Have you ever met someone and got along famously, only to have them back off suddenly? Perhaps you reacted by ignoring them when they finally tried to get in touch a few weeks later, and now, ages later, are still wondering what happened.
There is a good chance that you simply became involved with a person who suffers from fear of intimacy.
Seen as a social or anxiety disorder, fear of intimacy often results in a person blowing hot then cold, or doing the occasional disappearing act, which can be terribly frustrating for others. But it’s also terribly frustrating for the person who is intimacy-phobic and does want your friendship but sabotages it despite themselves. The very nature of this anxiety disorder makes it difficult for them to explain what’s going on.
All that an intimacy-phobic person requires is a bit of patience and understanding. Here are 5 ways to deal with an “intimacy phobe” the next time you encounter one.
1. Be patient with their disappearing act but don’t try the same tactic in return.
Intimacy-phobics are prone to suddenly pulling back just at the point a person who is comfortable with intimacy leans in. If you’ve just spent a weekend away with a new friend and thought it went well, but they take ages to get back to your texts and emails, it could be that they are overwhelmed and taking time out to recover.
Don’t pressure the intimacy-wary person for a response, nor decide to disappear yourself in a sort of ‘revenge’ tactic. The two main fears of an intimacy-phobic sort, usually stemming from childhood trauma, are being abandoned or being ‘engulfed,’ losing themselves to someone else’s needs. If they feel they’ve had too much one-on-one time and back off a little, and you then abandon them, you’re fairly likely to scare them off for good.
You don’t have to accept being treated in a way that you don’t like or measure all your responses to please them, which would just be codependent and unhealthy for either of you. It’s more about being honest but staying available. Why not ask them if they are needing some time to themselves, and give them a chance to respond? Let them know that you are available when they are feeling more themselves and that next time it would be easier on you if they told you what they were doing.
2. Don’t let them hide behind questions.
Intimacy-phobics can be experts at asking just the right questions to keep you talking about yourself. That way they don’t have to ever talk about themselves and can avoid uncomfortable subjects. They can give you such focused attention that you walk away feeling great and thinking it was a good conversation, not realizing that your friend didn’t share anything in return.
Be conscious that you also ask the intimacy-phobic person questions about themselves. Even if they deflect and try to bring the conversation back to you, gently ask again. And let them take their time responding as they might be awkward or uncomfortable talking about themselves at first.
3. Encourage them to be imperfect.
If someone appears well put together and strong, then nobody bothers looking deeply at them and seeing their vulnerability and flaws. A person who is afraid of intimacy is actually more than anything afraid of being judged, even as they usually are their own harshest critics.
Don’t be afraid of or tricked by their perfect front. Look past it. Then let them know you don’t need them to be perfect or even want them to be. Demonstrate a good example by being gloriously comfortable with your own imperfections.
4. Look beyond their strong opinions.
Intimacy-phobic people are often prone to making strong statements or even rude jokes before they can stop themselves. It’s an unconscious tactic to scare people away, and a lot of the time, it’s not even what they really mean or feel. Their real selves will be the one where they are feeling relaxed, when they might even present totally opposite opinions.
If they say something you find untoward, don’t be afraid to call them on it when they are in a more centered frame of mind. Ask if they really feel that way, and give them time to respond. And look to their actions over their words. Point it out to them if what they do contradicts what they say, and show appreciation for the actions they take that are generous of spirit.
5. Teach them that nothing is certain, but things are worth it anyway.
A person who shies away from close connection has at some point in their life decided that it’s better to avoid getting close to others then suffer a relationship going sour and resulting in hurt. The secret of dealing with the intimacy-phobic person is never to over-promise anything, but to point out that the positive rewards of a good relationship are worth the risk. Being close to someone, learning to trust, and having support when we need it are worth the chance we might upset them or lose them. In fact good, intimate relationships are linked to better health and better careers, too, as we tend to feel better about ourselves and our capabilities.