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, creativity, laughter and joy. The experience of intimacy fills our souls and takes away our loneliness.
Why, then, would someone be afraid of intimacy?
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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.
The Two Fears Underlying the Fear of Intimacy
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, controlled, and losing oneself.
Because many of us have 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 most relationships. When the fears of rejection and engulfment become too great, a person may decide that it is just too 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?
Healing the Fear of Intimacy
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The fear exists, not because of the experience itself, but because you don'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 you that learns how to not take rejection personally, and learns to set appropriate limits against engulfment.
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