Defending Against Intimacy

Your survival depends on intimacy. As Thomas Lewis talks about in his book, "A General Theory of Love", an infant's life depends on intimacy with a caregiver to regulate basic physiological and emotional functioning. This regulation through connection continues throughout life.

However, if you are like most people, you have had formative experiences in which you moved toward intimacy and got the message that it wasn't okay and possibly that it was dangerous. At some point in becoming more and more intimate with a partner or other close person in your life, these previous experiences motivate you to defend against the very thing you need.

Defending against intimacy can take a lot of different forms. Let's look at a couple of common patterns.

Mistrust & Suspicion

Mistrust and suspicion can be habits of body, heart, and mind. When there is any ambiguity about what's happening reactivity arises to fill in the blanks. The thinking error here is that if you can predict hurt, it will hurt less when it happens. Thus, the mind runs wild imagining all sorts of awful scenarios. Unfounded mistrust and suspicion will push you towards all sorts of behaviors like spying on that person, trying to get information from others, and asking a lot of investigative questions (Where were you? Who were you with? Was that person flirting with you? Are you really committed to this relationship? Why are you late? Do you really love me?). Each time you engage in these behaviors from a state of reactivity you reinforce the reactive pattern.

This reactive pattern blocks the formation of a secure bond which would bring you relief from the anxiety of mistrust and suspicion.


Avoiding is sometimes a less obvious form of defending against intimacy. Avoidance patterns often leverage socially acceptable behaviors like over working, becoming intoxicated, and pursuing image. When avoidance patterns are challenged the responses are often some version of, "That's just the way I am," "You're just trying to control me."

If you are running an avoidance pattern, you likely resist commitment and opt for vague agreements that leave a way out should intimacy become too much. Even in the momentary sense of commitment, revealing what you really want or don't want and committing to an answer feels scary from the perspective of an avoidance pattern. Authenticity seems like a risk. And without authenticity there is no true intimacy.

Ironically, if you run an avoidance pattern you may pursue a facsimile of intimacy in relationships or situations in which you don't have to fully reveal yourself. Such instances of sudden "intimacy" trigger a rush of pleasant body reactions while not challenging a sense of safety. This can trigger a form of addiction.

Of course, all these avoidance patterns block the opportunity to create a secure and healthy relationship to intimacy.

Finding those that can truly offer consistent authenticity and compassionate presence gives you the the opportunity to heal your relationship to intimacy. To avail yourself of this opportunity there is to become mindful of all the ways you defend against intimacy and then to take a step towards it.

True intimacy is a rich and satisfying aspect of life that grows out of authenticity and the willingness to experience the fear that comes with cultivating it.


Take a moment now to reflect identify an example in which a long term trusted commitment has allowed you to show up authentically and experience a true sense of intimacy.


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