Most of us grow out of childhood fears of bullies on the playground, monsters in the closet or a parent's arched eyebrow when we've done wrong. Fears of adulthood are often more complex, sometimes hidden, deeply imbedded and often relational.
Of these, a most intriguing fear is the fear of intimacy. This fear seems almost out of place in a culture such as ours. We tell it all on national TV, make fast friends on the Internet of people we've never met face to face and push past boundaries of sensual expression that former generations would have held fast.
Yet, we often find ourselves feeling somehow alone in the midst of our craving for true connection with others. Even in our most private relationships, we may feel the threat of separateness or the impulse to run when a partner pushes in too close.
The simple definition of intimacy, as one poet has described it, is " in to me see," or the ability to allow someone to see into one's true self and to also know and connect to another. Hindrances to this come as a result of hurt in the past that causes distrust of others; growing up with parents who modeled emotional distance through lack of communication, shared interests or affection; fears of rejection; fears of abandonment; co-dependency, or the fear of losing oneself or being engulfed in the personality of another.
Interestingly, some studies with women have found that depression can also be linked to a fear of intimacy, as well as a poor self-image that is directly related to feelings about one's physical appearance. Working through these issues may help a person move more courageously toward intimacy with others as well.
Truly, overcoming the fear of intimacy takes much courage and willingness to tell oneself the truth. Most individuals have no idea that the bad luck they may be experiencing in choosing romantic relationships, feeling content in the ones they have or even clear communication with others may be hinged on subconscious behaviors and thought patterns.
The way out is tough, but it can be found. The first step is to take an honest look at your life and ask yourself continuously, "Why?" Why are things the way they are in my life? What happens inside of me in certain circumstances, around certain people? Where might this come from? When do I first remember acting this way? What do I desire? How close am I to having it? Am I willing to peel back my own layers and find a way to change?
Experts give some helpful tips, including the following:
-- Learn to communicate even about your fears of intimacy once you identify them. This may help them dissipate and will increase intimacy at the same time.
-- Talk about big issues. Talk about small issues. Express yourself authentically. If you feel frustrated about something, share your feelings in a calm, open manner, expressing why you feel frustrated and what the other person could do to reduce your feelings of frustration.
-- Ask for what you may want or need in a relationship. Be willing to give what others may want or need.
-- Be willing to share hurt feelings or uncomfortable thoughts, again in a thoughtful, nonblaming manner.
-- Take baby steps slowly until you are able to build toward larger ones.
-- And, of course, don't hesitate to see a professional if need be.
Tabi Upton, MA-lpc, is a therapist at CBI-Richmont Counseling Center and founder of www.chattanoogacounselor.com, a self-help website. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.