Fear of Success and Intimacy

Originally posted to SeductionBase, a guest poster explains his understanding and insights into Fear and Intimacy

A collection of thoughts on an issue that is a real problem for me. This started as a personal thing to help me put some of my thoughts in order but in case anyone else suffers from the same I’d thought I’d write around it and post it. This is mostly a personal view – I’m no psychologist. Putting this together has been a useful exercise for me personally, but I still hope this helps someone else.

Avoiding Sex and Relationships: Fear of Intimacy

Honestly ask yourself if any of the following apply to you:

1. Fear of being vulnerable to being hurt
2. Avoidance of risk
3. Inability to let go of hurts and fears even if they occurred a long ago (especially those from previous relationships)
4. Chronic defensiveness
5. Fear of being too exposed or being found out for who you “really are”
6. Difficulties or an inability to show affection, tenderness, or caring
7. Difficulties or an inability to be open and honest with people

If you can recognise yourself and your own behaviour in many of these, it is likely you may on some level have a fear of intimacy. While a small amount of anxiety is common, if the magnitude of these fears reach the point of stopping you from experiencing intimacy with another, then it poses a significant barrier to what is a essentially a basic human desire and possible detachment from meaningful relationships.


Many people’s problems with intimacy (both emotional and physical) and sex are not likely to be as deep rooted or for the majority of reasons mentioned here. This article is for the minority of people for whom the obstacles to having sex and experiencing intimacy run much deeper than a lack of ‘game’, simple lack of confidence, dressing badly and playing WoW too much. If this isn’t you, you may be better served reading PUA literature rather than ‘self help’ type material.

The issues dealt with here are likely to also affect other areas of life, particularly relationships. Even if having sex does not pose a significant problem to you; if you have problems getting into or feeling uncomfortable with close relationships much of the later section may still apply. It will also briefly cover the commonalities with Social Anxiety since this often also include problems with intimacy and is caused by many of the same reasons.

For those experiencing difficulties like this, advice like “just ‘man up’ and stop being so pathetic” is worse than useless. These are issues that if not dealt with are likely to continue to severely impact any relationships the individual has in the future. Advice like this is like asking someone with a gaping wound to just put a brave face on it – continuing to cover things up is avoiding the problem and likely to make things worse in the long term.

Firstly, how is an avoidance of sex and intimacy manifested?

Principally, in two ways:

1. Lack of trying at all – Total avoidance of romantic interest. This is dealt with by MANipulation’s ‘Fox Grapes Theory’ which alludes to the classic Aesop fable, where the fox fails to get the grapes, so he comforts himself by deciding that they were probably sour anyway. Creating a skewed view of the world to maintain self esteem and justify not having sex or experiencing intimacy. Examples—a ‘nice guy’ self-image, religious/scientific/moral justifications, a victim mindset, or escapism in one of it’s many forms.

2. Self sabotage – This is likely to happen subconsciously and is probably more common but less obvious. People will actually think they are trying hard to achieve their goal of sex but have subconsciously sabotaged their chances much earlier, making success close to impossible. This way, the fears detailed in the next section do not have to be dealt with – this defence protects them from acknowledging them.

Chasing unattainable partners, deliberately throwing away perfectly good opportunities (and rationalising these actions by flawed reasoning), having impossibly high standards, are examples of self sabotage. Like not trying, this is also denial based mindset and a way of avoiding the deeper issue; in this case pushing the problem onto someone else and blaming them for personal failures.

Secondly, why do this?

Intimacy and sex are immensely pleasurable for the vast majority of people and is a biological desire. Why would someone deliberately avoid it? The underlying reason is fear and the reasons and causes for this fear will be looked at in the rest of this article. Rather than risk being hurt, some people – whether consciously or unconsciously – decide not to let anyone get close and they avoid intimacy altogether.

Common cases are guys who remain virgins into their 20s for which having sex for the first time is usually a very conscious goal. For this reason, a fear of success (which can be applied to almost any kind of goal) may also come into play often coupled with a fear of intimacy. Since this is related and the anxiety/avoidance behaviour is the same, some details on this will also be outlined briefly first before looking at fear of intimacy directly.
Fear of success

1. Comfort in being ‘a failure’ – Sabotaging any gains in personal growth and achievement, because once they start solving problems they fear that no one will pay attention – they are no longer special or stand out. They are habituated to receiving help, sympathy, and compassionate support from others.

2.  Fear that they will accomplish all that they set out to, but still won’t be happy. The greater the effort the more likely this is, and the bigger the fear becomes. It is easy to blame not being happy on the inability to reach a goal that is subconsciously made impossible, once it is achieved they will no longer have anything to blame for their own unhappiness and it will force them to address other issues in life which they may be trying to avoid. When finally presented with what they have worked so hard to towards, they may feel empty and realise they have tagged all kinds of ‘fixes’ for other problems in life onto it. An example would be a belief that after finally having sex that they will be ‘fixed’ and problems with women will be solved, when deep down they know this not to be true.

3. Fear that accomplishments could be destroyed at any time. The result of this fear is difficult to explain, it is often quite self destructive and sometimes difficult for others to understand. Having a great chance and messing it up means they won’t have the great chance any longer – so they never take it. Another behaviour might be deliberately destroying chances and opportunities so that no one else or any outside influence can ruin them.
Fear of intimacy

While fear of success can be generalised to apply to almost any goal, fear of intimacy is specific to the focus of this article.

What is intimacy?

Studies by Collins and Freeney have examined the relationship between attachment and intimacy in detail. They define emotional intimacy as a special set of interactions in which a person discloses something important about himself or herself, and a partner responds to the disclosure in a way that makes the person feel validated, understood, and cared for. These interactions usually involve verbal self-disclosure. Physical intimate interactions involve non-verbal forms of self-expression such as touching, hugging, kissing, and sexual behaviour.

Intimacy usually requires most of the following:

1.  Willingness to disclose one’s true thoughts, feelings, wishes, and fears
2.  Willingness trust a partner for care and emotional support
3.  Willingness to engage in physical intimacy

4.  Sharing of tenderness, caring, and affection
5.  Lowered defences and allowing yourself to be fragile and vulnerable

A fear of intimacy will often be characterised by the following:

• Inability to develop trust in another
• Fear of being vulnerable to being hurt
• Avoidance of risk
• Inability to let go of hurts and fears even if they occurred a long ago, especially those from previous relationships
• Fear of loss of approval; fear of rejection
• Chronic defensiveness
• Fear of being too exposed or being found out for who you “really are”
• Inability to show affection, tenderness, or caring
• Inability to be open and honest

Someone who has little problem with only physical intimacy but completely avoids any kind of relationship may well also have a fear of intimacy but in this case only of the emotional type. Usually, both are very much interrelated and are both required for a successful relationship so they will be discussed synonymously.

Fear and avoidance

Even the less physical part of intimacy which includes many things that are not very sexual – light kino, holding hands etc. which can also present problems for those who have a high fear of intimacy.

It is not actually the intimacy itself that people fear. If people could be guaranteed that intimacy would continue to be a positive experience, they would have no fear of it. What they fear is the possibility of getting hurt as a result of being intimate with another. Many people have two major fears that may cause them to avoid intimacy: the fear of rejection, and the fear of engulfment – of being invaded, of being controlled and unable to cope with the emotions involved. The fear exists, not because of the experience itself, but because a person doesn’t know how to handle the situation.
Rather than risk being hurt, some people – whether consciously or unconsciously – decide not to let anyone get close and they avoid intimacy altogether.

Avoidant attachment theory: Low interpersonal trust

Adult attachment styles have been categorised in studies done by Bartholomew and the 4 ‘types’ are based on the combinations of self-esteem and interpersonal trust. The two types with avoidant attachment style are likely to have problems with intimacy.

The avoidant attachment styles are broken down into fearful and dismissive types. Someone with a fearful attachment style has a negative view of themselves and others, but the dismissive attachment style is a person having a positive view of self and a negative view of others.

Dismissive-Avoidant attachment
People with a dismissive attachment style tend to have a very positive view of themselves and strive to be independent. They are comfortable without close emotional relationships and it is very important to them to feel independent and self-sufficient without any dependency on others. They view themselves as invulnerable to feelings associated with being closely attached to others and often deny needing close relationships. They can often appear defensive, tending to suppress and hide their feelings and dealing with rejection by distancing themselves from any sources of rejection.

Fearful-Avoidant attachment
People with a fearful-avoidant attachment style see both themselves and others negatively. They tend to be uncomfortable getting close to others and are prone to anxiety in social situations. They have a desire for emotionally close relationships, but find it difficult to trust others completely, worrying that they will be hurt if they allow themselves to become too close and feeling uncomfortable with the emotional closeness.
Fear of rejection

Poor self image and sense of self worth

If self-image is too closely tied and centred around what others think or how well you relate to others, then fear of rejection will be a threat to personal self-image – a person will be seeking constant validation from others of their self worth. This means that their own self worth is mostly out of their direct control and can fluctuate wildly depending on people’s view and opinion. Any threat to this opinion is likely to cause anxiety and avoidance of any situation where there may be significant risk to it. This can apply to both physical appearance (insecurity about their body) as well as personality.

The honesty and vulnerability required for intimacy is a problem because fundamentally they are not happy with their real self and do not like themselves. The requirement to raise these uncomfortable issues and expose them to another, results in a ‘brick wall’ to anyone that tries to get that close as a defence to getting hurt – their fear of rejection by the other party. These people often spend their lives trying to protect themselves by lying about who they are to themselves and the world spending lots of time and energy trying to keep the truth hidden from other people.
Fear of emotional engulfment

The emotions experienced during intimacy, both emotional and physical, can be overwhelming and scary for someone who does not have the skills to deal with them. All the issues relating to emotional engulfment stem from an inability to manage emotions. In addition, some groups of people are affected much more by their emotions and feel things much more strongly, making these people much more susceptible to emotional engulfment problems.

Loss of control

Fear of a loss of control is likely to be a bigger problem for Dismissive-Avoidant attachment types who strongly avoid any dependency on anyone else. If they let someone get close to them they feel very vulnerable that there is a possible source of hurt and rejection that they are not in direct control over and seek to distance themselves from this to avoid it.

The strong emotions invoked in intimacy can also make them feel out of control with a fear that the intense emotions are taking over. They become afraid they can’t suppress and control their response to them as usual.

Another control problem can stem from the effect the other has on them in more general terms by making life easier and making them feel good. This is enjoyable and pleasant and they become increasingly worried they will get dependant on the other to provide this – a source which is unpredictable and outside of their control. Another is a worry about ability to cope with the loss of the relationship; that the break-up could devastate them by being unable to cope.

Problems dealing with hurtful experiences

For these people bad or hurtful experiences hurt them much more deeply as a result of their high sensitivity to emotion. They find it very hard to forget and move on from a bad experience which may linger as a painful memory for years after the event. As a defence they don’t let themselves be put in the same position again even if it is subconscious. Any hurtful memories relating to past intimacy or relationships will have the biggest effect.
Ties with Social Anxiety

Fear of intimacy has strong ties with social anxiety since they both stem from similar insecurities and beliefs, with most social anxiety suffers also experiencing problems with intimacy. Fearful-Avoidant attachment types are also particularly prone. People who suffer from social anxiety will often feel inadequate, avoiding social situations and worry about embarrassing themselves in front of others. They desire for social relations yet feel they are unable to obtain them and are frequently depressed and have low self-confidence.

Symptoms often include:

1. Social inhibition; retreating from others in anticipation of rejection
2. Preoccupation with being rejected or criticized in social situations
3. Fear of embarrassment results in avoidance of new activities
4. poor self-image; feelings of social ineptitude
5. Desire for improved social relations
6. Appear to others as self-involved, cold and unfriendly
This sounds like me, where do I go from here?

Some say that identification and recognising the problem is half the battle. It is academic whether this may or may not be true but the way I see the path to a overcoming this has 3 stages:

1) Identification that there is a problem
2) Pinpointing root cases for the feelings and manifestations in 1)
3) Solution

Perhaps this article will help you with numbers 1 and 2. Details on number 3 as and when I get there.

fear of intimacy