Intimacy is a basic human need. Our physical and psychological well-being depends on intimacy which is defined as: closeness, bonding, caring for and being cared for, and sharing deep feelings and experiences with others. However, many people are afraid of intimacy because intimacy requires risk and vulnerability. The closer someone is to us, the more power they have to potentially hurt us.
The degree of fear associated with intimacy usually depends on how we experienced intimacy growing up. In a functional home where family members are not abused, needs are met, and good touching and encouragement occur, intimacy feels good and feels safe. Those growing up in functional homes are usually able to achieve and maintain intimacy in relationships. In a dysfunctional home where family members are abused, either sexually, physically, or emotionally, or their needs are neglected, intimacy can hurt or even destroy.
Those growing up in dysfunctional homes have a very hard time achieving intimacy, and when they do, they often sabotage it. When they feel close to someone and realize just how vulnerable they are, they get scared and may subconsciously find a way to pull back and create distance.
Sabotaging intimacy can take many forms. It can range from a simple fight to total withdrawal from the relationship. It can involve having unrealistic expectations such as expecting someone to be your all in all, and meet every need, or expecting someone to change their behavior overnight, or to act like someone they are not. It can involve operating on assumptions like expecting someone to read your mind. It can involve prematurely ending a relationship for fear that things might not work out even though the relationship may be going quite well. It can involve having an affair. This is one of the quickest and most destructive ways to sabotage intimacy and create distance.
Everyone deserves the chance to enjoy intimacy. If you are one of those who finds it difficult to tolerate intimacy, or find yourself sabotaging closeness with others, you can overcome your fear and learn to be intimate. To unlearn old dysfunctional habits and develop new, healthy ways to relate to people may require the assistance of a trained therapist or support group. It is a process which takes time and patience, but is always worthwhile.
Karen D. Nichols, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist (WA License 1250). She is currently with Crista Counseling Service, Issaquah branch.