Fear of intimacy. There’s no one who doesn’t have it. But it holds us back from building the kind of life that we long for. In this episode, I’ll teach you how you can crack the code of your own fear of intimacy, so that you can change the patterns that push healthy love away.
Episode Table of Contents
- Fear of Intimacy Has Been Given a Bad Rep
- The Three Huge Questions to Answer
- The Key to Understanding Your Fear of Intimacy
- Your Psyche Will Create A Primitive Defense
- The Lessons We Have Not Been Taught
Episode Introduction: Fear of Intimacy
Fear of intimacy. There’s no one who doesn’t have it. It’s part of the human condition. But it holds us back from building the kind of life that we long for.
In this episode, I’ll teach you how you can crack the code of your own fear of intimacy, so that you can change the patterns that keep healthy love away. So stay tuned to the Deeper Dating Podcast.
Hello and welcome to the Deeper Dating Podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about fear of intimacy. I’m very excited about this episode because I’m going to present you with an understanding of your own fear of intimacy that no one may have given you before and the tool that will help you crack the code of your own personal fears of intimacy. I’m Ken Page with a cold.
Every week, I’ll be giving you access to the greatest insights and the most powerful practices that I know to help you find love and keep it flourishing and heal your life in the process because the skills of dating are nothing more than the skills of love. The skills of love are the greatest skills of all for a happy life. You can also find the whole transcript of this episode on DeeperDatingPodcast.com.
Work Privately with Ken
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I also want to say that everything I share on this podcast is educational in nature. It’s not medical or psychiatric advice, and it’s not treatment for any emotional, physical, or psychological condition. If you’re experiencing any serious psychological conditions, please seek professional help.
Let me also say as a last piece that if you’re interested in applying these ideas and the Deeper Dating approach to your own intimacy journey, you can learn lots more about working with me at DeeperDatingPodcast.com. You can receive a free gift when you go there as well.
Fear of Intimacy Has Been Given a Bad Rep
Let’s get started. Fear of intimacy has been given a really, really bad rep. Let me start by saying that fear of intimacy is not a character flaw that renders us unfit for love. It’s part of being human.
If we’re breathing, we have fear of intimacy because whether we’re single or coupled, it’s natural to want to flee the very love that we’re looking for. I talk about this in my book a lot, Deeper Dating.
All of us have fear of intimacy. It’s what we do with that fear that determines who we become in the world. Fear of intimacy is no more a flaw than fear of dying is a flaw.
Love is the most valuable thing in the world, so the fear of losing it or being hurt by it is completely rational. Also, love asks profound authenticity and vulnerability from us. Those can be so hard, especially when we’ve worked so hard not to look stupid, not to look weak, not to be taken advantage of, not to be betrayed again.
Fear of Intimacy Is a Human Condition
This James Baldwin quote captures the quandary that we all have around love, and I love this quote,
“Love takes off masks that we fear we can not live without and know we can not live within.”
Fear of intimacy is a human condition. Clearly, some of us experience more debilitating fears of intimacy than others. Trauma is a real thing, and some of us have been more traumatized than others, but no matter how deep the trauma, and I really believe this, that does not mean you can not find love because love is like water that finds its way around rocks and impediments. It passes through incredibly narrow passages, and then it grows bigger when the space allows.
When we open up and allow it, no matter how traumatized we’ve been, our love finds a way through obstacles that would have seemed impenetrable.
When we start out by pathologizing this universal trait of fear of intimacy, it leaves people feeling like they’re somehow damaged. Also, we avoid the real work of intimacy that confronts every one of us.
In that old binary model, here’s what it says, it says, “you’ve either got intimacy issues or you’re essentially like really pretty much just fine.”
It’s much more useful to assume that every one of us has significant gaps in our ability to love. When we start out by accepting this, then we can move on to the real work, which is acknowledging the parts of love that scare us the most and understanding and changing the patterns we’ve created to avoid that love. That’s the place to start. That’s the core curriculum for everyone who’s passionate about being a student of intimacy.
The Three Huge Questions to Answer
There are three huge questions that come out in this, and we’re going to spend an entire episode on each one of these. Every episode is going to give you takeaways that will change the course of your intimacy future, really.
The first big question, and this is what we’re going to talk about today: Why do we keep love at arm’s length even when we’re looking for love? What things trigger us? What things frighten us? This is an incredibly rich question.
Today, I’m so excited to be offering you a very powerful key to crack the code of your own fear of intimacy by answering these questions.
Next episode, we’re going to talk about how we keep love at arm’s length. First, why we keep love at arm’s length. Then, how do we keep love at arm’s length? Don’t push it away altogether. What are our flight patterns? What are the ways, largely unconscious, that we’ve choreographed to keep ourselves more isolated than we long to be?
Then, the third episode, what can we do to actually truly change that? What I want to say is that this focus, this subject, is going to give you one of the biggest bangs for your buck in your search for love. Tackle this real hard stuff, and, baby, this is the mark of courage to deal with this stuff.
Case Study: The Most Distilled Truths About Fear of Intimacy
I’m going to help you in a step-by-step way to help you do that with the compassion that’s needed to be able to tolerate the heat of this. It’s going to be a lot more gentle than you might imagine, but when you tackle this, you can expect to see exponential shifts in your life, in your dating life, and in your search for love. I truly, truly mean that. Okay, let’s go to an amazing study that’s going to help guide us into the most distilled truths around this subject.
The Harvard Grant Study provides a really extraordinary vantage point that we can explore these issues from. This study is one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies of human development that has ever been undertaken.
They studied a group of college graduates for 75 years. I have to say it’s kind of severely limited in its subject pool because all of its subjects are male Harvard graduates, but its findings are absolutely stunning in their clarity and simplicity. You take any group of people and study them for 75 years and you’re going to learn a lot.
George Vaillant, who’s the director of the study, actually summed up 75 years of research in two sentences, “Happiness is love. Full stop.” That was his summary of the entire study.
The Most Important Characteristic That Can Help You Find Love
We’re going to continue to look at what that research said because then it describes the personality characteristic that is most important for finding that happiness of love. The single greatest, most important personality characteristic that can help us find love and happiness in our life, here’s what it is. It’s a mature coping style that does not push love away.
I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we all need some help around that one. I know I do, that’s for sure, every day, almost every moment.
There’s a wonderful psychiatrist by the name of Donald Winnicott who just created such gems of understanding and insight around intimacy and human development. He said such fabulous things in so many different arenas, but one of the things that he said, which was an essential point of his teaching, was that we all have a true self. Because that true self is so precious, we create a false self to surround it and protect it. He said that,
“People, the value of that true self is so profound that rather than have it annihilated, people would often rather die than have it damaged, annihilated, or destroyed.”
The Key to Understanding Your Fear of Intimacy
That’s the preciousness, that’s the protection, that’s the key to understanding your fear of intimacy, our fear of intimacy, wherever there is fear of intimacy. You can see it in the places you’ve pushed your beloved away, in the places you isolate, in the places you get unnecessarily irritated, in the places where you go numb, in the places where you get into compulsive behaviors, patterns of thinking.
All of those different things, all of those, underneath those patterns of fear of intimacy lies a self that is so precious that you’re protecting it in the best way you can. It may be in a mature way. It may be a convulsive way. It may not be a sophisticated way, but the secret here is to know that in every one of those behaviors where you are afraid of intimacy or somehow consciously, semiconsciously, or unconsciously pushing love away, there is a treasure of your true self lying at the base of that.
Figure out what that self is that you’re protecting and you have cracked the code to a deep part of your fear of intimacy. We’re going to be working on that, and I’m going to be elucidating that tool so that by the end of this episode you’ll have it.
The Portals to Your Vast Self
Here’s what I’d like you to do. It’s an image that correlates with Winnicott’s image. Here’s what it is. You’ve heard this one from me before if you’ve listened to my podcasts. Picture a target. As you get closer to the center of the target, the bulls eye, that’s getting closer and closer to your true self, your deep authenticity. That’s no small thing.
The creativity that lies there, the tenderness that lies there, the passion that lies there, the sensitivity that lies there, the uniqueness and originality that lies there, the longing, the heat, are profound, are huge. These are portals to a vast, vast self.
As you get closer, as you can hear, to the center of that, things get riskier and riskier as well as more beautiful and more amazing. Just like in the body, the places where there are more nerve endings, you are usually are able to both feel more pleasure but also more pain. So too as you get closer and closer to the center of this self, yourself, your true self the more nerve endings of being are there, the further out you go, the number you get, the more defended you get, the more airbrushed you get, the more distant you get, and the more walls that are of unconscious nature begin to shut you out from the warmth and beauty of your core.
We Have Fear of Intimacy for a Reason
As you get closer and closer to your core, things get less rational. There’s more heart. There’s more poetry. What I want to say is if you’ve got fear of intimacy, baby, you’ve got it for a reason. We have our fear of intimacy for a reason.
I also want to say a lot of fear of intimacy is unconscious. You might know that you have a pattern that effectively kind of keeps love at bay, but you can’t see the connection between that and some kind of primordial fear of intimacy. You might not see that at all.
Let me say that if you feel there are blocks where it’s very difficult to get into your fear of intimacy and understand it, particularly if you feel that there are compulsive behaviors that are blocking you again and again from fear of intimacy, get help. Get the help of a therapist.
If these are psychiatric conditions, get psychiatric help. If they’re addiction issues, join a 12 step group or something similar to that because until you do, you’ll be stuck, and you don’t want to be stuck. You want to feel like you have traction on this already uphill but incredibly rewarding journey.
The Tool to Help You Crack the Code of Your Fear of Intimacy
Okay. Here’s the tool that I want to share with you to help you crack the code of your fear of intimacy. It is simply to dignify your discomfort and dignify your fear, to find the words that capture your fear.
Now, the first thing that’s going to happen is there’s a guard at the gate of doing this. The guard at the gate says stuff like, “You’re just being too sensitive. You’re too much. You’re too weak. Why can’t you toughen up? Why are you so sensitive? Let this roll off your back. You’re too much. You’re too intense. Why can’t you just calm down? You’re so passionate you freak people out.” These are some of the guards at the gate that stop you from finding the true source and reason for your fear of intimacy. The tool is this – the tool is to dignify that fear, to put words on it, to name it.
When you go numb next time or when you’re pushing your loved one away or when you’re kind of hiding out at home and not going out, when you’re acting irritable, when there’s love in front of you and somehow you’re not able to take it in, stop and think, “There’s a reason for this,” and begin to put words on the reason. “I don’t feel safe now.”, “I feel anxious.”, “I feel really highly stressed.”, “I feel irritated by you.”, “I feel like I don’t know how to do this closeness thing.”, “I’ve been running so fast for so long that I don’t know how to slow down.” You begin to put words on that.
Then, you begin to find words for why you don’t feel safe, why you needed to go numb. What’s really irritating you here? Because something is irritating you.
A Good Reason You’re Shutting Down
You go in assuming that there is a good reason, a reason from your deep psyche that you’re shutting down. You do it gently. You need to do this stuff gently because it’s like if you put too much of a Klieg light on this stuff, it will flee because there’s tons of shame here. You do it gently, and you do it with a lot of self-compassion.
You think, “This weird thing that I’m doing, why am I doing it like this?” The first question you ask is, “Why does this make sense that I’m feeling this way?” You ask it again and again until you come to an answer because it does make sense, I promise you. It might be a very childish reason. It feels to you like it makes sense, but you have to find what it is because when you do, you’re going to be able to ask for what you need.
What Happens to Me When I Shut Down
We’ll come back to this in a minute, but let me give you some examples to help you understand that if you can bring compassion to whatever it is that is making you act weird, making you push love away, your deeper self is going to open up, and you will find something very precious. I’m just going to give you a few examples of that now.
Let me give you an example of me with my husband. My husband is a real techy kind of guy, and he lives on and thrives on the practical whereas I live in the world of emotions. We’re sitting down to lunch together, and I have just had this revelation or this painful experience or this exciting insight or this important thing that happened to me. I want to tell him, but it’s a little embarrassing because this is a tender spot for me.
This is a part of my real self, where I’m more that way than most people. I’m sitting with him, and I don’t tell him. I don’t share it because it just feels a little awkward. We’re talking about like, I don’t know what, the dishes, the clothes that need to be washed, our plans for the day. I feel like, “I’m just too much,” and I don’t share it. Then what happens? I notice that I’m a little shutdown to him.
I Acted Like Nothing is Going On
I notice that the feeling of joy and love and naturalness has closed down a little bit, and I notice that I’m more likely to get irritated and annoyed at him. If I pull back and say, “Why am I irritated and annoyed?” I’ll realize I feel shut out. I feel shut out. Why do I feel shut out? Well, I feel shut out because I didn’t get to talk about this thing. Oh, okay. Why didn’t I get to talk about it? Because I was embarrassed.
Now, that’s already a world of insight, but if I could then… That’s almost enough right there, but if I could then say to him, “Honey, I need to talk to you about something. I had something amazing happen, and I want to share it with you,” he will, of course, say sure. He’ll sit down, and I’ll share it. All of a sudden, I’ll be back to being the natural me. That was fear of intimacy, and that technique of acting like nothing’s going on and then shutting down and becoming irritated and kind of numb is the story of my life for decades and why I was alone for decades. That’s just one example.
I’ll give you another example in a few minutes, but what I want to say is this. If you don’t dignify your needs, your asks, your wants, even if they seem silly or weird, if you don’t, you will act out, which means you’ll behave in a way that is not helpful, or you’ll act in, which means you’ll hurt yourself or get yourself into some kind of masochistic jam.
Your Psyche Will Create A Primitive Defense
You’ll act out or you’ll act in or you’ll do both. Now, I want to share a really awesome and profound content with you before I get to the next story. This is the content. Remember we talked about your true self and what a life and death thing it is for the psyche to protect that true self, which is such an amazing, amazing thing. That’s how serious it is that your true self doesn’t feel at risk and in jeopardy.
Here’s the deal. If your true self, if your deep psyche knows that you’re not going to dignify it, that you’re going to say things to it like, “Oh, you’re too sensitive. You’re too much. You’re not enough. That’s silly. That’s too weird. That’s too needy. That’s too big an ask,” if your psyche knows that’s what you’re going to do with it, it is not going to reveal its most precious secrets to you.
It will know that you are not a safe curator of its treasures. It will have to create what’s called a primitive defense. In other words, a wall.
It will build a wall to protect itself because it knows that you, as the kind of parent, will not be able to protect it, so it shuts down, which is an act of dignity and grace and causes a lot of problems for all of us.
A Breathtaking Benefit
This is a benefit that’s breathtaking. To the degree that you begin to make room for the uniqueness and the truth of what your asks are, your needs are, the ones that you have kind of felt embarrassed about sharing, to that degree that you dignify them first inside yourself and then choose people in your life with whom you could share stuff like that and then share it with them and feel heard, your world will open up.
That’s a promise. That is an absolute promise. You will feel more comfortable in your own skin. Your relationship will deepen and enrich.
You will be much happier, and your deep psyche will say, “Oh my god. He or she can take care of me. Maybe I can let down some of that wall because I know that instead of a wall, the being who’s going to take care of me, you, is going to place, instead of a stonewall, a door.”
As M. Scott Peck said, “a door that can be shut, a door that can be locked when need be, a door that can be opened partially, a door that can be opened all the way.”
When your psyche knows that it will be protected, it will not have to protect itself for you. A host of fear of intimacy patterned responses will begin to melt. That’s a fabulous thing.
The Lessons We Have Not Been Taught
Now, I just want to give you a really sweet story of a little boy who did this exact kind of process that we’re talking about, but I guess he grew up in a family where he was trained to do this and was allowed to do it so it came naturally, but I think it’s really fabulous.
I heard this story from this boy’s aunt. This is the story. His mom, little child, his mom was feeling particularly effusive with him and was loving him up to pieces and expressing all of her love. He looked at her, this little boy, and he said, “Mom, when your love is that big, it makes my love feel so small.” Wow. The mom got it. She totally got it. The kid could breathe again.
Could you imagine trusting yourself so much that you would not think, “What’s wrong with me?” or, “I hate my mom,” or just shut down completely as a little child but to have the wisdom to say, “Oh my god. The intensity of your love, I need a little space here. I can’t breathe. My love can’t breathe. Not that there’s anything wrong with your love, but I need space”? How amazing to live that way. How creative. How poetic. When you do, the opening that happens is pure happiness.
These are the lessons we have not been taught.
Don’t Assume There’s Something Wrong with You
This is the point that I want to teach for this and the process that I want to teach for this episode.
It is whenever you feel your telltale signs of pushing away love, don’t assume there’s something wrong with you. Assume there’s something right with you. Take the time to go in with compassion and dignify the part of you that’s not feeling right. Let it speak. Let it think. Let it express and honor it. Think of how you could turn it into an ask, how you could take care of yourself differently.
Doing that, that exact act, is exactly what the Harvard Grant Study said is the key to love and happiness, a mature coping style that doesn’t push love away. This tool is exactly that done your way.
Thank you so much for listening. Please leave comments. Please leave a review. Go to DeeperDatingPodcast.com and sign up for my mailing list. I look so forward to seeing you next week. Have fun with this material.