Engulfment Fears: Running Away from Love

Engulfment fears. How I fucking hate those. The opposite of abandonment fears is usually the engulfment fear or fear of deep intimacy.

And it’s stupid, certainly from my perspective of being in a deeply loving relationship that not only supports me but allows me to be more independent, more me. I’m more free through love.

So with engulfment fears, I never understood what was so scary. Of course, fears aren’t rational, but at least with abandonment fears, the fear is more logical in a way. Pain does come with love lost or the end of a relationship. People are afraid of pain. Fear of the pain that comes with the loss of love is more logical, but it is still a largely irrational fear.

I have serious abandonment fears, as I’ve discussed before, and I recognize that they are largely irrational. They’re stupid, too. I know it. I also know from experience the pain that follows the end of a loving relationship, especially one where some level of abuse was involved. But even the loss of a healthy, loving relationship brings profound pain.

But let’s look at engulfment fears. These people are afraid of love itself. They are afraid of losing who they are in love, of being consumed by another. And ultimately, these people run away from love and allow their fear to win.

As a woman who loves deeply, I wish I could just give them a glimpse of what it’s like to be completely surrounded by and supported by love. It doesn’t engulf you, it lifts you up. It elevates. It strengthens. It is a portal for joy and spiritual enlightenment.

Through love, I have never lost who I was. On the contrary, I have become stronger, more independent.

Love is freedom.

Especially in an open, non-monogamous relationship, where love and commitment doesn’t mean limitations. Love is limitless. Partners openly love one another and others. Communication is open and honest. Work is magnified, but so is the joy and reward and love.

I love. And I love. And I love deeply. More deeply than most knew possible. I have enough love to give to fill up my husband’s love tank, a second significant other, and still have love left over. Love is infinite. My love is infinite.

Someone recently told me that I bring a new meaning to the words “open communication” and “honesty,” more intensity than most are used to. For many, I also bring new meaning to the word “love” because I love so deeply and completely.

It’s who I am. As I said before, I’m not apologizing for it anymore.

I’m intensely loving and passionate and emotional. I am a strong woman, stronger than even I knew until these past few days. I not only carry my own fears every day, I often carry those of my beloved, as was the case with my most recent relationship. I didn’t realize I was doing that until it was crashing to an end.

I was the strong one.

I took on more pain to help ease his engulfment fears because I was strong enough to do so.

I carried him for months, hoping he would find the safety within our relationship to genuinely invest himself this time. To break out of his pattern of short-lived, failed relationships where he ultimately runs away, afraid of engulfment, of losing his freedom, his individuality. To be the deeply loving man he truly is beneath the fear-ridden ego.

Through my patience and strength, I showed him that love and freedom was possible. I showed him that through love, anything was possible.

But ultimately fear won over love, and it saddens me to no end. He’s going back into his cycle of short-lived, relatively shallow relationships, searching for the utopia of ease. Wanting the depth of emotion and heights of ecstasy without the responsibility or risk. Without truly investing in a complete relationship with the ups and the downs.

And it breaks my heart, not only for my loss, but also for his struggle.

Still, I’m standing strong. Deeply saddened that he gave up on us so easily. Knowing I did the right thing by standing up for my self-respect. Hoping that he finds a way to see what he’s running away from is an illusion. That fear is clouding the love still there for him. Hoping he can find the courage to face those fears.

Understanding he probably won’t.

Lamenting that he won’t find the love he deserves because he won’t allow it past his fears. The spiritual awakening he so desperately seeks is there waiting for him through love, if he could just find the courage to face his fears.

He’s not the only man I’ve known or loved who has engulfment fears, although I think he is the man I’ve loved the most who has them. I’ve met many who do. Many women do, too. This isn’t a gender-specific fear. I truly thought he had the courage and presence to face those fears and remember the reality of the love beneath them.

I was wrong.

I’m intense. I’m passionate. I feel deeply. I hurt and I get scared. I feel insecure sometimes and am a pillar of strength at other times. I have moments of weakness. I have moments of vulnerability. I love so deeply that it frightens a lot of men. I am a complete woman and I deserve to be loved completely. I deserve love, respect, and reciprocity, as do we all. I deserve to be in a holistic, loving relationship where responsibility is embraced, not avoided. Where love is embraced, not feared.

I’m a powerful woman, and it takes a strong man to be with me. If you can face your fears and look at the face of love in all her profound depth, you will experience things you didn’t know possible. You will transcend fear.

You will see heaven with me.

Find the courage to do that and realize the meaning of pure joy.

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~ by omgrey on February 22, 2012.

28 Responses to “Engulfment Fears: Running Away from Love”

  1. Great post Ms Grey, thanks for sharing and I’ve shared this with a couple of my like minded friends.

    Life is too short for fear. Open and honest communications maybe hard at times, but they are much easier than dealing with the doubts and unknowns that most people deal with.

    • Agreed. Life is too short for fear. Especially to let fear win.
      Open and honest communication is difficult. Facing fears are difficult.
      If it wasn’t, everyone would have an open and honest relationship. Everyone would know themselves implicitly.

      I do much better in relationship when I know where I stand. When my beloved has the courage to be honest and frank, in a loving way. Through knowing is the path to freedom. Through hiding and deception are the chains of captivity.

  2. I have to say that I think you’ve missed the mark with this one. Put on the eyes of a person with engulfment fear and re-read this article. From their point of view, you’re telling them “change everything about who you are, and it will be wonderful!”. And you’re saying it over and over.

    Engulfment fear is about loss of identity. Loss of freedom is a commitment issue, and that is separate. Engulfment fear is about the fact that when we interact with other people, it changes who we are. For you, Olivia, when you interact with those that you love, you become a transcendent being. That is wonderful for you, but not everyone has that experience. Some people are more swayed by those they are with. They feel like they become a different person.

    Being with someone you love will may you try new and adventurous things. But for the person who has engulfment fears, they may be doing things they otherwise would never do. Not just broadening their horizons or experimenting, but undergoing a complete reversal of their moral and ethical framework. They can literally become a person they would hate if they weren’t with the person that they love.

    But it doesn’t need to go that far. They might become a better person when with their love. But only when they are with their love. And that is where the problem lies. The person with engulfment fear feels consumed by the personality of their love interest. They lose their sense of self. To those with engulfment fear, it feels like a violation. And the reason they leave is literally self-preservation. They need to be alone again to re-discover who they are.

    Most people who are in love want to spend a lot of time with their partner, but for someone who has engulfment fear that closeness is smothering. It robs them of their identity. For some, they feel as if they have forgotten who they really are.

    The problem isn’t a misunderstanding of love. Engulfment fear comes from an underdeveloped sense of self. Someone who suffers from engulfment fear needs to have time to themselves to define who they are, to define that sense of self. They have to do this work for themselves, away from distractions of the wants and needs of others.

    It isn’t until they have defined the core of their personality and are confident in their ability to keep from being overwhelmed by others that they can begin to form healthy, long-lasting relationships. And even then, they may need to have time to themselves to re-assert their core sense of self.

    Doc

    • You’re absolutely right. I don’t understand it, and since my fear is the opposite, I can’t imagine I ever will. Although I do find it interesting that you think it comes from an underdeveloped sense of self. Very interesting indeed.

      Although I stand by my assessment that both fears are irrational. Both limit ability to form and maintain loving relationships, creating failed relationship after relationship for something that ultimately isn’t real.

      • Pretty much all fears are irrational and tend to create difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships. One can learn to work around those fears and overcome them, but it usually involves a lot of personal work.

        Doc

      • Agreed. It does involve a lot of personal work. Most people don’t seem to be willing to do that work or look closely enough at themselves to even begin to overcome them.

        I spoke with another friend yesterday who talked about the possibility of an underdeveloped or fragile sense of self. Perhaps that lies at the heart of both fears. How as a society can we raise our children to love themselves and have a strong, solid sense of self? Where they’re not either in a pit of self-loathing or on the opposite side puffing up their chests and behaving arrogant to cover up their insecurities?

    • Nailed it!

      The standard advice for avoidants is “hang in there, suppress your desire to run, and you will be on the way to healing and experiencing new joys”.

      The reality, however, can be that you do hang in there (hey! another success for the “fear of intimacy is just a phobia – deal with it” theory!) only to find yourself having crying fits several years later, realizing that you are as miserable as ever and more alone than at any time in your life, having no idea why you’re living the life you are, and – terrifyingly – no longer having any real sense for who you are.

      If you think fear of engulfment is bad, try being engulfed. Avoidance is called a”defense” for good reason, and should be supposed only under close supervision!

  3. [...] during the first week after my breakup, I wrote a blog post called Engulfment Fears: Running Away From Love, in which I expressed just how ridiculous that fear was (along with its polar opposite, abandonment [...]

  4. [...] Engulfment Fears: Running Away from Love [...]

  5. In several ways you echo what Edgar Cayce shouts about the purpose & meaning of Soul MateS — notice the plural. You and Cayce both encourage low-filtered minimal-fear two-way flowing Love that is based inside the knowledge that no matter the outcome one love, there is always more to be had and more to give.

    It has been wonderful to witness your love-growth Grey! As I’ve said before, always stay you and in motion! ;)

    • Low-filter. No kidding. I think my filter will be a little stronger moving forward.
      I am certainly me and indeed in motion.

  6. Honestly, your blog here reads more like an angry, put off woman more than anything and it’d do you good to take what the ‘Doc’ has to say less lightly. I can say, without being a psychological professional of any kind, that he is absolutely right. I am a 27 year old woman and I suffer from a very deep rooted fear of engulfment. How dare you lay judgement on something you have admitted to not being able to understand. If you can’t understand it, who are you to say it’s ridiculous? Believe me, people like myself have to struggle with knowing that all on our own without the likes of someone who doesn’t even understand it pointing it out for us. “Doc” is correct in that it’s entirely a fear based in loss of identity. Freedom has nothing to do with it. Hurray and kudos to you for being able to feel an even great sense of identity with love but that’s just not how it goes for everyone. Also, what a disgusting assumption to say that ‘most people don’t seem willing enough to do the work or look at themselves closely enough…’ …How many of the millions of people with this problem do you know? I’ve been in therapy for almost two years trying to figure my messes out thank you very much…. and I can’t say that things have gotten any easier. The fact of the matter is that you have no idea how difficult it is for people like me, you have no idea how many people may have actually tried to do the work, or how many people are trying. This is why I say you come across simply as an angry, put off, hurt woman…. who’s trying to make it sound like she’s not. Even if you have seen your share of people with engulfment issues who were seemingly doing nothing about it and you’ve gotten hurt from these people, you still couldn’t possibly know enough of the people dealing with these issues to spew the judgements and assumptions you did in your blog. If your angry at this man, fine. …. but have some respect, compassion, and decency towards a pretty prevalent issue that you don’t even understand.
    And lastly, certainly it would/could come from an underdeveloped sense of self. That one isn’t rocket science. Some of us weren’t lucky enough to grow up with parents who let us lead our own lives. Some of us pretty much had to live for our parents, be who our parents wanted us to be… to be loved. Try feeling that for 20years of your life and then you tell me if you’re able to have any kind of developed sense of self. Of course, I don’t know you or your past so if that was the case for you and you were able to make it out as you are today, Kudos to you.

    • 1. Please refer to my Comment Policy.
      2. “This man” who suffers from engulfment fears that “hurt” me — RAPED ME. Twice. Then stalked me. Then turned my entire community against me. Don’t you fucking tell me to have compassion for him. Fuck you.
      3. I have plenty of compassion for people who are working on their issues, which it sounds like you are. Kudos to you. However if you are “working” on your issues the way others have been “working” on their issues while they continue to hurt people again and again and again. Fuck you.
      4. Yes, I’m fucking angry. I was raped by my lover, then discarded. I had to move across the country. As for my past, habitual abuse from the time before I could talk at the hands of family members, then continued abuse from fuckers like The Rapist and others throughout my adult life. Complex PTSD, it’s called. I’m working on my shit, too.
      5. This is my blog, so I can “judge” whatever the fuck I want. You don’t like it? Don’t read it.
      6. Fuck you.
      7. Therapy for two years! Do you want a fucking medal? I’m glad you’re working on your issues, for it’s much more than most are doing, but it takes more than two years. I’ve been in therapy on and off for 38 years. What was done to us in childhood takes a lifetime to fix if we work diligently, can find compassion for ourselves and others, and are willing to make sacrifices and accept uncomfortable truths moving forward.
      8. Fuck you.
      9. For someone who’s preaching who can and can’t judge, you just came here and judged my entire life based on one blog post. Fuck you.
      10. Learn how to use punctuation paragraph breaks.

      If you’re going to talk to me in this tone, you are not welcome here.

      Oh yeah, and fuck you.

  7. I’ve been seeing a girl for about 5 months. We hit it off incredibly well and said “I love you” very quickly. She told me she was scared right from the start, she is really afraid of losing control, she has abandonment fears (she has a child and the father left her) and also problems from previous sour relationships and a stalker.

    But these things were never an issue for me, she’s lovely and we get along so well. We both say we trust and have been more open with each other than anyone else. We both say the sex is the greatest (and it is!) and I even get along with her child and family very well.

    About two months ago she told me it was over. She said she is too busy with work and her dream of being a successful singer. However, I know she’s simply given in to her fears. We’ve hooked up a few times since, but I can tell she is trying to seperate friendship from intimacy and she can’t handle it because I still want both and so does she. Now the intimacy isn’t happening but we still hang out. She’s trying to “just be friends”.

    But then this girl says in front of me and her family that I “would be the perfect partner for me if I wanted one.” How does she expect me to react to a comment like this?

    I love her so much and I know she does too. I wish she could let go of her fears. You’re right about love being uplifting and a source of freedom.

    Any advice or comments would be greatly appreciated.

    • Judging from her comment, she doesn’t feel you’re committed or invested in the relationship, even if it’s just the fears talking. Show her that you are committed.

      Ask her why she thinks you’re not. Ask her what you can do to prove you are. “I’m here,” tell her. “You left and I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.”

      You’ll have to reassure her A LOT, for years, likely. It takes me about a year to get even a little comfortable in a relationship. Even after 14 years with my husband, I still ask for reassurance that he won’t leave sometimes. Abandonment fears run very, very deep.

      Many people with abandonment fears leave before they can be left. That might be what’s going on.

      Otherwise, she could be really afraid of engulfment and is masking that with abandonment talk. Making you at fault is a hallmark trait of a commitmentphobe.

      • How do you think her comment says that she thinks I;m not committed or invested in the relationship? I think she was scared of abandonment, but I am certain she knows I won’t leave her. Do you really think this is the game she is playing? She hasn’t put me at fault at all. I’m not sure you understood her comment. She said I was perfect for her, but she doesn’t want a partner – which is what I find so confusing.

      • I’m so sorry. I misread that second “I” as you, not her. My mistake. That you’d be the perfect partner for her if *you* wanted a partner. I see now that she said you’d be the perfect partner for her if she wanted one.

        Yes. That is strange after so many months. Have you asked her why she feels she doesn’t want a partner?

        I don’t think she’s playing a game consciously. Her fears are dictating her actions and thoughts. I do think she left you before you could leave her, as that is a common move for someone struggling with abandonment fears.

        Ultimately, she’s turning away from love in her fear instead of into it, and that’s a huge red flag for me.

        My apologies again for the misread. :-/

        My advice would be to get her to speak to why she changed her mind from suddenly from wanting a partner to not wanting one. A lot of reassurance you wouldn’t abandon her…and go from there.

        If she continues to just “be friends,” you might have to step away for your own heart, at least for a few months. Friendship is almost impossible right after a break with such high emotions. Being a friend means supporting her even if she chooses to be with someone else, and I think that would be very painful for you now.

        If you two stay split, cut off all contact for a few months to get past this, otherwise, you’re just torturing yourself. It’s not fair to you. In fact, its rather exploitative given your feelings for her. See my post on Ending a Relationship with Love and Respect.

        “Hooking up” a few times is serving to confuse you, too, I’d wager.

        The distance will also give you perspective.

        May you find peace.

      • No problem. I have written out a letter which I am either going to try and memorise and read to her or simply give to her tomorrow. I would send it to you in private if you were willing. Thanks a lot for your advice, you seem to be on the same wave length as me.

      • Absolutely. My email link is on the right sidebar.

  8. Just to say thank you for this post. You’re story fits my scenario like a glove. For years, she wouldn’t let me go (after i concluded she doesn’t share my feelings over and over), she wouldn’t let me get close, she was furiously jealous without admitting it. Sex was off the scale, she called me every day. but constantly reminding me she doesn’t love me, and the men she Proclaims to be in love with are either, married, overseas or interstate and describes them as Godsend after knowthing them a Month. yet she can only see them 2 or 3 times year, I granted her so much tolerance because of her extremely abusive history and i knew better, i was the stronger. Her routine, her work and her kids are everything, and i was a rock for all her doubts and fears in all these aspects of her life. If i had any doubt after reading this that this was a fear of Intimacy/Engulfment? They were quelled when i saw her name in one of the comments on this post (knowing full well it’s not her). Hell of a coincidence though. So thank you, i feel much better after reading this, made it easier to let her go and sevre connections thoroghly each time she calls back. Your feelings towards the scenario you described, were an eloquent and precise reflection of what I feel. You do good works O.M Grey. For the sake of others you can assist out of their own darkness, please keep it up.

  9. Growing up with needy mother, very controlling sister, and alcoholic father will make you want to run from intensity. You get overwhelmed and then attacked by the persons that “want” something from you, which you are not prepared to give. The best advice I can offer is get someone more like yourself. There is enough variety in the world that nobody ought to try changing the core of another. I am quite happy as I am and have been quite happy in relationships with persons similar to myself. To each his own! Stop trying to control and impose your own way of being on someone else.

    • Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing in this comment? All along with the complete-lack-of-empathy tone that comes with commitmentphobes.

      Great for you to be with others like yourself. Then why are you here trying to change there? Why are you Googling engulfment fears?

      Go away. You’re not welcome here with such accusations.

    • Oh, and no one asked for your advice.

  10. I have never read anything that mirrors me my real true self. I am.the same I am intense, passionate. But the love of my life is scared terrified about his feelings and is running away. Instead of short relationships he stays away altogether. He I know in time will face that fear and I will be here for him. This is second time he has run with his fear and this is why I know he will be back. But it is hard and breaks my heart but everyday I see him fight it a little more. He finds it hard to not talk to me we had an extremely close relationship and were in constant contact. He misses that. I would live to talk to you about our similar predicament

    • Please email me if you’d like. Link in the sidebar.

      Get the book He’s Scared, She’s Scared. It talks about this ebb/flow, going and returning stuff.

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