When we think of fear of intimacy, we tend to think of experiencing discomfort in emotionally vulnerable relationships. Most of us experience this discomfort on some level or another; opening up emotionally can be quite difficult, especially for those of us who have been hurt in the past. And most of us have been hurt, because being hurt is an inevitable part of the human experience. An actual fear of intimacy, however, stems beyond this relatable sense of initial awkwardness. Those who experience true fear of intimacy are often suffering from an underlying anxiety disorder or social phobia, resulting in the inability to form close and meaningful relationships with another person. Often, this term is used to refer to a specific type of adult in attachment theory psychology. In reality, actively avoiding closeness in relationships is the norm for about 17 percent of the adult population in Western cultures. And believe it or not, men make up the vast majority of this actively avoidant population.
Men and Intimacy Issues
Of course, it is difficult to say whether men fear intimacy and relationships more than women, seeing as gender differences cannot truly be psychologically proven. However, several studies show that men tend to suffer from significant attachment disorders more frequently than women, causing them to avoid emotional intimacy and often steer clear of romantic endeavors entirely. It is quite possible that social influences shape males to be more afraid of letting their guards down and expressing any type of emotional vulnerability. Gender-restrictive parenting is still a huge part of American culture, and the popular media is constantly covering the differing ways in which boys and girls are socialized from an early age. It is clear that boys and girls are often socialized differently (this becomes increasingly clear when studying gender disparities from a historical standpoint) – women are generally raised to be compassionate, taught to engage in cooperative play, where as men are generally raised to be non-emotive, taught to engage in physical, competitive play. It makes sense that women grow up to be more equipped to adequately handle and express their emotions, and men grow up learning that emotional vulnerability equates to weakness.
Cultural Standards and Male Emotiveness
It is important to note that not all men are afraid of relationships. The majority of men, in fact, are emotionally healthy and exceedingly comfortable expressing their intimate vulnerabilities. But what is it that makes the subset of men who are terrified of intimacy so afraid? In most cases, intimacy issues stem back to previous, unresolved relational trauma. It is possible that this trauma occurred when the man was an adult, but it is more likely that it occurred sometime during infancy or early adolescence. It is exceedingly difficult for men who, as children, had an absentee parent, a parent who abused them in any way, or a parent that they lost, to maintain healthy and functional relationships during adulthood. If a man has not adequately worked through past trauma and processed all of the related thoughts and feelings, seeking out and sustaining a romantic relationship will likely be unfathomable – and impossible.
It is also possible that the relational trauma occurred during adulthood. Perhaps a man had a partner who was unfaithful, or one who passed away as the result of a tragic illness. While the men who underwent these emotionally traumatic experiences may still crave emotional closeness, their newly developed fear of intimacy is likely to overwhelm all inclinations towards emotional attachment. Risking the accumulation of even more emotional pain is too great – it is much easier to avoid intimacy altogether.
Actively Avoiding Intimacy
Some men fear intimacy because of underlying and unaddressed anxiety disorders – their overall approach to intimacy and romantic relationships makes engaging with others on a deep, emotional level extremely anxiety-provoking. For example, men who suffer from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) will often avoid entering into relationships because of the uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand with being romantically involved. Dealing with the unpredictability of their own emotions and the emotions of another individual is often far too much to bear. Men who have paranoid personality types will also frequently avoid intimacy, afraid that they will be taken advantage of or manipulated. Men who suffer from depressive disorders will also typically avoid intimacy, viewing it as an unnecessary and exhausting emotional expenditure. Because men rarely speak openly about underlying psychological symptoms or previously diagnosed disorders, it may appear that they simply do not want to commit. This is rarely the case.
Recovery from Attachment Trauma
It is also exceedingly common for men who struggle with addictive disorders of any kind to actively avoid entering into a relationship. They may feel as if their addiction would be exposed were they to become romantically involved, and that they would be prevented from continuing to act out in peace. This addiction may be chemically-related, or it may involve a compulsive behavioral pattern such as gambling, playing video games, or masturbating. While it may seem like men are generally afraid of relationships and intimacy, many men are avoiding intimate interactions in order to protect long-standing secrets – often involving untreated trauma, undiagnosed mental disorders, or addictive behavioral patterns. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience treating all of the aforementioned. Our clinical program focuses on the core of the issues at hand, which very frequently involves traumatic experiences and unhealthy attachments that occurred during childhood. For more information on our male-exclusive program of recovery, please contact us today.