No matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to reach out and demonstrate your warm, tender feelings. You long to hold your new love's hand, share a spontaneous hug or even, when the timing is right, show your affection with a romantic kiss. But fear of rejection keeps holding you back. Breaking through this fear-related barrier is beneficial for the relationship and even contributes to your and your new partner's physical well-being, according to Arizona State University professor Kory Floyd in the National Communication Association article “Affectionate Communication is Good for You.”
Becoming aware of any fear’s source is an important first step in overcoming the emotion. Fear of rejection and the resulting fear of intimacy often spring from early real or perceived rejections, as well as from possible “negative feelings we developed toward ourselves in our developmental years,” according to the Psych Alive article “Understanding the Fear of Intimacy.” Deep and honest self-reflection is an essential ally in overcoming the fear of rejection, and this in turn paves the way toward becoming more comfortable about displaying affection.
As with any emotional issue, open and honest communication between partners is vital. Although it might be difficult to broach the topic, discussing the fear of intimacy communicates that loving feelings are present even though the physical display of affection is not yet part of the relationship. It is also important to remember that both partners might experience insecurity in the early stages of a relationship, making the verbal communication of feelings especially valuable.
Wade in Slowly
Like a swimmer entering unfamiliar water, moving toward the physical expression of affection is best accomplished gradually, at a pace comfortable for both parties. Small displays of affection such as a light touch on the shoulder or hand can communicate warm emotions without feeling too risky or overwhelming. When these initial gestures are well received, the fearful partner gains confidence and starts to overcome the fear of rejection. “Action is powerful,” writes Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., in the "Psychology Today" article “The Fear of Rejection: A One-Day Cure.” On the other hand, according to Lerner, avoiding the feared situation only serves to increase anxiety.
Although the desire to show affection is understandable and perfectly natural, it is also important to respect personal boundaries and individual comfort levels. We live in a fast-paced society in which everything, including relationships, can move at breathtaking speed. It is both unnecessary and counterproductive to move toward physical expression of affection at a pace that is uncomfortable for either partner. Self-respect and self-acceptance are just as important as the desire to display loving feelings toward another. In the long run, the relationship will be more solid when it progresses at a rate acceptable to both parties and when it is based on self-awareness and open communication.
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