Commitment Phobia: Avoiding Intimacy
Psychologist, Counsellor & Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia
Love and commitment are about the capacity to handle the connections
in our lives, be it with friends, work, children or communities. A connection
is defined by the Collins English dictionary as “something that
connects, joins and relates; a link or bond.” Good connections
can bring enrichment, even joy and happiness, while bad ones can bring
misery and frustration. The absence of meaningful connections can lead
to emptiness and despair.
Making a commitment to another person means agreeing to be present and
available to them. It means announcing a sincere intention to stay connected.
This article is relevant to people who are
- Afraid to commit and so, avoid intimacy
- Choose people who are afraid to commit
Many people are starving for a loving and committed relationship and
yet they sabotage and undermine their chances of finding the love they
want. In forming relationships, they discover that it is too difficult
to be vulnerable and trusting. In short, they discover that there is
a need to open their heart and that this is terrifying. The paradox
is that running away from love is also frightening. There is an attraction
to fantasies, coming from a long held belief that the experience of
meeting that ‘magical some-one’ and ‘falling in love’
would transform the way they felt about themselves and the world, permanently.
They can more easily be connected to their fantasies than to another
real, living, human being, where revealing oneself through actions,
words and feelings is required.
Couples typically become emotionally close, move apart and then come
together again as they respond to the demands of the real world. It
is important to be able to handle connections and disconnections, so
that separations are not filled with intense anxiety, jealousy or obsessive
longing. People with commitment issues almost invariably experience
difficulty in handling these movements, so that the sense of being connected
to another is not held firm.
Even if there are strong experiences of passion and intensity, it is
as though partners in a non- committed relationship “dance on
the surface of their relationship”. Intimacy is not the same as
depth, which often takes years to develop.
Forming intimate connections
Steven Carter, who coined the term “commitment phobia” in
his 1988 book Getting to Commitment, writes of eight different directions
from which resistance may come, in the course of being in relationship.
Each of these eight challenges is best considered with the help of an
objective intermediary. A therapist can assist with the emotional exploration
required, so that you are learning about yourself in relationship, in
the context of a (therapeutic) relationship.
- The Courage to Stop Blaming
Blame masks the truth. We may blame others for not living up to the
fantasy partner we had imagined. Ultimately nobody can force us to stay
in a relationship. So, at the very least, we are all responsible for
the relationships we choose to be in. Change can begin when you are
ready to acknowledge your responsibility, be it from walking away from
potentially wonderful partners because of your fears, or responsibility
for your involvement with commitment phobic partners, and to exploring
your self- sabotaging behavior.
- The Courage to Say Goodbye To Your Ghosts
To enable you to get a clearer idea of who you are and how you behave
in a relationship, it is necessary to explore your past history of significant
relationships. In the process of creating and sustaining a reality based
connection, our hearts and minds will unconsciously revisit all past
connections. These connections influence how we choose our partners
and even how we behave with them. Left to our own devices, or with the
help of a well-meaning friend, we may explore on an intellectual level,
but this will typically be insufficient to dislodge old ways of being.
- The Courage to Find and Fight for the Self
Part of the process of making yourself ready for partnership is building
a caring and committed relationship with yourself. When this relationship
is one you truly value and can share with another human being, you are
ready to be in relationship with another person. There is a need to
learn more about who you are and to be able to accept and stand up for
who you are. This may mean risking being unpopular or making your partner
angry at times.
- The Courage to Stay Grounded in Reality
It is important to conduct your romantic life intelligently, so that
fantasies and intense feelings are balanced with, and tempered by, clear
thoughts and self-protective choices. It takes courage and awareness
to be present and to observe your relationship realistically as it is
evolving. Some therapists place emphasis on enabling people to be more
aware of their processes, particularly those who adopt an insight based
line of enquiry.
- The Courage to Allow yourself to Be Known
We can lose sight of reality when fantasy needs, rather than real needs
are met, and those aspects of a relationship that are questioned or
disliked can be ignored in order that a fantasy about the union not
be disturbed. For example, it may be overlooked that a partner talks
a lot about him/herself and rarely enquires about their partner’s
thoughts, activities or feelings because s/he buys beautiful gifts often.
A relationship where unpleasant reality or potential problems are ignored
or down played is a relationship without real foundation. Such a relationship
typically has trouble withstanding the first crisis or challenge. Expressing
our humanness by sharing the stuff of our daily lives, our moods and
feelings, is what is vital for a real and lasting connection to be made.
- The Courage to Learn the Lessons of Acceptance
The ability to accept a romantic partner with all their human imperfections
is a true measure of the capacity to love. For people with commitment
issues, the inability to accept the totality of another human being
often has its roots in an internal struggle that begins with discontent
of self. The search is for a partner who makes you feel better about
yourself rather than seeking to love and appreciate your partner for
who they are.
Ultimately, the biggest obstacle to finding mature love is about making
the transition to adulthood and moving through and beyond childhood
wounds and losses so that adult responsibilities, which are part of
loving, can be assumed. There are often valid reasons for this resistance,
such as wounds having been inflicted by environmental failures in childhood
so that there is an “inner child” who is not easily soothed.
There are also those who neither trust or recognize love, nor believe
love will last. There are those who feel guilty, vulnerable or weak
when they are loved or even acknowledge the need for love. So rather
than accept love, it is easier to pursue the possibility of love with
reluctant or emotionally unavailable partners, while experiencing painful
feelings of longing and heartache. This pursuit can be used unconsciously
as a way of avoiding commitment.
- The Courage to Define a New Path
Changing self-defeating habits that sabotage connection begins by gaining
self-awareness, so that past and present relationships can be better
understood and awareness allowed to develop of patterns in behaviour
and choices made. Self- defeating relationship habits may include only
looking for a particular type of person, being side-tracked by fantasies,
committing to unavailable partners or being critical of the available
- The Courage to Handle Anxieties
Relationship anxiety is simply an emotional response to a situation
that is inherently frightening – getting genuinely close to another
human being. It is typically triggered by the distance between partners,
with a partner either moving in too close or too far away. Relationship
anxiety is about fear, fear of rejection, comparison, loss, abandonment,
being revealed, expectations, engulfment and so on. In trying to avoid
uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, attempts are made to control what
is felt or control what one’s partner does. Acknowledging, naming
and owning these anxieties can help to understand how they sabotage
connection. Exploring and finding ways to soothe these anxieties can
remove the need to have fear controlling and dictating behaviour that
If you are interested to find out more about this topic, or would like to make an appointment, you can contact Sandra by telephone or email.
Phone: 0407 859 413
Mt Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mt Lawley (Perth) WA 6050
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