Running from Real Intimacy in Relationships

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Reader’s Question

I experience really strange issues in relationships, so I’m trying to find some answers about why this is true. Some background: my mother was violent and chaotic. She finally left when I was four after instances of abuse. I have only seen her a few times since. My father, while a great provider, has always been overbearing, emotionally absent, bitter, critical, and very quick to anger. I had a difficult time growing up with him and felt oppressed.

Since I have been an adult (I am 20), I find an extreme and intense attraction towards older men who smoke cigars, are very calm and serious but in a frightening way (just like my dad), and more disturbingly, men who resemble my dad. I have sometimes ignored these feelings and dated people my age who are normal. But once I attain someone, I start nit-picking them and rejecting them, and not wanting to be touched at all by them. What’s more, this usually happens after the first sexual encounter, before which I feel normal and have feelings of desire for the other person. Afterwards, however, my immediate response is to get far away from the other person (sometimes harshly), take a shower, and feel disgusted about myself, which is when my distaste for that person in general begins to take hold.

I also cannot handle slow or emotional sex, or anything affectionate or passionate, without feeling as if I have been raped. All encounters have to be without eye contact, and have to be vigorous enough so it feels as if it has no emotional level whatsoever. I also have a general inability to express my emotions. I cannot hug or be hugged or say the word “love,” though in new relationships and with the father-type men I am generally attracted to, I do find myself craving to say “I love you,” to be held, and to be protected.

What do you think is wrong? What can be done?

Psychologist’s Reply

You already seem to have some fairly important insights. Given the nature and complexity of the situation you describe, it would be impossible and unwise to render any kind of reasonable assessment from such a distance. Suffice it to say that your suspicion that your experiences with your parents, especially your father, are at least partly responsible for you difficulties with true intimacy is likely well-founded. There is also the possibility that you have blocked conscious awareness of the most significant factors contributing to your problems.

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Problems with intimacy present an interesting challenge for anyone seeking professional help because the best work is usually done within a trusting and truly intimate therapeutic relationship. So, even though it’s probably wise that you seek counsel, don’t be surprised when the same demons surface during the course of therapy. Still, combating those demons and learning to relate in a safe yet intimate way could very likely to be the key for you to finally experience the kind of intimacy you really want in a relationship.

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