I Struggle with Affection
From a teen in the U.S.: For as long as I can remember, I have always felt uncomfortable both receiving and giving affection to others. I never viewed this as a problem until just recently. My girlfriend and I have been dating for almost two months now and she’s a very affectionate and supportive person. She seems to always find an excuse to be near me and I don’t have a problem with it. However, I worry that I’m not being as loving towards her as I feel I should be.
I’ll admit that I have a rather low self-esteem and social anxiety, so perhaps this has something to do with why I will sometimes get dizzy, nauseous, and just feel as though I am about to pass out when she is affectionate towards me for long periods of time. This only happens when she is physical with me; never when she is giving me a compliment. However, we don’t see each other for weeks at a time because of where we live, so it doesn’t happen that often. I feel as though she has most likely noticed how I’m always very cautious and hesitant when I am put in a situation where I am to give her affection, such as when she holds my hand. I’m not sure if this bothers her or not, but I would hate it if she were to think I don’t care for her simply because of my mentality.
A: Thank you for writing. I think it’s a very loving gesture for you to try to figure this out.
It’s just true that different people have different levels of need for physical contact and physical expression. It’s an issue that almost every couple has to navigate at some point. But in your case, you say that you have always been uncomfortable with it. That suggests a couple of things that might be useful for you to explore:
First, it could be that you are “tactile defensive”. Kids who don’t like much physical contact often have a sensory processing disorder that makes contact uncomfortable. Research it and see if it makes sense to you.
Or it may be that someone broke your trust around physical contact when you were younger. If someone you trusted hurt you in some way, it would make sense that you don’t want someone to be too close.
In either case, there are therapists who can help you sort it out and figure out what to do about it. You are only 16. Now is the time to address it while you are young and your brain and body are still developing.
I hope you will follow up and talk with a counselor. You and your partner both deserve the sweetness that comes from physical intimacy.
I wish you well.
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). I Struggle with Affection. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 20, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2018/04/09/i-struggle-with-affection/