One of the most satisfying aspects of recovery is getting the opportunity to form close relationships with others. Surveys show that friendships are viewed as one of the most important indicators of a happy and fulfilling life. Scientific studies also back up this claim with proof that friendships and other relationships make us healthier and more balanced human beings. This is a big reason why forming meaningful connections with others during recovery is so important.
Unfortunately, forming those important connections can also be one of the most challenging aspects of recovery for many people. For these individuals, a fear of intimacy or general social anxiety can really get in the way. The fears associated with forming close bonds with others can affect both physical and emotional intimacy. These fears usually go back to deeper issues that originate from childhood and have a lot more to do with a fear of getting hurt or showing vulnerability to others, rather than an actual fear of people. This causes someone to protect themselves and cope with their fears by keeping others at a safe distance. As a result, they end up missing out on a lot of great opportunities for friendships and meaningful connections even though deep down they may truly want them.
Some other symptoms of a fear of intimacy include:
-Being uncomfortable with physical contact or affection
-Keeping their guard up around other people.
-Not revealing details about their feelings, thoughts, or other facets of their life.
-Not showing or expressing emotion.
-Keeping a physical distance from others by choosing to spend the majority of their time alone.
-Not believing that they deserve love or affection from others.
-Avoiding social situations.
-Not showing an interest in the lives of others.
-A detached disposition when around others.
The origins of a fear of intimacy run deep and can be complicated. In many cases, the cause can be traced to some form of abuse or trauma that occurred during childhood. Other times, a person may have developed an insecurity about some aspect of their personal appearance or they may have low self esteem. Having bad experiences with relationships in the past can also affect one’s future opportunities at building connections with others.
It’s important to be able to recognize issues with intimacy or relationships in yourself when beginning recovery. Not addressing these issues can have a serious impact on your progress. For example, feelings of intense loneliness can lead to a relapse, and not having a social support network can make facing challenges much harder. If you know you have issues with relationships, start out by taking small steps to begin connecting with others. Some suggestions include:
-Open yourself up to others a little at a time. Share something small about an experience, feeling, or thought until it begins to feel more comfortable and safe.
-If dating is an issue, focus on friendships first. Then begin going on casual dates until spending time one on one with another person feels less scary.
-Journaling is a great tool for getting back in touch with one’s own thoughts and feelings. Try to identify and write down any behavior patterns you notice. You can also use a journal to track any progress that’s been made, or work on any areas you feel need attention.
-Talking with a therapist, sponsor, or counselor is always a good idea. They can help you gain a better perspective and help you learn new skills to build better connections with others.
-Participate in social activities. Start out small and work your way up gradually. Pick an activity or other social gathering that interests you.