Debunking Myths of the Mind

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Afraid to Love: 7 Fears And Ways To Overcome Them

Unconscious Fears Underlying Unrequited Love

 

So often we come across people who are amazing people, but they just can’t seem to take a step toward loving us.  Or we ourselves may be in that position.   When love is not flowing, we usually make the assumption that it is not there…even though we always have a sneaky suspicion that it is almost there.   We usually assume that this is just wishful thinking, but are there fears that can masquerade as lovelessness and how can we overcome them?

(1) Fear of disapproval:  In the most obvious cases, we can see how fear of disapproval can register as lovelessness.  For example, same sex love may cause people to deny this because of the implicit social discomfort associated with this.  Even if you explicitly feel as though you are “just not attracted” research shows that these kinds of fears are probably much more powerful in the unconscious. So you may deny the attraction because unconsciously you are fearful of being ostracized, or afraid of not living life the way you are “supposed to.”  But fear of disapproval an also be less obvious than this.  I have met couples where the thin partner is ashamed of loving the slightly overweight partner, or situations where people from different backgrounds would be shunned by society if they fell in love and lived together.  The main point here, is that these fears are largely unconscious and when there is lovelessness but a suspicion of love, it is wise to pause and ponder.  What about unconscious fear?

 (2) Fear of being consumed:  When one partner is overtly loving and leads with this, the other partner often feels afraid of being consumed.  Fear of emotional cannibalism often makes the “loveless” partner want to flee rather than take the love, because “taking” the love feels like drowning in it.

 (3) Fear of being trapped:  Often another person’s love can feel like a cage, especially when the “loveless” partner feels drawn to the love.  In this case, the “loveless” partner often pursues other situations where he or she can roam free.  Or that partner may have an affair or “test out” the waters of freedom. 

(4) Fear of commitment:  Commitment is a conscious choice but it is always faced with the challenges of the unconscious brain.  Despite how committed we may want to be, the unconscious brain, especially in those who want novelty (and commitment) poses some serious challenges.  People may deny that they are in love because commitment keeps them answerable to their “conscience” and the resulting guilt feels like it is too much.

(5) Fear of loss: Some people are more afraid of loss than they are interested in gains.  Loss is so horrible to them that they would rather not pursue any love for fear of losing again or ever.  When people fear loss, this can masquerade as lovelessness and people may slowly distance themselves because they are afraid that if they get too attached the fear of loss will escalate.

(6) Fear of disappointing:  When one partner is very good at loving and the other is not, the one who is not may become afraid of disappointing the loving person and may distance himself or herself in order to avoid feeling guilty about this.

(7) Fear of being found out:  Every person has a secret or some kind of personal shame, and intense love can cause people to become closer.  People who are afraid of being known too well may shun love because they feel as though too much of themselves will be revealed.

 

So what are some simple questions to ask or tips to keep in mind when you are afraid of love?

- Is there any possibility that you have an unconscious fear of social disapproval?  In the long-term, is this really as frightening as you think? What   is more important: finding your happiness with someone you love or pleasing society?

- Have you communicated to your partner that their “lovingness” may be a defense of their part to keep you away?  Is there a part of their                 lovingness that is desperation and can you talk about this?

- While fears of being consumed and trapped are real, is it possible to find freedom IN love if you gave yourself to it?  Are you less free because       you stand outside of love?

- Have you tried just giving even when you don’t quite feel like it?  Perhaps you are not good at it, and therefore need to practice?  Perhaps there is   some joy awaiting you in the giving?

- Have you played “the opposite game”?  That is, when you feel like running away or being further away, have you tried sticking it out and hanging     in there?

Sometimes unrequited love is just a mismatch, but too often we lose valuable people in our lives if we take our first reactions at face value.  There is usually an undetected fear lurking around somewhere there.  And this fear can masquerade as “lovelessness.”

Srini Pillay, M.D., is the author of the book: Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School.

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