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S2 EP166 – Are You Commitment Phobic?

Episode Summary

Do you want to be in a relationship but have a fear of commitment? Are you afraid to commit to a relationship for fear of losing yourself or losing your partner? Most of us desire the deeply fulfilling experience of intimacy, yet many people have two fears in the way of intimacy. Are you ready to have the wonderful experience of emotional intimacy in your life? 


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding podcast. Today I will be speaking to the issue of the fear of commitment and the fear of intimacy.

Marilee, a client of mine, was commitment phobic. “I’d love to be in a loving relationship,” she told me in one of our Zoom sessions, “but I’m not willing to give up my freedom. I have a great life. I love my work and my friends. I love to travel and take workshops and classes. I don’t want anyone telling me what I can or can’t do. I don’t want to deal with someone feeling hurt because I want to have lunch with a friend rather than be with him. It’s just not worth all the hassle.”

Marcus, another of my clients, was also commitment phobic. “When I’m not in a relationship, that’s all I can think about it. I really want someone to play with, to love and to grow with. But soon after getting into a relationship, I start to feel trapped. I feel like I can’t do what I want to do, and I start to resent the person for limiting me. Most of the time, she has no idea what’s going on and is stunned by the break-up. She thought everything was fine. After leaving her, I’m back to square one – wanting to be in a relationship. This has happened over and over again.”

Commitment phobia has its roots in the belief that when you love someone, you are responsible for their feelings rather than for your own, and that you have to limit yourself and give yourself up to make sure they are okay.

Once you believe you are responsible for another’s feelings of hurt or rejection as a result of your behavior, you believe you need to limit yourself in order to not upset the other person. Then, instead of standing up for your own freedom and right to pursue that which brings you joy, you limit your freedom in an effort to have control over the other person’s feelings. Then you end up feel trapped and resentful.

“Marilee, ” I asked in one of our sessions, “What if you picked someone who also loved his work and his personal freedom?”

“Frankly,” she said, “I can’t imagine that. Every man I’ve been in a relationship with has wanted to spend more time with me than I have with him. Am I just picking the wrong man over and over?”

“No,” I replied. “But you are not standing firm in your freedom from the beginning. You give a lot at the beginning because you enjoy being with him, but, as we’ve discussed, you also give yourself up a lot at the beginning. You make love when you don’t want to. You stay up later than you want to for fear of hurting him. Then, when you do start to tell the truth, he is surprised and hurt. Until you are willing to risk losing him from the beginning rather than lose yourself, you will continue to create relationships that limit your freedom. You end up believing that it is the relationship that limits you, but it is your own fears and beliefs that keep limiting you.”

In my sessions with Marcus, he discovered that he had no idea how to stand up for himself in a relationship. As soon as a woman wanted something from him, he gave it to her. He just could not bring himself to say no. Then, of course, he ended up feeling trapped.

Marcus discovered that his fear of saying no to a woman came from two sources:

  1. He believed he was responsible for her feelings, and that he was bad if he did anything that upset her.
  2. He was afraid that if she felt hurt, she would get angry and reject him.

As a result of these two fears, Marcus continually gave himself up in relationships. However, giving himself up created such resentment toward his partner that he eventually didn’t want to be with her anymore and left the relationship. 

In order to have both your personal freedom and be in a committed relationship, you need to learn to take responsibility for your own feelings rather than the other person’s feelings, and you need to be willing to lose the other person rather than lose yourself. Commitment phobia heals when you become strong enough to be true to yourself, even in the face of another’s anger, rejection, or loss.

If you want to have a loving relationship, then you need to do the Inner Bonding work necessary to develop a strong loving adult self who can be a powerful advocate for your personal freedom.

I often work with clients who have a deep fear of commitment. These individuals generally say that they want to be in a loving relationship, yet, they say, they keep picking “the wrong person.”

Susan, 38, sought my help because she was in two relationships at the same time. This didn’t feel right to her, so she knew that she had to make a choice. Yet she could not seem to decide which relationship was right for her.

Susan had been in a relationship with Shawn for two years. Shawn, 43, was a delightful man, fun-loving and sweet. However, Shawn would emotionally disappear for long periods of time, and he was clear that he did not want children – which was very important to Susan. In addition, Shawn was always living on the edge financially.

Then Susan met Calvin, who was totally different than Shawn. Calvin stayed emotionally present, had a job he loved and made very good money, and wanted to have children. Susan was very attracted to Calvin and in her heart, she knew that he was a much better choice for her than Shawn. Yet she could not seem to let go of Shawn.

As we explored the situation, it became apparent that Susan couldn’t let go of Shawn because she was terrified of commitment. With Shawn there was no chance of being in a committed relationship – he was not available. Yet Susan felt “safe” with Shawn. Safe from what?

Susan discovered that she was terrified of really being in love, which was a possibility with Calvin but not with Shawn. In her mind, being in love meant losing her freedom. When she thought of being with Calvin, she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Her concept of a loving relationship was that “You are together all the time. I couldn’t just go and be with my friends or take a vacation with a friend. Commitment means giving up freedom.”

No wonder she felt safe with Shawn! As long as Susan believed she had to give herself up to be in a loving relationship, which is a false belief, she would not be able to make a commitment. A loving relationship does not demand that anyone give themselves up, and instead, each person supports their own and the others’ freedom and joy.

Douglas, 34, another client of mine, has the exact same problem. When he is in a relationship, he is a very “nice guy.” He tends to try to please his partner because, in his mind, taking care of himself and doing the things he wants to do is selfish. Yet, in giving himself up to his partner, he ends up resenting him and ending the relationship. Like Susan, he is operating under the false belief that he has to give up his personal freedom to be in a loving relationship.

Both Susan and Douglas have a major false belief that is causing their fear of commitment: that loving another person means doing what that person wants instead of staying true to themselves and taking loving care of themselves. They both have a false definition of selfish. They think they are being selfish if they take care of themselves instead of care-take their partners. I offered them this definition of selfish:

Selfish is when you expect someone else to give themselves up for you – to not do what they want to do and instead do what you want them to do. Selfish is when you do not support others in taking loving care of themselves and instead expect them to take care of you. Selfish is when it’s all about you with no concern for the effect your behavior has on others.Do you know that giving yourself up is a form of control, and isn’t loving?

You want to control how the other person feels about you by doing what they want you to do. When you do what another person wants you to do from love and caring, with no agenda to get their approval, you feel wonderful. But when you give yourself up from fear of your partner’s anger or withdrawal, you will feel trapped and resentful. To be in a committed relationship, your first commitment needs to be to be loving to yourself and support your truth, integrity, and freedom, and then share your love with your partner.

Learning to take loving care of yourself, through a consistent Inner Bonding practice, is the key to healing a fear of commitment. When you are taking loving care of yourself, you will be filled with love, and you will have much love to share with your partner!

Louis asked me in a webinar:

“I have been dating an amazing girl, but recently ended it because I am not sure if she is good for me. Our relationship has been very dramatic, partially due to my uncertainty of wanting to be with her. I could not determine if my feelings were coming from unreasonable fears that I should overcome, or from a real warning inside me that knew she wasn’t right for me. Even now after I have ended it, I have deep regrets for doing so, and am trying to figure out how to apologize and get her back in my life. Yet, I am no less confused and still do not know if I want to commit to her as a partner, or just as a friend, or if it’s best to just leave it alone and not attempt to reconnect. I feel like I love her, I don’t want to lose her, but I don’t know what I can offer her.”

Louis is suffering from a deep fear of engulfment. In attachment terms, he has an avoidant relationship style. He feels like he loves this amazing girl, but he is obviously terrified of commitment, so he keeps finding reasons not to be with her. He wants her back, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to lose her, but the real issue is that he is terrified of losing himself.

Until Louis learns to love himself – which he obviously doesn’t, which he indicated in the statement, “I don’t know what I can offer her,” he will continue to be torn apart by wanting to be in a relationship with her and being too scared of losing himself. 

If Louis had a good sense of himself, he wouldn’t have the fear that he doesn’t have anything to offer her. If he had done the Inner Bonding work of learning to love and value his essence, he would know exactly what he has to offer her, and he would not be vulnerable to giving himself up to protect himself from losing her.

The fear of commitment comes from not having a strong loving adult self who will set limits against being engulfed and controlled – against losing oneself, to protect against losing the other. Because a strong loving adult makes the decision that we would rather lose the other than lose ourselves, the fear of engulfment goes away.

But you may ask, if Louis is so afraid of losing his girlfriend, why has he brought this about by leaving her?

Good question!

By ending the relationship, he ends the drama and turmoil of worrying about losing her or losing himself. He doesn’t have to deal with these deep fears as long as he is not in a relationship.

But then he misses her and feels lonely. His fear of engulfment is gone, but now his fear of rejection is up. Now he is worried that he has lost her, so he starts to think about getting her back. He might work hard to get her back, but if she opens to him again, guess what? Up comes his fear of engulfment!

Louis is on a seesaw. When his fear of rejection us up, his fear of engulfment is down – which is what happens when he is not in a relationship. But once he is back in a relationship, his fear of engulfment is up, and he has thoughts like “Do I really love her?” “Do I really want to be with her?” “Is she the right one for me?”

No one will be the right one for Louis until he practices Inner Bonding and develops his strong loving adult, so that he can heal his fears of rejection and of engulfment.

Emotional Intimacy is one of the most wonderful experiences we ever have. Nothing else really comes close to the experience of sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings with another, of being deeply seen and known, of sharing love, passion, creativity, laughter, and joy. The experience of intimacy fills our souls and takes away our loneliness.

Why, then, are some people so afraid of intimacy?

It is not actually the intimacy itself that people fear. If people could be guaranteed that intimacy would continue to be a positive experience, they would have no fear of it. What they fear is the possibility of getting hurt as a result of being intimate with another.

As I previously stated, many people have two major fears that may cause them to avoid intimacy: the fear of rejection – of losing the other person, and the fear of engulfment – of being invaded, controlled, and losing oneself.

Because many of us have learned to react to conflict with various controlling behaviors – from anger and blame to compliance, withdrawal, and resistance – every relationship presents us with these issues of rejection and engulfment. If one person gets angry, the other may feel rejected or controlled and get angry back, give themselves up, withdraw or resist. If one person shuts down, the other may feel rejected and become judgmental, which may trigger the other’s fears of engulfment, and so on. These controlling circles exist in one form or another in most relationships. When the fears of rejection and engulfment become too great, a person may decide that it is just too painful to be in a relationship, and they avoid relationships altogether.

Yet avoiding relationships leads to loneliness and lack of emotional and spiritual growth. Relationships offer us the most powerful arena for personal growth if we accept this challenge.

When you learn how to take personal responsibility for defining your own worth, instead of making others’ love and approval responsible for your feelings of worth, you will no longer take rejection personally. This does not mean that you will ever like rejection – it means you will no longer be afraid of it or have a need to avoid it.

When you learn how to speak up for yourself and not allow others to invade, smother, dominate and control you, you will no longer fear losing yourself in a relationship. Do you believe that if you comply with another’s demands, the other will love you? Yet you are abandoning and rejecting yourself when you give yourself up to get another’s love. Losing oneself is terrifying, so many people stay out of relationships due to this fear. If they were to learn to define their own worth and stand up for themselves, the fear would disappear.

 The Inner Bonding process is designed to create a powerful loving inner adult self, capable of not taking rejection personally and of setting limits against loss of self. Anyone can learn this six-step process and, with practice, heal fears of intimacy. Through practicing the Inner Bonding process, you learn to value and cherish who you really are and take full responsibility for your own feelings of worth, lovability, safety, security, pain, and joy. When you deeply value yourself, you do not take rejection personally and you therefore become non-reactive to rejection. When you value yourself, you will not give yourself up to try to control another’s feelings about you. When you value yourself, you are willing to lose another rather than lose yourself.

What is the first fearful thought you think when you think of feeling close to someone? When I ask my clients who have a fear of commitment, they often say things like,

“I’m going to be rejected or I’m going to be abandoned.”
“I’m going to be smothered, engulfed, controlled. I will lose myself.”
“If I lose the person I love through death, I can’t handle the pain.”

These fears come from the pain of having been rejected, or of having lost ourselves in a relationship, or of having too much loss without knowing how to handle grief. These experiences may have been so painful that you are afraid to experience them again.

Is this pain inevitable in an intimate relationship? Yes and no. The pain of rejection or engulfment is NOT inevitable. The pain of losing a loved one through death may happen and is always a huge challenge, but would you really rather live a life without love than face this challenge?

Relationships are often very challenging, but what they are mainly challenging us about is developing our ability to love ourselves and share our love with others.

For example, you are in a relationship with someone you really love. One day, out of nowhere, your partner gets angry with you, shuts down to you, or threatens to leave you.

If you are operating from the ego wounded part of yourself, your reactions might be:

“What did I do wrong?” (Taking it personally and feeling rejected).
“What do I have to do to fix this?” (The beginning of losing yourself).

Then you might also get angry or shut down to avoid feeling rejected, or you might scurry around trying to make things right, taking responsibility for your partner’s feelings. Out of your fear, you would try to control your partner.

If you are operating from your loving adult, your responses would be very different.

You might say to yourself, “My partner is closed right now and trying to blame me or punish me for something. My heart hurts from being treated this way, but I know that his or her behavior has nothing to do with me. I cannot cause another person to act this way, nor am I responsible for how he or she chooses to behave. If my partner leaves, I will feel very sad, even heartbroken, but I can manage this feeling with deep compassion, kindness, caring, and tenderness toward myself. Now, I wonder how I can best take loving care of myself until he or she opens up?”

As a loving adult, you would not take your partner’s behavior personally and feel rejected by it, nor would you give yourself up trying to get your partner to open up. You might ask your partner what’s wrong with an intention to learn, and if he or she opens up, then you can have a productive conversation. If not, then you would compassionately tend to your own heartache and do something loving for yourself – take a walk, call a friend, read a book, and so on.

You would not fear being left by your partner, as you would not be abandoning yourself. You would know that you will take loving care of yourself. People are terrified about being left when they are leaving themselves, giving their inner child to their partner to love, rather than learning to love themselves.

Developing your loving adult self is a process that takes consistent practice. When you shift your intention from trying to have control over another not rejecting you, to taking loving care of yourself, you gradually develop your loving adult. The more powerful your loving adult self is, the less you fear intimacy. You no longer fear rejection because you no longer take others’ behavior personally, and you no longer fear engulfment because you no longer give yourself up to avoid rejection. As a loving adult, you learn how to manage loss so that you don’t have to avoid love.

The Inner Bonding process is a powerful process for developing your loving adult. Practicing the 6 steps of Inner Bonding gradually leads you out of your fears of commitment and fear of intimacy and into the ability to truly love yourself and take loving care of yourself, so that you can share love with others.

Moving beyond your fears of intimacy and fear of commitment will open you to the deep personal and spiritual growth that relationships can provide, and the profound fulfillment and joy that loving relationships can offer.

I invite you to join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have so much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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