Are You Love Avoidant?

In my practice as a psychotherapist I have seen that a surprising and significant number of people avoid love, and in a variety of ways. Some people are so afraid of the risks of love that they permanently retreat into solitude.  Others are willing to venture out temporarily, but quickly run for cover again.  Still others won't make commitments.  Some look for a compromise by settling for casual sex without love.  Any of those sound familiar?

Marriages, although they are intended to be intimate commitments, can be fraught with avoidance tactics too, whereby both husband and wife miss the closeness and emotional security that is possible.  Men and women who stay in marriages which are chronically unsatisfying often cope with that pain by escaping into work, addictions, or affairs.

Simply put, when it comes to relationships, many people don't know what they are missing, and not much has been written on their behalf.  Our culture is media-driven, so we are preoccupied with the drama of love, while the absence of love is rarely noted.  Loneliness is perceived as embarrassing, or weak, especially by men who have been socialized to be tough (see my article, Man Up?!). 

Fear of love undermines people's happiness, and frustrates those around them.  Avoidance is a great saboteur, but unless you know specifically what you are afraid of, you can't figure out how to solve your problems.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Have you been so hurt by a separation, divorce, or death that you have been unable to seek love again?
  2. Do you feel inadequate or afraid in the areas of dating, emotional intimacy, or sex?
  3. Do you prefer the safety of fantasy, strip cubs and/or prostitutes to having a real relationship?
  4. When in relationships or marriage do you avoid intensity, easily feeling "trapped" or "smothered?"  Have you cheated?
  5. Do you pursue romantic or sexual involvements but never commit?

Each person's situation is unique, and therefore requires a unique understanding and a unique solution.  Do you know what motivates you to avoid the very thing you say you want?  The answers are found in your history, often in childhood.  Here are a few: 

  • Emotional Neglect:  If love is absent, scarce or unpredictable, children can grow up to feel unloved and unworthy of love.  They might be uncomfortable with emotion, and inadequate to give or receive.  Neglected children often become self-reliant, asking for nothing, and expecting nothing of others. They feel ashamed of their normal emotional wants and needs.
  • Abuse:  Abuse of any kind is terribly damaging, and responses to it vary.  In all cases it causes a fear of vulnerability and a defense against it.  Some victims become abusers themselves, while others retreat from what is perceived as a dangerous world.
  • Childhood Losses: Divorces and deaths in childhood can cause a person to retreat emotionally.  Fear of repeated loss of love and security creates an avoidance of entering into relationships. There is an expectation that inevitably "something bad will happen".
  • Adult Loss and Rejection:  Experiences of loss and rejection in adulthood cause love avoidance too.  Starting with teenage challenges of popularity and dating, rejections by peers can exact a heavy toll for the future.  Painful breakups and divorces discourage a person from being willing to try again. 
  • Fear of loss of freedom:  Avoidance can be a result of the fear of being restricted. People who grew up with overly restrictive parents may be very sensitive to feeling crowded or controlled in a relationship, so they avoid the perceived risk of loss of freedom.

We all fear intimacy at times, because being intimate means being vulnerable, and being vulnerable is risky.  However, if your fears are limiting your happiness - or worse, crushing you into despair or resignation - you can do something about it.

There is a way out; therapy can help. Therapy is a private and sensitive process which can help you to discover and heal the hurts that block you from having love in your life. Expressing all your emotions in therapy will open up your life to new possibilities. You will learn to communicate with others so that you can be close, while still feeling safe.  But, in order to communicate well, you first have to know what you need to say, and that means knowing yourself.  Don't let fear stop you from taking that first step.