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Fear of Intimacy Rationalized

Uploaded 9/23/2017, approx. 6 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

We are all acquainted with people who fear intimacy. They have an absolute phobia of intimacy. They are averse to anything which smacks of closeness, attachment and bonding.

Why is that?

Well, first of all, these kind of people, they are afraid of exposing their vulnerabilities, their failings, their shortcomings. They feel that if they denude themselves, if they undress, so to speak, metaphorically or literally, they are putting themselves in the hands of the other person, for better and possibly, for worse.

And the second reason for fear of intimacy is commitment phobia.

These people are afraid to commit themselves. They are terrified of getting trapped in some kind of long-term schedule with obligations and duties and timetables.

But both fear of exposing one's vulnerabilities and fear of committing oneself to a long-term relationship. Both these indicate, betray, a deep distrust. Distrust about the world, about the world as a friendly place. Distrust in other people.

The belief that the world, essentially the universe, is a hostile environment, a jungle. And also distrust of the future as a friendly period of time.

The innate conviction that things are liable to get only worse and one better watch one's step ahead of time.

So this fear of intimacy is a compounded phenomenon.

And in a dialogue, the inner script of people who fear intimacy is composed of several distinct strands.


First of all, there is the classic strum.

This potential intimate partner is going to harm me, is going to hurt me, is going to end badly, is going to destroy my life, is going to ruin my sense of well-being, is going to hurt my emotions. I will be left with nothing. I will be left with no one. I will be left in pain and agony, etc.

There is this catastrophizing, this scenario of all relationships end badly, so why start one at all?

And then there is the opposite strand, the bad object strand. I am worthless, I am bad, I am useless, so I am no good, I am crazy. I will hurt this potential intimate partner. I will destroy his or her life. I must get away from him or her, and I am doing this for his or her own good.

So it's exactly the exact opposite.

The first is a kind of autoplastic defense, blaming others for failures, defeats and mishaps.

And the second strand is an autoplastic defense, blaming oneself for everything that goes bad, everything that turns sour.

There is an external locus of control and an internal locus of control.

The belief that one's life is determined by outside forces and by other people, or the belief that one's life is determined by one's innate qualities, or in this case, one's innate shortcomings, failures, destructive, disorganized and chaotic personality, and possibly mental health disorders.

All people who fear intimacy ultimately end up devaluing the potential or the real intimate partner.

They focus on his weaknesses, shortcomings, mistakes, his judgments and failures. They ascribe to the intimate partner the cause for ending the relationship.

They say, I ended the relationship because he abused me. I entered the relationship because she betrayed me. I entered the relationship because something was initiated and instigated by my intimate partner over which I had no control, something which I could not mitigate or ameliorate.

And having found myself trapped in this conundrum, I exited the relationship because that was the only solution.

In the process of ascribing guilt to one's intimate partner, one also tends to devalue the intimate partner as a source of misconduct, misbehavior, as the found of dead traits and dead behaviors.

Imagining the future with the potential intimate partner is not easy for people who fear intimacy because they believe the world is hostile, because they believe the future is bad or is bound to be worse than the present.

They always imagine a relationship as bleak and pleasant with dead, painful outcomes. He will, anyhow, abandon me or leave me. He will hurt me.

Living with her will be dull and oppressive. Our sex life will fizzle out and dwindle, etc.

All kinds of catastrophizing scenarios, negative automatic thoughts, which are attached to the intimacy and to its inevitably sour fruits. Catastrophizing is a cognitive deficit.

It is one of the main issues tackled in cognitive behavioral therapy. It is the conviction or the belief that things will not only get worse, but will invariably get out of control. That one will never be able to reassert one's mastery of one's own life.

Intimacy, therefore, leading invariably and ineluctably to a catastrophic consequence, threatens the person's ability to exert some control over his or her life. Intimacy threatens the person's belief that he is in charge or she is in charge of his or her life.

And so there is a foundational distrust at the core of fear of intimacy. The person distrusts the potential intimate partner to make one happy.

The person disbelieves that the intimate partner has intentions and feelings which are essentially aligned with the best interests of the person who fears intimacy.

When one fears intimacy, one fears the worst about one's intimate partner.

One, for instance, assumes that the intimate partner is manipulative or that the intimate partner imprisons or suffocates the person.

Oh, the intimate partner is on some path of abusing or exploiting and so on.

So the person who fears intimacy ascribes to his or her intimate partner mild intentions.

In other words, the person who fears intimacy is hypervigilant or in extreme cases, paramount.

Doubting one's own judgment, one's ability to choose right and one's capacity to appraise the situation properly and correctly, analyze this distrust because what have you, if you can judge other people properly, if you can read other people correctly, then there's no need to fear their intentions, their manipulativeness, their exploitativeness and so on.

It is only when you doubt your own ability and capacity to test reality and to read it properly, to decipher other people, to comprehend their motivation and where they're going, to judge their character correctly.

It is only then that you lose your compass, you prefer to withdraw and avoid, rather than get entangled in something over which you are bound to lose control and which is liable because you have great harm and pain.

So fear of intimacy is a form of diffuse anxiety and uncomfortable, but fuzzy sensation that something real and something really bad is happening or is about to happen and that one needs urgently to get away before the catastrophe is.

The person who fears intimacy cannot point the finger at anything specific, it's in the air, it's ambient, it's kind of by proxy and this diffuse anxiety, this meteor shower of unease is what causes such people to suddenly withdraw and avoid the intimate partner exactly when the intimate partner believes that a modicum of intimacy has been achieved and that the relationship is on the right track.

There can be nothing more disorienting than having a relationship with a person who fears intimacy.

It's an approach avoidance repetition compulsion, it's a cycle that can never be broken or interrupted where the intimate partner gets closer to the person who fears intimacy, the closer he gets, the more the target, so to speak, recedes.

It's a never ending race, never ending chase which never ever culminates in a happy ending.

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