Q&A: Why Do I Become Increasingly Anxious around People the Longer I Know Them?


QUESTION
The longer I know someone, the more anxious I feel around them. Why is that?

ANSWER
It is hard to say for sure without knowing a person’s history and the particular situation they are in. Based on my personal and professional experience, someone who feels increasingly anxious around others is afraid of the relationship becoming more close and more intimate. Not necessarily in a romantic or sexual way (although it can definitely be that, too), but just knowing each other better, being more vulnerable, and so on.

Now why is that? Generally, I see two cases: one, the person is afraid of building an intimate, caring, loving bond with someone, and two, they are scared of others exploiting and deliberately hurting them. Sometimes it is a combination of both.

In the first scenario, the person is not used to healthy intimacy and has trust issues. They may not know how to have mutual respect, reciprocity, and power equality—or even what it looks like. They also may not know how to express their need, to set healthier boundaries, to resolve conflicts, or to express their thoughts and emotions. They can be terrified of being betrayed or “abandoned” (i.e., if the relationship eventually doesn’t work out), or simply of losing the other person.

And so, to shield themselves from being hurt, they have a defense mechanism of anxiety, which tells them to avoid intimacy because it will result in feeling pain. As a result, such a person avoids getting close and intimate in their relationships, avoids relationships altogether, or sabotages them somewhere down the line.

The origins of such a mechanism is in one’s personal history, mainly in their early, formative years, where one’s bond with their caregiver wasn’t safe and loving enough, and where they were exposed to other hurtful and problematic environments (like school). The consequences of it are fear of abandonment, social anxiety, and other personal and interpersonal problems.

In the second scenario, the person is afraid of people actively and deliberately hurting them. So in the person’s mind being vulnerable, open, and real with someone means potentially being harmed and exploited. Sharing your genuine thoughts, emotions, interests, and preferences is considered dangerous. What if people will laugh at me? What if they will ostracize me? What if they will hurt me? What if they will trick me, take advantage of me, or manipulate me?

Here, as in the first case, the person develops a defense mechanism against pain and feels anxious when their mind perceives a social situation as being potentially dangerous. In this scenario, the abuse the person received in their formative years was more overt and active, while in the first case it was more covert and passive.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
Whatever the case may be, generally social anxiety and fear of closeness stem from our past social experiences, mainly in our formative years. This includes our caregiver-child bond, family life, school life, early romantic relationships, sexual experiences, and so on.

To understand it better, a person can honestly and deeply explore their personal history. This can be done in solitude (for example, by journaling), or with the help of others (getting professional help). It’s not the easiest of tasks—but well worth it!

RECOMMENDATIONS
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Why People Choose or Don't Choose Relationships [video]
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Shyness Is Not a Cute, Insignificant Thing [article]
Playing with a Child's Trust Is Harmful [article]
Child Abuse and Its Results in Today's Society [article]
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