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Avoiding Closeness

By Frederick Fabella, PhD

Why is it that we sometimes feel reluctant to become close to others?
There are those of us who avoid closeness because we do not wish to need people. Others keep their distance because they are hesitant to trust and to have that trust broken. Some do not want to grow attached to people because they do not wish to become dependent. Still others stay away for the simple reason that they do not want to be disappointed by the people around them. And there those of us who avoid closeness because we have realized that people disappear sooner or later.

But what could have produced this kind of attitude in us?
An early childhood experience of having been abandoned by certain family members could be the reason. When one or both parents leave unexpectedly whether the reason is work-related or because of breaking up, this can have a life-long impact on us. Another possible cause is an unstable home environment where people come and go, not knowing when they will return. Stability in the home is very important to a growing child. And if parents are often away, this may cause the child to become distant as a way of coping.

Yet another explanation is an experience of having been too attached to someone only to see that person leave. Relationships and friendships when they end abruptly can become an unpleasant learning experience that may cause us to withdraw. Regardless of the underlying origin, what is universal in all these instances is the desire to avoid getting hurt. Some of us believe that remaining distant from others will insulate us from the possibility of another painful experience, because to risk closeness is to risk further pain.
When we feel this way, we should not force ourselves to seek closeness for closeness’ sake. People may tell us that we should keep trying to connect with others and seek belongingness. But we should do so only when we are ready.

Allowing ourselves the opportunity to heal from past experiences is often necessary. We need to first learn to be secure in our relationships and friendships. We must then realize that it is okay for us to need other people and to be able to trust in them.   But these may not be enough. Sometimes we only know we are finally ready to seek closeness is when we realize that the more painful alternative is being alone.

Frederick Fabella, PhD is a graduate and undergraduate professor in the Philippines. He is an editorial board member of the IRP international research journal and a Fellow of the Royal Institution Singapore. He is also an author of various books and studies. His blog can be found at Meanings and Perceptions.