to support those needs. If you pay attention and care about your loved one’s feelings, you can learn to be a better (not perfect) partner. And when you stay in a relationship over time you can build your capacity for intimacy.
Thank you for reading this article. I’ve dedicated my personal and professional life to the importance of non-violence and self-compassion by teaching from my experience. As a result, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to create healthy relationships. And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.