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How do I overcome my severe anxiety in relationships?

Ask Roe: I’m unable to maintain intimate connection with others even though I crave it

Dear Roe,

I am a 27-year-old woman and have always experienced severe anxiety and difficulty surrounding intimacy, physical touch, and affection. I can maintain friendships but when it comes to relationships, I am completely incompetent and am unable to maintain any sort of close or intimate connection with another person even though I crave this type of relationship. Family and friends have begun to remark on this fact, and I am beginning to feel increasingly depressed and helpless about it. I have never been in a relationship and I question will I ever be able to overcome the pain and anxiety that I experience which prevents me from forming these types of connections. I do not have a particularly close family and feel as though this exacerbates the problem. Should I speak to a professional about this problem and what can I do to get myself out of this deep dark hole?

There are several things that strike me about this letter and the very harsh judgements you’re making about yourself. One thing in particular that stands out to me is the fact that you say that you are not close to your family – and yet you are taking their comments on your life as evidence that something is wrong with you. Now, maybe they are commenting from a place of concern and support rather than judgement, but the result is the same: you take either judgement from people you are not close to, or expressions of care and concern from your family, and turn them into evidence that there’s something wrong with you. That impulse to take any information offered to you and turn it against yourself as evidence of your deficiencies is a sign that you’ve normalised thinking badly of yourself, and that needs to change.

Not being very experienced with relationships or physical intimacy is nothing to be ashamed of. When you have anxiety around these things, not having long relationships makes sense. Your anxiety is telling you that relationships and physical intimacy are dangerous and stressful, and so of course you would try to protect yourself from that. But instead of punishing yourself for this, acknowledge that you have been trying to keep yourself safe – and also acknowledge how brave you are for wanting to move out of this pattern, for still wanting to have relationships, for wanting to work on your mindset so that you can forge meaningful connections with people.


Going to a therapist and also having a chat with your GP to discuss your anxiety is really important, and I strongly recommend you reach out to both. It’s clear that these issues are affecting your life, and it doesn’t have to be this way. Speaking to a therapist about your anxiety around relationships, your relationship with your family, and your low self-esteem will be important so you can come to understand the source of these anxieties and insecurities – and then come up with strategies to manage and alleviate them. A GP will also be able to gauge whether anti-anxiety medication would be helpful for you to try – and if you get a referral for therapy, this could give you access to some cheaper therapy options.

You aren’t happy, and you deserve to be. Change may be difficult and uncomfortable, but it will be worth it. Consider reaching out to a therapist the first meaningful relationship on your journey to a life filled with them.