3 Common Fears that May Be Affecting Your Relationships

What scares us the most has already happened.

Posted Aug 20, 2015

Artem Furman/DollarPhotoClub
Source: Artem Furman/DollarPhotoClub

A woman who was assaulted refuses to go anywhere alone.

Back at home, a combat veteran becomes a one-man neighborhood watch.

A child who survives a car accident becomes a teen who won't learn to drive.

Fear and anxiety are common and understandable reactions to trauma. The implicit memory of what happened lingers as a constant threat. It feels as though that same awful event lies in wait around every corner.

But even people who don’t suffer from trauma have everyday fears that show up in the form of tension, anxiety and relationship problems.

These “ordinary” fears, too, are not just about what might happen, but what’s already happened in the past. We tend to want to close that barn door after the horse has bolted.

As an example, a significant portion of first-time buyers of home security systems are recent victims of crime. They’re trying to defend themselves against something that's already happened.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with being security-conscious. But what happens when we overreact and generalize in every area of our lives?

Relationships are often the first casualty of the following kinds of fears.

Fear of Abandonment

Do you push people away when they start to get close? Do you worry that they’ll leave you?

Nobody wants to be abandoned by important others, but some people assume every relationship will end that way.

If you have concerns about losing people who matter to you, you weren’t born with that worry. Somewhere in your history, you experienced abandonment firsthand.

Maybe you were literally left by the side of the road.

Or maybe the person or people who abandoned you were there physically,  just not emotionally. Emotional neglect is the kind of abandonment that can’t be seen from the outside.

It’s hard to make sense of it, especially when you’re young.

What doesn’t make sense often gets buried in the dark corners of our minds, where it can play havoc with our thoughts and behavior later.

Fear of Rejection

Does the idea of asking someone out give you heart palpitations? Do you tend to reject others before they can reject you?

Rejection can be painful, but it’s far more painful for some than others.

People who have felt unlovable, unwanted, a burden, or simply invisible to important others are prone to feeling pierced by rejection.

It's like an arrow that hits the bullseye and lights up the psyche with shame – a familiar but intensely unpleasant feeling.

Lucky people who feel essentially lovable may not like rejection, but they recover from it comparatively quickly, with their self-esteem intact. They generally feel okay about putting themselves out there.

On the other hand, if you were rejected early and/or often, avoiding situations where you might be rejected is likely a guiding principle in your life, whether conscious or not.

Fear of Humiliation

Is there anyone alive who hasn’t felt humiliated? Even the Queen of England, bless her regal heart, must have wanted the ground to open up and swallow her at times. (Maybe when she used the wrong fork?)

We humans are highly social, and social interactions always carry with them the possibility of humiliation and shame.

It doesn’t take many repetitions to learn our lesson; we try to avoid the pain of humiliation whenever possible.

Though we all experience our fair share of it, an excess of humiliation (especially early in life) can affect our choices and behavior.

For instance, most people would hesitate to let TV cameras into their personal lives. The situation is just too risky, brimming with the potential for embarrassment.

But for people who've experienced more than their share of humiliation, letting anyone get to know them, cameras or no, feels danagerous. They hold back, playing it smaller than they would if they had more confidence.

Breaking Free of Past Hurts

When it comes to relationships, what we fear most is the stuff that's already happened to us.

If we were abandoned, we fear abandonment.

If we were rejected, we fear rejection.

If we were humiliated, we fear being humiliated further.

This knowledge can be freeing. Maybe the abandonment you fear in your relationship has already happened. You survived it, but what you went through needs to be acknowledged and grieved before you can move on.

Maybe the rejection you knew as a younger person was real, but you didn’t deserve it then and you don’t deserve it now. There are new people in your life. Why not give them, and yourself, a chance?

Could that past humiliation that still haunts you have been the result of someone else’s behavior, rather than your inherent inadequacy? Was it something that could have happened to anyone? Take yourself off the hook and let go of self-recrimination.

Whenever you’re anxious about a relationship outcome, ask yourself if the thing you’re worried about has already happened in your life, perhaps in another time and place.

If the answer is yes, address the emotions from that earlier event with some good new-fangled constructive wallowing.