How do longing for and fear of relationship and commitment dance together? Most people want both intimacy and autonomy, closeness and independence. Is it possible to feel comfortable with both closeness and space? Are you able to be authentic and yourself in intimate relationships?
COVID-19 has certainly made us realise how important social connection is. As an essential part of wellbeing, when our instinctive need for connection or freedom to connect is challenged, we can go off balance.
Whether it’s the fear of spreading a virus or the fear of commitment for more personal reasons, the ongoing longing and fear of closeness is a dilemma to juggle.
Do you sometimes wonder how other couples are so open and vulnerable with each other? How they’re so affectionate and unafraid of commitment? Do you worry that you’ll never be able to commit like this? Do you fear commitment?
Attachment and its relation to commitment
Attachment style is a term used to describe a range of emotional and behavioural matters in adults, in the context of relationships.
Fearing commitment is not in itself a psychological condition, but it is usually connected to one or multiple deeply rooted psychological issues. Often, these issues stem from childhood.
Attachment theory was first developed by John Bowlby, who proposed that the attachment style an individual forms as a child will serve as the model they use in future relationships. Therefore, having at least one caregiver who they feel they can trust and have a secure relationship with is particularly important.
If an individual doesn’t build a secure relationship style during childhood, it increases the chances of developing ‘attachment issues’ as an adult.
What are the manifestations of attachment issues?
When people face the choice of either attachment (feeling loved and secure) or authenticity (being true to themselves and their wants) in their relationships, most will go for attachment first, seeking approval and recognition from important others instead of learning how to give it to themselves.
When so much of the self is traded away, resentment kicks in as the price of being loved is “the disowning of the self”. Love and committed relationships are then identified with lack, obligations, potential judgement and restrictions.
Typically, a fear of commitment tends to manifest when the individual finds it difficult to be intimate and connect with their partner, or they have anxiety, doubts and fears, often related to a fear that their partner will leave them.
They often struggle to stay in a relationship, and can either be too clingy, or to opposite – avoidant. It will depend on the person’s attachment style.
What is your attachment style?
There are four primary styles of attachment; these are:
A person with a secure attachment style for example will have low anxiety about the relationship, they’re not particularly fearful of rejection from their partner, and intimacy comes easily to them.
Partners with an anxious attachment style crave closeness and intimacy, and are generally very insecure about their relationship. They often fear that their partner will reject them. On the other hand, individuals with an avoidant attachment style will be uncomfortable with closeness, value their independence and have a tendency to be emotionally distant.
People with a disorganised attachment style are a mix of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. They desire intimacy and closeness, but they’re uncomfortable and dismissive when it comes, so they’re likely to sabotage things in an attempt to push their partner away.
Ideally, couples should strive to adopt a secure attachment style, since it’s these people who tend to be more satisfied in their relationships. However, in their research, Dr. Phillip Shaver and Dr. Cindy Hazan found that only about 60% of people have secure attachment styles.
This means that 40% of people have a tendency to either be anxious or avoidant in their relationships. And it’s these people who tend to struggle with relationships because they seek to uphold the model of attachment that they’ve upheld throughout their lives.
To address this, it becomes important to understand when and why an individual developed their particular attachment style, and take steps to diminish the effects. There are a few psychological issues for example, that often perpetuate a person’s fear of commitment.
3 Things that could be making it worse
Experiencing trauma as a child can make it difficult for a person to develop trust in others, and thus commit to a relationship.
Low self-esteem can make the individual feeling ‘unworthy’ of affection, or they may feel embarrassed when they receive attention from another person. So they’ll avoid situations, including relationships, which involve being affectionate and close to another person
Bowlby found that when children are frightened, they will seek proximity from their primary caregiver in search for comfort and care. He suggested that this also serves to keep the infant close to its mother, and thus improve that child’s chances of survival.
He found that children are born with this innate drive to form attachments with their caregivers. So if a child perceives rejection from its caregiver, this lack of trust and sense of closeness throughout childhood, can affect that child’s relationships as an adult.
Can you do something about it?
Your fear of commitment can be explained by the attachment model you adopted during your childhood, and upheld throughout your life. There are ways to identify your attachment style which can help to work towards an adjustment of your model of attachment.
However, since your attachment issues date back to your formative years, they can be difficult to identify. They’re deeply embedded in you. Therefore, it is often helpful to seek support from a therapist.
At Leone Centre, we provide a range of services that can help. We understand that in order to bring the best version of yourself into any relationship, you first need to work on the relationship you have with yourself. That’s why we offer a range of services to help you do just that.