Human beings are wired to seek close connections with others, to know and be known intimately within the bounds of a loving relationship. This journey into intimacy encompasses not just the emotional but also the experiential, intellectual, and sexual facets of our lives. It’s a wellspring of joy. But what happens when the prospect of intimacy sparks fear? We’ve touched on this subject before, but this time, we’re taking a deeper dive into the fear of emotional and sexual intimacy—what it looks like, why it happens, and how EMDR therapy can help.
There are two sides to the fear of intimacy coin: you might consciously avoid it, or you may not even recognise it as a challenge yet.
Here are some signs that either you or your partner might be grappling with a fear of intimacy:
- Low self-esteem
- Trust issues
- Frequent bouts of anger
- Keeping physical distance
- Emotional struggles
- Unquenchable sexual desires
- A history of unstable relationships
- Difficulty forming or committing to relationships
Understanding what’s behind this fear is pivotal, as it paves the way for taking the right steps. So, what could be the triggers?
- The fear of control, abandonment, or rejection
- A childhood marked by neglect and excessive dependence on parents or family
- Personality traits like the avoidant type
- A history of abuse, be it verbal, physical, or sexual
The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Childhood sexual abuse can cast a long shadow over one’s adult life, often breeding a fear of emotional and sexual intimacy. Individuals who’ve experienced this trauma tend to shy away from intimacy in their relationships, showing symptoms such as:
- An overwhelming lack of trust
- Emotional detachment during sexual encounters
- Expressing negative emotions like disgust, guilt, or anger during intimate moments
- A subdued and obligatory sexual drive
- Inappropriate sexual behaviours
- Sexual dysfunctions
Sexual Phobias: Beyond the Fear of Intimacy
Sexual phobias take the fear up a notch, causing intense anxiety that can wreak havoc on both mental and physical well-being. Some examples of sexual phobias include:
- Heterophobia (fear of the opposite sex)
- Nosophobia (fear of disease transmission)
- Gymnophobia (fear of nudity)
- Coitophobia (fear of sexual intercourse)
- Haphephobia (fear of physical contact)
- Tocophobia (fear of pregnancy or childbirth)
These sexual phobias can intensify the fear of both sexual and emotional intimacy within a relationship. It’s important to note that most individuals with a fear of intimacy still desire intimate relationships; their challenge lies in opening up to the vulnerability that comes with it.
Hypo-active Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD)
HSDD refers to a lack of sexual desire or fantasies, often linked to issues surrounding intimacy. Those susceptible to HSDD are often individuals who’ve experienced sexual abuse or trauma or grew up in an environment where negative attitudes towards sexual and emotional intimacy prevailed.
Sexual anorexia is characterised by a diminished sexual appetite or a reluctance to engage in sexual connections. Individuals with this condition tend to fear or avoid sexual intimacy.
EMDR Therapy: Elevating Intimacy
Traditional couple therapies sometimes struggle to address the emotional aspects of intimacy. However, EMDR therapy stands out when incorporated into couple therapy, addressing emotional trauma through bilateral stimulation. Eye Movement Relationship Enhancement (EMRE), a technique used by EMDR-trained therapists during couple therapy, can help enhance intimacy by following three significant phases:
- Unearthing and allowing previously suppressed emotions.
- Reprocessing emotional experiences
- Deepening a couple’s intimacy.
EMDR Therapy for Treating the Causes of Fear of Intimacy
Scientific research and clinical evidence support the efficacy of EMDR therapy in treating relationship dimensions like intimacy, attachment, communication, and affect regulation during couple therapy. It can help individuals overcome the causes that lead to a fear of intimacy and negatively impact their relationships, including:
- Experiences of abandonment, betrayal, and trust issues
- EMDR therapy can address these issues by gradually removing negative emotions associated with past negative experiences, allowing for healing and strengthening the intimate connection.
- Past Trauma
- Trauma related to sexual abuse and intimate partner violence is a common cause of the fear of intimacy. EMDR therapy has been successful in treating such trauma, even when it co-occurs with conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
- Sexual Dysfunction and Anxiety
- EMDR can also effectively address sexual dysfunctions, sexual anxiety, and loss of sexual desire.
How EMDR Enhances Intimacy
EMDR therapy works to elevate intimacy by:
Promoting emotional healing: By addressing past trauma and negative experiences, EMDR helps partners heal emotionally, making it easier to establish and enhance intimacy.
Reducing anxiety: EMDR aids in reducing anxiety triggers, allowing both partners to access intimacy within the relationship.
Breaking habitual behaviours: EMDR helps identify and diminish habitual behaviours that hinder intimate connections, replacing them with positive ones.
Traumatic Memories vs. Dysfunctionally Stored Information: EMDR’s Approach
EMDR therapy differentiates between traumatic memories and dysfunctionally stored information. The latter can be equally harmful and may lead to idealisation and unrealistic expectations in a relationship. EMDR focuses on restructuring these memories to create adaptive resolutions, enabling clients to perceive past experiences and current relationships more accurately.
In conclusion, it is entirely possible to overcome the fear of intimacy. Seeking help from a trained EMDR therapist can strengthen your intimate connection with your partner. Though the therapy process may be challenging, the results are undeniably rewarding, leading to a happier and more satisfying relationship.
Ready to take the first step towards a more fulfilling, intimate relationship? Contact Light Mind Counselling and Psychology today to explore how EMDR therapy can help you on this journey.Book an appointment