“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.” – Pema Chodron
For most of my life I’ve kept people at an emotional distance. Not so much friends, but romantic partners. Subconsciously, I believed that if I didn’t let myself get too close to someone then it wouldn’t hurt me when they left. If I didn’t let them get too close to me then they would never really know me, so when they did reject me, it wasn’t really me they were rejecting, because they never even knew me. People that were generally interested in me were to be avoided, because they would want to get too close and that I just couldn’t risk, even though all along this was the type of relationship I said I wanted all along.
This way of thinking is common among codependents because it is something we had to learn early in childhood to protect ourselves. We knew deep down, even in our immature emotional development, that something wasn’t right with how our primary caregivers were making us feel. We learned how to interact with the world through our interactions with them and if we couldn’t trust our parents fully, then we couldn’t trust anyone fully. We learned that it was safer for us to keep people at arm’s length, because the more someone meant to us the more power they had to hurt us, so it was better, safer, to care from behind our emotional shield of protection. That was our coping mechanism , our strategy for dealing with intimacy – that it was safer for us not to ever let anyone get too close.
During my youth and early twenties I believed that I was truly caring and had a big heart, capable of giving enormous amounts of love. I thought that I wasn’t the one with the problem in my relationships, that I was normal, but the truth was that I would choose partners that were selfish and had issues so that the focus would always be on them and what was wrong with them, so that I didn’t have to feel the uncomfortable spotlight on me and what ailed me. Dealing with my own fear of intimacy was never even something I considered as one of my issues, but the more I searched the more proof I found. This fear is a huge obstacle and it’s what keeps people making the same relationship choices.
Early this morning I got a text message from one of the Narcissists that I counsel. He’s been dating someone he met online for less than two weeks and he is a ball of insecurity. He is constantly complaining that she wasn’t giving him enough attention and that she wasn’t showing him how much she cared about him. She showed him a text message on her phone that she got from a friend that was funny and he could see that she had two other text messages that she hadn’t read yet. He was incensed that she didn’t show him those two messages that he believed to be from other guys.
I had to say to him, “You are a stranger to her. She barely knows you. You’ve gone out what two or three times? She doesn’t owe you anything. You’re not exclusive. She’s still making up her mind about you and she’s allowed to. For all you know the texts could have been from her mom, or her sister, or her best friend and they are really none of your business. She shouldn’t be falling all over you. Healthy people take the time to get to know someone before they open themselves up – they don’t leap without looking where their heart is concerned. This is exactly the time where you scare them away, because you can’t handle not being their everything and you can’t be their everything less than two weeks in.”
I’ve watched this same narcissist run for the hills when someone liked him too much, too soon. I’ve watched him blow cold when someone, he initially chased, was getting too close. I’ve seen him sabotage a relationship that for all intents and purposes looked like it was developing into something good. When it comes to intimacy he is a ball of uncertainty and anxiety. He has no clue what to do, how to act, or even how to control his emotions.
This fear of intimacy is something that narcissists and codependents share. It’s what makes them such good dance partners because their inclinations toward intimacy lean the same way.
I’ve found that people who fear intimacy share a lot of the same types of behaviors. They include:
- You gravitate towards other people that like to keep you at arm’s length or blow hot and cold
- You don’t mind long distance relationships
- You turn away from people that seem genuinely interested in you
- You have a hard time trusting people when it comes to love
- You feel uncomfortable when you feel like you are under a microscope
- You engage in relationships that soar and crash
- You battle a desperate need to be loved and a need to be alone where it’s safe
- You feel flawed and unlovable and uncomfortable in your own skin
- You believe that no one has ever truly loved you
- You feel unlovable
- You fear someone will see your flaws and judge you to be lacking in some way
- You sabotage your relationships when you feel someone is getting too close
- You like to be alone a lot
- You never let any romantic partner truly in to get to know the real you
The good thing about a fear of intimacy is that it can be overcome. It is a coping mechanism, something you learned to protect yourself. The key is understanding that you no longer have a use for it in your adult relationships. A little insecurity is normal when we enter into the unknown of a new relationship, but it should never be so intense that it keeps you from letting someone in.
Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable was a luxury that many of us couldn’t afford in childhood, so we instead learned to shut that part of us down. Being able to love and be loved fully means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. That means that we have to battle our instincts to keep ourselves protected. It means taking the right steps in new relationships – taking things slowly, getting to know someone before allowing yourself to get emotionally or physically attached, it’s paying attention to and being on the lookout for red flags and acting appropriately to things that cause concern, it’s watching how your potential partner reacts to your boundaries, it’s about being okay with you, warts and all, it’s about paying attention to your feelings, your needs and your wants and always making them a priority, it’s about trusting your instincts and then when all of those T’s are crossed, it’s about opening up and slowly letting someone in. The more they prove that they are trustworthy, the more you can begin to trust them.
I find that the more you begin to love yourself the easier it becomes to let someone in, because you stop fearing the rejection so much and you’re less concerned with what other people think of you. When you love yourself you stop being afraid to let people see the real you, because you’ve already figured out that the real you is pretty damn fantastic and you’re eager to say, “Hey come look at me I’m freakin awesome.”
Letting someone in is a great risk, there will always be that chance that you might get hurt, but when it’s right, the rewards far outweigh the risk.
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Image courtesy of Marin at freedigitalphotos.net