Can Someone Who Is Afraid of Intimacy Change?

Sharing private time can help develop intimacy.
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Intimacy is a prerequisite for genuine closeness to evolve in any interpersonal relationship. It involves being open and trusting through sharing honest thoughts and feelings. There are always risks in intimate relationships because they require revealing who you really are to another person. People who are afraid to take the emotional risks essential for intimacy can change, but this will largely depend on what is causing the fear.

1 Forming Trust

The ability to develop trusting relationships is required for intimacy to evolve, according to psychologist Erik H. Erikson's book, “Childhood and Society.” Because intimacy requires us to be totally open about who we are, we must first be able to trust other people. If our fear of intimacy comes from difficulty forming trust, it is possible to change. If we start to reveal ourselves slowly and begin to trust the other person, then intimacy can evolve over time. However, if the trust problems are deep-rooted --- the result of negative experiences from childhood --- it may be impossible to develop the trust required for intimacy.

2 Self-Acceptance and Intimacy

In order to grow into who we really are, we need to assess and accept our own strengths and inadequacies, says psychoanalyst Karen Horney, in her book “Neurosis and Human Growth.” In order to be intimate, we must accept ourselves and recognize that all people have strengths and weaknesses. If we are not comfortable with who we are, we will feel afraid of letting others close, which can create problems with being intimate. However, if there is a slow reciprocal process of sharing and acceptance, then intimacy can still be possible.

3 Personal Development

Intimacy requires being independent, while also committing yourself and your feelings to someone else. During our process of development, we go through stages of evolving a secure sense of ourselves. Where we are in this process determines if we are able to change. If someone is not ready to commit himself fully or doesn’t feel secure enough to be open, then he is not going to be able to change. This process takes time and varies greatly between people.

4 Feeling Unlovable

When problems with intimacy relate to childhood experiences, it is very difficult for a person to change. If we grow up without unconditional acceptance and love, we never learn how to love and accept ourselves. Genuine intimacy requires us to be ourselves. If someone grows up feeling unlovable, intimacy can be terrifying because he will be afraid to show someone else who he really is. If this is where the fear stems from, it will be very hard to overcome.

Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn is a clinical psychologist in private practice and author. Her published books include "In the Therapist’s Chair," "Bare: Psychotherapy Stripped" and "Borderline Personality Disorder: New Perspectives on a Stigmatizing and Overused Diagnosis." Her new book "In the Long Run" will be released in 2015.