Avoidance of Intimacy after Trauma and Strategies to Cope
Written by: Matej Capov – Placement Student – Bachelor of Criminal Justice
Traumatic events can create some of the most complex and difficult cases of intimacy avoidance. Early childhood experience with parents or caregivers shape the primary understanding of how relationships work and if these are hijacked by abusers it can cause childhood sexual abuse (CSA) survivors to become reclusive in their relationships as a coping mechanism for feeling unsecured. Intimacy avoidance is not limited to sexuality but also includes; self-sabotage in platonic relationships, serial dating, inability to express your feelings of admiration to even your closest friends and feeling like you need to run away from those you care about to protect yourself. Humans by their very nature are gratified by intimacy, hugging your siblings, shaking hands with friends, being physically close to another. When one is no longer comfortable sharing their feelings physically it weighs very heavily on them as they try to live life to the fullest.
Relationship sabotage can be described as taking issue in problems in any relations with another; which to someone who is not a survivor may seem trivial but are done so in order to protect themselves from bad memories of intimacy. Serial dating includes often finding yourself in a series of surface level relationships in an attempt to feel connection with others but never really committing; as to avoid the uncomfortable progression of intimacy. Trauma can also come with an inability to accurately express emotions such as needs, wishes or expectations to your partner. As well as the unshakable feeling of needing to run away from your relationships in order to maintain security and peace of mind for yourself (Lukin, Dr. K, 2023; Vantagepoint, 2023).
Unlearning avoidance of intimacy is very difficult if you have lived such a traumatic experience such as that of CSA. A survivor understandably needs a lot of time to heal before they feel ready to embark on a new relationship. With support systems from understanding family, friends, professionals and social services, avoidance and fear of intimacy can be conquered through understanding, love, empathy and trusted connections (Lukin, Dr. K, 2023; Vantagepoint, 2023). Visiting a counselor is a good first step in understanding more about trauma experienced, the more you can understand your history and situation the better you will be armed to cope with it. If you found someone you can really trust and want to be with, your counselor can even work hand in hand with your partner in order to support you best (Lukin, Dr. K, 2023; Vantagepoint, 2023).
Talking directly to your partner or friend can help prevent avoidant behavior that stems from feeling unsafe. You can also arrange them to meet with your counselor to discuss skills and strategies to help you best along your journey. With time you can begin to open up to them about your needs, hopes, expectations and of course vocalizing your feelings. (Lukin, Dr. K, 2023; Vantagepoint, 2023). A positive, healthy and functional relationship with a partner you really admire for how well you can confide and trust in them goes a long way with coping and recovering from CSA trauma. However, if you have not found that special someone yet or are still nervous to get close to somebody you can confide in, close knit friends will work the same. A consolidated relationship is not even necessary, you can practice the foundations of intimacy; friendship, understanding, support and trust with peers all around you during your healing journey (Lukin, Dr. K, 2023; Vantagepoint, 2023).
Lukin, Dr. K. (2022). Understanding fear of intimacy and trauma: Lukin center. Lukin Center for Psychotherapy. https://www.lukincenter.com/what-is-a-fear-of-intimacy-understanding-the-effect-of-trauma-on-relationships/#:~:text=Traumatic%20events%2C%20on%20the%20other,Verbal%20abuse
Vantagepoint. (2023). Past sexual trauma affecting your relationships – vantage. Vantage Point Recovery. https://vantagepointrecovery.com/past-sexual-trauma/