Wiki – Reviewed by Jessica B. Casey, M.A, Clinical Mental Health Counseling (images: viola.bz)
Having a fear of love can be a difficult thing to overcome. Whether you have been hurt in the past by a bad relationship or simply have a fear of the unknown, fearing love and intimacy can be hard to cope with. There are self-reflection techniques and concrete steps you can take to help end your fear of love.
1. Breaking Down Defenses
Figure out when your fear began.
Determine when and why you initially became afraid of love. Was it after a bad break up? Was your last partner too clingy or not affectionate enough? Pinpointing the timeframe in which you became disillusioned about love is important to help you combat your fears.
- Sometimes our fears aren't born out of our own mistakes, but those we saw in others. For example, if your parents went through a tough divorce or you had difficult relationship with loved ones during your childhood, you might struggle with fear of love or commitment.
Identify specific fears.
When we say we’re afraid of love, often the actual love itself is not the source of worry. Usually we mean that we’re worried about some negative outcomes that are possible if we allow ourselves to love.
- For example, we might say we fear love when we actually fear commitment or fear losing our freedom. This kind of self-reflection can be tough. Try talking through your worries with a trusted friend or family member and asking their advice. Or, if you feel more comfortable, try journaling your thoughts to see what is behind your fear of love.
Avoid the “what if” game.
Asking yourself “what if” questions can send you down a rabbit hole of anxiety and fear, and this does nothing to help ease your fear of love. These rhetorical questions usually focus on the negative rather than the positive. Try re-framing these questions in a more productive way.
- Sometimes we find ourselves anxiously asking questions such as “What if I get rejected?” or “What if I get hurt again?” If you find yourself asking these worst-case scenario questions, try following through and answering them. For example, you might tell yourself that if you get hurt again, you’ll learn from that relationship and know what not to do the next time. If you put yourself out there and get rejected, then it will hurt for a while and you will eventually heal from it.
- You might also try to put a positive spin on the questions. For instance, ask yourself what will happen if next time you do not get rejected. Your answer might be that you’d be in a loving relationship with someone you love to spend time with. This can help quiet the negative “what if” game in your head.
Seek out a partner who values what you do in a relationship.
If you’re afraid of love, then it makes sense to look for love in someone who values the things you do. If your real problem with love is that you think falling in love means losing your freedom, then you need to find someone who values his or her own freedom and won’t impose on yours. If it’s commitment that worries you, then you might try testing the waters with someone who is just looking for someone to go on dates with and see where the relationship goes from there.
- It’s important to note that finding this person might take some time. Don’t set time limits or expectations on finding this person. If you fear love, then you must let it come to you naturally. Forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do won’t help you fix your fear and is unfair to the other person.
Ask yourself if it’s actually love that worries you so much. Many times we can project stressors from other areas of life onto our love life. For example, if you are overextended or failing at a project at school or work, then perhaps you don’t truly fear love and commitment, but instead you fear failing at something. Honestly examine why you think you fear love and see if it’s truly love that scares you or if it might be a stressor coming from somewhere else in your life.
Ask yourself how love might benefit you.
Love is something that brings joy, happiness, and security. It’s a positive aspect of life to which we attach a lot of baggage, so it’s often helpful to ask yourself how love could benefit you in the abstract.
- Try writing down all the ways that falling in love could be a positive for you, such as companionship, physical intimacy, spiritual health, and so on. Then evaluate your list against your fears. Think of this exercise as a one-sided “pros and cons” list. If you are honest with yourself, you will likely find that the positive side of your list far outweighs the negatives
2. Embracing Vulnerability
Accept past failures.
Nearly everyone’s fear of love comes from worrying about past relationship failures, either your own or ones you were a witness to. To overcome a fear of love, it’s important to remember that you are not your mistakes. Leave them in the past and don’t keep beating yourself up over them.
- Overcoming failure can be challenging, but it's absolutely vital to overcoming fears about potential future relationships. Some good strategies include recognizing that failure is common and that a failure doesn't mean that you as a person are a failure and turning to others (a counselor or close friend) for help and perspective when we need it.
- It's also helpful to regard each previous relationship as a learning opportunity. For example, if you grew up watching your parents yell at each other, then you might make a conscious effort to not raise your voice in disagreements in your current or next relationship because you remember the hurt and stress it caused for you as a child. You are not doomed to repeat your own or others' past mistakes..
Don’t feel guilty for being afraid to put yourself out there.
It's easy to feel badly about yourself when you have anxieties and fears that others seem to not have. You can start to question why you are dealing with a fear of love. Accept that your anxieties about love are just a part of yourself that you're working on. Your feelings are legitimate, and there's nothing wrong with telling yourself that. Guilting yourself into trying out a relationship simply "because you should" will not help and will likely make you retreat further from love, particularly if that relationship isn't successful. Remember that it takes time to fix these kinds of worries.
Be patient with yourself.
Try applying the Golden Rule to yourself. Treat yourself the way that you’d like to be treated. This means giving yourself the same care and compassion that you would give a friend or loved one going through this same problem. Would you meanly tell them to get over it? Or would you tell them that overcoming mental blocks like fear takes time and not to feel pressured or rushed? Be as nice to yourself as you would be to someone else that you care about.
- Practice Self Care because it is vital to personal growth including overcoming fears.
Avoid idolizing love.
Although a fear of love is unhealthy, it’s important to not idolize love or being in a relationship. Love and great relationships are wonderful things. However, they are not the only important things in life, and it is absolutely possible live a full, fulfilling life without having a significant other. The problem only arises when you want love or a relationship and avoid it out of fear.
Remember that you are ultimately in control.
At the end of the day, your preferences about love and relationships are your own. Just because you see many of your friends and family in relationships doesn’t mean that you’re ready for one. Assess whether you truly have a fear of love or are just simply not ready for a relationship. One is an unhealthy phobia and the other is a decision made out of maturity.
- An easy way to tell the difference between a fear and simply not being ready for a relationship is your reaction to the prospect of love. If the idea of love makes you anxious, scared, or feel like you want to hide away in your room or apartment, then that probably implies an unhealthy aversion to love. However, if you think about love and it sounds wonderful, but you don’t know how you’d fit it into your schedule or you think you might be doing a disservice to the other person because you don’t have enough time to devote to a relationship, then that’s a mature, well-thought out decision, not a fear.
- It's important also to know the difference between fear-based rationalization and rational prioritizing. Rational prioritizing is based in logic and fear-based rationalization is rooted in wants and emotions. For example, avoiding a relationship because you're planning to spend a year abroad for work soon would be an example of rational prioritizing; it's simply not very feasible to look for love at present and it wouldn't be fair to your potential partner. However, fear-based rationalization would be if you tell yourself that you can't find love at the moment because of past failures, because it's too hard to try, or because football season is coming up and you don't want any distractions. In the latter case, you're rationalizing your way out of love, rather than working on embracing it
3. Loving Fully
Focus on the present.
If you are in a relationship, it is imperative that you do your best to leave past baggage from relationships behind you. It isn’t fair to either you or your new partner for you to project that negativity onto your new love. This kind of comparison can make your new partner uneasy and dredge up your fears about love.
- Make a conscious effort to think about the things that drew you to your new partner. Think about how much they make you laugh or how thoughtful they can be. Note how different these characteristics are from your last toxic experience with love. Putting relationship baggage in the past doesn’t mean forgetting it. It simply means not letting it affect your current relationship.
Remember that rejection hurts, but it’s something you can overcome.
When you put yourself out there and you’re trying to work on a fear of love or commitment, it can be devastating to be rejected by your love interest. When you’re feeling low, it’s important to remember that you’re going through the worst of it, and things will only get better.
- It’s cheesy, but time truly does heal many wounds. Keep in mind that you will live through the rejection, no matter how painful, and one day you will likely find a loving relationship that will cause this one to pale in comparison.
Be choosy about your partners but don’t demand perfection.
Sometimes we fear love because we demand perfection from ourselves and our partners. It’s important to be selective about who you get into a relationship with because people can hurt you or be abusive. It is absolutely not asking too much to be treated well in a relationship. However, if you constantly look for any little flaw in your partner, you will always find one because people are flawed. The key is to find a respectful partner who cares about your needs and feelings and go from there. With respect and kindness as the basis of your romantic relationship, there is a higher chance of success and less anxiety for you.
Remain true to yourself.
Do not change yourself to accommodate a new potential relationship. If you are still fearful of love and the relationship feels forced, it will not succeed, and you’ll be back to where you started feeling like love is a negative, elusive thing. Admit to yourself that you’re still working on your fears and that soon you will be able to test the waters with a new relationship.
- Make sure that you’re actually trying to work on overcoming your fears. It can be easy to use any excuse to avoid both love and working on your fear of love. If you are actively not dating or putting yourself out there for the purpose of working on your anxieties, that is different than practicing avoidance behaviors that reinforce fears.
- If you’ve gotten in over your head with a new relationship, sit down with your partner and explain your fears. Tell them you have issues with love, and that although it might sound cliche, it’s not them but the idea of love that’s worrying you. Being honest, even if what you’re saying isn’t what they want they want to hear, shows that you respect and value them even if your relationship might not continue.
Seek out a therapist.
If you feel as though you’ve tried to overcome your fears on your own, and it isn’t working, try talking to a professional. Sometimes we can’t simply try to muscle our way through our fears and anxieties. A therapist will talk with you to determine the source(s) of your fears and work with you to eliminate them.
You will have many good experiences and bad experiences when it comes to love. You may feel the desire to just give up, but remember that very few people marry their first love. It is a matter of trial and error, and you aren’t alone in your struggles to find love. Virtually everyone deals with love, loss, and rejection at some point in their lives.