in: Dating & Relationships

Fear of Intimacy? It May Be All in Your Head

Don’t let a fear of intimacy keep you from connecting. Check out these practical ways to identify and conquer what’s holding you back.

Do you crave connection with a partner, but can’t bear the thought of another rejection? Opening our heart to a stranger is one of the most vulnerable things we can do. We risk rejection, but we risk it because we know that there is a possibility that we will be loved for who we are.  

However, for many of us, our past love injuries have created a calloused boundary around our hearts that’s intended to protect us from more pain. We stay safe, but we remain alone, and often lonely, missing the opportunity to experience the beautiful, healing connection that only a relationship can provide. 

Your love injuries may have happened slowly over years of dating and broken relationships. Or it may have been one painful relationship that made you vow to never trust again. Over time, you may find yourself increasingly closed off, avoiding dating, or keeping your relationships at a distance to avoid more painful heartbreak, loss, and rejection. 

Or you may even have what’s called an avoidant attachment style, which means your fear of intimacy and connection are rooted in your childhood and deeply wired into your brain. (If you’re not sure what your attachment based Love Style is, you can take the Love Style quiz here to find out.) This style is wired for independence. Many people with avoidant attachment styles truly desire a close relationship, but they struggle with intimacy and connection. Their brains are essentially wired to avoid intimacy. They can experience an uncontrollable urge to distance from a partner at times, especially when a partner wants more connection, commitment, or intimacy. This can make building a close relationship quite challenging and confusing for both partners. 

If you think you have an avoidant attachment, or maybe just the thought or experience of intimacy terrifies you, read on. Here are a few heart-opening tips to consider: 

Don’t let the little things become big things.

This tip is especially true for those with avoidant attachments, but it can apply to anyone who struggles with intimacy. Your brain may have a tendency to do everything in its power to make you run from a partner.  You may even be dating someone who is close to “perfect” and suddenly find that all you can focus on is the quirky wrinkle in their brow, or the way they chew their food. This hyper-focused awareness on a perceived flaw can drive you away from a partner, often leading you to overlook other good qualities. 

If you find yourself becoming side-tracked by superficial things like this, try to remember that it is a primitive part of your brain trying to protect you. It can get in the way of finding a partner in today’s modern day dating world. It can help to try to move your focus on the positive qualities you find in a partner, and purposely ignore the part of your brain that is trying to focus on the small, superficial traits that really don’t define the whole of a person. 

We are all human, bottom line. You will NEVER find a “perfect” partner, but you can find an imperfectly perfect partner that can be truly rock your world if you allow yourself to lean in to your fear. 

Intimacy is NOT a four letter word.

If you shy away from intimacy, but you know you want a committed relationship, be aware that your brain will find many ways to sabotage your success in a relationship. For example, you may skillfully avoid the DTR (you know…the defining the relationship talk). Or you may find yourself ignoring texts or calls from a partner right after a physically or emotionally intimate moment. You may also have beliefs about marriage or commitment suggesting it implies a lack of freedom or would feel like the “ol’ ball and chain.”

By increasing your self-awareness, you can learn to recognize these issues as attachment impulses, and work toward healing and correcting them so you can lean into connection, instead of avoiding it.  

If you find yourself pulling away after a close moment with a partner, try leaning into the discomfort. Understand that your brain is simply trying to keep you safe with a survival strategy it learned when you were very young. Challenge yourself in realizing that you may not need that childhood survival strategy now that you are an adult who wants a committed relationship.

A little dependency never hurt anyone.

In a culture that values independence and scorns the idea of dependence on others, you may have been encouraged to do everything on your own. Now, of course there is great value in being independent in many areas of our lives. However, for those of you who struggle with connection and intimacy, you have likely been given this message from an early age and may not even know how to depend on others in healthy ways. You likely have a lot of pride in your ability to be so self-reliant. You may resist asking others for help or you may love doing everything alone.

This can isolate you from others and can make a partner feel distant and sometimes rejected. Science also tells us that, as humans, we perform better and live longer, happier, and healthier lives when we have a partner.

Yes, it is true, dependence is actually a good thing.  

Over time, you can help your brain lean in to intimacy and connection with increased self-awareness, learning about your attachment style, or working with a therapist to help you heal.

About the Author:

Chelli Pumphrey

Chelli Pumphrey, MA, LPC is a love & dating coach and a Licensed Professional Counselor from Denver, CO. More importantly, she’s a human being who strives to live an authentic life, by being real, raw, and unafraid to express her truth. She is devoted to helping others live and love passionately by gaining the confidence to be authentic in their own lives. She works with clients through her relationship coaching practice and as a therapist and founder of Trilogy Holistic Mental Health, where she offers retreats, dating and relationship coaching and therapy. If you’re looking to boost your dating confidence, self-esteem, and become a dating warrior, you can visit Chelli at, Trilogy Holistic Mental Health, follow on Instagram, Twitter, or like her on Facebook.