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Fear Of Intimacy

QUESTION: How common is fear of intimacy in marriage?


Fear of intimacy is one of the biggest obstacles that must be faced within the context of community. Closely linked to its sister, "fear of rejection," it can result in failed relationships and the inability to relate in a meaningful way with other individuals. Fear of Intimacy is a frequent culprit in failed marriages. Its sufferers frequently report feelings of isolation and loneliness, and an inability to connect with others.

The fear of intimacy has a number of different causal factors. Past experiences with abuse and/or neglect, may predispose an individual to being fearful of allowing themselves to become vulnerable to a new relationship. Other closely associated fears such as the fear of abandonment may precipitate a guarded behavior, effectively shutting down the possibility of an intimate relationship. Individuals who are raised in families where there is little emotional intimacy are often fearful of establishing emotional intimacy with marital partners.

Forms of intimacy are often not only feared, but discouraged, in family systems that are characterized by severe forms of dysfunction such as alcoholism. In such families, intimacy is viewed as a threat to the unhealthy dynamics that are operating within the system. Physical forms of intimacy may be feared due to shame-based thinking which may have resulted from sexual abuse or exposure to pornography.

According to Dr. Gary Collins, author of Christian Counseling -- A Comprehensive Guide, the lack of intimacy will often result in individuals who feel, "lonely, unwanted, unloved, and emotionally deprived." Such feelings of isolation may lead these same individuals to seek intimacy in sexual explorations outside of marriage. In extreme cases where fear of intimacy exists, detachment from meaningful relationships may occur. This can result in maladaptive behaviors and be causal in the onset of emotional health issues such as depression and anxiety. For example, although there is much controversy surrounding the understanding and/or acceptance of masturbation, it can readily be seen that when an individual compulsively engages in this form of behavior as a substitute for meaningful intimacy, that further isolationism frequently occurs. This results in self-centeredness, low self-esteem, and feelings of guilt. It may also deprive a loved one of the fulfillment found in an intimate relationship. Intimacy, when untreated, ultimately leads an individual away from meaningful connection and into a place of isolation and loneliness. Larry Crabb, author of Connecting makes the following powerful statement about the relationship between mental illness and lack of intimacy:

"For most of this century we have wrongly defined soul wounds as psychological disorders and delegated their treatment to trained specialists. Damaged psyches aren't the problem. The problem is disconnected souls . . ."

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