One of the great joys of sobriety is developing a strong bond with other people. It is these relationships that make life so worth living. In repeated surveys it has been found that humans rate family and friends as the most important factors when it comes to finding happiness in life. It is vital that people recovering from addiction are able to form close bonds with other humans. Otherwise they will miss out on many of the joys of sobriety.
Fear of intimacy is a type of social phobia that prevents the individual from developing close bonds with other people. It can involve a fear of both physical and emotional closeness. It is not so much the intimacy itself that people fear. They are more worried about the outcome of letting other people get close. This is a fear that by opening their heart they will be setting themselves up for hurt and pain later on. This individual believes that by keeping others at a distance they are protecting themselves. They may still value love and affection highly, but they just do not want to put themselves in a position where they can be hurt.
The symptoms of fear of intimacy can include:
* Discomfort with physical contact. This individual might not even like it when family members try to hug them.
* Unwillingness to let their guard down around other people.
* Discomfort about revealing personal information. Such people may worry that others already know too much about them.
* Unwillingness to discuss emotions. This individual will not be comfortable telling other people how they feel.
* Living a private life. This usually means they spent most of their free time alone.
* Feeling undeserving of love and affection.
* Lack of interest in socializing. When asked to go somewhere, they will automatically say no.
* The urge to run away from intimacy.
* Discomfort being naked around other people, even somebody they have just had sex with.
* Lack of interest in the personal lives of others.
* A cold and detached disposition.
These are common reasons a person develops a fear of intimacy:
* The most common reason for why the individual will have problems with intimacy is because of problems they experienced in childhood. This could be as a result of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, or growing up in a family that wasn’t very loving.
* Many people have issues with their own physical appearance. If the individual is not happy with their body, they can feel uncomfortable in situations where they feel they are on display. This lack of confidence in their physical appearance may be as a result of being overweight or from believing that they have some type of deformity that they believe makes them unattractive.
* Those people who have low self-esteem will also usually have problems with intimacy as well. If the person does not value themselves very highly they will be unlikely to have much confidence in other people who claim to love them.
* Fear of intimacy can be a symptom of depression.
* Those individuals who have bad experiences in a romantic relationship can develop a fear of intimacy. This goes back to the old saying, once bitten, twice shy. This person may be convinced that if they let another person get really close to them, they will once again be hurt.
* Some people may fear sexual intimacy because of a lack of experience. Many addicts begin abusing alcohol and drugs in adolescence. This means that they will have no experience with sober sex. There will also be those individuals who had no real interest in sex while they were involved in substance abuse, as some chemicals decrease or eliminate libido.
An unwillingness to let other people get close can have some negative implications for people who are recovering from an addiction:
* Fear of intimacy can lead to loneliness because the individual is unable to form meaningful relationships with other people. Loneliness in recovery is dangerous. It may mean that the individual becomes depressed and their life in sobriety will lack purpose. The idea of returning to their addiction will be highly attractive.
* In order to build a successful recovery, it is necessary to have a good social support network. These individuals not only help the individual build a successful sobriety but they also make the whole experience worthwhile. Success is no fun when there is nobody to share it with.
* If the individual is struggling in their recovery, they will need somebody to turn to. This other person will be able to help them get back on track. If a person is battling to stay sober, it is vital that they get the support of other people. Addictive thinking can be too strong for one person alone.
* This person may find that they are always running in the opposite direction of happiness. They do this by constantly pushing other people away.
There are steps that people can take to overcome their fear of intimacy including:
* People can begin to get over their fear of intimacy in small steps. This means taking risks and doing things that initially feel uncomfortable. The individual can begin by making small disclosures about themselves to other people. The individual does not need to tell their life story to every stranger they meet, but sharing personal information with a few people can be a good start to getting over fear of intimacy.
* If the individual is fearful about rushing into a romantic relationship, they can break the process down into small and careful steps. They can spend a few months just going on dates. There is no requirement to rush into bed straight away. If the other person is worth forming a relationship with, they will be willing to take things slowly. Of course it will help to tell this other person about the reasons for taking it easy.
* In romantic relationships it can be advisable to first concentrate on being a good friend.
* In Alcoholics Anonymous the common wisdom is that members should avoid rushing into relationships within the first year of recovery. The advice is to first get a plant. If the member can keep the plant alive for a year they can then get a pet. If they can take care of the pet then it might be time to for a romantic relationship.
* Mindfulness meditation is a superb technique for helping people to take more control over their emotions and reactions. Many of the fears that people hold are based faulty thinking. A technique like mindfulness allows people to take a step back from their mental processes so they have a much clearer picture of what is going on. The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master; mindfulness can put people back in control.
* Some people will benefit greatly from spending time with a therapist. During these therapy sessions, the individual will be able to explore the reasons behind their fear of intimacy. The therapist will be able to guide the individual into using strategies that will help them overcome their reluctance to form close bonds with other humans.
* Those suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety will need to seek treatment. Both of these disorders can interfere with intimacy.
* Journaling is a good way to get a deeper understanding of feelings around relationships. The individual will be able to identify patterns in their behavior and observe any progress they are making in their attempts to overcome their fear of intimacy. Sometimes just keeping a journal can be enough to motivate a person to develop this area of their life.