Let’s face it–we have all been burned in a relationship at one time or another. As naïve, love struck teenagers, we had to heal from the loss of our first love when they broke up with us. We had to learn how to handle it when our significant other chose to date our best friend in high school over us. We had to cope in college when we were cheated on. In addition to being burned in romantic relationships, we may have also experienced hurt from relationships within our primary families. Perhaps we were ignored by a mother who chose alcohol and drugs over us. Or, maybe we were cast aside by a father who didn’t know how to properly show love. Regardless of the circumstances, tumultuous and traumatic relationships, whether with a parent or significant other, can leave significant amounts of destruction in their wake. Scars and wounds from these relationships can fester and manifest themselves into anxiety, fear, and self-doubt, culminating in an overall fear of relationships.
A child who fails to develop a secure attachment with a parental figure during their formative years will be at a higher risk for developing trust issues. Bonding with and healthy separation from a caregiver enables a child to learn trust and to develop self-confidence. When bonding and separation are disrupted in childhood, trust for others can become seriously impaired. If a child does not experience the safety, comfort, and unconditional love in relationships with their caregivers, they are likely to experience considerable difficulties in relationships moving forward.
Anxiety and fear is fostered in a child who grows up in unreliable, unsafe, and unpredictable environments, such as those wrought with abuse, trauma, or neglect. Parents who are critical, manipulative, or humiliating can shatter a child’s self-esteem and confidence. The child may not consider themselves worthy of a healthy relationship, or may be so self-critical that they never allow anyone to get too close to them.
Devastating breakups and hurt and disappointment resulting from romantic relationships can also have an important impact on relationship fears. People may be afraid to enter another dating relationship for fear that it will end badly. This fear can intensify if a person has a pattern of failed and broken relationships. If any type of dating violence or abuse occurs in these relationships, fear will intensify. In addition to relationships, friendships that go horribly awry or end badly can also contribute to intimacy fears.
After being emotionally wounded, a person may decide to take matters into their own hands. They may block the world out to avoid getting hurt again. They may build an emotional wall, making it difficult for friendships, relationships, and intimacy to develop. A person with a fear of relationships may equate love to danger. Thus, to avoid incurring emotional hurt or pain, relationships are avoided all together. A person may decide that they do not need a relationship and are better off alone.
So yes, we have all been burned in friendships, relationships, and from our families of origin at one point or another. Admittedly, some of us have probably been burned worse than others. However, we can all agree that a fear of relationships does not develop overnight and thus, cannot be fixed overnight. Therapy is recommended to help a person to address and move past these fears. In order to move forward, a person needs to be committed to exploring how early relationships with caregivers, friends, and significant others impacted them and their relationships. Therapy can enable one to confront their emotional hurt in a safe and supportive environment, while providing an opportunity for healing their relationship fears.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.