Woman experiencing fear of commitment
You signed up for a dating app and met some wonderful people but back out before things get too serious. Cold feet happen to even the most warm-hearted types, but chronically running from commitment may indicate you're afraid of it—and it can hold you back.
"People with a fear of commitment will struggle to create long-term relationships," says Dr. Scott Lyons, Ph.D., a licensed holistic psychologist, educator and author of Addicted to Drama: Healing Dependency on Crisis and Chaos in Yourself.
Commitment woes don't just affect romantic relationships, but they often do.
"Fear of commitment can come across in multiple facets of someone’s life," explains Dr. Michele Goldman, Ph.D., a psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation media advisor. "Most commonly, however, people tend to demonstrate a fear of commitment in two areas of their lives—romantic relationships and career path."
Dr. Lyons says the first step to moving on commitment phobia is recognizing you have it, explaining, "Once you recognize this, you can begin to figure out the root of the fear and resolve any underlying concerns before committing."
Pinpointing the root cause can prevent you from spinning into a cycle of self-blame and shame and jumpstart the healing process. Drs. Goldman and Lyons shared eight common reasons people fear commitment.
8 Reasons You Might Have a Fear of Commitment, According to Psychologists
1. You don't believe you deserve happiness
Healthy romantic relationships can be blissful. Ditto for a career you love. But the limiting belief that you don't deserve happiness could be holding you back.
"This type of thought comes from a place of low self-worth and negative self-perception," Dr. Goldman says. "There are some people who struggle with being happy and feeling a sense of joy. It can be anxiety-provoking to be happy."
2. Family history
While your childhood may seem like a distant memory, it may affect your present.
"Family history can leave a lasting impact on a person," Dr Lyons says. "If someone has a family history of commitment issues, they may not be afraid themselves."
Dr. Goldman adds that a person who grew up in a family with an abusive parent or around someone with substance use issues may also struggle with commitment. The death of a beloved family member or friend can also lay the foundation for fear of signing on for anything long-term.
3. Fear of intimacy
Intimacy is generally a hallmark of romantic relationships, so fear of it may cause a person to steer clear of them altogether.
"For some, physical touch, sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy are very uncomfortable," Dr. Goldman says. "It is common for people who struggle with intimacy to pull away from others."
4. Imposter syndrome
Dr. Goldman explains that people with imposter syndrome may not believe they are capable and feel inadequate.
"These fears can hold someone back from committing to a professional path or even from working at one company for many years because of a fear that people will see they are not capable," Dr. Goldman says.
5. Trust issues
Commitment requires taking a leap of faith into an unknown future. Dr. Lyons says that people with trust issues prefer to remain grounded. Sometimes, these trust issues come from a history of being let down or lied to by others or previous trauma.
6. You like your independence
Some people love the idea of standing date nights and a person to come home to. Others may enjoy being able to go out without giving anyone a heads up that they'll be late for—or skipping—a home-cooked meal.
"In a relationship, many people fear that commitment can come with a loss of independence," Dr. Lyons says. "It’s important to be confident in your own sense of self to avoid this."
There are ways to compromise or keep parts of your pre-relationship life with communication and self-confidence.
7. Lack of vision
A vision is like a compass. Dr. Goldman says people can struggle to find a career path without one.
"Because someone is uncertain of what they want to do long-term with their career, they might change paths multiple times," Dr. Goldman says. "Someone might also have multiple areas of passion and cannot choose what is the right path. It can be very difficult to not know what is right regarding a career path."
That doesn't mean you have to choose and stick to one path, but if you feel frazzled by all the pivoting, it's worth evaluating.
8. You're afraid to fail
You put yourself out there when you commit to something.
"Many who are scared of commitment are often afraid of failure," Dr. Lyons says. "They are already thinking, 'What if this does not work out?'"
But what if it does?
How To Overcome Commitment Struggles
1. Identify the root cause
Before looking forward, it's essential to look back.
"The best way to overcome any fear is to identify the root of the fear," Dr. Lyons says. "Are you afraid of commitment due to a past trauma? It’s important to work through that trauma in order to move forward in the future."
2. Gradually expose yourself to commitment
Start getting used to the idea of commitment slowly.
"Start with the idea of commitment—literally think about being committed to whatever it is you fear," Dr. Goldman says. "First, think about it for two minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes."
Over time, you can progress this exercise so you're making plans for a week or a month in the future and sharing personal thoughts with someone (or expressing interest in an internal opening with a boss).
"These are all gradual steps towards overcoming a fear of commitment," Dr. Goldman says. "These steps might take months or years. Be kind to yourself during this process of challenging your fear."
3. Seek help
Overcoming commitment issues can take time, but it doesn't have to be a lonely endeavor.
"Engaging in talk therapy is one way to overcome a fear of commitment," Dr. Goldman says.
There's a catch.
"Ironically, it's a commitment in and of itself—one must commit to being in therapy despite having a fear of commitment," Dr. Goldman says.
Yet, that alone might help you recognize the value of commitment.