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Fear of Intimacy and Shame: The Unconscious Saboteurs
Human beings are hard-wired for social connectedness, which is as necessary for a healthy brain as exercise and proper sleep. Children need love, nurturance, protectiveness, and acceptance from caretakers, and when these needs are not met in a significant way, it creates crises that can lead to depression, anxiety and destructive and self-destructive behaviors. One such crisis is a fear of intimacy.
Intimacy means "into me see," thus you are comfortable sharing your opinions, likes, dislikes, fears, hurts, regrets, hopes, and dreams. It means being genuine and transparent in your close relationships. If you avoid intimacy altogether, then others will only know the mask you present, never knowing your True Self, which is a lonely place to be.
So, why do some people fear letting others know who they are? Well, it's because of shame, which is what children often develop when their primary caretakers are unable or unwilling to meet their needs because of abuse, neglect, or significant dysfunction for any reason. Shame is the belief that I am defective, not good enough, unworthy, unlovable, incompetent, or bad, which is the story children often tell themselves when caretakers don't meet their needs. Children do not have the maturity to understand that "I'm OK" and my alcoholic father is not OK. Rather, children conclude that "there must be something wrong with me that dad is always angry with me," and that is the birth of shame.
Thus, children who grow up in dysfunction blame themselves for their caretakers inability to meet their needs, and that shame becomes an unexamined truth for them that will undermine their attempts to build healthy relationships for the rest of their lives until they mindfully "wake up" and come to recognize and understand the unconscious saboteurs that reside within them - shame and its logical companion, a fear of intimacy.
So, how does shame lead to a fear of intimacy? Well, if I believe I'm unworthy of love and yet begin to fall in love, I will experience an emotional crisis, which goes like this: "I'm lonely and want to have a partner through life, but if I let you get too close to me, then most certainly you will 'find me out' and realize I'm not the person you think I am, but rather the loser I know I am, and then you will abandon me, and I will suffer!"
So what do persons with shame and fear of intimacy do to resolve this crisis? Well, they might sabotage the relationship through criticism, arguments, and even cheating and lying to create emotional distance from someone who wants too much intimacy, or they might avoid intimacy altogether by choosing emotionally unavailable partners, such as an alcoholic or anyone who has an unexamined fear of intimacy.
Or they might "yo-yo" the person of their affection, which goes like this: When the relationship becomes too emotionally close, triggering their fear of intimacy, they create emotional distance by picking a fight or criticizing their partner, but then when the relationship becomes too distant, they fear losing their partner and then reel the person back in, which is repeated, over and over, just like a yo-yo! One of the telltale signs of persons with a fear of intimacy is that just when the relationship is going well, they find a way to push their partner away.
Another way persons try to resolve the crisis created by their shame and fear of intimacy is by becoming controlling and possessive. In effect, they strive to put their partner in a cage for which they have the only key, so they can feel safe! Of course, this often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they treat their partner with such disrespect that eventually he or she becomes sick of it and abandons them!
Needless to say, none of these strategies for coping with shame and fear of intimacy are healthy. All are dysfunctional, guaranteed to sabotage relationships. So, what can a person do to overcome their shame and fear of intimacy, so they are able to participate in healthy and intimate relationships? Well, first they must learn to understand and recognize the unconscious saboteurs within - the shame and fear of intimacy, the old programming from a dysfunctional childhood. Next, they must learn to feel the fear and shame, and instead of avoiding these uncomfortable feelings, strive to observe and accept them while moving forward, one step at a time, by practicing and learning healthy relationship skills.
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All Text and many photos by Carl Benedict
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