Book Review: ‘Fear of Intimacy’

Why do so many relationships fail? Why do we so often hurt those we love most? In Fear of Intimacy, authors Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D. and Joyce Catlett discuss barriers to intimacy that come from early childhood and family issues. The authors have nearly four decades of clinical experience and a fistful of cross-generational case studies, which they mix with personal stories to shed light on the issue. 

The Perfect Parent

Children perceive their parents as perfect and tend to blame themselves for parental flaws. When parents treat one another badly or send negative messages about the opposite gender, children internalize those messages, even to the point of taking on the parents’ negative emotions of guilt, anger or aggression. Their self-image becomes built around ideas they form from these parental opinions about gender or about the other parent. 

Gender Myths

Girls, for instance, might pick up the message that all men want is sex, or that men don’t have feelings. They might absorb the idea that men are controlling or untrustworthy, or that it is their responsibility to make a man feel special. Boys, on the other hand, might take on the idea that women are emotionally fragile, crazy, or demanding. They might believe that if they cannot make a woman happy, they are failures as men. 

The “Fantasy Connection”

People have long recognized that we tend to choose partners who remind us of a parent or role model from our youth. We may choose partners who fit into our expectations rather than those who are the best fit for us. Then we form a “fantasy connection” with that person, losing our sense of identity in the idea that our partners think and feel exact as we do. The idea of “fantasy connection” is a central theme in the book.

Finding True Intimacy

According to Firestone and Catlett, the key to a healthy relationship lies in revisiting one’s childhood relationship with the parents, and viewing their flaws realistically. Only then can we gain genuine insight into our partners and ourselves. A technique called”voice therapy” invites couples to explore and share their deeply held negative attitudes about themselves. 

This book was written for therapists, but in a way that is accessible to anyone with more than a passing knowledge of psychology. If you are familiar with phrases like “defense mechanism” and “internalization,” you will be able to read and benefit from this book. Fear of Intimacy is a great read on this topic for anyone who is ready for some deep insight and profound realizations about their core beliefs.