For Part Three of the Fear of Emotional Closeness series, I will focus on the fear of being hurt if you lose a friendship, the consternation of having to experience the overwhelming and intense feelings of closeness, and the apprehension of having your friend start to “cling” to and become needy towards you.
Fear of Being Hurt From the Loss of a Friendship
Sometime ago, a friend whom I had been growing close to had to stop seeing friends for a while, as he was feeling burned out by work and other responsibilities. I knew this was just a temporary break. We were still friends, he still exists, and he occasionally appears on Facebook. Yet, I cried and was miserable for a while. It felt as though I had lost him and that he had disappeared from my life, even if I knew that this was an irrational feeling.
At the time, I had the automatic thought: “I knew I shouldn’t have gotten attached. See how much it hurts now? Human beings are unreliable!” Then I thought: “No, losses and separations are a part of normal human life. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Just because some relationships end, doesn’t mean we should stop making friends and becoming close to people, as friendship is a joy and there are so many good things about being emotionally close. Besides, we have other friends and beloved people in our life too, not just the friend we lost—or temporarily can’t see, in my case.
Additionally, we can treasure the memories we had with that friend, and keep them in our hearts. I would let myself cry for a bit, but also encourage myself to look at the other parts of my life, as well as at the other people around me. It’s okay to be sad and to reminisce about your friend from time to time, as pain can take a while to heal.
You could process and make meaning out of this loss as well, via journaling, art, creative writing, or talking to an empathetic friend or family member about how you feel. It’s helpful to gain some closure around the hurt and loss, so that you don’t just push your grief to the back of your mind, hoping it won’t bother you again. These suppressed feelings have a way of coming back to haunt you from time to time, until you listen to what they have to say and process those deep feelings.
But it’s important not to sink into the sorrow forever, as we still have the rest of our lives to live! So I would write, organize, and make meaning out of these feelings when I can; yet, I would avoid thinking about the person too often. In fact, I would distract myself by doing work, engaging in activities I enjoy (such as reading novels), and talking with other friends both online and offline.
Fear of Being Overwhelmed by Intense Emotions
You may feel that there’s something very intense about emotional closeness, that you won’t be able to handle it physically or emotionally. If so, I would ask: What are you actually afraid of? Is this overwhelming intensity just an imaginary monster that you created in your mind? For example, you may liken emotional closeness to an overly bright sun. You can’t stand the intense heat or the strong rays.
The metaphors we use to symbolize our feelings can scare us, like the blinding sun I just mentioned. Is there a more pleasant metaphor you can think of for deep emotional closeness?
To help come up with a new image and metaphor, think about times with a good friend that were both positive and significant to you. Using my own relationships as an illustration, I have a friend, Randy, whom I had not seen in a while. When we ran into each other at a restaurant, and got a table together, I exclaimed, “I’m so happy to see you!” He replied that it gladdened him to see me too. (Names in this post are pseudonyms). I told another friend, Ernest, that meeting him was one of the happiest things that had happened to me this past year. He expressed a heartfelt thanks, and said that my words meant a lot to him.
These friendship moments are significant, emotional, and full of meaning. They didn’t feel scary either. They only felt very good. For some other instances of great times with friends, I chat a lot with a close friend, Blanche; we usually talk about fun, stimulating, and worthwhile things, and we have an enjoyable time together. With another good friend, Lana, I went to her house for a sleepover one day, where we each wrote a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story and had much fun, even if I didn’t finish mine, as my story was too long. With another close friend, Aaron, we watched many superhero and later even horror movies together; he was my primary movie buddy for a long while.
With these examples of connectedness, joy, and closeness, maybe emotional closeness doesn’t need to be something grand and complicated. Maybe it can be as simple as these happy friendship times. There’s no need to mystify “emotional closeness” into something enormous and formidable. Another friend of mine, Christina, feels that closeness involves telling a person about your life, even the daily, “trivial” things. Another friend, Roger, thinks that closeness is about talking and communicating a lot with each other. When I heard Christina and Roger pronounce their opinions, I disagreed and believed that emotional closeness can’t be that simple. Surely, it’s bigger and deeper than just frequent sharing and communication. Closeness must be something more profound and even spiritual.
But what if emotional closeness is indeed much simpler and more mundane than I imagined it to be? Would I be relieved? Would I be disappointed?
Yet, suppose the experience of closeness is profound, spiritual, magical, or sublime. Can we think of a more benign, pleasing metaphor than a blinding, overpowering sun for emotional closeness? Well, then what about a magical fairyland? Sparkling silver mist, poetic soft snow drifting in the air, enchantment and beauty all around. Or a silver ringing bell, sounding against a magnificent sky. Or even the glowing lines of beautiful poetry.
Perhaps you think that these images of fairyland, mist, snow, magic, skies, poetry, and silver bells are about the beauty of friendship rather than about emotional closeness. If so, then how about the metaphor of eating deep brown chocolate, a sumptuous tiramisu, or another favorite dessert? Like the emotional closeness of friendship, savoring chocolate or tiramisu means plunging beneath the surface, and enjoying the richness, layers, and sweetness of it.
In fact, why does the idea of emotional closeness need to feel intense and overpowering in the first place? Why can’t we see it as something soft and gentle? Like a beautiful, soothing sunset?
In a similar vein, closeness doesn’t need to be seen as demanding and draining. Instead, you can see it as energizing, a beacon of joy, hope, and comfort. Put in another way, closeness can be something pleasant and exciting, or pleasant and calming.
Fear That the Other Person Will Become Needy Towards You
Once again, I ask: What are you afraid will happen if the other person is clingy or needy towards you? It’s best to define what clinginess or neediness means first, in your opinion. Fear of Emotional Closeness Part One: Becoming Attached, Dependent, Needy, or Weak has some ideas for what being needy or clingy may entail. Keep in mind that even if someone is not close friends with you, they could still become “needy” or “clingy.”
Are you anxious that you will lose a lot of time and energy, because the person will keep contacting you or want to meet up too often? If this is the case, you could assert your boundaries, and learn how to say no to hang-outs politely. Don’t feel guilty for “rejecting” them, because we all need time for ourselves, and we have other friends and people we want to see too. Don’t feel obligated to spend tons of time with any one person, even if they seem very in need of company. You are not their therapist, and if they are your friend, they should respect your time and boundaries. Plus, saying no and setting time restrictions doesn’t mean that you don’t like them. I have a close friend who started meeting up with me almost every day at one point. I clearly did not dislike him and do enjoy his company; but nearly every day was too much for me, so I asked that we only meet about twice a week, which he agreed to.
Alternatively, by “neediness,” are you afraid that the person will develop romantic interest in you that you don’t reciprocate? In this case, what scares you about someone becoming romantically attracted to you? Do you fear that they’ll be violent towards you if you reject them? That they’ll stop talking to you or will cease to be your friend? That their romantic interest would make things strained and uncomfortable between you?
First of all, a friend can develop romantic feelings for you even if you are not close. Secondly, would you want to stay friends with someone who reacts with violence, or who would stop being your friend, just because you don’t reciprocate their romantic interest? In fact, it reeks of disrespect and selfishness to me if someone would drop you as a friend or hit you just because you cannot satisfy their romantic desires.
Of course, a person could want to stop being friends because it’s too painful for them to see you anymore. In this instance, I would be more sympathetic, but still, this is very sad and I hope that they will recover and return to being friends with you again.
Maybe you’re afraid that this romantic interest from them will be discomforting to you, or that you’ll feel pressured to accept them. Well, if they respect you, they would have to understand and accept that you don’t like them back in that way.
In a different case, would you feel better if they like you romantically, you tell them no, and they respectfully stay platonic friends with you? Awkwardness between friends does happen in life, and not just for unrequited love scenarios. Yet, this feeling of discomfort will likely fade away over time.
Going back to the question of what you fear if a friend becomes needy or clingy towards you, are you scared that they will overwhelm you by their emotional intensity somehow? That you’ll become so emotionally enmeshed and entangled with them that you won’t be able to break free of their “trap”?
Well, why do you believe that you won’t be able to escape? Do you think they will try to “bind” you by contacting and seeing you to an excessive extent? If so, recall the previous section on setting boundaries and asserting yourself, so that you can protect your time and energy. Friendship is based on mutual respect, after all.
Or do you think that they will guilt you into making some sort of emotional commitment? But what “emotional commitment” are you thinking of, precisely? If you don’t mean that the person will see and talk to you too frequently, do you mean that they will get to know you too deeply, such that they can use their knowledge to blackmail you? Or that you will become emotionally dependent on them? If so, Parts One and Two of this Fear of Emotional Closeness series have already covered these situations, on the worry of giving out blackmail material to someone, and the fear of growing emotionally dependent on a friend, so I will not repeat myself here.
Perhaps what you mean by “emotional commitment,” is that you’ll become co-dependent, too attached, or be overwhelmed by the intensity of these feelings. Since the topics of over-dependence and attachment were already talked about in Part One of this series, and the apprehension of being overwhelmed by intense feelings was already discussed in this post, you can see that many fears of emotional closeness are inter-related.
Throughout these posts on the Fear of Emotional Closeness, you may have noticed some recurring ideas and solutions, such as asserting your boundaries, clearly but respectfully stating your needs or feelings, identifying your concrete fears rather than staying in a vague sense of unease, reflecting on whether each of these concrete fears are reasonable, thinking of solutions to any of these concrete fears, inspecting what metaphors you’re using to represent your feelings, changing these metaphors to something more pleasant, and other recurring ideas.
This post concludes my Fear of Emotional Closeness series, though I may return to some of these ideas in future posts, since the fear of closeness is such a huge and important topic.
What are your thoughts on any of the above fears? How would you deal with the pain of losing a close friend? Do you feel that emotional closeness implies an overwhelming intensity of feelings? Do you agree that altering the metaphors of what emotional closeness means, will make close relationships feel less scary and overpowering? What would you be afraid of if your friend seems to be becoming “needy,” and what would you do about it? Do you have questions on anything I wrote in my Fear of Emotional Closeness series?