Fear of Intimacy in Recovery

By susanpeabody 04/18/18

Robin Norwood, in her book Women Who Love Too Much, points out that some people in recovery cling to others who are emotionally unavailable because unconsciously they are afraid of real intimacy. In other words, underlying their hope that an unloving partner will become more loving, is their fear that he or she will.

Usually, people are not aware of their unconscious fear of intimacy because they are overwhelmed by the conscious emotions triggered by their passion. They feel a tremendous attraction to someone and this suppresses their unacknowledged fear.

One symptom of this underlying fear of intimacy is an aversion to nice people. People in recovery may tell themselves (and others) that they are looking for someone nice, but when they meet such a person they feel uncomfortable or under stimulated. In other words, there will be no overwhelming attraction or excitement in the initial stages of the relationship. The "pull" or the "draw" to be with this person will not be there. They will tell others there is no chemistry.

This is sad, but it does not have to be a permanent problem. To move beyond this stage of recovery, people must learn to see the value of a healthy relationship with a nice person, even if that person seems does not stimulate love at first sight, or the relationship lacks the melodrama of an exciting relationship.

In my opinion, the best way to handle this fear of intimacy underlying our yearning to be loved, is to face it. This involves acknowledging the feelings of anxiety, but keeping a cool head. It means sorting out the feelings of hesitancy (that act as a warning sign of something unhealthy) from the feelings of anxiety that stem from the fear.


⋅ Be honest with yourself about your perception of love. Do you confuse the adrenalin rush of passion or a chaotic relationship with love? Is pain the measure of your love? Do you tell yourself that if you weren't in love you wouldn't be hurting so much. Have you become crisis-oriented after all these years of living with tumultuous, unhealthy relationships?

⋅ Re-evaluate your feelings about "boredom." Why does it seem like a "fate worse than death"? Do you confuse being comfortable and relaxed with being bored? Can you find other ways to experience excitement besides chaotic relationships?

⋅ When you get involved with someone, evaluate the relationship using criteria other than just the level of your sexual attraction. The importance you give to being attracted to someone is not a good way to measure the quality of a relationship. (You are too used to being attracted to the wrong types.) Ask yourself if the person you are with is patient, trustworthy, considerate, understanding, generous, shares your values, has some interests similar to yours, is concerned about your needs, fights fair, and is ready to consider a commitment.

⋅ Be in the company of nice people so that you can get used to it. This can prepare you for a more serious relationship with someone nice later on. (A really healthy union may start out romantic, but in the final analysis it will have all the components of a healthy friendship. People in recovery need to find out what these components are.)

⋅ Be patient with yourself. You are doing positive things for a change and in many respects you are like a young adolescent starting all over again. Now that you aren't controlling everything and everyone anymore, you are apt to be very frightened.

⋅ Get outside of your comfort zone. Walk in a strange land until your fears subside and you can see the beauty of your surroundings. "The only way out is through." Robin Norwood

Excerpt from Addiction to Love by Susan Peabody

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