Commitment-phobia could have roots in childhood

Adults avoiding intimacy in relationships may be doing so because of unmet childhood needs, says TAU researcher

Happy engaged couple
Commitment-phobic individuals not in a picture-perfect relationship like this one may need to find the reasons in their own childhood

A study of the romantic history of 58 adults aged 22-28 has established that those who avoid committed romantic relationships are likely to have had unresponsive or over-intrusive parents.

Dr Dekel, a psychologist from Bob Shapell School of Social Work and her fellow researcher, Professor Barry Farber of Columbia University, observed that 22.4 percent of participants could be categorised as ‘avoidant’ in intimate relationships. These individuals were anxious about being intimate, were reluctant to commit to or share with their partner, or felt that their partner was ‘clingy’. Overall, they had less personal satisfaction in their relationships than participants who were secure in their relationships.

The study, published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, was investigating whether such avoidant behavior is due to innate personality traits or is a delayed reaction to unmet childhood needs. While both secure and avoidant individuals expressed a desire for intimacy in relationships, avoidant individuals struggle with this need due to the complicated parent-child dynamics they had during their childhood.

As per Attachment Theory, when infants who seek proximity to their caregivers for emotional support [especially in times of stress] are treated by their parent either indifferently or over-intrusively, the children learn to avoid their caregiver.

The researchers believe that adult intimate relationships are affected by these earlier experiences. When such children enter relationships, there is an attempt to satisfy their unmet childhood needs. Dr. Dekel explains, “Avoidant individuals are looking for somebody to validate them, accept them as they are, can consistently meet their needs and remain calm — including not making a fuss about anything or getting caught up in their own personal issues.”

This tendency to avoid dependence on a partner is a defense mechanism rather than an avoidance of intimacy, she adds.



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