ASK ABDI: HOW DO I DEAL WITH MY FEAR OF INTIMACY?

 

QUESTION: Your words on negative pleasure in romantic relationships resonate with me. I’ve been dating my close friend, who is kind, loving, and wants intimate connection. He is present. I have been struggling to meet him there for seven months, sometimes genuinely opening up for a few moments, hours, or a day... until I get very angry at him (about something, anything, usually something imagined), pick a fight, and cold shoulder until I have a panic attack. He seems to recognize what I am going through, and we talk about it. I can’t tell if this is all about me being unable to open up and/or if he is not the right partner for me - as I have felt disgusted by touch, sex, closeness with anyone, including sometimes him. I find myself wishing to experience a different kind of relationship, one with solid attraction AND intimacy, and looking around at others imagining that they have it. All the pressure… it all registers in my body as an odd queasiness.

I would like to trust my body, but my feelings of sexual attraction have led me repeatedly to men with alcohol addiction. I am also addressing a systemic candida overgrowth, with the looming thought that it is emotionally rooted - in what, I don’t know (and I’ve thought about it quite a bit). What do I do next? Everything feels flipped on its head. Thanks for any insights you have.

ANSWER: Let's start with "I would like to trust my body". When we are in an addictive mode, we need to retrain ourselves to not crave unhealthy situations. This is not different than people craving foods that they are allergic to. They think that their body is telling them to eat it when, in fact, they are craving something that is harming them. It takes time, awareness, and examination to retrain unhealthy unconscious habits and patterns. So no need to distrust your body. Do look closely at what you might have thought to be your body telling you something when, in fact, it was old unhealthy patterning.

Remember that we can sexualize early childhood wounding. That means that we apply the Eros/pleasure energy, which is one of the few tools in our bag as young children. This is what makes us unconsciously crave/seek unhealthy relationships over and over again. We can all make mistakes in not choosing healthy partners - we can file that under the "shit happens" category. But if it is something that occurs several times, we can rest assured that there is some unconscious wounding at play. 

This unconscious pattern will continue until we become conscious of what is happening. That can take years or decades, depending on the depth of our wounding and our willingness as well as readiness to self-examine. Take heart that you are deep in your process of healing. The fact that you have chosen to date "a close friend who is kind, loving, and wants intimate connection" is profound and courageous. It is exactly because he is safe that you are freaking out. I am sure that you have had great sex with partners that were unhealthy, yes? Unless there is deep old sexual trauma, many of us with wounding can have the experience of strong sexual attraction to an unhealthy partner. The reason for that, besides negative pleasure, is because there is less at stake when there is no potential for true intimacy.

This is why you oscillate between "sometimes genuinely opening up for a few moments, hours, or a day" and then "pick a fight, and cold shoulder until you have a panic attack". And also why you can feel "disgusted by touch, sex, closeness". The terror of intimacy is real for all of us. These are just words, but you know from your own reactions how terrifying it is to open up to another. We spend our whole lives building masks and stories just so we feel protected from the fear of someone actually seeing us, much less be intimate. So give yourself a break, you are engaged with and wrestling with the demon that we all carry to varying degrees.

Is this the right person? Time will tell, and actually not important. Even if it turns out that he is not “Mr. Right”, he certainly is “Mr. Right For Now” just by all of your triggers coming up. Whether you stay in the relationship for another day, week, or year is not important. You need to pay close attention. Your wounding is in plain sight. All your fears and pain are parading naked right in front of your eyes. It is going to take work to heal this, and that is always a process - not an event. As always, some expert assistance will help move things along. I know that you "desire a different kind of relationship" - this is your path to that. That does not necessarily mean a different partner, just a different way of being in relationship. We need to remember that we ourselves are the common denominator in different relationships.

As for your candida: it could be a poor diet and too much sugar. That, in itself, can be attached to negative pleasure or trying to fill a void with food. But I have observed that, for some of us, candida overgrowth can carry a component of a psychosomatic response to feelings of unsafety and insecurity. Only you can be the judge of that, but it seems like you have an inkling to what is going on.

"What you do next" is to do your best to take this all one day at a time. I know it is not easy, to say the least. You are brave for facing yourself in this manner. Keep the focus on you without crucifying yourself or being too harsh or critical. This is the work. One foot in front of the other with as much honesty and kindness as you can muster.