Intimacy and fear of love

This post is an unedited subject assignment submitted by a trainee for Foundation Training 2016 (Cape Town).
Theory cannot be removed from observation of what is present phenomenologically in the client system.
It has been included here as a resource for students and graduated facilitators:

Family constellations training research

Intimacy and fear of love

Introduction/context of our lives:

We live in a world whose paradigm is governed by rational materialism. However, many traditions recognise that everything is interconnected and each person is a soul on a journey, which pre-exists this particular lifespan and will continue beyond it. A soul would choose particular experiences or lessons to learn in this human form.

Our life experiences are influenced by:

  • Our family upbringing and early experiences (especially early attachment experiences)
  • The time and context and socioeconomic background we live in
  • Our ancestral influences, both in terms of our DNA, our physical make up, and experiences living in our cells, as well as in inner loyalties within the family system, the unconscious or unlived dynamics within a family system; and
  • How we choose to live our life, the decisions we make, the people we live with, the food we eat.

Systemic Family Therapy was first developed by the German therapist, Bert Hellinger. In this therapeutic approach, we consider the individual as part of a greater whole – a family system – rather than as a separate entity. His individual behaviour, feelings and attitudes, have to be understood in the context of this larger group. As in any other system, unspoken laws operating within the family guide behaviour that we, as family members, are largely unaware of.

Each person must integrate and manage within them the demands of the outer life and the pull of an inner life. Each person must negotiate the ills as well as resources of the time into which he/she is born and find a way to navigate a contribution to the world that enables survival as well as expression to the more elusive spiritual part of their creative being, their soul’s purpose for being here. Each person must navigate three marriages: a marriage to self, a marriage to a work and a marriage to an other – a partner and family (Whyte, 2008). This essay explores this third marriage, a marriage to and intimacy with an other.

The couple: A partnership:

The bringing together of a male and female in a couple bond (this can of course include and apply to same sex partnerships or non-binary partnerships), enables a creation of a union larger than the sum of its parts. The male and female form a complementary pair of partners who mutually define, complement and complete one another. One’s partner carries an imago of the potential for one’s self, an imago of the characteristics one seeks for wholeness. If love is to succeed we must give what we are and take what we need.

Living in a loving couple partnership is a universal aspiration. Each culture and epoch transmits a particular way of living the couple relationship. Each partnership is also unique; however certain patterns exist. The pillars of the couple relationship are love, giving and receiving, sexuality, intimacy (or emotional exchange), and cohabitation.

In a marriage two individuals form a connection when they commit to living their lives together, creating an interconnected system in which families are woven together. Hellinger (1998) states that the couple is the primary unit of each system.

Our choice of partners is not random. Falling-in-love, is blind, intense and ephemeral. It doesn’t allow seeing the other person completely. We can only see what we need, what we project. It is an impulse outside of our control, which comes from afar, from our family system’s need to heal or to compensate for something via the other person we are attracted to. Unconsciously we choose partners who have characteristics of one or both of our parents (Hendrix & LaKelly Hunt, 2004).

During childhood, the symbiotic relationship with the mother/father necessarily has deprivations. On growing up, the individual, whether man or woman, seeks a new symbiotic relationship. He or she will project a pattern that he or she experienced during his/her childhood onto this relationship, simultaneously trying to solve what remained unaccomplished in relation to his mother or father when he was a child. It is not only two people who are together in a couple, it is two systems, and two internalized systems. Bowlby believed that the mental representations or working models (i.e., expectations, beliefs, “rules” or “scripts” for behaving and thinking) that a child holds regarding relationships are a function of his or her caregiving experiences. Children’s innocent love blindly perpetuates what is harmful. Each system has needed that falling-in-love in order to solve something it could not do on its own. The relationship offers a second chance to deal with similar issues and themes from one’s childhood. Anything that separates us from unconditionally loving our parents will get in the way between an other and us. If there has been an “interrupted movement of love” toward the father or the mother, it will be happen too towards the partner. If the emotional bond between a parent and child is not as it should be then the child often grows up living a life external from the real world. Firestone and Catlett (1999) talk about this in a different manner when they state ‘the infant or child compensates for emotional deprivation by forming the primary defence which I refer to as the Fantasy Bond’ (p.35).

Love is learned and restored with our parents.

What we do not know about ourselves (our unconscious) or will not face in ourselves (the shadow) will be projected onto the other. We project out childhood wounding and our infantile longing and our individuation imperative onto the other. The experience of intimacy activates one’s prior experiences of intimacy especially the primal relationship with parents. Therefore one’s vulnerability, neediness and strategies for receiving love are activated. What we do not want to acknowledge in ourselves (selfishness, rage, narcissism) will also play out in the relationship (Hollis, 1998). This becomes the chief source of dissatisfaction, resentment and suffering within a relationship. We suddenly see all the faults of the other.

Since the other, cannot and should not bear this responsibility for our wounding and narcissism, struggles with power develop. The complexities attachment results in the initial attraction turning into a power struggle that needs to be worked on. In every relationship there is the potential to heal our wounded-ness through the quality of the commitment and connection. The only way to heal a faltering relationship is to take responsibility for our own individuation. Hollis (1998) suggests that we can achieve no greater relationship with the other than we have with ourself. Being adults requires that we accept ourselves just as we are, that we relinquish the expectation of being rescued by the other, activity must replace passivity in taking responsibility for oneself and work to challenge ourselves in the areas that we project onto the other. The task is to learn to love the difficult parts of one’s partner, especially those parts that mirror hidden or abandoned parts of yourself. By loving your partner more fully, you begin to heal those parts in yourself wounded in childhood and loving your partner becomes the best way to facilitate your own spiritual and personal growth. (Hendrix & LaKelly Hunt, 2004; Hollis, 1998).

All of us are wounded, and all of us longs for connection, nurturance, and for completion. It takes courage just to be, and not live with the fantasy of the mother complex, which longs for security and sanctuary.

Love at second sight is an adult love that takes the other person just as she is, and one’s own needs just as they are. Some of those needs will be covered by the relationship, and a great part will not.


The foundation of family is the sexual attraction between a man and a woman” (Hellinger, 1998, p.31). The power of desire sexual union is sacred. Yet in our world it is seen as base, or it is debased (e.g. through pornography and sexual explicitness) or seen as lesser than spiritual.

A person is attracted to a partner only because he or she finds the other attractive as a man or woman. The man wants the woman as a ‘woman’; the woman wants the man as a ‘man’. Similarly in the homosexual couple, each partner feels sexually attracted to the other. A relationship motivated by a different drive, such as loneliness, economy, a project or having a child, does not have strength as a couple. The couple is realized through sexual intimacy. The expression of love through sexual intimacy bonds people together. The instinctive force of sexuality is a sign of its greatness, which goes beyond what is human. Through a couple coming together sexually, a new life may be ignited. No other act brings such rewards and entails such vulnerability and risk. Desire makes us vulnerable, brings us closer, it is real; it is about being open to change, to seeing our messy bits, to receiving another, to not being in control and not being perfect. Intimacy involves surrender (Hellinger, 1998; Hendrix and LaKelly Hunt, 2004).

The sexual expression of love is also our most humble action. Nowhere else do we expose ourselves so completely, uncovering our deepest vulnerability. We don’t guard anything else with such deep shame as this inner place where partners show each other their most intimate selves and give those selves into each other’s keeping. Through the sexual expression of love, both men and women leave their mothers and fathers and “cleave” to one another—as the Bible describes it—and they become one flesh.” (Hellinger, 1998, p32)

Sexual communion has a transcendent aspect and enables connection and a merging, which facilitates change. This union gives us a glimpse of a larger self. Intimacy becomes the source of new life in a relationship, though the sexual act resulting in having a child. This union brings the male and female DNA and ancestral lineages together in a union to create a parenthood for a new family.

In a relationship that has reached the stage of conflict and struggles with power and taking responsibility for projections, there is also often a loss of sexual desire. This is also due to aging, loss of libido, often to Eros being directed into responsibilities of work, career and childrearing, and sometimes abandoning the relationship to one’s inner self.

To nurture the relationship and to keep some sexual intimacy alive and rediscover our partner as desirable and desiring is important. We need to keep the fire lit. There needs to be a giving and receiving.

Barriers to intimacy: Fear of intimacy:

Intimacy, often conceptualized as only romantic or sexual, is more broadly defined as “to make known”. The simplest way I have heard intimacy described is by breaking the word down: in to me see.  Intimacy is about the vulnerability of allowing another person to see into us, sharing that we are with another person, to be seen and reciprocally to see the other.

Our ability to be intimate and to make attachments is deeply affected by our early experiences of family and of being nurtured and held. Sharing who we are, is a problem for many because at the core of our relationship with ourselves is the feeling that we are somehow defective, unlovable and unworthy – because of, early ego programming and attachment patterns from childhood.  Often we develop defensive patterns that the ego has adapted to help us survive.  Our defense system is an attempt to protect us from being rejected, betrayed, and abandoned because of our unworthy, shameful being.

The signs of a fear of intimacy include:

  • Never being able to sit still- always being busy
  • Someone who is always positive and never gets upset or show ‘flaws’
  • Being the strong one so that the conversation is always about others
  • Appearing perfect
  • Being chameleon like, not having strong characteristics, always fitting in.
  • In other words, fearing being seen for who you are, in both one’s strengths and weaknesses.

The more of ourselves that we reject the more pressure there is to be perfect, the less ambiguity we can tolerate and the more important it is for us to feel accepted. Often we can live a split between what we present to the world (and our partner) and what is our true internal self. The inner self may have values that the outer self violates, or the inner self has vices that the outer representational self tries to hide. Rejecting parts of ourselves has implications for the way we interact in our relationships. Self-rejection makes long-term partnerships difficult to maintain.

Barriers to Intimacy: Roles:

Often the ‘orders of love’ are out of order, creating difficulties in relating. The orders of love are dynamic systemic forces blowing through our relationships. These systemic laws enable love to unfold. Hellinger (1998) suggested that for a partnership to work, both partners need to be equal, but that there were roles for each- a man needs to be the man and to provide. The woman in a partnership follows her husband, and the husband puts himself in the service of the family, whose centre is the woman. Both are in the service of the couple project (the project is generally a family). Both serve. Both look at each other’s eyes as equals and take the decisions jointly. Each person in the couple needs to need something from the other and know their own limitations and value the contributions of the other, and not do it all themselves. Both also need to renew their ‘male-ness’ or ‘female-ness’ in the company of the same sex. Then the relationship retains a creative tension. Love flourishes when couples are well matched- the scales are different on each side, but equal in weight. Therefore one must not carry more value or more responsibility, they give themselves to one another equally. The bond becomes damaged when one continually gives more than the other.

Different cultures and religious traditions have different expectations of the roles of men and women. A couple needs to find a shared picture of what this is. Each partner needs to separate from their traditions and choose to form the partnership. Unresolved attachments to the family of origin are a major cause of difficulty in relationships.

It may be observed that when the roles are reversed within the couple, even if this happens in mutual agreement, so that the man looks after the children and the woman is the head of the family, the couple as such ceases to exist: the man loses his male strength, compensating unconsciously a frustration from his early childhood. In this scenario, the real children lose their place and their father, the woman becomes very big, her gaze is turned outside the family, and both lose interest and respect for each other as a couple.

The work: A conclusion:

Currently We live in a divisive and divided world, one in which we are encouraged to think of ourselves as separate from the biosphere in which we live, one in which independence and autonomy are our highest values, and we see ourselves as separate from other (

Working on relating and relationship is important and requires effort. Fear of intimacy stems from a fear of the unknown, a lack of acceptance for being here in this human (imperfect) form in this life, and from having expectations about how things should be or how the other should be, or from a trying to live up to a pre-conceived idea of what it should be like. However, if we are able to be present in our bodies, present to the other without expectation, intimacy can be there.

Fear limits us and provokes repeating the same patterns. We are given the task of transformation and enlargement, which by its nature requires challenge. We are tasked with existential courage in order to change and enlarge ourselves in our relationships and our relationship to yourself, but by first accepting what it is.

It is important to recognize that partners are ‘bound’ together. They are interconnected. At the root of the problem is usually a self-rejection. We need to learn to love what we hate (in ourselves and the other). By looking at the traits we experience as challenging in the other, we need to examine in what ways we are like that. We also need to explore in what ways these traits are survival mechanisms for our partner, and to value the goals your partner is trying to achieve, and the inner loyalties he/she is trying to overcome (Hellinger, 1998; Hollis, 1998).

We need to ask: What is the unlived life that haunts us? Where are we stuck in our developmental process? How do we integrate our spirituality? (Hollis, 1998).

When couples wish to work on their relationship, Hellinger often asked them each to set up their relationship separately, one at a time, using the same representatives. We need to work through images that bond, to see our dependencies, and find images that release, provide hope and a sense of the shared project. WE also need to restore the orders of love (Hellinger, 1998).

Hellinger said, “”If you want love to flourish, you need to do what it demands and to refrain from doing what harms it. Love follows the hidden order of the Greater Soul.” (p.x)

Some of the laws of karma are: Energy follows attention. What we focus on amplifies. Where we put our energy grows. We make life happen. We need to be responsible for what is in our lives and accept it in order to change it. Rewards are a result of energy put in. Therefore relationships require positive focus and energy put in, and a shared project or vision.

Reference list:

Hellinger, B. (1998) Loves Hidden symmetry: What makes love work in relationships. Arizona: Zeig, Tucker and Co.

Hendrix, H. & LaKelly Hunt, H. (2004) Receiveing love: transform your relationship by letting yourself be loved. London: Simon & Shuster.

Hollis, J. (1998). The Eden project: The search for the magical other: A Jungian perspective on relationship. Toronto: Inner City Books.

Turner, D. D. Forever in my life: An Afro Caribbean perspective on intimacy. Retrieved October 2016,

Whyte, D. (2010). The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship


Wolfe, D.

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