Overcoming Fear of Intimacy
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Negative attitudes and shame are often passed from parents to children. This often blocks true intimacy (closeness) between adult couples.
For example, one night John told his wife Sally that he loved her long, brown hair. The next day, Sally had her hair cut short. When John saw it, he was shocked. He felt that she did not care about what he liked. He felt angry, but then saw how happy Sally was with her new hairdo. He said nothing, but he felt distanced from her.
Later, Sally remembered when her mother said she was ugly. That message stayed with her into adulthood. When John admired her beauty, it did not match her deep belief that she was ugly. So, Sally set out to maintain her poor self-image. She cut her cherished hair.
Inheriting Attitudes From Parents
Children think their parents are always perfect. They often blame themselves for their parents' faults and weaknesses. Children also often adopt their mother or father's negative attitudes and opinions. They can carry these attitudes into adulthood and never question them.
Messages commonly passed on to girls may include:
Messages commonly passed on to boys include:
Choosing a Mate
Adults often choose partners who are similar to a parent in some way. This is because the person feels familiar.
Healing and intimacy can begin when couples learn more about themselves. They need to see how their childhood affected them. This means seeing their parents' faults and weaknesses as well as strengths. The next step is to apply this knowledge to themselves and their partners.
Letting the Beliefs Out
Getting closer may begin by talking about negative attitudes and beliefs. For instance, Sally could reveal how her family thought she was ugly. John might disclose that he cannot express anger at women. He thought his mother was perfect and could never be angry at her.
Increasing the Intimacy
Couples can also become closer by appreciating their differences.
Here are some ways to do this:
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
About fear of intimacy. The Glendon Association website. Available at: https://www.glendon.org/post-topic/fear-of-intimacy. Accessed June 11, 2021.
Fear of intimacy: understanding why people fear intimacy. PsychAlive website. Available at:
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Accessed June 11, 2021.
Harris MA, Orth U. The link between self-esteem and social relationships: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2020;119(6):1459-1477
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 6/11/2021
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